September 1, 2015

Processed Foods, 100% or Adulterated? - Part 2

According to a congressional report and food “experts,” here are a few products often found to be adulterated.

Olive Oil

Olive oil may be thinned out with hazelnut, soybean, corn, peanut, vegetable, or canola oil. The final product may even contain no olive oil at all. “When oil is ordered in bulk, the bottle will say 100% olive oil, but most times it’ll be 70% canola or soybean oil,” says Selina Wang, PhD, research director at the University of California Davis Olive Center. The olive oil you buy in the store may be adulterated as well, she says.


More than three-fourths of honey sold in U.S. stores is not what is claimed on the label, says Vaughn Bryant, PhD, professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University. He regularly tests honey in grocery stores. Bryant says it is estimated that 91 million pounds of honey entered the U.S. illegally from other countries last year.

Imported honey may contain pesticides and antibiotics. To save money, some companies will add cane, corn, or beet sugar, as well as rice syrup and high-fructose corn syrup.


Seafood producers may substitute less-expensive fish for costlier ones. This is one thing I personally have seen and I refuse to purchase from certain companies because of this.

Red snapper, mahi mahi, swordfish, and cod are often replaced with Pacific rockfish, yellowtail, or mako shark. Producers also add coloring agents to make fish seem fresher and to add weight during storage.

A 2015 congressional report says these agents “may mask visual cues indicating that such flesh is decomposed and toxic.” Also, "fish high in mercury are substituted for another species,” wrote congressional analyst Harold Upton in a 2015 report.

Parmesan Cheese

Cheese importer Neal Schuman used an independent company to begin testing products that are labeled as parmesan or Romano cheese. He says what he’s found is “appalling.”

He estimates that up to a quarter of all the products sold as parmesan cheese violate the government’s “standard of identity” -- basically, the rules for what can legally be called cheese.

One of the most common ways manufacturers break the law is by adding too much cellulose. Cellulose in food comes from wood fiber, and it is used to keep products from clumping together. “It should be used at 2 to 3 up to maybe 4 percent. And we see it in the marketplace anywhere from 14 to 32 percent,” Schuman says. Other companies make their cheese with vegetable oils instead of milk.

Real cheese should have milk as its first ingredient, followed by salt and maybe enzymes for flavor, Schuman says.

The State of Iowa has put two companies out of business for adding too high a percentage of cellulose in certain foods. One was a bread company and the other was a Romano cheese producer. This was over 25 years ago, but it was welcomed at the time.

Part 2 of 3 Parts

August 31, 2015

Processed Foods, 100% or Adulterated? - Part 1

Is the food you are buying at the grocery store or convenience store what it says it is? For many people that buy very little processed food, it could be what it says on the label. Others foods may not measure up and may be in technical terms - adulterated.

Is that olive oil 100% olive oil? It could have canola oil or peanut oil in the bottle. I was surprised about honey as about 40% was cane syrup. Now what surprised me is this about Parmesan cheese. The author states that you might be shaking a little wood pulp out with the cheese.

True, there is no way of really knowing – unless you can afford to have it tested by a competent laboratory. Food adulteration happens when something is added or taken away from a product without including it on the label. A recent Congressional Research Service report estimates that it affects about 10% of all products sold, although it says that number is probably a fraction of how often it really happens.

The fallout may cost the global food industry $10 billion to $15 billion per year, according to an estimate from the Grocery Manufacturers Association. There’s another cost that’s harder to explain in numbers: Loss of consumer trust.

“It’s a very unsettling issue, because we all depend on food, and it’s devastating for consumer trust,” says Markus Lipp, PhD, senior director of food standards at US Pharmacopeia. The nonprofit agency helps set quality standards for food, drugs, and supplements. Lipp says adulteration is driven by money. It costs less money to thin out or substitute the product with cheaper ones.

The substitutions could also have a health impact, particularly for people with food allergies. The FDA reported at least 12 allergic reactions caused by cumin from India that was contaminated with peanut proteins. The cumin was part of a recall in 2014.

The FDA can take action, including working to remove a product from shelves, when “economically motivated adulteration is identified in a regulated food product,” agency spokeswoman Megan McSeveney says. “Combating food fraud is the responsibility of both industry and regulatory authorities.”

