Tag Archives: nutritional information

Tyson closing two plants … good financial sense or decreasing demand from the center aisles?

TysonTruck_EmbeddedHere at FoodFacts.com we spend a lot of time talking about preparing fresh, whole foods in our own kitchens and buying ingredients instead of prepared dishes. We know that shopping the perimeter aisles of our grocery stores gives us a head start on healthier eating and we avoid those center aisles where boxes and cans take up shelf space. Tyson is one of the brands we’d find living in those aisles … it’s one of the brands that symbolizes the prepared foods we’re making every effort to avoid. So the news about Tyson closing two plants citing aging facilities and the vague “changing product needs” can easily lead us to believe that the decision may certainly be grounded in decreasing demand from the center aisles.

Tyson Foods Inc. announced plans to close the company’s prepared foods facilities in Jefferson, Wis., and Chicago. Production at the plants will cease Oct. 1, 2016, during the second half of the company’s fiscal year. Tyson said the plant closings will enable the company to transfer production to some of its other prepared foods operations.

Tyson attributed the closings to a combination of factors, including changing product needs and the age of both facilities. The company added that the costs to renovate the facilities were prohibitive. The distance of the Chicago plant from its raw material supply also was a factor.

“We examined many options before we turned down this road,” said Donnie King, president of North American operations. “This affects the lives of our team members and their families, making it a very difficult decision. But after long and careful consideration, we’ve determined we can better serve our customers by shifting production and equipment to more modern and efficient locations.”

Consumer demand drives many of the decisions coming from food giants like Tyson. Consumer voices have driven big manufacturers to drop the use of controversial ingredients from popular products, discontinue the use of genetically modified ingredients and create healthier product lines. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a plants manufacturing processed foods (whether for consumer, deli or hospitality purposes) might be losing ground in a marketplace increasingly made up of more educated and conscious consumers.

While those center aisles are still heavily populated with boxes, cans, bags and jars, the consumers shopping those aisles are lessening in numbers. This news from Tyson may not be associated with changing attitudes and lifestyles, we feel pretty positive that it’s not the only news we’ll be getting from big food manufacturers regarding a decreasing need for processing plants.


Redefining healthy eating: it’s personal

healthy eatingWe’ve all been there.  One of your best friends just lost 10 pounds in one month on that new diet everyone’s been talking about.  So you  go on the same diet.  30 days later and you’ve lost … absolutely nothing.  You know you didn’t cheat, you followed the diet to the letter.  You know you were eating healthy food.  And you SHOULD HAVE lost weight.  Shouldn’t you have?  Maybe we should be redefining healthy eating.

If you’ve ever tried out the latest diet fad only to find yourself gaining weight and feeling awful and wondered what you were doing wrong, scientists now have an explanation for you.

Israeli researchers, writing in the journal Cell this week, have found that different people’s bodies respond to eating the same meal very differently — which means that a diet that may work wonders for your best friend may not have the same impact on you.

Lead authors Eran Segal and Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science focused on one key component used in creating balanced diet plans like Atkins, Zone or South Beach. Known as the glycemic index or GI for short, it was developed decades ago as a measure of how certain foods impact blood sugar level and has been assumed to be a fixed number.

But it’s not. It turns out that it varies widely depending on the individual.

The researchers recruited 800 healthy and pre-diabetic volunteers ages 18 to 70 and collected data through health questionnaires, body measurements, blood tests, glucose monitoring and stool samples. They also had the participants input lifestyle and food intake information into a mobile app that ended up collecting information on a total of 46,898 meals they had.

Each person was asked to eat a standardized breakfast that included things like bread each morning.

They found that age and body mass index, as expected, appeared to impact blood glucose level after meals, but so did something else. Different individuals showed vastly different responses to the same food, even though their own responses remained the same day to day.

“There are profound differences between individuals — in some cases, individuals have opposite responses to one another,” Segal explained.

The researchers said the findings show that tailoring meal plans to individuals’ biology may be the future of dieting and the study yielded many surprises for individuals. One example involves a middle-aged woman who tried and failed with many diets. Tests showed that her blood sugar levels spiked after eating tomatoes — which the researchers said appeared to be a poor choice for her since high blood sugar has been associated with heart problems, obesity and diabetes — but since she didn’t know this, she was eating them as part of her healthy diet plans several times a week.
Elinav said the work “really enlightened us on how inaccurate we all were about one of the most basic concepts of our existence, which is how we eat and how we integrate nutrition into our daily life.”

To drill down even deeper into the question of why such vast differences exist, the researchers designed another experiment that involved personalized dietary interventions on 26 new volunteers. The goal was to reduce post-meal blood sugar levels. The clinicians designed two sets of specialized meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner and up to two intermediate meals — for each person that were theorized to be a “good” diet or a “bad” diet. Every participant followed the diets for a full week. The good diets worked, and not only did they see their blood sugar levels going down, they found alterations in their gut microbiota. One interesting finding was that even though the diets were very personalized, several of the changes in the microbiota were similar for participants.

This appears to imply, the researcher said, that we’re “really conceptually wrong” in our thinking about the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

We think “we know how to treat these conditions, and it’s just that people are not listening and are eating out of control,” Segal said, “but maybe people are actually compliant and in many cases we were giving them the wrong advice.”

