Monthly Archives: December 2011

Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

This week, if you search for New Year’s Resolutions, you’ll find everything from weight loss tips to tips for going green in 2012. FoodFacts thought it would be appropriate to put together our own short list of resolutions you can make that will help you become healthier in the new year.

1.   Avoid processed food 
We talk about it constantly. The more processed food you consume, the more you’re asking your body to deal with foreign ingredients. Those ingredients, like MSG or sodium benzoate are things your body doesn’t need and may react to badly.

2. Commit to cooking at home more often. 
If you’re going to avoid processed foods, you’ll need to commit to preparing meals at home. Don’t forget that should include breakfast and lunch, as well as dinner. Many times, we can look at breakfast and lunch as “quick meals” that require convenient products that won’t disturb our set schedules.

3. Read the ingredient list on every product you purchase at the grocery store. 
There are some products, like canned beans or pickles for instance, that we can’t assume only contain the things we’d expect to find in them. Sadly that assumption isn’t always the case and the only way we can ensure avoiding those ingredients we really don’t want in our diets is to make a consistent habit of reading those lists.

4. Read the nutrition label, too. 
 The basic nutrition information is important. We all need to understand how much fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol exist in the serving size of any product we consume. We also need to understand what our daily intake of those things should be. So find out what’s right for your body and eat accordingly.

5. Eat your vegetables
… and if you already eat them, eat more of them! Experiment with veggies you’ve never tried before. Try to make sure eating the same vegetables over and over doesn’t bore you – it’s easy to get into a veggie rut … especially if you have kids that will only eat two or three.

6. Eliminate something you already know isn’t healthy. 
 Try to give up something for the New Year that you already know isn’t healthy for your body. Maybe you drink too much diet cola. Maybe your favorite cereal is really a sugar rush. Pick just one thing in your diet today that you know shouldn’t be there and commit to eliminating it in 2012.

7. Try to fit organic foods into your budget
. Certified Organic Food is one of the best ways to know you’re avoiding things you want to keep out of your diet. While it can be pricey, there are food products you may be able to replace with organic versions that won’t destroy your budget.

8. Be careful of product names. 
It’s so easy for any of us to be fooled. “Natural”, “whole grain”, “smart” are just a few of the words on packaging that can have any of us reaching for them without realizing that for food it’s really not all in the name.

9. Question convenience. 
As we go forward into 2012, we’re all pressed for time. Life does seem to move faster now than it did before. Food marketing relies heavily on the concept of making our lives easier. Instant oatmeal, frozen scrambled eggs and bacon, rice and flavorings in a box with dehydrated vegetables. Do we really need to save time this much? The answer is different for everyone. Make sure you ask the question of yourself in the new year.

10. Remember you won’t be deprived. 
If you follow any of these tips, remind yourself that there’s a big world of food out there. As you remove the things you don’t want in your diet, you’ll most certainly find things to replace them with that are better for you and your family that you’ll actually enjoy even more than what you dismissed for its lack of health value.

FoodFacts wants to wish everyone in our community a happy and healthy 2012!

Online food marketing and our kids

FoodFacts remembers years ago, when many of us were children, back before the internet, food companies found creative ways of advertising to smaller people. They knew, even back then, that kids were pretty valuable. Put a toy in a box of cereal, print a great picture of it on the front of the box and we could drive our mothers crazy for however long she chose to keep us with her in the grocery store. Cracker Jacks always had a prize inside. Some of the cereal toys were actually fun, even if they didn’t last very long. Food companies have always understood the value of marketing to children.

As the world has become more technologically advanced, so have marketing tactics which target children. In the absence of real regulation, since 2006, 17 major corporations — including General Mills, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Burger King — have taken a voluntary pledge to reduce marketing of their least nutritious brands to children, an effort they updated last year to include marketing on mobile devices. Nutrition experts say that the voluntary pledges come complete with loopholes, and that “better for you” is really in the eye of the beholder. Companies are still marketing foods that really aren’t considered healthy. And they’re doing it in highly creative ways.

