Monthly Archives: November 2011

Arsenic and Old News

A while back, FoodFacts.com ran a blog post regarding a report that Dr. Oz released regarding arsenic and its presence in apple juice in amounts that could be potentially dangerous to humans. If you remember, the FDA took to the media to fight back against Dr. Oz’s findings. They claimed that organic arsenic is naturally in our air, water, organic soil, and inorganic soil. They claim that Dr. Oz measured for the total level of arsenic, rather than inorganic vs. organic levels of arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is the type which is likely to cause harmful effects. Dr. Oz’s study did not separate out measurements of inorganic and organic arsenic. The FDA said that it was organic arsenic which that was seen in the study. According to the FDA that would make the arsenic in apple juice inconsequential and Dr. Oz’s study just as inconsequential. (As a note, there are a variety of conflicting opinions about the actual safety of organic arsenic.)

Consumer Reports, however has just released its own study showing that the apple and grape juice our kids may be drinking can, in fact have arsenic levels high enough to increase their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. In fact, a full 10 percent of the juices tested by the magazine had arsenic levels higher than what is allowed in water by the FDA. The findings in this new report echo the study commissioned by Dr. Mehmet Oz in September of 2011. The FDA was not happy with Dr. Oz’s findings and deemed the study “extremely irresponsible”. Sorry, FDA … but it doesn’t look as though Dr. Oz was the extremely irresponsible party here, at least not at this juncture.

The Consumer Reports study tested 88 samples of 28 apple and 3 grape juices sold around the nation. Included in the test were the popular brands like Minute Maid, Welch’s and Tropicana. Five samples of apple juice and four of grape juice had total arsenic levels exceeding the 10 parts per billion (ppb) federal limit for bottled and drinking water. That brands of juice with at least one sample testing above the 10 ppb mark were Apple & Eve, Great Value, Mott’s, Walgreens and Welch’s.

The brands that scored the lowest arsenic levels were: Welch’s Pourable Concentrate 100% Apple Juice, America’s Choice Apple Juice, Tropicana 100% Apple Juice and Red Jacket Orchards 100% Apple Juice.

Most of the arsenic found in the samples was inorganic (that would be the kind of arsenic universally acknowledged as dangerous). It’s worth noting that although FDA guidelines for water are no more than 10 ppb of inorganic arsenic, the agency standard for juices is higher, at 23 ppb. The level is allowed to be higher because they have assumed that people will consume more water than juice in the course of a normal day. That’s a reasonable assumption — for adults.

Consumer Reports also tested the samples for lead. The results were similar to arsenic. Using the threshold for lead for bottled water, since there is no standard for juice, research revealed that about 25% of the samples had elevated levels of lead (more than 5 ppb).

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports has called on the FDA to set arsenic and lead standards for apple and grape juice. It is recommending 5 ppb for lead and 3 ppb for arsenic and has cited evidence that long-term exposure to arsenic and lead can lead to serious health problems including lung, bladder and skin cancer, increased risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Seems as though Dr. Oz knew what he was talking about back in September. It’s unfortunate the FDA assumed otherwise.

FoodFacts.com will stay on top of this issue and keep you posted as to whether there is any movement by the FDA to change its current standards. We hope they can acknowledge that the majority of apple juice and grape juice in our food supply is, in fact, being consumed by children. We need to understand that one of our most serious responsibilities as a civilized nation is the safety of our kids.

Help finding hidden GMOs

FoodFacts.com understands that there are many members of our community especially concerned with avoiding GMO foods and any food products that may contain GMO ingredients. Since there are no labeling requirements for GMOs, it can become difficult to figure out what products you may want to avoid.

So we’ve done some hunting for you and we’ve come up with a list of ingredients that may, in fact, contain hidden GMOs. While we can’t tell you that every time you see one of these ingredients in a food product’s list that it is GMO, we can tell you that unless the product is certified organic or has declared that it is non-GMO that it MAY be. It’s up to each of us individually to determine what we want to avoid in terms of food consumption. So here’s the list:

 

