Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Many Faces (er..Ears?) Of Corn … nutrition facts brought to you by

According to the USDA 2010 crop production summary corn for grain production is estimated at 12.4 billion bushels.1 With so many bushels of corn sold, you’d wonder what all the corn is being used for? As it turns out, corn is a versatile crop with a wide variety of uses. The national corn growers association states that there are more than 4,200 different uses for corn products.  Corn can be used for both food and non-food products. Non-food uses can include pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, while food uses can be as transparent as high fructose corn syrup or as ambiguous as sodium erythorbate (since that same product could come from a different source like, sugar canes or beets). This blog article will focus on corn derived products and ingredients which we may not realize use corn.


Antibiotics: Over 85 different types of antibiotics are produced using corn.  Penicillin is one of the antibiotics made using a corn product – corn steep liquor, as it has nutrients needed for penicillin to grow. It was formerly considered a waste material, corn steep liquor became a crucial ingredient in the large-scale production of penicillin.

Aspirin: an oxidized starch paste, which dries to a clear, adherent, continuous film, is spread in a thin layer over the aspirin.

Paper Products: Paper products use raw starch in the manufacturing process. The properties of high paste viscosity and strong gels are useful in specially coated papers. Pyrodextrins are also used for paper manufacturing for the adhesive property on remoistenable gums for postage stamps and packaging tape.


Beer: Beer manufacturing is a process of treating malt to convert and extract the barley starch to fermentable sugars using the amyloytic enzymes present in malt followed by yeast fermentation. However, demand for lighter, less filling beer, especially in the U.S., has permitted use of more refined carbohydrate sources of two types: a) dry adjuncts, primarily dry milled corn grits, broken rice, refined corn starch, and more recently, dextrose and b) liquid adjuncts, namely corn syrups.

Citric Acid: Used as preservative, pH control, and to add a tart flavor to foods. Citric acid can be found in fruit sauces, jellies, canned goods and many other types of foods. Citric acid can be derived from fruits, however in view of the fact that the isolation of citric acid from fruits is very expensive, it is commercially produced from sugar with the help of bacteria and yeasts.  (See the 331 page list of food items that use citric acid as an ingredient:

Iodized Salt: Iodine, an essential nutrient, is found in iodized salt. It was originally added to salt to prevent goiters. Corn derived dextrose is also added to iodized salt to help retain the added iodine.

Many (understatement perhaps?) products can be made from corn. It is used as food for humans and feed for animals, as well as nonfood uses in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, detergents and more. As science has a tendency to do, it will most likely find many more uses for corn.

See this poster for more products which use corn:

Expiration date: Never? … nutritional information brought to you by

We’ve all seen foods that have seemingly endless shelf lives. If these foods never expire, how are they be digested by our systems? Today, FoodFacts is going to take a look at what our bodies are capable of digesting and what happens to food we don’t digest.

The digestive system involves many different organs (from the mouth to anus) whose primary function is to break large molecules of food into smaller molecules of food and convert them into energy  and nutrients that our cells can use to sustain healthy bodily functions. Each organ in our digestive system has a primary function which lends itself to the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). For example, digestion begins in our mouths when we mechanically break down food using our teeth and the enzymes in our saliva (salivary amylase) start breaking down starches. In our stomachs, carbs, proteins and fats are broken down using gastric acid  (pH 1.5 – 3.5, by comparison, vinegar is around 3/4) and enzymes which denature proteins, digest lipids and further breakdown fats. This continues in the small intestines, where, with the exception of fiber) the macro (carbs/proteins/fats) and micro (vitamins and minerals) nutrients are absorbed.  In certain cases, such as lactose intolerance, the body does not have the enzyme (lactase) to break down the sugar (lactose). Bacteria in the intestines break down lactose, resulting in painful gas and stomach cramps (among other symptoms).

With the exception of fiber, substances that are not nutrients – such as additives and/or preservatives in foods – cannot be broken down by the body, as we do not have the enzymes to break them down.  Some foods, which are undigested, remain in the large intestine for a much longer period of time rather than being excreted.  These foods stay in our large intestines, incompletely digested and  are eliminated in our waste after being broken down by microbes in our intestines. Foods that stay in the large intestine could restrict motility, block absorption of other nutrients into our cells and /or result in malodorous excrement.