Take a minute and go visit:
www.babybottlepop.com
www.happymeal.com
www.mcworld.com
www.bkcrown.com
www.applejacks.com
www.luckycharms.com
www.cookiecrispcity.com
www.pfgoldfish.com

We could actually include a full page of these URLs, but this is a good sampling for our community. Click through and you’ll see that kids can play free games, get involved in safe online communities AND be exposed to brand marketing specifically designed to appeal to children. Most of these sites actually tell the kids and parents right there on the site with a call-out in small type that reads something to the effect of “Kids: this is advertising”. We guess this means that if they’re honest about it, they get to do what they want. It seems to be a great way to ensure brand loyalty amongst the smallest in society. If they like the food company’s games and they can play them for free, they’ll probably drive their parents crazy until they buy that particular food product. Of course, that product might contain all sorts of preservatives, food dyes, trans fats and other ingredients you might not expect to see in food meant for consumption by children.

Just like the “toy-in-the-box” concept that started many years ago, this “free-online-games-marketing” is not a healthy thing for our kids. It succeeded in helping a lot of us get used to things in our diets that never needed to be there in the first place like excess sugars, food coloring that serves no purpose other than visual appeal, fake ingredients that we still can’t pronounce, etc. And now, in the online age, those same tactics are working to ensure the same “food future” for millions of children.

FoodFacts knows there are many in our community who may already be aware of these marketing tactics and which companies are utilizing them. For those who may not already have that understanding, we wanted to make sure that you get the information you need to make the decisions that will help you build and maintain your healthy lifestyle.

Orange juice secret revealed

FoodFacts knows that orange juice is one of the most popular breakfast choices in the United States, with up to two thirds of all Americans including the beverage in their breakfast routines. We were saddened to learn late last week that on top of coming to terms with arsenic in apple juice, we’ll also have to come to terms with the idea that our premium orange juice is not “All Natural” like we’ve been led to believe.

There’s a “secret ingredient” that is included in any premium, not from concentrate, 100% pure orange juice that manufacturers are not required to put on their labeling.

So the secret’s out and here it is: Premium orange juice (pretty much all of it) is made and then stored in tanks for up to a year. While it’s being stored it loses much of its flavor and needs to be “reinvigorated” with flavor packets. For the last 30 years, the citrus industry has used flavor packs to process what the Food and Drug Administration identifies as “pasteurized” orange juice. The top brands on grocery store shelves like Tropicana, Minute Maid, Simply Orange and Florida Natural, among others have always used this practice. The addition of flavor packs long after orange juice is stored actually makes those premium juices more like a concentrate. Consumers have never known about this and are under the impression that the juice they are purchasing is better in both flavor and content than juices mad from concentrates. The “not from concentrate” brands are priced higher than their “from concentrate” competitors. And consumers have felt good about purchasing them believing that they were of higher quality.

But it doesn’t appear to be the case. After the oranges are squeezed and pasteurized, if they’re being used in a “not from concentrate” brand, they are kept in aseptic storage. This means oxygen is removed from the juice in a process called deaeration. It is then stored in tanks for up to a year. Prior to packaging and shipped, flavor packs are added to the stored juice. The flavor packs contain orange byproducts such as peel and pulp which compensate for the loss of taste and aroma. Those flavor packs are also how manufacturers are able to maintain a consistent flavor profile for their juices. Each brand has its own flavor pack formula.

In case you missed the news this weekend, FoodFacts wanted to make sure that our community stays up to date on important issues like this one. While the juice isn’t made from concentrate, it really isn’t “100% pure” like the manufacturers have been leading us to believe. And while the manufacturers are saying that their flavor packs are made from the oranges themselves through the pasteurization process, we understand that the addition of the packs really does defy the claims for the product. Let us know what you think.

If it looks like a blueberry and smells like a blueberry, it still might not be a blueberry

FoodFacts wonders if you know what Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles, Tropicana Cherry Berry Twister and Betty Crocker Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix have in common.

Food colorings. Blue 2, Yellow 6, Red 40, Yellow 5, to name a few of the more common food colorings in our food supply. But these foods go one step further than using the food colorings … they may in fact be using the food colorings in order to deceive you, the consumer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports today that it is urging the FDA to require food companies to disclose on the front of the food labels whether or not a product is artificially colored. We think they have a point. If you see an illustration of fruit on a front label, you may in fact assume that the fruit in the illustration is actually included in that product.

