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How To See Through The ‘Health Halo’ That May Be Hiding Ultra-Processed Foods

The main issue is finding time to read labels and figuring out what they really mean, experts say.

Most of us have probably heard that food marketers play it a little fast and loose with health claims.

So how much of what we read on a label can we trust? What, exactly, makes my bag of cereal clusters “lean,” for example? We asked two Toronto registered dietitians to separate fact from fiction to make it easier for us to navigate the grocery aisle. And the first thing we learned is that, even though there are tricky terms out there, words still have meaning and many of them are actually tightly regulated.

Sugar, Fat and Salt

“The truth is, the Government of Canada, specifically the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, does govern many of the terms that are seen on food packages,” explains Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and co-author of the book, “Food to Grow On.” “So, calories, salt, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, fibre, vitamins and minerals, all of these are all highly regulated.”

Every claim related to any property listed on the nutrition facts table is regulated, explains Rosenbloom: “So, if it says 25 per cent less sugar, that manufacturer has to be able to prove that product has more than 25 per cent less sugar than the most well-known competitor product.”

Cholesterol-Free and gluten free

Even though the nutritional world has softened its stance on cholesterol, most people like to see the words “No Cholesterol” on a package. Often, though, those words are found on foods that never would have contained cholesterol in the first place.

“Some clients can get confused as to what cholesterol is and where it comes from,” says Amanda Li, registered culinary dietitian and founder of Wellness Simplified, a practice in Toronto. “It only derives from animal products, but marketers know that not everyone knows that and use that to their advantage, because people think it’s better for their heart.”

Similarly, the term “gluten free” is slapped on a lot of packages, from potato chips to coleslaw, even though gluten comes from grains, most commonly wheat, barley and rye. “I’ve seen the words ‘gluten free’ on water,” says Rosenbloom.


No Refined Sugar

“The other one I see a lot that is a source of irritation is ‘no refined sugar,’” says Rosenbloom, who says that a lot of consumers infer that product is sugar-free.

Sadly, there are a lot of sugars that come from a less-refined source, such as agave syrup or honey, that sneak through on a technicality. That doesn’t make these sugars any healthier, though.

“At the end of the day, your body just knows it’s had sugar,” says Li. “People think maple syrup is better just because it contains tiny amounts of minerals, but there are much better ways to get minerals.”

A cup of maple syrup might supply about 20 per cent of our recommended daily intake of calcium, potassium and iron but, chugging back a cup of maple syrup is, um, really not a good idea.

Made with “Real Fruit”

“The other thing that bothers me is when a food package says ‘made with real fruit,’” Rosenbloom says. “Like, for example, there are ‘real fruit’ gummies which are literally candies made by taking some fruit juice concentrate and turning it into a sugar.”

The same is true for many “plant snacks” (including veggie straws and chips) that appear to be “healthier” choices but may not be any better than a (gluten free and cholesterol-free) potato chip. It’s worth pointing out that potato chips are also plant-based, they’re just plant snacks with an image problem.

“I like to call them hyper-palatable foods,” says Li. “Moms often say ‘I give my kids veggie chips’ and I’m not sure if they understand that they aren’t really vegetables. Most of them are just a lot of refined carbohydrates.”

Rosenbloom says she’s seen school lunch boxes packed with fruit candy and veggie straws and known that parents think they’ve done a great job and covered all the major food groups. “It tricks many Canadians into believing they are eating fruits and vegetables when they’re not getting the real deal.”

If we had the time to really think about what we were buying at the grocery store, we’d be able to see through a lot of meaningless sales pitches on packaging. The problem, especially for parents, is that time is a precious resource and decision fatigue is a real thing.

Marketers know that. Which is why, over the past decade, a lot of food has been rebranded as accessories to wellness culture. Increasingly, food is packaged in shiny white bags that are decorated with a splotch of green or eye-catching pictures of colourful fruits that pop, all of which give it what American nutritionist and food studies scholar Marion Nestle calls a “health halo” — a carefully constructed image that often hides yet another ultra-processed food.

So, it’s not so much that you can’t believe anything you read, since a fair bit of the information on packages is actually quite reliable. It’s finding the time to do it that’s the real problem.

Christine Sismondo        Mon., April 18, 2022

source: www.thestar.com

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How To Choose Between Free-Range, Free-Run, Organic And Conventional Eggs

Eggs can come with a lot of labels these days — free-range, organic, cage-free. How is a consumer to know which ones are the best choice?

Here’s the breakdown of what all those labels on your eggs mean.

1. Conventional eggs: These eggs often don’t have their harvesting practices labelled, and are usually the least expensive. In conventional systems, four hens are typically housed in each two-square-foot battery cage, in barns containing thousands of birds. This makes them prone to injury and infection, so they receive antibiotics daily, as well as hormones to increase egg production. Their feed is unregulated, so they’re often fed leftover animal by-products mixed with grain. Battery cages are banned in the EU and are often the subject of animal-rights debates.