By using the information from the study, the researchers were able to come up with the holy grail of dieting: an algorithm that takes hundreds of factors about a person and turns them into a tailor-made meal plan. The results were pretty surprising to both the doctors and participants. “It wasn’t just salad every day,” Segal told The Atlantic. “Some people got alcohol, chocolate, and ice-cream, in moderation.”

Lua Wilkinson, a doctoral candidate in nutritional sciences at Cornell, said the study is interesting because it shows “the way people control their blood sugar involves more than just carb intake or glycemic index. However, she cautioned, “it said nothing about health effects or weight loss.”

FoodFacts.com encourages everyone to explore their personal healthy eating style.  Experiment with the healthy food that will help you lose weight – or maintain the healthy weight you’ve worked so hard to attain.  Learn what foods work for you and stay committed to your healthy eating profile!




Turkeys in a Pen

What that label really means: Thanksgiving Edition

If you’re hosting the annual Thanksgiving feast this year, you’ve been doing a lot of shopping. You’ve probably grabbed some sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cans of pumpkin and maybe some green beans.

But when you approach a refrigerated section of the store piled high with turkeys, you’re suddenly inundated with labels: natural, fresh, no hormones, young, premium and so on. Pretty soon, your head is spinning, so you grab the nearest one. As you head to the checkout line, you wonder if you’ve just made an ethical choice or been duped.

This scenario has become part of the Thanksgiving experience for many shoppers. If you’re like me, you may have told yourself that, someday, you’ll learn what all those labels actually mean. Well, today is that day. Because this is your guide to the utterly confusing world of turkey labels — a glossary for the wannabe informed Thanksgiving shopper.

What you might think it means: The turkey was slaughtered this morning (or maybe yesterday) and was rushed to my local grocery store, where consumers like me will taste the difference!

What it actually means: “Fresh” has nothing to do with the time between slaughter and sale. Instead, it means that the turkey has not been cooled to below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it was never frozen. Above 26 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat can remain pliant — you can press it in with your thumb.


What you might think it means: This bird was killed at a younger age than most turkeys and is therefore more tender and delicious. Maybe it also suffered less.
What it actually means: The bird was likely killed at the same age as most other turkeys. According to Daisy Freund, an animal welfare certification expert at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, most commercial turkeys are slaughtered at 16 to 18 weeks, compared to the roughly 10 years turkeys live in the wild. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not define “young” for turkeys, but it requires that turkeys that lived more than a year be labeled as “yearling” or “mature.”


What you might think it means: The turkeys have been raised in a “natural” environment, wandering around in the woods or on a farm, scavenging food and gobble-gobbling their cares away.
What it actually means: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it means no artificial ingredients have been added to the turkey meat, and the meat is only minimally processed. But Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports, says the term isn’t helpful at all. “It has nothing to do with whether the turkeys got antibiotics every day, were living in filthy conditions or were confined indoors,” she says. Her organization is campaigning against the use of the term, which they feel misleads consumers. The Food and Drug Administration also has admitted it’s a challenge to define the term and just asked the public for help.

On that note, let’s pause for a minute to answer a basic question — how exactly are most turkeys in the U.S. raised?

“The vast majority of turkeys are living in crowded houses — football field-sized sheds that are entirely enclosed — by the tens of thousands,” says the ASPCA’s Freund. 

She says the 30-pound birds typically have their beaks cut to prevent them from injuring or killing one another, and are allotted an average of two square feet of space. “It’s like living your entire life in Times Square on New Year’s Eve,” she says.

Meanwhile, Freund says, manure often piles up beneath the birds, and ammonia hangs thick in the air. Many turkeys are routinely given antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick. Plus, modern turkeys have been selectively bred to mature quickly and have extremely large breasts (for more white meat). Many have trouble standing and are incapable of having sex — their large chests get in the way, Freund says.

To be clear, turkey producers must still meet basic safety standards and the meat should be safe. But terms like “natural” may be misleading consumers about how the birds are actually raised.


What you might think it means: These turkeys roam freely on a farm, pecking at the lush grass and getting more exercise than I do.
What it actually means: In some cases (on some small farms), it does mean what you’re picturing. But Rangan says in the vast majority of cases, “free-range” turkeys are raised in the standard, crowded houses. The only difference, she says, is that these birds must have “access to the outdoors.”
But the word “access” is broadly used. “If the animal never even went outdoors, but you sort of opened and closed the door every day, that would suffice to label the bird as ‘free-range,’ ” she says.


What you might think it means: This turkey had a better life than most, because at least it wasn’t stuffed into a tiny cage.
What it actually means: This turkey’s life was probably the same as most, because turkeys are not raised in cages. The conventional practice — which accounts for well over 95 percent of all commercial turkeys, according to ASPCA — is to raise them in open houses. So, calling a turkey cage-free is sort of like calling a cantaloupe cage-free.

What you might think it means: This turkey is a higher grade of meat, and is more delicious and healthy.
What it actually means: Basically, nothing. The USDA grades beef cuts with words like “prime,” “choice” and “select,” but premium is not one of their designations and these graded terms are not used for poultry anyway.
 A company can label any kind of turkey as “premium.”