Some such ingredients would be Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) and butylated hydroxyanisole. These are preservatives keep food from spoiling, and probably from being properly digested. While these (and other) ingredients are considered safe for human consumption by our government,  it isn’t necessarily a good choice for our bodies. Stefani Bardin, a TEDxManhattan fellow, shows us how our ramen noodles  are digested in our stomach (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).|main5|dl12|sec1_lnk3pLid%3D134120  

Perhaps it is best to leave foods with long shelf lives on the shelves.

Natural Flavorings understands that these days, there are a growing number of consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the effects certain products and foods have on their health, their children’s health and/or the environment. To assuage their ethical /moral/health/whatever beliefs, many people have started purchasing “natural” foods and products. This has been evidenced by a rise in “green” products and “natural” foods. The word “natural” seems to be synonymous with the term “healthy” or “good for you/the environment/etc.” However, is natural always good for us? Poison Ivy and mosquitoes are technically natural, but (most) people wouldn’t want them in or around their body. We certainly don’t. When it comes to food, what does “natural” mean? If you find yourself reading food ingredient lists, wondering “what does ‘natural flavors’ mean,” then read on.

Let’s start with the term “natural.” We may think of the term regarding a substance that occurs in nature and is unadulterated by man. This is what the FDA defines as natural: “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Therefore, the FDA’s definition of the term natural is a food that does not contain synthetic additives. So while there is no technical definition of natural by the FDA, it refers to foods that have no synthetic additives. There is no mention of production methods. Furthermore, if a product is natural, it can contain “natural flavors.”

The FDA defines “natural flavors” as: “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors, include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in subpart A of part 582 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter” (that list is by no means exhaustive, see links of some below). Labeling laws also require manufacturers to list the top 8 allergens (milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans). However, could there be animal products in your natural flavorings? Possibly.

These flavors may also find their way into some organic products that may claim to be 70 – 95% organic, since it falls under the 5% or less category. Some non-organic substances are also allowed in processed organic foods, if they meet certain requirements, such as “Flavors, nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative” (

While food manufacturers have to comply with strict FDA standards for foods, and use ingredients that are shown to be safe for human consumption (as is the case with castoreum. It’s been around for years and has been shown to be GRAS). However, it is always helpful to know a little bit more about what is in your food. If you find yourself wanting to know what is exactly is the natural flavoring the company uses in a certain product, FoodFacts suggests you try contacting them.

Essential oils, oleoresins (solvent-free), and natural extractives (including distillates).
Spices and other natural seasonings and flavorings.
582.50 Certain other spices, seasonings, essential oils, oleoresins, and natural extracts.

Seeds: good things come in small packages

FoodFacts knows that seeds, which are often sowed, watered and waited for to reproduce some kind of food, pack a punch of nutrition relative to their size. However, you don’t need to wait for a seed to sprout to get all its nutrition. In just one ounce , seeds provide a good source of unsaturated fats, manganese, phosphorus and other vitamins and minerals. They are also low sodium, cholesterol and saturated fats. Most seeds are incomplete proteins, so mix them with grains, legumes and/or nuts to make complete proteins. Some seeds are also a great source of dietary fiber. Below, we have evaluated 5 seeds that are packed with nutrients, in no particular order.

1. Flaxseeds: We’ve all heard of these little guys. They are an excellent way to get your omega-3′s, widely available, come in seed and oil form. They are a great source of magnesium, (27% DV), Copper (17% DV), and Thiamin (31%). Flaxseed has all 9 essential amino acids in the amounts needed to make a complete protein, which is great for vegans and vegetarians. Crush seeds to get their full nutrient bioavailability.

Nutrition info: 1 oz contains 150 kcals, 12 g fat (6 grams omega-3), 8 grams fiber.