2. Free-run eggs: Free-run hens are not confined to life in a cage, but are allowed to roam the floor of the barn. They are still densely packed into these barns with no required outdoor access. Free-run hens eat the same feed as conventionally raised hens, and are given antibiotics and hormones.

3. Free-range eggs: Free-range hens must have access to the outdoors for the majority of the year, with a roost area for resting. Their feed can’t contain antibiotics or hormones, and the roosts must have at least two square feet per hen. The government does not regulate free-range egg farms, so you must trust the farmers. Some farmers call these eggs “antibiotic-free” or “naturally-raised.”

4. Pastured eggs: Pastured hens are kept in cages with at least two square feet per hen. The structure containing the hens is moved to different areas of the grass daily so the hens can forage for at least 20 percent of their food. They are also not allowed to be fed antibiotics or hormones in their supplemental feed.

5. Organic eggs: Hens must be raised from birth on organic feed that contains no hormones, pesticides or genetically modified organisms. They must have outdoor access year-round; when they are kept inside, they must be fed organic sprouted grains. They must also be allocated at least two square feet of floor space per bird.

by Julie Daniluk          Nov 1, 2012 

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Sugar’s On The Food Label, But You’ll Have To Guess How Much Has Been ‘added’

Lobbying by food industry means Canada food labels won’t list ‘added sugar’

There are 152 ways to say “sugar” on a food label. It can be called isomaltulose, agave, barley malt, sorghum or brown rice syrup, even potato syrup solids.

All of those obscure synonyms will be listed in one convenient place on the food label, behind the word “sugar,” as Health Minister Jane Philpott announced Wednesday.

But you will still never know how much of that sugar was deliberately added by the food processing industry and how much is just there naturally.

And in the first round of the great Canadian food label fight, that is a victory for the food industry.
Consumers, health professionals, even the provincial and territorial governments, had wanted labelling of added sugars.

It’s all there in the document Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations published in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday.

“The proposal to declare the amount of added sugars in the Nutrition Facts table was popular among consumers and health stakeholders (including health professionals, NGOs and provincial and territorial governments)” it says.

Consumer confusion

But industry doubted the science. Food company lobbyists argued that the human body doesn’t know the difference between added and natural sugars.

As well, “added sugars” is confusing, the industry argued, directing Health Canada experts to a U.S. study that suggested “consumers have a limited understanding of the ‘added sugars’ declaration in the Nutrition Facts table.”

A study that was funded, in part, by the food industry.

Requiring industry to reveal how much sugar it adds to products was one of the original proposals when the previous Conservative government began the label change consultations in 2013.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to want the same thing. In his mandate letter to the new health minister, listed among the top priorities was “improving food labels to give more information on added sugars.”

Instead, Philpott kept the Harper government’s wording, which had dropped “added sugar” from the labels when it published the first draft of the changes in June 2015.

‘Opportunity to educate’

There was hope that the new government would rescue the “added sugar” description. In a recent commentary in the CMAJ, University of Toronto’s nutrition sciences professor Mary L’Abbé called on the new health minister to restore the “added sugars” wording so consumers will know how much unnecessary sugar they are eating.

The disclosure could also encourage industry to lower sugar levels in processed food, she said. If added sugars can’t be tracked, it means a loss of data.

“For health researchers, we can’t do those types of studies to see what are the effects of consuming high amounts of added sugars,” L’Abbé said in a related CMAJ podcast.
“They’re missing a huge opportunity to educate consumers but also to allow consumers to make informed decisions.”

Canada out of step

By leaving “added sugars” off the label, Canada is out of step with the U.S., the U.K., and the World Health Organization, where “added sugars” or “free sugars” have been set at a limit at 10 per cent of daily calories or about 50 grams a day (12 teaspoons of sugar). That sugar allowance is almost used up by a single can of soda pop.

For Canadians, the cost of waiting five years for the new labels
is estimated to be more than $1 billion in lost improvements to their health. (CBC)

Instead, Canada has decided to talk about “total” sugars on the new labels, which includes both added and naturally occurring sugar.

That means the Canadian label on a can of soda pop will state that it contains about 35 per cent of the total recommended daily sugar intake. The consumer might think, “That’s less than half, so not too bad, right?”

Wrong. For anyone who finds it confusing, there will be a helpful reminder in fine print on the bottom of the label that reads, “Five per cent is a little and 15 per cent is a lot.”

The label change has the deliberate objective of getting Canadians to eat less sugar. It says so in the document.

Yet paradoxically, Health Canada has set the daily recommended total daily sugar intake at the exact level we already consume.