No Hormones Added
What you might think it means: This bird is healthier than most because it wasn’t pumped full of the hormones that turn some turkeys into the Incredible Hulk.
What it actually means: Once again, this term is misleading. By USDA law, turkeys (and other poultry) are not allowed to be given growth hormones.

Humane/Non-Certified Humane

What you might think it means: Finally, a bird that has been raised according to an ethical set of principles. It was probably treated fairly and lived a decent life. Maybe it even got to kiss its loved ones goodbye.

What it actually means: If there is no certifying agency, which there isn’t for this term, the label is probably meaningless, says Rangan from Consumer Reports. That’s because the USDA allows companies to come up with their own definition of “humane” and it gives its seal of approval if the company meets its own standards. In these cases, “it probably just means they met the conventional baseline,” says Rangan.

That’s most of the virtually meaningless terms. Let’s move on to some labels that have at least some significance.


What you might think it means: The turkey was raised according to a stricter set of hygiene standards. It was probably kept cleaner and healthier.
What it actually means: The turkey was probably raised in the same crowded house conditions as most turkeys. The only difference is that it was slaughtered according to a set of kosher principles.


What you might think it means: This turkey enjoyed a lush supply of greens and grains, replicating its natural diet.
What it actually means: The bird probably ate what most turkeys eat: corn. But these birds have not had their diets supplemented with animal byproducts, which does happen in some settings. The irony, though, is that turkeys are not natural vegetarians. In the wild, they eat a variety of bugs and worms, along with grass and other plants.

Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered
What you might think it means: These birds were never given any antibiotics of any kind.
What it actually means: These birds were given drugs only if they were sick, but not for growth promotion, feed efficiency or to prevent disease. That means their producers are contributing less to the risk of antibiotic resistance and to “superbugs”— a serious health concern. However, Rangan suggests that consumers look for the USDA label with this term, to verify that the companies have been inspected. And she points out that the label does not mean the birds were raised in more sanitary conditions — only that they were not given routine antibiotics.

What you might think it means: These turkeys were raised on a steady diet of organic vegetables, green smoothies and Bikram yoga.

What it actually means: To meet the requirements for the USDA’s Certified Organic program, animals must have some access to the outdoors (though there’s debate about whether or not most organic turkeys actually go outdoors), be fed only organic feed (non-GMO and grown without chemical pesticides) and must not be given antibiotic drugs on a routine basis. Rangan says organic conditions are “significantly different” from conventional conditions. And yet, she says, organic lags behind the conditions enjoyed by humanely raised birds.

Which brings us to the final section.

There are three main organizations that have publicly available standards for “humane” treatment. Birds bearing these labels typically are granted real access to the outdoors, eat a diverse diet and have the opportunity to behave as they would in the wild. You can read more about the specific criteria by clicking on each name.

Animal Welfare Approved

Turkeys with this label come from farms that have been audited at least once a year, and have met criteria for animal welfare, environmental protection and community well-being. According to its website, “Provisions are made to ensure [the animals'] social interaction, comfort, and physical and psychological well-being.”

Certified Humane

This is also a label with clearly defined parameters for animal and environmental care. Its website says, “The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices.”

Global Animal Partnership, or GAP

This is a rating system with six different levels, ranging from less crowding (level one) to animals without clipped beaks spending their entire life on the same farm, with enhanced access to the outdoors
 (level five-plus).

To summarize, here’s a cheat sheet:

Labels that mean very little: Fresh, Young, Natural, Premium, Cage-Free, Free-Range, No Hormones Added, Humane (not certified or USDA certified)

Labels that mean something specific: Kosher, Raised Without Antibiotics/No Antibiotics Administered, Vegetarian-Fed/Grain-Fed, Organic

Labels that mean the birds were raised humanely: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, GAP

And there you have it. This information has certainly enlightened all of us at FoodFacts.com and put us to work on a whole new shopping mission for Thanksgiving 2015! We love to understand exactly what a label is telling us … what’s hype and what’s highly important. As soon as consumers understand labels, they know how to find what they’re looking for and that means they know exactly what’s in their food.

Kind of like our website and our app. Funny how that works.

Happy Thanksgiving!


The FDA approves Frankenfish … GMO salmon on the market in as little as two years

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Here in America, there are some crops we can pretty much guarantee are GMO. Our corn, our soy, cottonseed, canola and sugar beets are predominantly genetically modified. In the absence of real GMO labeling, this is helpful information for those who are consciously avoiding consuming genetically modified foods. Unfortunately, the FDA just made that a little more difficult by approving genetic modification in a completely different arena.  GMO salmon may be on the market in as little as two years.

This is big: The Food and Drug Administration approved the first genetically modified animal designed to be food. It’s an Atlantic salmon that also contains genetic material from Pacific-Chinook salmon and, well … this thing — an eel-ish creature known as ocean pout. The AquaAdvantage, as it’s officially called, has for years had its critics (for starters, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s), and that number is likely to keep growing now that the debate isn’t just academic and the fillets could soon be for sale at your local seafood counter.

AquaBounty, the biotech company behind this Frankenfish, says the salmon will be available in two years, and, controversially, there will almost certainly be no label identifying the fish as GM. As the company’s CEO Ron Stotish explains, “When you’re the first and only, labeling is a dangerous decision. We’d like to label it as a premium product, but we’ll probably introduce it as ‘Atlantic salmon.’” AquaBounty says the advantages of this particular fish are that it grows twice as fast and only needs about 75 percent as much food as most conventional salmon.