Let’s take a look at a few product ingredient lists and see if the front label packaging is sometimes giving us the wrong impression.

Here’s Aunt Jemima’s Blueberry Waffles.

The product is featured on the front of the packaging. You can see all the “blueberries” in the waffles pictured, as well as some fresh blueberries garnishing the plate atop which the waffles sit. You can also see that in a lighter color type next to the words Blueberry Waffles, are the words “Artificially Flavored”. At least the words are there. The ingredient list cites “Artificial Blueberry Bits” … and that’s the only place you’ll see the word blueberry in that list. You will, however see, Red 40 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. We guess they need to use something to make those dots in the waffles actually look like blueberries.

 

Next we have Betty Crocker SuperMoist Carrot Cake Mix. This was a featured product in the report from the Center For Science in the Public Interest.

If you look closely at the image, you can see what appear to be bits of real carrot in the cake. Sadly, when you look further into the ingredient list, those bits of carrot are actually listed as “Carrot Flavored Pieces that are made out of corn syrup, enriched flour, corn cereal, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and/or soybean oil, carrot powder and yellow 6 and red 40.” That carrot powder mentioned in the Carrot Flavored Pieces is the only carrot in the entire ingredient list. What leads you to believe the carrot cake mix is made with actual carrots is the photo gracing the front of the package.

 

Tropicana Twister Cherry Berry Blast is using Red 40 in what appears to be an effort to make the consumer think that the cherries and berries pictured on the label are actually in the product.
The product does, in fact, contain fruit juice, just no cherry or berry juice.

 

We can also feature Strawberry Cool Whip.

The artwork on the front of the package pictures lovely, whole strawberries surrounding with a dollop of Strawberry Cool Whip sitting on top. Unfortunately, that’s the biggest relationship to a strawberry this product has. When you check the ingredient list, it doesn’t mention strawberries at all. It does, though, mention Red 40 which makes the whipped topping pink and, therefore leads the consumer to believe it actually contains strawberries.

Share your opinions with FoodFacts. We’d like to know if you think the efforts of the Center for Science in the Public Interest will help this situation. Would reading clearly on any of these front labels contains Food Coloring Red 40 or Yellow 6 make this more intelligible to the consumer. Perhaps they shouldn’t be able to picture a fruit on the label that’s actually unrelated to the product. Or maybe you have other ideas that we can share. Let us know.

Who’s got the highest scores in the sugar ratings?

Foodfacts was not surprised to learn in a report released from the Environmental Working Group, we’ve discovered that many of the breakfast cereals are kids are eating could be reasonably marketed as desserts based on the amount of sugar per serving they contain.

America likes cereal. Moms and Dads like it. You pour it in a bowl, pour milk over it and you have breakfast. And most cereals try to make you feel good with claims like “Whole Grains”, “Natural” and other “healthy euphemisms”.

And our kids like cereals. They have funny commercials with memorable characters, brightly colored boxes with more memorable characters and sometimes, there’s even a surprise hiding in the box. But there’s an even better reason kids like cereals. They taste good. Actually, they taste sweet. They  taste so sweet, our kids probably don’t even think they’re having breakfast. It might as well be dessert.

Some of the products in the study contain as much sugar per serving than a piece of candy of a Twinkie. Here’s a list of the cereals who get the highest scores in the sugar ratings and should be receiving the lowest scores from Moms and Dads everywhere:

1. Kellogg’s Honey Smacks—55% sugar

2. Post Golden Crisp—51.9% sugar

3. Kellogg’s Fruit Loops Marshmallow—48.3% sugar

4. Quaker Oats Captain Crunch’s OOPS! All Berries—46.9% sugar

5. Quaker Oats Captain Crunch Original—44.4% sugar

6. Quaker Oats Oh’s—44.4% sugar

7. Kellogg’s Smorz—43.3% sugar

8. Kellogg’s Apple Jacks —42.9% sugar

9. Quaker Oats Captain Crunch’s Crunch Berries—42.3% sugar

10. Kellogg’s Fruit Loops Original—41.4% sugar

While it’s difficult to help our kids drown out the loud voice-overs from cereal commercials, there are things that have been able to keep the fun in breakfast while keeping the sugar out.