Aspartame
Baking powder
Bee pollen
Caramel color
Cellulose
Citric Acid
Cobalamin
Corn Gluten
Corn Masa
Corn Oil
Corn Syrup
Cornmeal
Cornstarch
Cyclodextrin
Cystein
Dextrin
Dextrose
Diacetyl
Diglyceride
Fructose
Glucose
Glutamate
Glutamic Acid
Gluten
Glycerides
Glycerin
Glycerol
Glycerol monooleate
Glycine
Hemicellulose
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Hydrogenated starch hydrolates
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Inositol
Invert sugar
Inverse syrup
Isoflavones
Lactic acid
Lecithin
Lysine
Malitol
Maltodextrin
Maltose
Mannitol
Methylcellulose
Milo starch
Modified starch
Monosodium Glutamate
Oleic acid
Phenylalanine
Phytic Acid
Sorbitol
Soy flour
Soy isolates
Soy lecithin
Soy protein
Starch
Stearic acid
Tamari
Tempeh
Threonine
Tocopherols
Tofu
Trehalose
Trehalose
Triglyceride
Vegetable oil
Xanthan gum

FoodFacts.com makes every effort to provide you with information on the issues that are most important to our community. These food ingredients, which may contain GM soy, corn, cotton or canola, may be ingredients you want to keep your eye out for when shopping. If you know of any others we can add to this list, please let us know, so that we can update it and our community as we extend our knowledge.

What really happens after you eat canned soup?

There’s been a lot of talk about BPA recently, and FoodFacts.com has been staying on top of the news. We know this is an important issue for our community and wanted to make sure you had the latest information.

A new study compared the urine of people who consumed canned soup to the urine of people who consumed freshly made soup for the presence of BPA. BAP (bishpenol A) has been linked to many health problems including heart disease, diabetes and obesity. It turned out that the group of people involved in the study who consumed just one serving of canned soup once per day for five days showed a 1000% increase in urinary BPA over those people who consumed freshly made soup.

According to CBSnews.com, the author of the study, Jenny Carwile, a doctoral student at Harvard School of Public health said in a written statement, “We’ve known for a while that drinking beverages that have been stored in certain hard plastics can increase the amount of BPA in your body. This study suggests that canned foods may be an even greater concern, especially given their wide use.”

The researchers noted that the high levels of BPA might be transient and called for more research – but said that the time may have come to get BPA out of cans. As study author Karin Michels, associate professor in the school’s department of epidemiology, put it in the statement, “It may be advisable for manufacturers to consider eliminating BPA from can linings.”

The study used Progresso brand soups, but researchers explained that it wasn’t about the brand, it was about the cans. A spokesman for General Mills, the company that makes Progresso soups, did not agree with the findings of the study.

 

“Scientific and governmental bodies worldwide have examined the science and concluded that the weight of evidence support the safety of BPA, including comprehensive risk assessments in Japan and in the European Union,” Kirstie Foster, told Bloomberg Businessweek in an email. Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, stated that the study “does nothing to substantiate claims that trace levels of BPA – even from daily canned soup consumption – have any effect on health.”

The study was published online Nov. 21 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

We knew that members of the FoodFacts.com community would want to read and share this information, even if the findings are, thus far, inconclusive. We know that an educated consumer will make the best choices for the diet and health of their families. Please let us know your opinions on this controversial topic.

GMO Avoidance

FoodFacts.com understands that many in our community are actively trying to avoid consuming GMO products. While many understand what that entails, we are aware that there are some who are still unsure of what food products to stay away from in order to stay GMO-free. Here’s a brief run down of some of the food products you might want to avoid if you’d like to steer clear of GMO consumption.

1. The best way to avoid GMO products is to purchase USDA Certified Organic
Products. This federally regulated product label specifically prohibits the use of
genetically modified ingredients.

2. Soybean products made from U.S. grown soybeans are, most likely, GMO. It’s estimated that 94% of U.S. soybeans are genetically modified. There are a whole host of products that contain soy. We can start that list for you with tofu, soy sauce, soy milk, cereals, veggie burgers, veggie sausages, chips, cookies and frozen yogurt are just a few of the food product categories where soy can be found. Check the labels for soy as an ingredient.

3. Corn and products made with corn are also mostly GMO. Roughly 88% of all corn is genetically modified. And corn is an extremely popular ingredient in foods. For instance, high-fructose corn syrup is found in tens of thousands of products. Sodas, candies, ice cream, infant formulas, salad dressings, breads, cereals, and margarines are just the beginning. Avoid using corn oil, corn flour and corn starch as ingredients in your home cooking, as well.