In addition to the ongoing debate around food that’s been genetically modified, critics are also concerned that these salmon could escape into the wild. The company says that’s not very likely, but it’s implemented “several layers” of safeguards just in case — the fish are raised in sealed-off facilities in Canada and Panama, and the fish that are not used for breeding are always sterilized. Haven’t these people ever seen Jurassic Park?

While GMO salmon isn’t coming to your grocery store fish counter tomorrow, it is on the foreseeable horizon, with some estimates placing the market arrival of this new breed of fish at about 24 months. And once it does show up, GMO salmon isn’t going to be identifiable at that fish counter. The small sign sticking up from the ice next to those filets of fresh salmon won’t read New Salmon Product from AquaBounty. And we’ll never actually know what we’re eating. So even if you don’t like the idea that your salmon is part “eel-ish,” FoodFacts.com wants you to remember that it won’t matter. Because somehow or another according to AquaBounty and the FDA, we’ll all forget about it, stop caring about what we’re eating, or suddenly be perfectly fine with companies pretending to be Mother Nature without actually knowing or understanding whether or not there are ramifications or consequences. We need to stay vocal about this and remind them that there assumptions are incorrect.


New food delivery options expand dining choices beyond fast food and traditional take out

door dashDon’t feel like cooking? Traditionally, unless you live in a large urban area, your options have been fairly limited. You can usually get delivery from a local diner (but not always), some fast casual chains might deliver or you can always visit any one of your local assortment of fast food locations. Ever-evolving technology is changing all of that for us. New food delivery options expand dining choices for everyone.  FoodFacts.com is thrilled with the new wave of delivery services made possible by apps and e-commerce. While it’s certainly true that many of them are working with fast food, these services are opening up new and better ways for consumers to opt for better quality, fresher, healthier foods without cooking.

Years ago, Amazon hooked shoppers on cheap books delivered in days. Now, the e-commerce giant is blowing up the online marketplace again by reaching into the fast growing world of food delivery.

Amazon’s one-hour delivery arm, Prime Now, announced plans this week to provide Los Angeles-area residents with doorstep delivery of meals from local. The news comes as app-based food delivery services are growing at a rapid clip as consumers demand hassle-free, doorstep deliveries on everything from groceries to tacos to alcohol.

“These are people who don’t leave the house very much,” said Roland Foss, whose Mission Market convenience store in Fullerton delivers via ordering systems by DoorDash, Eat24 and GrubHub.

Many food companies, from Irvine-based Taco Bell to Foss’ mom-and-pop shop, are using third-party applications, which help increase sales with very little to lose in terms of capital investment.

The three services allow Foss to sell everything from microwavable meals to vaping products to customers who might never walk through his tiny storefronts in Fullerton and Anaheim.

“We are platform agnostic, and I don’t mind being on as many platforms as possible,” Foss said. “I’m just expanding the footprint of my potential customers and earnings.”

Since summer, Foss has been working with GrubHub and Yelp-owned Eat24 to provide mobile ordering to customers in the greater Fullerton area. Typical orders include sandwiches, cookies, chips and frozen foods. But there’s a catch: Those two services leave delivery up to the business.

In many cases, Foss is making the deliveries himself – which is not ideal, or efficient, he said. Sometimes it’s challenging to find homes in gated communities. One time, he couldn’t get into a secured apartment complex, so he left the person’s delivery outside the gate and sent the customer a message.

This month, Foss partnered with DoorDash, an Uber-like food delivery service that is spreading quickly across the country. The company provides an app-based ordering system, as well as the delivery drivers, called Dashers.

Even though the Bay area-based courier service takes a larger cut of overall sales, Foss said it’s worth it. The service takes care of delivery.

Here’s a look at the major food delivery players in Southern California:

Founded two years ago in a Stanford dorm room, DoorDash offers delivery of everything from tacos to toothbrushes. To date its primary partnerships have been with nationally known restaurants and food retailers such as Taco Bell, KFC and 7-Eleven.
Its network of independent contract “dashers” deliver meals in more than 250 cities across the U.S. DoorDash is available in all parts of Orange County except La Palma, Los Alamitos and Cypress.

Depending on the city, dashers can fetch everything from a bucket of fried chicken from KFC to an Iced Americano from Portola Coffee Lab for a delivery fee of $5.99. Fees vary and don’t include tipping, which is optional.

Delivery options depend on the city. Restaurants available for delivery also change depending on location. DoorDash provides an estimated time of delivery, which can take longer than an hour during peak days and hours.

Founded in 2011 in San Francisco, Postmates offers on-demand delivery of personal services, such as dry cleaning, as well as groceries and electronics and restaurant meals.

But its bread and butter, so far, is food delivery, which accounts for 80 percent of its business, said Sean Plaice, Postmates’ co-founder and chief technical officer.

“Food is to us like books were to Amazon,” said the former Orange County resident.

As a 4-year-old player in an emerging market, Postmates has set the bar for same-day delivery, he said.

The company’s fleet of couriers are in 40 metropolitan markets in the country, compared with 19 for DoorDash. Its couriers are available in most every city in Orange County. For as little as $4.99 (plus a 9 percent service fee), customers can use Postmates around the clock.