2. Sesame seeds: These seeds are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. They offer 24% of your magnesium, 19% phosphorus, 20% copper, 20% manganese and a whopping 39% selenium! Phytonutrients in these seeds can help aid in blocking cholesterol absorption. Tahini, made mostly from ground sesame seeds is often found in hummus. It is a complimentary protein to chickpeas, making hummus a complete protein. Yum!

Nutrition info: 1 oz of sesame seeds provides 177 kcals, 3 grams fat, 3 grams fiber

3. Sunflower seeds: A great source of Vitamin E, a 1 oz serving of sunflower seeds provides you with 37% of your daily vitamin E requirements! They are also a great source of selenium (32% of your DV), and copper (26%). A handful of sunflower seeds makes a fast and filling snack. Sunflower seed butter on whole wheat toast makes a complete protein; a simple and great snack any time.

Nutrition info: 1 oz has 163 kcals, 14g fat, 3 grams fiber.

4. Lotus Seeds: Lotus seeds are common in Asian cuisines. They can be eaten raw as a snack (with their bitter parts removed and used for medicinal purposes), added to soups or ground up and turned into paste for pastries. A serving size is low in calories and low in fat compared to other seeds, and a good source of nutrients such as Thiamin (12%), and potassium (11%). Add lotus seeds to a soup with legumes for a complete protein.

Nutrition info: 1 oz has 93 calories, 1 g fat.

5. Chia seeds: The very same that are used for Chia Pets are not only great for decorating terracotta figurines, but a great source of nutrition. Chia seeds are another great source of complete protein for vegans and vegetarians. They are also very versatile in cooking, since the seeds don’t impart flavor and absorb liquids to form a gel like consistency. Mix seeds with a milk of your choice to make chia pudding.

Nutrition info: 1 oz serving has 137 kcals, 9 g total fat, 11 grams fiber. It is also a good source of calcium, providing 18% of your daily needs per serving!

Watching sodium levels?

While grocery shopping the other day, we came across a bouillon that claims to be “Sodium Free.” The nutrition label even backs it up. There are exactly 0 mg of sodium per serving. Amazing! However, upon closer inspection of the ingredients list, we noticed that it contains “disodium inosinate” and “disodium gunaylate.” FoodFacts found this to be intriguing enough to share with everyone we know (and some that we don’t).

These ingredients are added to the bouillon in such tiny amounts (parts per million) that it could be considered negligible for most normal people. However, if you are sensitive to sodium, and/or monosodium glutamate, aka MSG (see how to spot MSG here: this might be something of interest to you. Further still, if you happen to look up those two ingredients on, you’ll see that they are used as flavor enhancers, used in conjunction with MSG. Meaning, just because you don’t see the words “monosodium glutamate” anywhere on the ingredients list, it could be hidden as something else, somewhere else on that list.

Many different sodium food additives exist in the food world. They have a range of uses as stabilizers, preservatives and/or flavor enhancers. However, if, for whatever reason, you are watching your sodium intake, you might want to not only look at the nutrition label, but keep reading the ingredients list. Keep an eye out for any ingredient that has sodium in it. For instance, sodium caseinate, sodium nitrate (nitrite), disodium EDTA, sodium benzoate, sodium bisulfite and disodium 5′ guanylate (a combination of disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate).
These are also ingredients we have listed as “controversial” on, as they could have potentially harmful effects. For example, sodium benzoate, when mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can create benzene – a known carcinogen. Effects of another sodium additive, Disodium 5′ Guanylate is not safe for babies under twelve weeks and should generally be avoided by asthmatics and people with gout, as the guanylates are metabolized to purines. However, with both of these ingredients, the typical amounts found in food are generally too low to produce significant side effects or cause serious damage.

Food science has found many great uses for sodium (which is both a naturally occurring and necessary mineral in our bodies). Without some additives, we could have spoiled food and gray deli meats (ew). In small amounts they may not cause any side effects, but what if you add up all the sodium additives in your diet? A little in your lunch meat, a little in your dairy, a little in your beverages. The amount of additives could add up. If you are watching your sodium intake, it could be something to be mindful of.