Ensuring products’ safety, integrity, and maintaining consumer confidence is “the single most important goal of our industry,” says Brian Kennedy, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “That is why food, beverage, and consumer products companies take economic adulteration, or product fraud, very seriously.”

Spices are among the most common food products that are adulterated, according to the congressional report.

Part 1 of 3 Parts

August 28, 2015

Big Food Spreads Lies on Their Food Labels – Part 5

The last part of this topic is uncured meat. Another popular clean-label switch is to remove nitrates, or nitrite preservatives, from processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and cold cuts. Several studies have shown that people who eat a lot of processed meats have higher risks for heart disease and cancer.

Some researchers think nitrates, which are used to keep meat pink and fresh looking, combine with chemicals in the meat to form nitrosamines, which are recognized carcinogens. Again, this may be true, but there are few conclusive studies to prove this.

Food writer Michael Ruhlman noticed that packages of processed meats labeled uncured or without nitrates still had a pink color. Ruhlman started poring over the ingredient labels of uncured meats, and they all had something in common: celery extract.

Celery is loaded with nitrates. But, as long as a meat doesn’t contain sodium nitrite, the chemical form of the preservative, the USDA allows manufacturers to call their products uncured. “It’s a marketing ploy, pure and simple,” Ruhlman says.

And it doesn’t mean the meats have less nitrite in them, according to Jimmy Keeton, a researcher at Texas A&M University in College Station. He tested 470 different meat products. Some were labeled as uncured organic, or natural, while others were conventionally cured. There were no significant differences in the nitrite concentrations between the products.

“I like people to understand and think clearly about food, and here, no one is thinking clearly about food. They’re just buying what the marketers are selling them,” he says. He says he hopes big food companies will just make better products.

From my own unscientific research, I feel I can say with some confidence that the food manufacturers will continue to harm its customers, as they are more concerned with the bottom line than they are about food safety. The nutrition of manufactured food is the last concern of Big Food.

I believe, when I look back to the history of ingredient list requirements, that the goal was for that to be a marketing tool. Everything in food should be safe and I wish I could say that, but without the oversight of the FDA, we still have a long way to go to make food safety work.

Part 5 of 5 parts.

August 27, 2015

Big Food Spreads Lies on Their Food Labels – Part 4

When it comes to the ban on trans fats, are we being led from the fat into the fire? This may or may not be the case, too little research has been done, and each side has their favorite they are promoting. Companies are scrambling to find clean label replacements for trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils). Some “experts” believe that the kinds of fats food makers are switching to may not be any better for us.

When it comes to palm oil, it has become one of the leading replacements for partially hydrogenated fats. The latest numbers from the USDA show Americans ate roughly five times more palm oil in 2014 than we did in 2001, some 2.6 billion pounds. But, at 51% saturated fat, palm oil has more of these heart-clogging fats than lard, which is 43% saturated fat.

While some studies, mostly sponsored by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, show that the saturated fat in palm oils is not as harmful as saturated fats from other sources, other carefully controlled studies have raised some red flags.

In a 2006 study sponsored by the USDA, it was found that partially hydrogenated oil and palm oil raised both total cholesterol and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, to about the same degree, leading the study authors to conclude that swapping palm for partially hydrogenated oils wouldn’t be a safe switch.

Another type of fat making its way into processed food is interesterified fat, which, like partially hydrogenated fat, is not found in nature. K.C. Hayes, PhD, a researcher at Brandeis University, studies interesterified fats. Hayes thinks they may prove to be as bad as trans fats, yet no one has done anything to prove this.

“I don’t think we know nearly enough about the fats we’re actually consuming,” says Sarah Berry, a researcher who studies interesterified fats at King's College in London.

What’s more, she says, you couldn’t necessarily avoid them just by looking at food labels. “The label might say something like soybean oil and fully hydrogenated soybean oil. You would not know” that it’s been interesterified, she says.

Part 4 of 5 parts.

August 26, 2015

Big Food Spreads Lies on Their Food Labels – Part 3

Even with the FDA's early guidance on fructose, food manufacturers are able to use HFCS-90 in food products. The FDA says that it is legal for a food manufacturer to declare the ingredient as safe, without providing its research to the agency. Not only does the law not require that the FDA review independent GRAS determinations, it is up to the food company to decide how to list the ingredient on labels.

That is causing many consumers problems as sometimes it is difficult to understand what some ingredients on the food label mean. Now high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is only listed as fructose and not the percentage of fructose (45%, 55%, or 90%).