4. Beet Sugar is a tricky food ingredient you’ll want to be careful about avoiding. It’s tricky because most products using it simply list sugar in their ingredients. Unless an ingredient list specifies “cane sugar”, the product most likely contains a combination of beet sugar and cane sugar. Its is estimated that up to 90% of sugar beets are genetically modified. So unless you read cane sugar on the ingredient list, it would be safe to assume that the product is GMO.

5. You might also want to be careful about your milk, egg, and cheese consumption as well. Although these products themselves have no GMO ingredients, the feed ingested by the cows and chickens may have been GMO. There’s currently no way of knowing. However, livestock eat a lot of corn. If you are serious about avoiding GMO products, organic would be the way to go here too.

These are just a few things that you can actively do to avoid GMO foods in your diet. FoodFacts.com wants to make sure our community remains educated and curious about the nutritional issues facing our country today. The more we know, the more we can do to keep our diets safe and healthy.

Healthier school lunches off the menu

FoodFacts.com just came across this information reported by the Associated Press. Congress is pushing back against the Obama Administration’s efforts to take unhealthy foods out of schools.

As reported by Mary Clare Jalonick, the final version of a spending bill released late Monday would “dumb down” school lunch standards that were proposed earlier this year. Importantly, these standards included limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch menu, while putting new restrictions on sodium and boosting the use of whole grains. This latest legislation would block or delay all those efforts.

The bill also seeks to allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable. Currently the USDA wants to count a half-cup or more of tomato paste as a vegetable. One serving of pizza has less than that. It is a throw back to the Reagan administration’s failed attempt to classify ketch as a vegetable in schools. Today, however, it seems that frozen pizza manufacturers, the salt industry and potato growers have been lobbying congress to make the changes that will make them happy. The school meals that are subsidized by the federal government have to include a certain amount of vegetables. The fear has been that the USDA’s proposals could have pushed pizza and potatoes out of the school lunch business.

Some school districts have acknowledged that some of the USDA proposals do cost too much at a time when budgets are stretched to their limits. The school lunch proposal is based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. It is felt that these proposals would help to reduce childhood obesity and lower future health care costs. The USDA has clearly spoken out against these congressional efforts and will continue to work to make school lunches healthier, saying this was a clear case of putting political interests ahead of American children. Congress’s changes would probably result in restricting schools from serving a wider array of vegetables. Pizza and potatoes abound on school lunch menus. In making sure these things remain untouched in the proposal, congress is blocking the limiting of starchy vegetables to two servings each week. Many schools serve starchy vegetables daily.

FoodFacts.com will continue to follow this story for our community. But we’d like to send a message to Congress: two tablespoons of tomato paste is not a serving of vegetables.

Fighting the use of BPA in canned food products

FoodFacts.com feels strongly that part of our mission is to bring our community information on how they can add their voices to the causes that are meaningful to our health and well-being.

BPA (bisphenol-A) is a chemical used to line the cans that contain a myriad of different food products. It is linked to various cancers, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, early onset puberty and a host of other problems. And notably, many of the products whose cans contain BPA are meant for consumption by children. Spaghetti-O’s, Goldfish Pasta Soup, Spongebob Squarepants Soup are just a few of the products packaged in BPA-containing cans. We’ve covered BPA in previous blog posts.

While you can’t plug BPA or bisphenol-A into the FoodFacts.com database because it isn’t technically a food ingredient, it is leaching out into the food supply. You can check out this article at Huffington Post for more details.

But now we want to ask our community to do their part to convince a major food manufacturer that it’s time to move away from BPA.

Currently www.change.org is featuring a petition targeted to the Campbell’s Soup Company. Campbell’s produces a myriad of products created and marketed to appeal to children — in addition to a host of other canned foods. Follow this link http://www.change.org/petitions/campbells-stop-endangering-kids-health and include your voice in this important petition to send a message to the Campbell’s Soup Company to get the BPA out of their cans.

Follow the link, join the petition, and share this blog post. Let’s help this major manufacturer see the importance of this issue and how it affects children today and for generations to come.

When it comes to our food, do we worry about the wrong things?

Everyday, FoodFacts.com adds a plethora of different foods to our database. We post about various food products and ingredients on our Facebook page. We deliver information that encourages people to get to know what they’re actually eating that they can’t see. And, of course, we read labels ourselves. And it makes us wonder …

The first thing anyone looks at on food packaging is the nutrition label. We all know what they look like:

And we are all familiar with what they list out: Calories, Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, Total Carbohydrates, Dietary Fiber, Sugars, Protein, Vitamins and minerals. And for the most part, as a society, these are the things we worry about.