20% solution

In 2004, research showed that Canadians were eating about 20 per cent of their daily calories in sugar. And after years of consultation, the new labels will suggest we eat no more than 20 per cent of our daily calories in sugar (about 100 grams or 24 teaspoons of sugar.)

The thinking appears to be that because almost half of Canadians, especially those under 19, consume a lot more than 20 per cent of their calories in sugar, it will be an improvement for them if they read the label and change their habits.

But for everyone else, it’s sugar as usual. Or will be, when the new labels are finally in place by the year 2021.

No urgency

And that raises another curious aspect to the label changes. The point is to encourage healthier food choices, but there is apparently no urgency.

Industry has five years to bring in the new labels, so it can gradually incorporate the changes into the normal product business cycle, use up their old labels and save money.

Health Canada estimates the changes will cost industry between $500 million and $800 million.

For Canadians, the cost of waiting five years for the new labels is estimated to be more than $1 billion in lost improvements in their health.

(This is the formula: Health Canada estimates that changing food labels will prompt Canadians to make healthier food choices. Using a conservative estimate, ministry officials calculate those health improvements will lead to an almost $2 billion saving to the economy over 10 years in reduced heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and other illness — that’s about $275 million each year in health savings. Delaying that by five years?  About $1.4 billion in health improvements that didn’t happen.)

Commas stay

And finally, in this first round of the great Canadian food label fight, industry won another small victory. Health Canada wanted the ingredients to be marked by bullet points to make the labels easier to read. But industry complained that it would cost too much and take up too much space on the label. They wanted to keep the commas they’re already using.

So by 2021, when the new labels are finally in place, two things won’t change. There there will be no “added” sugars on the nutrition facts table. And the commas stay.

The second round is already underway over proposed front-of-package labels for sugar, fat and salt. Public consultations close on Jan. 13, 2017.

By Kelly Crowe, CBC News      Dec 16, 2016 
source: www.cbc.ca

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Health Minister Jane Philpott announces new food labelling, marketing regulations

Canada to follow World Health Organization recommendations released in 2010

The federal government is overhauling Canada’s healthy eating guidelines with a sweeping strategy that will include new rules for marketing and labelling certain foods aimed at children.

Health Minister Jane Philpott said the “iconic” Canada Food Guide has not kept up with the country’s changing demographics and lifestyles.

“The classic one-size-fits-all guide no longer meets the needs of Canadians,” she said in a Montreal speech.

Philpott said the guide must be “relevant and practical” and provide advice for Canadians whether they are shopping at the grocery store or looking at a restaurant menu. It must be individualized and adaptable for food preferences and sensitivities, she said.

Another change will eventually require labelling on the front of packages that will highlight if a product is high or low in certain nutrients such as sodium, sugar and saturated fats.

Protect children from marketing

In May 2010, the World Health Organization released recommendations on the marketing of food and beverages to children. It called on governments worldwide to reduce the exposure of children to advertising and to reduce the use of powerful marketing techniques employed by the manufacturers of foods and beverages high in saturated fats, trans-fat acids, free added sugars or sodium.

New regulations will eventually require front-of-package labelling,
which will highlight if a product is high or low in certain nutrients
such as sodium, sugar and saturated fats. (Kelly Crowe/CBC)

Today, Canada is acting on those recommendations, following the lead of Quebec, which already restricts marketing to children under the age of 13.

It will take anywhere from five to 10 years to implement the changes, after consultations with industry, stakeholders and the public.

The last food guide was criticized because it was based on much input from industry. Philpott said stakeholders will have a say in the process, but they will not dictate the results.

“I think it’s only fair for the people who are selling food to be able to have opportunity to comment in terms of what the impact might be on them,” she said.
“But they will not have impact on the advice given in the guide.”

All meetings and correspondence between stakeholders and officials in her office will be transparent and made public, she said.

Conservative Senator Kelvin Ogilvie, who chaired a committee that carried out a sweeping study on obesity in Canada, welcomed the initiatives as “very encouraging.”  He called the plan to ensure the food industry remains at arm’s length in the decision process “most heart-warming.”

“It’s a total conflict of interest,” he told CBC News. “You simply can’t have the people who make the greatest degree of money selling you any product, making a final recommendation to government as to how healthy that product is.”

Informed food choices

A group representing the sector said the industry is already taking steps to encourage Canadians to make more informed, healthy food choices, and said it is “keen” to ensure further steps are taken

“That said, this is an unprecedented amount of change that will require an unprecedented level of investment in an unprecedented time frame,” said Joslyn Higginson, vice-president of public and regulatory affairs for the Food and Consumer Products of Canada, in a statement.

“This will change what’s in our products, what’s on our product packaging and how those products are marketed.”

The food and beverage industry continues to face challenges with timely regulatory approvals and costs for reformulation and innovation. Outdated regulations mean it takes longer to bring new and reformulated products to market in Canada than in other countries.

“Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency must address lagging regulatory modernization quickly — before imposing new regulations,” she said.
“It’s the only way that food and beverage makers will be able to implement this scale and magnitude of change, and hope to remain competitive, much less grow and innovate.”

Food guide consultation continues

Health Canada just completed a scientific review of the Canada Food Guide. It found that most of the science behind its recommendations was sound.

However the department found there were not enough distinctions between age groups, sex, activity levels, or height.

Consultations will wrap up Dec. 8, 2016. The guide was last updated in 2007, but it remains the most requested document at Health Canada.

Philpott said the Healthy Canada strategy has three pillars:

  • Healthy eating, including the updated food guide and new labelling and marketing rules.
  • Healthy living, including promotion of physical activity and fitness and new rules to deter smoking and vaping.
  • Healthy minds, including new initiatives to improve mental health.

Elimination of trans fats to continue

The federal government asked industry to voluntarily eliminate trans fats in processed foods in 2007. No regulations were ever introduced by the previous Conservative government.

Many food manufacturers took them out of their products anyway, bowing to consumer demand. But some trans fats still exist in products, and Philpott said more action will be taken to eliminate them.

Sasha McNicoll, co-ordinator of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, urged the federal government to fund a school food program in every school in the country as a way to ensure kids are eating nutritious food.

She said the program would cost about $1 billion a year, and suggested the federal government kick in 20 per cent of the costs shared by the provinces, municipalities and civil society groups.

“It can improve their health and it can improve their education outcomes,” she told CBC News. “An investment now can help children develop better eating habits into adulthood and that will hopefully save in health-care costs down the road.”

By Susan Lunn, Kathleen Harris, CBC News     Oct 26, 2016
source: www.cbc.ca

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Best before dates and expiry dates: 5 things you may not know

People often confuse best before dates and expiry dates

Steak, eggs, canned soup — all kinds of fridge and pantry staples have a best before date on the packaging. People often confuse best before dates with expiration dates, but the two labels tell consumers very different things.

“It’s confusing,” says Ellie Topp, a professional home economist. “[The best before] date has nothing to do with the safety of the food. It has everything to do with the taste of the food.”

Here are five things you may not know about expiration and best before dates.

1. Only 5 types of products have expiration dates

Expiration dates tell consumers the last day a product is safe to consume. A food should never be consumed after the expiry date.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency mandates that only five types of products need to be labelled with an expiration date:

  • Baby formula and other human milk substitutes.
  • Nutritional supplements.
  • Meal replacements.
  • Pharmacist-sold foods for very low-energy diets.
  • Formulated liquid diets.

Best before dates are found on foods that will only stay fresh for 90 days or less. Some foods may be consumed even if their best before date has passed, unlike an expiry date.

2. Best before dates guarantee freshness

An unopened, properly stored product’s best before date tells a consumer how long that food will keep its flavour and nutritional value. It doesn’t have anything to do with a food’s safety, says Topp.

“[With some products]
the taste may have greatly deteriorated, but it’s still safe to eat,” she says.

If someone fries or poaches a fresh egg, she says, it will stay together in “a nice, little package.” If they use an egg beyond its best before date, it will spread out more and the yolk may be more likely to break.

“But, there’s nothing wrong with the egg,” she says, “as long as it’s not cracked.”

The manufacturer’s nutritional claims may no longer apply after a best before date or if the product isn’t properly stored, says Cathy Paroschy Harris, a dietitian and spokeswoman for Dietitians of Canada. Orange juice may not provide as much Vitamin C and milk less riboflavin past the best before date.

Other items may have compromised taste, but still be safe to eat. Ketchups and salsas may be more acidic, dry pasta may break when cooked, and cookies at the back of the pantry may just taste bad. It’s generally the taste, not safety that suffers.

However, foods must be properly stored according to package instructions to avoid turning mouldy or sour before their best before date.


3. Opened packages negate best before date

The best before date no longer applies if a package is opened or if the food is frozen, according to Health Canada.

Once a sealed product is exposed to air it can be cross-contaminated, says Brenda Watson, the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education’s executive director.

The organization has a chart for how long different foods can be kept in a refrigerator or freezer. Watson recommends people purchase food with a short fridge life, like opened milk or cottage cheese, in quantities they’re likely to consume quickly.

If a food is properly frozen two days before its best before date, says Paroschy Harris, it should be edible for another two days at the start of the thawing process.

4. Some foods to keep an eye out for

Even though some food remains edible — just less tasty and nutritionally dense — after its best before date, that doesn’t mean all food is safe to eat when that date passes. Health Canada does not recommend eating anything after the best before date. The Canada Food Inspection Agency is more lenient.

‘When in doubt throw it out.’
— Ellie Topp, professional home economist

Generally, if the food changes colour or appearance, or develops a bad smell, it is no longer safe to eat. Dented, leaking or bulging cans should be discarded.