Melissa Grzybowski, a U.S. regulatory and nutrition specialist for the Food Consulting Company, says this gives companies “wiggle room” on the wording of their food labels. “It’s always about marketing with food companies,” Grzybowski says.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association did not address whether clean labeling is often more about marketing than making better food. “We don’t have much to offer on this point,” says Brian Kennedy, a GMA spokesman. Kennedy says that, in general, “GMA agrees with and supports federal laws requiring food labels to be truthful and non-misleading.”

In February 2015, CSPI and three other consumer advocacy organizations called on the FDA to overhaul the GRAS system, saying it violates the 1958 law that requires the FDA to determine ingredients are safe before they are added to the food we eat.

WebMD asked the FDA if they believe the GRAS process is working as well as it should. “The agency is concerned that some companies may be making independent GRAS determinations for substances that are not in fact GRAS,” says Megan McSeveney, an FDA press officer, in an email to WebMD.

“The FDA continues to encourage companies to notify us about food ingredients they have independently determined as GRAS so that we have the opportunity to discuss with them any questions we may have about the basis for these determinations,” she says. She also says the agency was working to finalize a regulation on the voluntary GRAS program by August 31, 2016.

However, consumer groups say that keeping the safety process voluntary doesn’t adequately protect the public. Jacobson points out that the FDA just took action on partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, formally revoking their GRAS status a full 10 years after they were required to be listed on food labels. “There we were talking about tens of thousands of deaths per year,” he says. “That’s major.”

Part 3 of 5 parts.

August 25, 2015

Big Food Spreads Lies on Their Food Labels – Part 2

In the last blog, 3,000 were the number of ingredients food companies have added by themselves. About 2,000 if these are flavors that were deemed safe by an industry association. The FDA monitors these decisions, but does not extensively review them. Another 1,000 additives have been called safe by food companies and used without any notice to the FDA at all.

Today, the regulations are so loose that companies put what they want in foods and ignore the FDA. Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says, “That is what happened with an ingredient called high-fructose corn syrup-90.”

Dave Busken is a technical baker for a company called Oak State Products in Wenona, IL. His company bakes goods like cookies for big food manufacturers.
Companies come to him when they want to clean up their food labels. He says there’s one switch that’s become pretty common in processed cereals and baked goods. “You take out high-fructose corn syrup,” he says, “and replace it with fructose.”

High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener that is combination of two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, and it has those sugars in about the same ratio that’s found in ordinary table sugar.

Fructose is also found in fruit, but not in such a concentrated and simplified form as found in high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener ran into trouble when researchers began to question whether it was a good idea to be eating so much of it in processed foods and drinks. Experts disagree, though, on whether high-fructose corn syrup is any unhealthier than regular sugar.

Some scientific evidence suggests that calories from fructose are more easily stored as fat than glucose. Fructose may also raise levels of harmful blood fats more than glucose does. The fear is that eating too much fructose may set the body on a path to obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes.

The “cleaner” sounding ingredient “fructose” actually has far more of that sugar than the unpopular sweetener it’s replacing: It is 90% fructose compared to the 43% to 55% that’s legally allowed in high-fructose corn syrup, according to the Corn Refiners Association.

“Boy, is that misleading,” says Kimber Stanhope, PhD, who has done some of the studies on fructose. She’s an associate researcher of molecular bioscience as the University of California at Davis. It is in foods today even though the FDA in 1996 specifically declined to recognize the higher formulation, HCFS-90, as safe. That was in part because it contains so much more fructose than glucose.

“Additional data on the effects of fructose consumption that is not balanced with glucose consumption would be needed to ensure that this product is safe,” says the FDA action, which is signed by William K. Hubbard, who was then the associate commissioner for policy coordination.

Part 2 of 5 parts.

August 24, 2015

Big Food Spreads Lies on Their Food Labels – Part 1

Have you read the food labels on the food you buy at the grocery store lately? Hopefully, the next few blogs will be of interest and give you a wake up call. I know this has my wife and I both analyzing food labels a lot closer to determine how the food industry is putting more chemicals in our food. Our new activity is counting chemicals and not carbohydrates.