Maybe we don’t worry enough about the product’s ingredient list. Maybe we should consider that if a product’s ingredient list is so long that it takes up a good portion of the package, that it might outweigh the fact that the product is low in calories, fats and sugars and high in fiber and protein. Do we determine what’s healthy by the Nutrition Facts label or do we determine what’s healthy by the ingredient list carried on the product? And finally, how do we determine what makes more sense — eating foods with ingredient lists that we can pronounce and understand or eating foods whose calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbs and proteins fall within the prescribed requirements?

FoodFacts.com understands that the nutrition label is, of course, extremely important. But we don’t think that all consumers understand that it’s not the only important thing to consider when making a food purchase. Too many of us rely on convenience products that we believe are healthy for us, without ever considering that ingredient list. Sure, that diet frozen dinner is low in calories and fat, with an acceptable amount of sodium and it’s only going to take 10 minutes to heat up in the microwave. But, go ahead and try to decipher what some of the ingredients are that are listed on the box. And that bowl of microwave popcorn that took just minutes to prepare without any oil or having to wash out any pans involved in preparing it? There’s a good possibility you can’t pronounce more than a few of the ingredients on the package it came from.

While we’re all rightfully concerned about the nutrition labels, we need to commit ourselves to being equally concerned about ingredient lists. We need to be alert to ingredients in food like BHT, BHA, MSG, Polysorbate 80, Sodium Bisulfite, Ethoxyquin, Benzoyl Peroxide, Potassium Bromate and hundreds of others that are not only potentially harmful in our food supply, but have actually been banned for use in other countries.

FoodFacts.com wants everyone in our community to be the most informed food consumers possible. And we want you to make the choices that are right for you and your family. So we’d like to make sure that the next time you’re in a grocery store with a product in your hand looking for the nutrition label that you pay close attention to the ingredient list and appreciate the information it’s giving you. You might be surprised as to how quickly you put the box down and go find the real, natural ingredients out of which you can create a comparable dish that contains products you can understand, pronounce and have no chance of being banned anywhere.

The changing faces of the foods we eat

FoodFacts.com is constantly fascinated by the changing lenses through which particular foods are viewed. Do you remember back in the 90’s when the “no-fat” craze had us turning to completely fat-free products, thinking they were good for us. Did anyone, during that time, stop to think what was replacing the fats in fat-free cheeses or fat-free mayonnaise? Caffeine was frowned upon. And chocolate was really just candy.

It’s amazing what a difference a decade can make! Let’s take a look at a few foods whose bad reputations have turned around.

Eggs
Just a few decades ago, eating whole eggs was considered one of the unhealthiest things you could do. Products like Egg Beaters, and other egg substitutes came to the rescue for egg lovers everywhere. You could order egg white omelets at the diner; you would mix up a turkey meatloaf with egg whites and discard the yolks and angel food cake had a resurgence of popularity because whole eggs were just bad for you. The confusion over eggs stems from their cholesterol content. One large egg contains 213 mg of cholesterol, accounting for two-thirds of the recommended daily limit. When scientists learned that high blood cholesterol was associated with heart disease, foods high in cholesterol logically became suspect. But after 25 years of study, it has become evident that cholesterol in food is not the culprit — saturated fat has a much bigger effect on blood cholesterol. And one egg contains about 1.6 grams of saturated fat. In 2000, the American Heart Association (AHA) revised its dietary guidelines and gave healthy adults the green light to enjoy eggs once again. The AHA’s guidelines now allow an egg a day for healthy adults while still advising a total daily cholesterol limit of 300 mg.

Coffee
Twenty years ago, caffeine was questionable. Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? Coffee houses were becoming increasingly popular and offering up brews of varying caffeination all over. The trend was to try to avoid it. But not so much today. Recently a new study found that coffee may be linked to the prevention of basal cell carcinoma. And it was linked to the caffeine directly, as those drinking decaf coffee did not experience the same decrease in risk as those drinking caffeinated coffee.

Chocolate
While it will never be true that chocolate can be included in any of the major food groups, it’s becoming widely recognized as having important health effects for those who consume it. A few months ago, research out of Great Britain reviewed seven different studies done on the health benefits of chocolate. For heart health, the studies revealed significant benefits for chocolate. It possesses antioxidant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherogenic and anti-thrombotic effects. It’s certainly not advisable to overdo, but a little chocolate is actually good for you.