She’s most cautious about cured meats, saying she would only keep deli meats, like baloney, a few days after purchase.

Hungry snackers should throw away mouldy cheese, breads, yogurts and other foods. Topp says people used to feel comfortable scraping mould off the top of food and continuing to eat it. Nowadays, that’s not considered acceptable, as mould is believed to contaminate food beyond what’s visible to the human eye, she says.

Healthy people are unlikely to suffer any consequences if they fry up a steak one day past its best before date. But people shouldn’t toy with the best before date on foods that contain lots of pathogens, says Paroschy Harris. That includes whole, fresh meats — like chicken, steak or ground beef — and dairy.

“It’s like playing roulette,” she says. “You’re putting yourself at risk.”

A best before date and proper food handling go hand-in-hand, she says, and even lower-risk foods can become problematic if not handled properly.

Chips past their best before date won’t be as crunchy, but they also may become contaminated if people sharing them have dirty hands or double dip in the salsa bowl.

“There’s always a risk for something in food to go awry,” she says.

5. Frozen veggies may be fresher in winter

Fresh doesn’t always mean better.

Topp points out that fresh produce found in Canadian grocery stores during the winter may have less nutritional value than frozen vegetables.

It takes several weeks for produce to be picked and transported from warmer climates. As soon as someone picks a vegetable, its nutrients start to decline, she says.

Frozen vegetables, however, are usually frozen within hours of being picked. It’s not a significant nutritional difference, she says, but frozen veggies may be more nutritious in the winter.

By Aleksandra Sagan, CBC News     Mar 25, 2015 

3 foods you can eat after the best before date, but might not want to
5 things you should know about food expiry dates
Best before dates not based in food science, expert says

source: www.cbc.ca


The Dirty Secrets of ‘Clean’ Labels

By Brenda Goodman, MA     WebMD Health News    Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD    July 23, 2015 

Consumers have become deeply distrustful of their food.

There’s Samantha Adams, who had her “aha moment” when she happened to read the label of the barbecue sauce she was feeding her 1-year-old.

“I couldn’t believe the No. 1 ingredient was high-fructose corn syrup,” says Adams, 30, who lives in Jackson, N.J. “I had no idea that things were like that. That food was made up of not-real ingredients.”

Adams started scrutinizing food labels. She deeply researched each food ingredient she’d never heard of, began shopping more carefully, and started cooking more meals at home. She even started writing articles about food for her local paper, the Asbury Park Press.

“My new motto is count chemicals, not calories,” she says.

More consumers like Adams 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 tops consumers’ least-wanted list. No. 2 was partially hydrogenated oils or “trans fats.”

“It boils down to one thing: Consumers don’t trust companies anymore,” says Lynn Dornblaser, director of Innovation and Insight for the market research firm Mintel.

Mintel recently surveyed grocery shoppers. Only 38% said they trust what companies say about their products on food labels. “That’s 62% who don’t,” she says.

Food companies have noticed. The latest strategy to win back wary shoppers can be summed up in one word: simple. 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.

Names of things that sound like they’d be used by chemists, rather than home cooks, are being whisked off the ingredient labels of processed foods — which now account for 70% of the American diet. 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 more wholesome products. 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 become a marketing tool, which I don’t think they are intended to be,” says Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Companies Decide What Is Safe, Not FDA

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.

Roughly 2,000 of those are flavors that were deemed safe by an industry association. The FDA monitors those 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.

“It’s become a very loose system where companies can put kind of anything they want, practically, into the food supply,” says Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

That’s what happened with an ingredient called high-fructose corn syrup-90.

No High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

Dave Busken is a technical baker for a company called Oak State Products in Wenona, IL. They make baked 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. And 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’s 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.

And it’s 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 cthan 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.

Despite this action, food manufacturers are able to use HFCS-90 in their products. According to the FDA, a food manufacturer has on its own declared the ingredient as safe, without providing its research to the agency. That’s legal.

“The law does not require that the FDA review independent GRAS determinations,” says Lauren Sucher, an FDA spokesperson, in an email to WebMD.

In these cases, it’s also up to the food company to decide how to list the ingredient on labels.

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, 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.

We 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.

“We continue 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.

But 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.”

From Trans Fats Back to ‘Tropical Oils’

Now that partially hydrogenated oils are on their way out of foods, companies are scrambling to find clean-label replacements. Some experts believe the kinds of fats food makers are switching to may not be any better for us.

The problem with trans fats is that they raise levels of bad cholesterol in the blood more than other kinds of fats. They also seem to lower levels of good cholesterol.

Take palm oil. It’s 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 isn’t as harmful as saturated fats from other sources, other carefully controlled studies have raised red flags.

A 2006 study sponsored by the USDA 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, isn’t 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.