This is resulting in us putting more foods or ingredients back on the shelf instead of in the cart. More consumers like us are steering clear of unfamiliar or worrisome ingredients on food labels. A survey last year by the Nutrition Business Journal found that high-fructose corn syrup ranked at the top of consumers’ least-wanted list. No. 2 was partially hydrogenated oils or “trans fats.”

Yes, I think for consumers like us, we just don't trust 'Big Food' any longer. Lynn Dornblaser, director of Innovation and Insight for the market research firm Mintel recently surveyed grocery shoppers. Only 38% said they trust what food companies say about their products on food labels. That means that 62% don't trust food companies.

Yes, Big Food has taken notice and we will need to learn new terminology now. They are attempting to hide ingredients and are at the same time switching to new terminology. Pillsbury has a new line of Purely Simple baking mixes. Kroger has a Simple Truth line of store brand foods. Keebler has Simply Made cookies. Ingredient lists are being made as short, easy to pronounce, and understand as possible.

In the food industry, this is called “clean labeling.” And big companies are racing to do it. In recent weeks, Kraft said it would take artificial colors and preservatives out of its iconic mac & cheese. Nestle is chucking artificial colors and flavors out of its chocolates. General Mills will purge artificial colors and flavors from its cereals.

In some cases, industry experts say companies are genuinely trying to make products that are more wholesome. But in others, they say these clean-label ingredient swaps are more about marketing food than really making it healthier. And there are some signs that the rush to make highly processed foods seem pure and basic may be causing problems for vulnerable consumers, like people with food allergies.

“The ingredients listed is becoming a marketing tool, which I don’t think they are intended to be,” says Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund. The worst part of this is that the FDA has abdicated its responsibility to the food companies.

How did we get here? It starts with four letters: GRAS. The FDA has long used the designation “generally recognized as safe” as a way to quickly exempt common and widely used food additives, like vinegar, from rigorous and sometimes lengthy formal safety reviews, which were required of new ingredients or old ingredients that were used in new ways.

And until the late 1990s, the GRAS designation was mostly used for tried-and-true ingredients like vinegar that had long been in the food supply. But in 1997, amidst budget cuts and industry grumbling that the FDA was taking too long to approve new ingredients, the agency proposed a new system. It now allows food companies to review their own new ingredients and decide what’s safe. They can submit those reviews to the FDA for acceptance, but it's not required by law.

Food manufacturers embraced the changes, speeding new ingredients into food with little oversight. How big is the problem? In February 2013, the Pew Charitable Trusts published an in-depth report about gaps in food safety. They estimated that out of 10,000 ingredients in processed foods, the FDA has not reviewed the safety of about 3,000.

Part 1 of 5 parts.

August 21, 2015

With Chronic Kidney Disease, Stop Metformin

A recent study reported a significant increase in all-cause mortality associated with the use of metformin in patients with type 2 diabetes. Yes, I can believe this as I have been taken off metformin recently because my kidney disease was moving closer to stage 3 and my doctor said to stop immediately. It will be interesting to see if there is improvement at my next appointment in late October.

Metformin is currently recommended as first line treatment for type 2 diabetes. However, its use is often limited in patients with chronic kidney disease stage 3 or higher due to the risk of lactic acidosis. I have not had any symptoms of lactic acidosis and feel fortunate for that. Since I will only use metformin and insulin, I was disappointed in having metformin removed as it had been helping me maintain and lose some weight.

The study took place in Taiwan, which allows metformin to be used in all stages of chronic kidney disease. Other countries in the world vary to greater extent and this allowed for this study to be more accurate. The finding of this study confirmed that metformin is associated with higher death rate among type 2 diabetes patient with higher stage of chronic kidney diseases.

My doctor did ask if I would consider using another oral medication or an injectable medication along with my insulin. I was very firm that I would not and going forward, I would rely on insulin only. She said that would be best and agreed with me. What I did not say is that I would not until it was proven that some of the side effects have been proven not to be harmful.

For metformin, the increased mortality risk was associated with higher dose and remained consistent across all subgroups. Finally, metformin users did not differ significantly from non-metformin users group in regard to risk of metabolic acidosis.

This study did confirm that metformin is associated with a higher death rate among type 2 diabetes patient with higher stage of chronic kidney diseases.
The study findings have therapeutic implications, supporting the current recommendations that metformin should not be used in patients with stage 5 chronic kidney disease.

In addition, the researchers also recommended future study evaluating the use of metformin in patients with less severe chronic kidney disease.