Things are always changing. We’re always learning more. And sciences are always advancing. The foods we eat can’t be left out of those statements. So FoodFacts.com will always try to bring out the latest information as things continue to change.

Welcoming the new season with a smile

As we at FoodFacts.com gear up for the holiday season, we know that the colder weather is upon us, along with shorter daylight hours and longer evenings. We also know that as the winter approaches, many people start feeling a little “under the weather” and can experience depression. While depression can be hereditary, seasonal, or brought on by life events, it’s not something we just need to live with and through.

More and more research is showing that there is, in fact, nutritional support for dealing with depression. In fact, in a recent British study, the study group population focused more on consuming fresh, whole foods reported significantly fewer instances of depression than those consuming processed foods.

In addition, there are foods whose properties lend themselves to supporting your good mood. Let’s take a look at some of the foods that can help you feel more energetic, and less melancholy as we get closer to winter — or any other time of the year.

Salmon, tuna, trout, halibut or other cold-water fish
Omega-3 fatty acids are gaining notoriety in studies that show evidence that people who eat food with a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids are less likely to get depressed. There are plant-based sources of Omega3s as well, including walnuts, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

Oatmeal, soy milk and two scrambled eggs. Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s a precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin. This is the brain’s “feel-good” hormone. Eat these foods and you’ll be getting a healthy dose of tryptophan to help your cells increase serotonin production. Many antidepressants are designed to prolong the activity of serotonin in our cells, but you can actually increase the levels by eating carbohydrates (except those found in fruits).

Spinach
Low levels of the B vitamin folate, found in spinach, peas, navy beans, orange juice, wheat germ or avocado, may play a role in depression in some patients. Folate deficiencies are not uncommon as different medical conditions and medications like aspirin and birth control pills can lead to deficiencies. Research conducted at Harvard University found that depression in folate deficient individuals does not respond well to antidepressants. Increasing the intake of folic acid in food and in supplement form helped to improve the response.

Broccoli
Broccoli helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. Our moods are affected by these levels, and that can affect depression. In addition it’s another vegetable high in folate.

If we work to incorporate these nutritionally positive foods into our diet this winter, we may experience benefits we never associated with food before. And we can help to support our mood til we return to the springtime sun.

Sweet treats, processed and fatty foods may be actual addictions

FoodFacts.com has been fascinated by a story making its way around the news today. It appears that studies are actually showing that fatty and sugary foods are as addictive as drugs. We’ve known for quite a long time that fatty foods, snacks and sugar or high fructose-sweetened drinks aren’t healthy options for your diet. But what we really didn’t know is that if you’re eating enough of them, switching your eating habits to eliminate these foods isn’t as easy as setting your mind to it.

Recent studies are pointing out that processed foods and sweet drinks evoke brain responses that are similar to addictive drugs and cigarettes. The conclusion is that kicking the bad food habit is going to be just as difficult as quitting smoking or giving up drugs. In fact the National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that the data is so overwhelming, that it has to be accepted. It truly appears that drugs in the brain and food in the brain go hand in hand.

Research studies have found that sweet drinks and fatty foods are producing addictive behaviors in lab animals. University researchers gave rats access to foods such as proceeded bacon, cheesecakes and creamy cake frosting, for one hour a day. They discovered that when the treats were presented to the rats, they began binging on them, even though they had an unlimited supply of nutritional food that was easily accessible.

After binging, the rats’ brain activity was measured. The study found that processed foods produced the same brain pattern that occurs with escalating intake of cocaine.

During their investigation, university researchers also found that obese and compulsive eaters were drawn to images of junk food in the same way cocaine addicts were when shown a bag of cocaine. In the junk food eaters, the decision-making area of the brain released a surge of dopamine just from looking at the fatty, sugary foods. That dopamine release is the same reaction addicts have to the visual image of cocaine.

The evidence is pretty compelling and it leads to some basic questions. If these processed foods and beverages are proven to be addictive, how might it change the food industry? Does it open up a new area for legal disputes? Is there an answer waiting in the wings from the pharmaceutical industry? Do these offending products become regulated much like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs?

We’ve all thrown around the term “sugar addict” at one point or another, but it appears that it may not be an exaggeration. FoodFacts.com would love to hear your opinions on these new studies. What do you think the ramifications might be? And what changes might those ramifications infer for our food supply and our culture?