“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.

Uncured Meat – All Bologna?

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.

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.

Neltner hopes so, too.

“I don’t believe, when I look back to the history of ingredient list requirements, that the goal was for that to be a marketing tool,” Neltner says. “Everything in food should be safe. I wish I could say that. We’re not there yet.”

SOURCES: Samantha Adams, mother and food activist, Jackson, N.J. Lynn Dornblaser, director of Innovation and Insight, Mintel. Brian Kennedy, Spokesperson, Grocery Manufacturers Association. Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, D.C. Kimber Stanhope, PhD, associate researcher of molecular bioscience, The University of California at Davis. Lauren Sucher, press officer, FDA, Bethesda, MD. Melissa Grzybowski, U.S. Regulatory & Nutrition Specialist, The Food Consulting Company, Del Mar, CA. K.C. Hayes, PhD, professor emeritus, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. Sarah Berry, Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences, Kings College, London, U.K. Megan McSeveney, press officer, FDA. Michael Ruhlman, author, Cleveland. Tom Neltner, J.D., senior advisor, regulatory affairs, National Center for Healthy Housing, Columbia, MD. Jimmy Keeton, Emeritus Professor of Food and Nutrition Science, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. Dave Busken, technical baker, Oak State Products, Wenona, IL. Center for Science in the Public Interest, “Inadequate Oversight of the Safety of Substances Added to Food: What Went Wrong and How to Fix It,” April 2015. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Food Additives Project”, 2013. FDA, “Direct Food Substances Affirmed as Generally Recognized as Safe; High Fructose Corn Syrup,” Final Rule, August 23, 1996. Hayes, KC, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2010.

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What Does That Grocery Label Mean?

By Leslie Young    Investigative Reporter   Global News

A huge number of labels appear on supermarket foods, but their meaning might be confusing. Here is a look at some of the most common labels.


Organic foods are certified by an outside body to contain at least 95 per cent organic ingredients. However, the “organic” label is only certified when a food is traded over provincial or national borders. While some provinces have certifications for organic products within their borders, not all do.

Organic animals must be raised in conditions that at a minimum allow them enough space to lie down, turn around freely, stretch their limbs and allow access to daylight and fresh air. Organic foods generally cannot contain the following (though some exceptions are made):

  • GMOs
  • Added hormones and prophylactic antibiotics
  • Radiation or irradiated substances
  • Cloned animals or their descendants
  • Intentionally-manufactured nano-technology products
  • Synthetic pesticides
  • Synthetic processing substances


“Natural” food labels shouldn’t convey the impression that the food is nutritionally superior because of nature, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Natural foods are foods that:

  • Do not contain added vitamins, minerals or artificial flavours
  • Do not have any constituent removed or significantly changed, except for removing water
  • Have not been processed in a way, like hydrogenation, which significantly alters their physical, chemical or biological state (drying, freezing and canning are ok, as are a number of other less-invasive processes)

If the entire food doesn’t qualify as “natural”, manufacturers might label it as containing “natural ingredients”, which means that some ingredients are natural, and some aren’t.


Certified in accordance with the requirements of Jewish dietary laws by the Rabbi or Rabbinical organization that is identified on the package.


As halal requirements can vary, this is more complicated than kosher labelling – there’s no single standard. So while Canadian laws prohibit false or misleading claims, including “Halal,” on packaging, it’s hard for customers to know precisely what halal standard is being applied. New regulations coming into force on April 4, 2016 will require halal products to include the name of the certifying body. That way, customers can look up that body’s standards and choose according to their wishes.

No added hormones

No hormones were administered in any way to the animal that makes up the food product. However, you are not allowed to use any hormones at all on some animals – the CFIA says it’s misleading to label “raised without hormones” on animals where it’s not allowed anyway, like chicken and pork.


Raised without the use of antibiotics

The animal must not have received antibiotics from its birth to its death, and even the mother can’t have been given antibiotics that would result in residue in the animal being consumed. Other drugs and vaccines may have been administered though.

Free-range or Free-run (chicken or eggs)

Although there is no legal definition of either term, industry groups have set standards which they monitor on farms. Free-range chickens have access to outdoor space, though there are no stipulations on how much time they spend outdoors or what the outdoor environment is like. Free-run chickens are indoor birds who roam freely through the barn. As chickens raised for meat in Canada aren’t kept in cages, this term is somewhat redundant in the case of chicken meat – less so for eggs. However, the free-range chickens have less space than you might think: industry guidelines for meat chickens stipulate a maximum density of 31 kilograms (or about 14 chickens) per square metre, though some provinces have set lower densities.

Also, given Canada’s cold climate, free-range chicken and eggs are really seasonal products since the birds will spend a lot of time indoors anyway.