Citizen couriers or drivers, like Uber, roam the streets and “accept” requests based on the best match – typically someone who is closest to the location from which the order originates. Unlike DoorDash, orders can be customized. For example, you can order school supplies or bandages from retailers not necessarily showing up on the Postmates app.

“You can get anything delivered from anywhere,” said Plaice. “I’m proud to say we’re pioneers in this.”

In February, GrubHub expanded its foothold in the online food ordering sector by buying two restaurant delivery companies: Aliso Viejo-based Restaurants on the Run and Boston-based DiningIn.

The company curates online orders for more than 35,000 restaurant partners around the country. Since completing the acquisitions, GrubHub has created a delivery network to reach more than 30 markets, the company said.

Restaurants on the Run has a built-in delivery system for chains such as El Torito, BJ’s Restaurants and California Pizza Kitchen.

The company, founded in 1993, specializes in large corporate food deliveries. Individuals can make small orders, but some restaurants require a $20 minimum order on top of delivery fees.

To compete with delivery services that offer lower fees, GrubHub said it plans to “reduce fees over time.”

Amazon Prime Now
Amazon’s Prime Now and its one- or two-hour delivery service serves customers in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, including the Orange County cities of Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Orange.

The service offers tens of thousands of items, including household goods, groceries and electronics.

The delivery service, which operates in 13 metro areas across the U.S., can only be accessed through its mobile app. Members can check delivery options by entering their ZIP code.

Needless to say, FoodFacts.com still thinks preparing your food at home in your own kitchen is the ideal way to go. But we know it’s not always possible and we do think that these innovative new food delivery options open the opportunity to consumers to eat substantially better when they’re not cooking at home than ever before. These services aren’t just contracting with your local pizzeria and convenience store. They’re working with restaurants that aren’t the usual take out places. Find out the services in your area and open a new door in your efforts to live a healthier lifestyle all the time!


Coffee drinkers enjoy life more

coffee potWhile coffee lovers everywhere might look at that headline and heartily agree – there may just be more to it than you’d think. Sure, drinking coffee might perk you up so you can be more present during your daily activities and interactions. And health benefits like decreased stroke risk and Type 2 diabetes risk could help you enjoy life more. But according to a new study, coffee drinkers enjoy life more because their coffee drinking might allow them to enjoy more life. Multiple cups of joe every day may help boost longevity.

“In our study, we found people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn’t drink coffee,” says one of the study authors, nutrition researcher Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health. Decaf drinkers also saw benefits.
The findings, published in the journal Circulation, build on a body of evidence linking a coffee habit to potential health benefits.

Now, of course, it’s possible to overdo it with caffeine. Research has shown that consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine can interfere with sleep and create feelings of unease. And some of us are even more sensitive.

One study found that 200 milligrams of caffeine (the equivalent of about two cups of coffee) is an optimal amount to enhance cognitive function and mood among sleep-deprived people. But we don’t all metabolize caffeine the same way.

As we’ve reported, the caffeine amounts in coffee vary wildly. One analysis, conducted by Bruce Goldberger, found a 16-ounce cup of caffeinated coffee from Starbucks could contain anywhere from 250 milligrams to more than 500 milligrams of caffeine.

“Not everyone reacts to coffee in the same way,” says Andrew Maynard, who studies risk assessment at Arizona State University. He summarizes the benefits documented in this study as “small.”

He says this study does not prove cause and effect between drinking coffee and living longer. Rather, it points to an association. “There are a lot of unknowns as to what [may explain] the increase in life expectancy,” Maynard says.

Here’s a conversation from The Salt about the findings with study co-author Walter Willett, edited for length and clarity.

So, what do you think might explain this association? In the study, you point to compounds in coffee — such as lignans, quinides and magnesium — that may help reduce insulin resistance and inflammation. Prior studieshave pointed to these as well.

We’re not sure exactly how coffee is [linked] to all these benefits. The coffee bean itself is loaded with many different nutrients and phytochemicals. And my guess is that they’re working together to have some of these benefits.

We [see] similar benefits from caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. That’s important, because it suggests that caffeine is not responsible for [the benefit].

So this may be welcome news to people who drink decaf?

Yes, because too much [caffeinated] coffee can cause insomnia and loss of sleep, and that’s not a good thing!

The reduced risk of death was not seen among the coffee drinkers in your study who were smokers or former smokers.

Definitely. It’s extremely important to disentangle the effects of coffee from the effects of cigarette smoking.

So, what’s the take-home here? Is it that coffee can be part of a healthy lifestyle?

I think if people like coffee, it’s fine to include it [as part of your daily habit]. So, certainly, [people] should not feel guilty about moderate coffee consumption. It definitely can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
I wouldn’t suggest that someone who doesn’t like coffee go out and drink it.

Are you a coffee drinker? Are these findings likely to influence your own behaviors?

Well, I really like a good cup of coffee. But if I have more than two cups a day, I really don’t sleep as well. So, I’ve been switching more toward decaf or half decaf/half regular.

In this study, you also analyzed how coffee influenced the risk of specific diseases — or categories of diseases. What did you find?