Make oatmeal together: Oatmeal is a pretty quick breakfast. Children love helping adults cook and measuring out the oatmeal and getting it into the pot can involve your child in the cooking process. Sliced bananas, an assortment of berries, raisins and other fruits can be fun mix-ins for oatmeal.

Add some dried fruit to the cereal you like: “Doctor” your healthier cereal with some sweet things that are better for your kids.

Prepare a “fun” looking breakfast: Breakfast smoothies and parfaits look like fun and can be much healthier than the traditional kids breakfast offenders.

FoodFacts hopes that information like this is continually put in front of the public. If we can all have a better understanding of how are kids SHOULD NOT be eating, we’ll have a better chance of having the food companies produce real foods that we can feel comfortable with our children consuming.

“But the label says no trans fat, so it’s fine” … exploring a modern myth

On the FoodFacts Facebook page this week, we’ve looked at products containing Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil and Partially Hydrogenated Canola Oil, There are at least a few more “Partially Hydrogenated” oil substances to delve into in terms of food ingredients. But as we looked more closely at the subject, we realized that this is a very important topic for this blog.

We feel very strongly about education and even though trans fat is something you always hear about, we think, perhaps, we all need to be reminded of exactly how it is, or isn’t, being regulated. And that all depends on how you look at it.

First let’s make this point. Any oil listed as a food ingredient that begins with the phrase “partially hydrogenated” signifies the presence of trans fat in the food product it’s included in. It is impossible for the use of any partially hydrogenated oil not to result in a certain amount of trans fat. It doesn’t matter what type of oil is undergoing the process … vegetable, canola, sunflower, cottonseed – it all results in the same thing.

So here’s a random (and partial) ingredient list:
Citric Acid, Glycerol, Corn Syrup High Fructose, Potassium Sorbate, Flavoring Natural, Wheat Flour, Wheat Whole, BHT, Caramel Color, Corn Syrup, Barley Malted Syrup, Corn Syrup Malted, Niacinamide (Vitamin aB), Canola Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Sunflower Oil Partially Hydrogenated, Iron Reduced,  Salt, Vitamin A (Retinol Palmitate), Vitamin B6, Whey, Zinc Oxide, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Folic Acid (Vitamin aB), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D

And here’s that ingredient list’s corresponding nutrition label:
You’ll note that the Trans Fat line reads 0 grams.

It’s within FDA requirements. The product hasn’t lied, they haven’t made a mistake and they haven’t been mislabeled. But the product still contains trans fat – even though it says it doesn’t.

According to the FDA, any product whose trans fat level falls below .5 grams per serving can list itself as having NO trans fat. Maybe that doesn’t sound like it’s a big deal, but it really can be and it’s really something we should all pay attention to.

There is no RDA for trans fat in the United States. In fact, all we’ve heard is that we should consume as little trans fat per day as possible. It’s just downright bad for us … trans fats add to weight gain and obesity problems, they help clog arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. There’s even research that points to the contribution of trans fats to the risk of diabetes.

Let’s assume that you have one serving of 5 different food products marked 0 g. trans fat per day. Let’s also assume that each of those servings actually contains .45 g of trans fat. You just consumed 2.25 g of a fat that has no determined level of safety!

The labeling of trans fat is regulated … sort of. Anything over .5 g per serving has to be noted on the nutrition label and anything below that counts as a 0.

Since it’s only a “sort of” regulation, it leads us to determine that until things change, we need to regulate ourselves. Any additional trans fat is unhealthy.

FoodFacts.com wants to keep you focused on your healthy lifestyle. Be a savvy consumer and be able to identify the myriad of products that contain trans fat. Keep reading, but make sure you’re reading more than nutrition labels. You need to read ingredient lists and keep your attention on the words “Partially Hydrogenated”. That’s the key to determining whether or not the product you’re considering actually contains trans fat.