Homemade or artisan

Homemade means not commercially prepared, even in a small establishment. Homemade foods require no additional preparation. “Tastes like homemade” is fine to say, as it’s left to the customer’s judgement.

Artisan means food manufactured in small batches, with limited use of automated machines operating on mass quantities of food. It would also use additives and preservatives that would be typically purchased from a grocery store and found in a home kitchen. “Artisan-style” is looser.

“Fed no animal byproducts,” “grain-fed” and other feed claims

The CFIA says these claims are fine if they’re true. Generally self-explanatory, as in “grain-fed” means that the animal ate only grains and grain byproducts. However, in the case of “grain-fed,” it does not mean that the animal didn’t also eat medications, vitamins or even animal-derived additives like Vitamin D3 that was derived from lanolin. That additive wouldn’t be allowed under a “no animal byproducts” label.

If it says that the animal was raised on feed that includes grains, keep in mind that it includes other things too.

“Natural” vs. “Artificial” colour or flavour

Natural flavours and colours are derived from animal or vegetable raw materials. Artificial flavours and colours are derived in whole or part from components obtained by chemical synthesis. However, if an ingredients label just says “colour,” it could be either natural or artificial, or a number of different colouring agents. Although all colours added to food must be approved by Health Canada, companies don’t have to identify them specifically on the label.

Made in Canada

Means the food was prepared in Canada, but the ingredients may or may not have come from Canada.

Product of Canada

Means the food was made in Canada and all or nearly all of the ingredients are from Canada. Small amounts of non-Canadian ingredients, like spices, are allowed.

A good general rule to remember is that labels aren’t allowed to lie – but the claims made might be extremely narrow or imply more than they’re actually saying as a marketing ploy. For example, a food advertised as containing “natural” ingredients probably does, but it might contain a lot of unnatural ingredients as well. It’s best to read labels very literally.

And while these are the rules, it’s fair to say that they are not always followed. If you feel that a food might be mislabelled or makes misleading claims, you can contact the CFIA or in Quebec, the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation.

source: globalnews.ca

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Artificial Sweeteners in Milk?

By Heather White, Executive Director at Environmental Working Group, a national environmental health and consumer advocacy organization 64       Sun 03/31/2013

Milk is milk – but it won’t be if the conventional dairy industry gets its way. 

Four years ago, the International Dairy Foods Association and National Milk Producers Federation, which lobby on behalf of the industry, petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to change the official definition – the so-called “standard of identity” – of milk. And not just milk. In all, the industry wants to change the definition of 18 dairy products, including yogurt, sour cream and half and half, to allow it to add artificial sweeteners – without including any prominent label for consumers. Read the proposed petition. 

The FDA announced in February that it is seeking public comment on the proposal, and that has sparked a national uproar over what’s allowed in our food.

The industry already adds a lot of sweet stuff to its flavored milk and other products. But if they add artificial sweeteners such as aspartame to replace the added sugar, they have to add a label on the front that includes a qualifier such as “reduced calorie” or “low calorie.” They can’t call the artificially sweetened product “milk” without one.

Industry marketers don’t want to have to put the label on the front of the package that signals that the dairy product could contain these controversial sweeteners.

Their stated reasoning? To fight childhood obesity. The industry argues that if it could get the okay to add artificial sweeteners into milk without a label on the front, kids would choose more milk drinks.

The conventional dairy industry doesn’t want the “reduced calorie” label on the front of the package, arguing that it distracts parents from milk’s nutritional value and turns kids off from buying flavored milk. The industry wants to change FDA regulations so that these controversial sweeteners would be listed only on the ingredients panel on the back of the carton, with no highly visible labeling such as “low calorie” on the front.

These clear front-of-package labels are important to parents because artificial sweeteners in kids’ drinks are a hot button issue for many families. If the milk industry gets its way, it will be harder for parents to know what they are giving to their kids. It’s true that we want kids to drink less sugary drinks, but we don’t want them to have more processed, unnatural ingredients in their diets. Surely there are better ways to get young people to make healthier choices without allowing the industry to get away with this sneaky legal gimmick to change the official definition of milk.

Although aspartame has been deemed safe after an independent review by FDA, it remains controversial. Questions of cancer or neurological problems have swirled around it for decades. Some pregnant women are advised to avoid it. And since some other non-nutritive sweeteners such as sucralose actually taste sweeter than sugar, some health professionals worry that adding it to milk drinks could lead kids to have stronger cravings for sweet products.

The controversy has highlighted the larger problem that consumers are largely in the dark when it comes to additives in food. Although FDA considers most of the sweeteners that would be added to milk to be “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, and some of these sweeteners have been independently reviewed, FDA’s overall framework for regulating the safety of food additives needs serious improvement.