We went beyond total mortality and looked at specific causes of death. And we found that people who drink moderate amounts of coffee have lower risk of [death] from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurologic disease [such as Parkinson's] and suicide.
Your findings come from data from two Nurses’ Health Studies, which included about 167,000 women. And it also looked at the 40,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
As you point out, the participants in these studies are about 95 percent white, largely middle-class and well-educated. Can you extrapolate to other populations?
Yes, I’m quite sure these findings would apply to other populations. This is a biological relationship. And we basically have a common biology.

FoodFacts.com is always happy to see more good news associated with our favorite hot beverage. And while it’s always important for all of us to understand how much is too much, it certainly appears that there’s a lot more going on in that cup than just the caffeine!


FDA issues food safety rules for farmers under Food Safety Modernization Act

lettuceWe were all enthusiastic about the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act five years ago. It was the most sweeping reform to food safety laws in the U.S. in more than 70 years. The FMSA shifts the focus of federal regulators from responding to food contamination to preventing food contamination. We’ve been reactive instead of proactive when it comes to food safety for far too many decades. While several new rules were implemented after the act’s passage in 2011, the majority of requirements will be implemented over time. FoodFacts.com was pleased to learn today that the FDA has acted to issue one of the most significant aspects of the FSMA.

It took much longer than expected, but the Food and Drug Administration has now released the centerpiece — or at least, the most contested — part of that overhaul. These are rules that cover farmers who grow fresh produce, as well as food importers.

“This is a giant step forward,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.
Earlier drafts of the regulations on vegetable farming generated howls of protest. The rules are intended to prevent disease-causing bacteria from contaminating vegetables that people often eat raw.

But small farmers, in particular, complained that some requirements, such as those calling for regular testing of irrigation water, were onerous and costly. Organic farmers protested against restrictions on the use of manure for fertilizer.

The final regulations contain compromises on some of those requirements. The FDA is conducting more research on the risks of using fresh manure, but in the meantime, it “does not object” to farmers simply following rules that already govern the use of manure in organic farming.

New regulations on food importers, meanwhile, require them to have programs in place to verify that their foreign suppliers are taking just as many safety precautions as farmers in the U.S. And the FDA will check up, sending safety inspectors around the world to visit food suppliers.

Both rules will start to go into effect in two years. Enforcing the new rules will require a boost in the FDA’s budget, and Congress will have to approve it. “It will not succeed without resources,” said the FDA’s Taylor.

While there do seem to be some loose ends, we are headed in the right direction. Foodborne illnesses are far too common and costly to the consumers they affect as well as the food manufacturers who recall the tainted food and pay legal expenses associated with those illnesses.


Defining Natural Foods … the government seems to need our help

Natural Food DefinitionThe FDA need consumer help to define Natural Foods. FoodFacts.com really sat down and thought about this. We’ve decided that the government turning to the public for help defining natural foods is a good thing. That’s because it’s our opinion that they have managed to get more than a few things wrong in the world of food when left to their own devises. We’re hopeful that the public will weigh in on this with the same kind of gusto we’ve seen challenge the food industry for making untruthful claims.

The government, or more specifically, The Food and Drug Administration is seeking your input to answer a question: How should the agency define “natural” on food labels?

Disagreement over what “all natural” or “100 percent natural” means has spawned dozens of lawsuits. Consumers have challenged the naturalness of all kinds of food products.

For instance, can a product that contains high fructose corn syrup be labeled as natural? What about products that contain genetically modified ingredients?

The FDA has received three citizen petitions asking for clarification. And, beginning Thursday, the agency will ask us — the public — to weigh in. Comments can be submitted electronically.

Developing a comprehensive, legal definition for this buzzword may be tough. After all, saying something is natural is a little bit like saying something is beautiful. The judgment is in the eye of the beholder.

Ivan Wasserman, a lawyer with the firm Manatt, Phelps & Philips who tracks this issue was asked some questions.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking people to weigh in on a definition for the term “natural” on food labels. Will this process lead to a new rule — a codified, legal definition?

By requesting comments, the FDA is obligated to review them. So, [the agency] has certainly taken on a big project in simply announcing this. But it has not announced that it’s creating a new rule or definition.

The FDA says it has had a long-standing policy on this issue and has “considered the term ‘natural’ to mean … nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source).” So why is there still confusion over what counts as “natural”?

This policy does not address a lot of these newer issues [such as GMO ingredients, or newer ways of processing foods].

If the FDA were to create a more strict, more comprehensive definition, it would give manufacturers a lot more guidance on whether or not they could use the term “natural” on their food products.

There have been a lot of class-action lawsuits brought against companies that have labeled their products as “natural.” What are some of the most interesting examples?

Some of the original cases were brought against companies that included high fructose corn syrup in their products — which is obviously an ingredient that comes from corn, but has been processed. And there have been lawsuits against companies for including genetically modified ingredients in their products.

There are a lot of sides to this argument. And I think at the end of this process if the FDA does create a definition for “natural,” it’s going to be hard to satisfy everyone.

Food companies may also like the looser language since it gives them more wiggle room to use the term “natural.” Can you think of any precedents here — in food law — of creating stricter standards for food labels?

Yes: the organic label. If you see the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] organic seal on a food product, that has a very strict program [and set of rules] on what foods can bear that seal. So there is some precedent. But the term “natural” is a little more vague.

Do you agree that natural is a vague term?