Health is wealth, and for women oily fish is really rich

FoodFacts.com understands that there aren’t a lot of studies that have focused on the benefits of Omega 3s for women’s health. Little research has been done that has shown that women can reap the same benefits as men.

However, a groundbreaking new study has shown that a diet rich in oily fish can cut the risk of heart attack and stroke in women of childbearing age by 90%. That’s a pretty amazing number. And all you have to do to enjoy this statistic is increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Those are the ones found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.

Fish oil has long been recognized as important for heart health, however it is now believed because of gender differences, fish oil may be even more beneficial for women of child-bearig age helping with blood pressure and heart and blood vessel function.

The study out of the Statens Serum Institute in Compenhagen researched 49,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 all in the stages of early pregnancy. They were questioned about the amount and type of food they ate, how often they included fish in their diet, as well as their lifestyle and family history. The most common fish women ate according to the study were cod, salmon, herring and mackerel.

These women were monitored for an eight year period. Over the course of that time 577 cardiovascular events (things like heart attacks and strokes) were noted. Five of these events resulted in death.

The research revealed that the women in the study who rarely or never ate fish had 90% more cardiovascular problems then the women who ate oily fish every week.

This is one of the largest studies of its kind undertaken that has focused exclusively on women of child-bearing age. It was noted that the cardiovascular benefits of a diet that regularly includes oily fish were evident in this study at fairly modest dietary levels. There are questions regarding how increasing those levels may increase the benefits even further.

We want to make sure the women in our community stay educated and healthy. Here is a list of some other oily fish that will help you reap the benefits of a diet that’s rich in Omega 3s:

Salmon, Trout, Mackerel, Herring, Sardines, Pilchards, Kipper, Eel, Whitebait, Tuna (fresh, not canned), Anchovies, Swordfish, Bloater, Cacha, Carp, Hilsa, Jack fish, Katla, Orange Roughy, Pangras, Sprats

FoodFacts.com will continue to keep our eye out for news like this that can help our community pursue health through the latest research.

What you don’t know really can hurt you.

FoodFacts.com remembers the old adage “What you don’t know can’t hurt you”. While we’re sure the saying was coined with the best of intentions, we know that today, it really isn’t applicable in most situations … and especially not in our food supply. What we’re not aware of really can hurt us, causing allergic reactions, triggering asthma and sometimes even worse.

We have to wonder why the FDA doesn’t necessarily think the same way. It’s been acknowledged for years that some people have reactions after eating food that contains MSG which is processed free glutamic acid. These reactions can include anything from migraine headaches, foggy thinking, gastrointestinal upsets, heart irregularities, asthma symptoms to mood swings. But what isn’t acknowledged often is that there are a tremendous number of ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid and those the foods that contain them do not have to be labeled as containing MSG.

So here’s a list of ingredients you need to watch out for in order to avoid MSG.

These are the ingredients that ALWAYS contain processed free glutamic acid:
Monopotassium Glutamate
Calcium Glutamate
Monoammonium Glutamate
Magnesium Glutamate
Natrium Glutamate
Yeast Extract
Hydrolyzed Anything
Hydrolyzed Protein of any type
Calcium Caseinate
Sodium Caseinate
Autolyzed Yeast
Gelatin
Textured Protein
Soy Protein
Soy Protein Concentrate
Soy Protein Isolate
Whey Protein
Whey Protein Isolate
Vetsin
Ajinomoto

And here’s a second list of ingredients that can contain or produce processed free glutamic acid:

Carrageenan
Bouillon
Maltodextrin
Citrate
Barley Malt
Pectin
Malt Extract
Soy Sauce

And lastly, if these ingredients are present adding flavor to a food product, MSG is in there:

Disodium 5’-Guanylate
Disodium 5’-Inosinate
Disodium 5’-Ribonucleotides

If you’re avoiding MSG, remember you need to look further than monosodium glutamate to ensure you aren’t consuming it. While it’s easy to identify MSG, stay alert to the fact that companies are not required to label the other ingredients that trigger reactions to processed free glutamic acid.

FoodFacts.com wants our community to stay educated about the foods you eat to maintain your healthiest lifestyle.

