Saturday, December 1, 2012

Confused Yet? What's Really In Your Food...

Want to avoid pesticides and antibiotics in your produce, meat, and dairy foods? Prefer to pay more to make sure farm animals were treated humanely, farm workers got their lunch breaks, and farmers use sustainable practices that benefit the environment and protect local communities?

Food labels claim to certify a wide array of sustainable practices. Hundreds of so-called eco-labels have cropped up in recent years, with more introduced every month — and consumers are willing to pay extra for products that feature them.

While eco-labels can play a vital role, experts say their rapid proliferation and lack of oversight or clear standards have confused both consumers and producers.

"Hundreds of eco labels exist on all kinds of products, and there is the potential for companies and producers to make false claims," said Shana Starobin, a food label expert at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Eco-labels have multiplied in recent years in response to rising consumer demand for more information about products and increased attention to animal and farm worker welfare, personal health, and the effects of conventional farming on the environment.

"Credible labels can be very helpful in helping people get to what they want to get to and pay more for something they really care about," said Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety at Consumer Reports. "The labels are a way to bring the bottom up and force whole industries to improve their practices."

The problem, Rangan and other said, is that few standards, little oversight and a lot of misinformation exist for the growing array of labels.

Some labels, such as the USDA organic certification, have standards set by the federal government to which third party certifiers must adhere. Some involve non-government standards and third-party certification, and may include site visits from independent auditors who evaluate whether a given farm or company has earned the label.

But other labels have little or no standards, or are certified by unknown organizations or by self-interested industry groups. Many labels lack any oversight.

And the problem is global, because California's products get sold overseas and fruits and vegetables from Europe or Mexico with their own eco-labels make it onto U.S. plates.

The sheer number of labels and the lack of oversight create a credibility problem and risk rendering all labels meaningless and diluting demand for sustainably produced goods, Rangan said. [1]

In California, on November 6 voters rejected a ballot measure that would have required labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients.  I wrote about this ballot proposal a few weeks ago.  The shocking aspect of this failed ballot initiative is that 90% of Californians polled supported the measure.  So why did it fail?  That’s a story for another day, but suffice to say follow the money.

The best way to avoid unwanted additives is to avoid all processed and packaged foods.  The certified organic label also ensures it is free of genetically modified ingredients.

What’s in a name?

While the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has stepped in to say that calling High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) “corn sugar” is not acceptable, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose job it is to decide whether or not ads aired on television are deceptive, has not.  The FTC is still allowing the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to advertise HFCS as “corn sugar” in TV advertisements.

In an effort to combat rising obesity rates, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas, and other food establishments. If approved, the ban could take effect as early as March 2013.

So what’s the big deal about HFCS, why are health experts and the media demonizing it?  According to Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, the fructose in HFCS can only be metabolized by your liver; since all fructose gets shuttled to your liver, and, if you consume high amounts of it, fructose ends up taxing and damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do.  And just like alcohol, fructose is metabolized directly into fat—not cellular energy, like glucose.“

Natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola adds; “fructose is 'isocaloric but not isometabolic." This means you can have the same amount of calories from fructose or glucose, fructose and protein, or fructose and fat, but the metabolic effect will be entirely different despite the identical calorie count. Excessive fructose consumption is at the heart of the obesity crisis, but cutting down on fructose consumption will require much more comprehensive changes to the American food industry, as well as dramatic changes to nutritional recommendations issued by the US government.”

I think most families are aware that excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup is a negative and have made their will known by purchasing more whole foods and less processed food that is usually heavily laden with HFCS.  In fact, your response has been so strong it has forced the mass corn industry to respond with a shell game with their attempt to call HFCS, corn sugar.  The corn industry has also launched a campaign to separate the myth from the facts about HFCS.
They also have enlisted several experts including a few doctors to help convince the public that HFCS is safe and natural.  I don’t want to be cynical but I looked into the background of their leading health expert Dr. John S. White.  In Dr. White’s bio it stated that he enjoys an affiliation with the CRA based in Washington D.C.  So is this a political issue for Dr. White or one based upon sound facts and principles?

I don’t want this to degrade into conspiracy central but research must always be viewed through the lenses of who is behind the funding of said research.
Consider these two examples:

A recent study claiming red meat consumption causes premature death is flawed in a number of important ways. Among many other problems, the nutrition data for the study was collected via food questionnaires, meaning people had to recall what they’d eaten in the past. Furthermore, what the study found was what appears to be an association, which should not be misconstrued as causation, as some media outlets have portrayed it.

Confounding factors also appear to have been insufficiently accounted for, as those who ate more meat also had increasing incidence of obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise—all of which can shorten your lifespan.

There are vast differences between concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and organically raised, grass-fed beef, both in terms of nutrient content and contamination. A joint effort between the USDA and Clemson University researchers in 2009 determined a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed for human health. This too is a confounding factor not addressed in the study referenced below.

The fact that numbers can be fudged and facts twisted or withheld from public view is quite disturbing.  But quite simply getting back to nature can make the solution easier to accomplish.  Select as many whole foods as possible from local farmers that you can trust and cook as many meals as possible from scratch.  In addition to the foods that you eat, engage in vigorous exercise and liberating free play and you will have gone a long way toward safeguarding your health.  And thus eliminate the need to rely upon anything that needs to be proven through research.  Start you own research project; eat whole foods obtained from the farmers market and exercise with a purpose for an entire month and your body will tell you the results.  My guess is you just may gain a whole new outlook on life and earned the ability to throw away a few bottles after all is said and done.

Additional Reading

Here are the 10 key areas that Clemson/USDA researchers found grass-fed beef to be superior to grain-fed:

This article provides valuable insight on deciphering the claims on egg cartons.
Natural, free range, cage free or organic eggs, what’s the best choice?

When you hear the name Nestle’ some type of chocolate candy probably comes to mind.  What about Pfizer (drugs…)?  It caught my attention last week that the Nestle’ company attempted to purchase the nutrition division of Pfizer.  This is yet another example of why it’s best to obtain our food locally from farmers and vendors we know and trust.

What’s in your food, the truth about GMO’s:



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