We’ve always had an issue with the government definition for the ingredient “Natural Flavor.” By government definition it refers to a combination of ingredients that are derived from natural sources. There are some problems with that – in the first place that one ingredient, “Natural Flavor” is actually more than one ingredient. You’ll just never know which ingredients that manufacturer used to create the single “Natural Flavor.” You’ll also never know if you’re allergic to any of them … or if the manufacturer chemically processed a substance that was derived from natural sources. So there’s a big gray area concerning whether or not those ingredients are really natural. They may have started out that way, but you have no way of knowing exactly how it was processed to become part of that “Natural Flavor.”

We actually find the government definition of “Natural Flavor” to be vague … not necessarily the word natural. In fact, we’re pretty sure we could come up with a definition – and we’re pretty sure concerned consumers can as well.

Let’s all give the FDA our very specific ideas! We’re the people they need to hear from on this very important issue. So visit this link: http://www.fda.gov/Food/NewsEvents/ConstituentUpdates/ucm471919.htm and follow the instructions. Let’s tell them that GMO ingredients aren’t natural … that high fructose corn syrup isn’t natural … that natural flavor needs a more sensible definition – and the other actual facts surrounding this issue that in truth really aren’t vague at all!


Eat slowly to eat well.

eat strawberriesWe’ve all got the same goal in mind – healthy eating. Dietary habits can vary – some are vegetarian, others vegan, some adapt a Mediterranean-style diet, some opt for Paleo. No matter how different our dietary choices may be, we’re all looking for optimum health. At the same time, we’re also looking for an optimum eating experience. Decades ago, healthy eating meant sacrificing flavor for health. Today, we’re looking to enjoy the flavors of the fresh, whole foods we consume. We expect to eat well as well as eat healthy. New information suggests that one of the most important aspects of that experience is pretty simple. Eat slowly to eat well.

When it comes to enjoying the flavors in food, our tongues really aren’t that useful. They can detect just a few basic tastes: sweet, salt, sour, bitter, umami, and maybe fat.

But real complexity comes from a food or drink’s aroma, and the main way we sense all the compounds isn’t from sniffing. Our bodies actually blast scents from the back of our mouths up into our nasal cavity where we can take in the difference between merlot and Chianti, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Of course, you can smell foods by holding them up to your face and huffing. But that’s not quite the same as taking in all the flavors of a food. “When we have food or drink in our mouths, [the flavor] has to be going from the back of the mouth up and into the noise – going backwards,” says Dr. Gordon Shepherd, a neuroscientist at Yale University.

To figure out how that works, Shepherd and a team of Yale engineers and neuroscientists built a model of the inside of a person’s mouth, throat and nasal cavities. Then they used the model to analyze how air flows through it. They found that molecules from food we smell, or food volatiles, pile up at the back of our mouths and throats as we breathe.

When we’re breathing in through the nose, as one might do while chewing, air whips down the nasal cavity and into the lungs, creating a kind of air curtain separating the throat and the mouth. “That air curtain prevents all food volatiles from entering the lungs,” says Rui Ni, a mechanical engineer at Penn State University and lead author on the study. When we exhale, air sweeps into the back of the mouth and throat where that heap of volatile compounds is and carries them up into the nose.

This all happens naturally, Ni says. “But you can only do this effectively when you breathe smoothly,” he says. If you’re stuffing food with abandon down your throat or gasping for breath or heaving, you start to disrupt that normal pattern of airflow. Food volatiles won’t store properly at the back of your mouth, and they could get sucked into your lungs and pass into the bloodstream.

The other problem, notes Laleh Golshahi, a mechanical engineer at Virginia Commonwealth University who was not involved with the study, is if you inhale too slowly while eating, that air curtain doesn’t form effectively. Food volatiles don’t get bounced out of the trachea and then could also be drawn into the lungs.
“[Breathing] not too fast and not too slow is the key,” she tells The Salt in an email. “Though the faster you exhale, you have a better chance to sweep food volatiles from the back of your throat toward the nasal cavity to smell.”

Ni agrees. And so the big takeaway from this study for us eaters is this: To get the best sensory experience from your food, eat slowly and breathe evenly as you do it.

The scientists behind the PNAS study only scanned the throat, nasal and oral cavities of one patient, Golshahi notes. So there could be variability among us that might make the situation different for each person. But best practices for anyone probably include relaxed eating and even breathing.

Savoring your food slowly seems to be the way to go for other reasons, too. One study found that when dieters ate slowly, it became easier to control their food intake. And kids who are forced to hurry down a meal in a few minutes ate less and threw out more food.

FoodFacts.com knows that following this advice can sometimes be easier said than done. We’re all way too busy. Slowing down seems to be a thing of the past with few of us having the luxury of doing so. Fitting our quest for the healthiest possible diet into what’s already a packed schedule can seem daunting, leaving us in a “grab-and-go” situation more times than not. We’d like to commit to slowing things down a bit. Let’s leave ourselves time to savor our meals whenever we can. It’s more enjoyable. It’s better for us. And it’s an important choice to make for our healthy lifestyles.