New reasons for women to love their fruits and vegetables

FoodFacts.com is always looking for information that will enrich and enlighten the lives of all our community members. So when we saw this important information for women we knew we needed to post about it here.

A new Swedish study published just yesterday is showing that diets rich in antioxidants from fruits, vegetables and whole grains appear to reduce a woman’s risk for stroke — even if she has a prior history of heart disease. The study involved more than 31,000 women with no history of heart disease and almost 5700 women who had a history of heart disease. All the women involved were between the ages of 49 and 83 and they were followed for eleven and a half years (those with no heart-disease history) and almost 10 years (history of heart disease).

During the study period, more than 1300 of the women in the disease-free group had strokes and more than 1000 in the group with a heart-disease history also suffered them. Each woman’s dietary information was used to determine her individual “total antioxidant capacity” or TAC.

In the heart-disease free group, the women with the highest levels of diet-based antioxidants had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke than those with the lowest levels. But most impressively, it was found that the benefits of antioxidant-rich diets were extended to the group with a history of heart disease. Within this group, women with higher levels of dietary antioxidant capacity had up to a 57 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those with the lowest levels.

Researchers found that fruits and vegetables contributed about 50% of the antioxidant capacity in women with a disease-free history. Of course the study also showed that the women who had the highest levels of antioxidants in both groups were also women who adhered to healthier lifestyles extending beyond their regular diets to include regular exercise and avoidance of smoking.

Of course, we at FoodFacts.com always knew there was a good reason our mothers always told us to eat our vegetables. This new Swedish research simply confirms they were right all along.

Fast Food finds a way around the law

FoodFacts.com knows that many in our community have strong opinions regarding the fast food industry and how it affects our children’s health. We knew the following information would be valuable as you continue to make healthy food choices for yourselves and your families.

Beginning today, McDonald’s and other fast food chains in San Francisco will, by law, have to stop giving  toys away with their children’s meals. The city of San Francisco begins today to enforce the ordinance that prohibits including toys in any children’s meal that contains more than 600 calories, doesn’t include a fruit and vegetable or does include a sugary drink. We’re read a lot of conflicting opinions about these new requirements on fast food restaurants like McDonald’s — everything from fast food chains shouldn’t be patronized by adults, let alone children, ever … not even as a treat, to it’s the responsibility of parents and not the government to determine what their children consume and there should be no laws or requirements that restrict the habits of the public.

But, what if McDonald’s and other chains like it actually found a way to comply with the new law and basically give away the toys anyway? Are they doing something wrong? Are they being a smart business organization? Are they morally bankrupt? Or are they upholding the rights of people to decide for their children’s diet themselves, without government interference?

These are interesting questions, and we’ll all have to form opinions, because that’s exactly what the 19 McDonald’s restaurants in San Francisco have done. That’s right, they’re complying with the law, and anyone ordering a happy meal who wants a toy will now have to pay for it.

You might think that’s a deterrent to a child getting the happy meal to begin with.

Think again. The toy will only cost .10. And, in addition, that .10 will go directly to the Ronald McDonald House. Do you think that might be specifically designed to make the parents spending those ten pennies feel better about their kids eating all those greasy, fried, and sometimes strange ingredients?

But McDonald’s is not breaking the law. So now, by law, McDonald’s doesn’t need to make sure its kids’ meals contain less than 600 calories, include fruits and vegetables and don’t include any sugary drinks. That’s because, in reality, the consumer is paying for the toy … even if it costs a dime and that dime is being donated to the Ronald McDonald House charity.

So, for McDonalds anyway, all’s right with the world (or at least with San Francisco) … they comply with the law, they don’t have to change the ingredients in their children’s menu, Ronald McDonald House charities makes some money and the kids get the toys they wanted in the first place. Legislators heads may very well be spinning right now, because this is not the way things were supposed to unfold.

But, is everything alright for our children?

FoodFacts.com would like to get our community’s opinions on this very important subject. Do you think it’s o.k. for the fast food industry to market to children with toys (even if you have to pay .10 for them)? Or do you think that perhaps children’s meals don’t belong at McDonalds or Burger King or any other fast food establishment. After all, maybe if they weren’t there at all,  future generations of adults would be far better off in the long run.