Happy Veteran’s Day – find out where veterans eat for free today

veterans-day-free-meals-freebiesFoodFacts.com loves the idea that we’re seeing public acknowledgement of our veterans today on the day we commemorate their valuable service to our country. The parades are great – we all enjoy them. But we really like the idea of a tangible “thank you” and are happy to see several restaurants participating in free meals for veterans today. Find out where veterans eat for free today.  Here’s a working list … so if you know a veteran, please share!

Note: Offers good at participating location. Uniform or military ID may be required as proof of service. Some of the offers listed below originally found at military.com.

Applebee’s – Restaurant offering veterans and active military a free meal from open to close on Nov. 11.

Bar Louie – Free meal up to $12 November 10th and 11th with proof of military ID or service.
Brann’s Steakhouse – Free 6 oz sirloin and two sides

Bob Evans – Veterans and active military personnel get the choice of a free breakfast menu item on Nov. 11. Find more information here

Bonefish Grill – Veterans and active military get free Bang Bang Shrimp on Nov. 11. Find more information here

California Pizza Kitchen – Veterans and active military personnel can choose a free entrée from a list of pizzas, salads and pastas. Find more information here

Carrabba’s — All veterans and active duty service members get a free appetizer November 9 through 15.

Cheeseburger in Paradise – Free burger with fries on Nov. 11. Find more information here

Chili’s – Veterans and active military personnel get free meal from a selection of items. More information here

Cracker Barrel – Veterans receive free Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake on Nov. 11; 10% of sales from the cake will go to the USA Transition 360 Alliance. Find more information here

Dairy Queen – Select Dairy Queen locations will offer free $5 lunches on Veterans Day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; offer includes the following locations: Noblesville DQ Grill & Chill at 5625 Pebble Village Ln, Carmel DQ Grill & Chill at 9802 N Michigan Rd, Meridian St DQ Grill & Chill at 9040 N Meridian St, Indy DQ Grill & Chill at 2425 National Ave, and Greencastle DQ Grill & Chill in Greencastle

Denny’s – Veterans and active military get Free Build Your Own Grand Slam from 5 a.m. to noon on Nov. 11. Find more information here

Dunkin’ Donuts – Free medium hot or iced coffee on Nov. 11. Find more information here

FATZ Café — Veterans and active military get a free World Famous Calabash Chicken meal on November 11.

Fazoli’s – Veterans and active military get free Build Your Own Pasta on Nov. 11. Find more information here

Golden Corral – Free thank you dinner on Military Appreciation Night (Nov. 11 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.). Find more information here

Hooters – Veterans and active military get a free menu item of their choice of a pre-selected menu on Nov. 11. Find more information here

IHOP – Free Red, White & Blue pancakes for veterans and active military from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 11. Find more information here

Krispy Kreme — Krispy Kreme is offering a free doughnut and small coffee to all veterans on November 11 at participating locations.

Krystal — Active and retired military receive a free Krystal Chicken or Sausage Biscuit from 6 AM to 11:00 AM on November 11.

Little Caesars – Veterans and active military personnel receive a free $5 Hot-N-Ready lunch combo, which includes a small deep dish pizza and a 20-ounce drink. Find more information here

Logan’s Roadhouse — In addition to the 10% military discount offered every day, military and former military guests will also receive a free dessert on November 11.

Long John Silver’s – Offering a free 2-piece fish basket to our veterans this week at participating locations. Find more information here

O’Charley’s – Veterans and active duty service members get a free $9.99 meal on November 9, as well as free pie on November 11.

Olive Garden – Veterans and active military eat free from selection of entrées. Family members dining with them also get 10% off their meals. Find more information here

On the Border — Veterans and active duty military can enjoy a free meal from the “Create Your Own Combo menu” on November 11.

Outback Steakhouse – Veterans and active military personnel receive free Bloomin’ Onion and beverage on Nov. 11; deployed personnel can get a rain check for the offer. Find more information here

Ponderosa – Veterans and active military receive free buffet on Nov. 11 from 4 p.m. to close. Find more information here

Red Lobster – Veterans and active military receive their choice of free appetizer or dessert; offer good from Nov. 9 through Nov. 12. Find more information here

Red Robin – Veterans and active military personnel get free Red’s Tavern Double burger with bottomless steak fries on Nov. 11. Find more information here

Ruby Tuesday — Veterans, active duty and reserve service members get a free appetizer on November 11.

Starbucks — Veterans, active duty service members and spouses get a free tall coffee on November 11 at participating locations.

Sticky Fingers — Veterans, active, inactive or retired servicemen and servicewomen get a free entrée up to a $12.99 value on November 11. In addition to the free meal, veterans who dine-in get a coupon valued at $10 to be used on their next visit.

Texas Roadhouse – Veterans and active military get free meal from pre-selected menu plus choice of drink. Find more information here

TGI Fridays — Veterans and active duty military get a free lunch from a select menu on November 11 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tim Horton’s (West Michigan) – Free Donut on Nov. 11

Uccello’s Ristorante – Free express lunch buffet. Veterans should show proof of military service, like a Military ID card or Driver’s License with veterans designation.

Uno Pizzeria & Grill – Veterans and active military get a free entrée or individual pizza with an entrée or pizza purchase of equal or greater value on November 11.

White Castle – Veterans and active military get free breakfast slider with choice of small coffee or small drink. Find more information here

Thank a veteran today! Let’s all remember the sacrifices our service men and women make for our freedom every day!