The shocking truth is that the FDA has never independently reviewed the safety of the vast majority of the nearly 10,000 chemicals – both natural and synthetic – that can legally be added to food or packaging to enhance flavor and appearance, create certain food texture, or delay spoilage. About a third of the 10,000 have been reviewed by an industry-funded panel; most of the rest have been “self-affirmed” as safe by manufacturers. The reality is that most consumers are flying blind when it comes to what’s in processed foods. We need real changes to the law on how we regulate food additives, not on how we legally define milk.

No matter your position on the use of artificial sweeteners in foods and drinks marketed to children, we can all agree that consumers need more information about the food we eat, not less.

Call the FDA at (240) 402-2371 and tell it not to grant this industry request. The deadline for public comments is May 21, 2013. Make your voice heard by joining the petition to keep hidden artificial sweeteners out of dairy products.

Here are some tips for busy parents from the Environmental Working Group:

  • Read the label. Always read ingredient labels and avoid products that have too many chemicals you’ve never heard of, or a really, really long list. Go simple when you can.
  • Go organic. Organic milk is not produced with pesticides or added hormones. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame are not allowed.
  • Plain is best. Skip the flavored milk, if possible, or allow it only as a special treat. Some flavored milks can contain as much sugar as half a dozen cookies.
  • Go for plain or unsweetened yogurts and cottage cheeses. Skip flavored, “light” and “lite” yogurts. They are often loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives. Instead, add fresh fruit to your plain yogurt or cottage cheese. 
  • Lactose intolerant? Dairy isn’t the only good source of calcium – try calcium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans or tofu. Unsweetened, fortified organic soymilk, coconut, almond, hemp and flax milk can also be good choices. Talk to your doctor about trying lactase enzymes. Be sure to read labels to make sure you’re getting good nutrition for your family. And, stay away from products with added sugars. 

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9 Ways to Fix Our Food System

Hungry for change? Take these simple steps right now!
By Max Follmer       October 10, 2012

Drink Fewer Sodas And Sweetened Beverages
Fact: If you replace one 20-ounce soda a day with a no-calorie beverage (preferably water), you could lose 25 pounds in a year.

Eat At Home Instead Of Eating Out
Fact: Children consume almost twice as many calories when eating food made outside the home.

Tell Schools To Stop Selling Sodas And Junk Food
Fact: Over the last two decades, rates of obesity have tripled in children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 years old.

Meatless Mondays! Go Meatless At Least One Day A Week
Fact: An estimated 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to farm animals.

Buy Organic Or Sustainable Foods With Little To No Pesticide Use
The EPA says more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the U.S.

Protect Family Farms By Visiting Your Local Farmers’ Market
Farmers’ markets enable farmers to keep 80 to 90 cents of each dollar spent by the customer.

Make A Point To Know Where Your Food Comes From By Reading Labels
The average meal travels 1,500 miles from the farm to your dinner plate.

Tell Your Lawmakers That Food Safety Is Important To You
Fact: Each year, contaminated food causes millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths.

Demand Job Protections For Farm Workers And Food Processors, Ensuring Fair Wages And Other Protections
Fact: Poverty among farm workers is more than twice that of all wage and salary employees.

source: takepart.com

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Food allergy label changes come into effect

New food labelling regulations apply to priority allergens, gluten and sulphites

Posted: Aug 3, 2012

Health Canada’s new food labelling regulations, which came into force Saturday, will make it easier for people with food allergies, their families and caregivers to determine which products to avoid.
The regulations were announced in February 2011. After an 18-month phase-in, packaged foods must clearly list allergens using common names, like “milk” instead of “hydrolyzed casein.”
The new rules apply to priority allergens in foods known to cause 90 per cent of reactions:
  • Peanuts.
  • Eggs.
  • Milk.
  • Tree nuts (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts).
  • Soy.
  • Sesame seeds.
  • Seafood (fish, crustaceans and shellfish).
  • Sulphites.
  • Mustard seed.
  • Glutens (oats, barley and rye).
  • Wheat (as a food).

The rules will require a listing of allergens in smaller components of the product. For example, if a product includes “spices,” the label must list any allergens, glutens or sulphites contained in the spices.
Food allergies can trigger anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition in which a person’s immune system identifies foods as a threat, and attacks it. Symptoms can include blood pressure drops, narrowing of the airways and hives.
Marilyn Allen of Sutton, Ont., has been a driving force behind the food label changes for more than a decade. Allen is a founder of Anaphylaxis Canada, an advocacy group for people with food allergies. Her daughter, Robyn Lyn, died from her food allergies in 1990 at age 15.
Under the new regulations, packaged food companies have the option of either putting an allergen in the list of ingredients or adding a line with the word “contains X.”
“It is going to require allergic people to look for the ‘contain’ statement,” advised Allen, a food allergy consultant. “If it’s absent, never assume. Then go back and read the ingredient list to make sure there’s been enough space on the label for that company to repeat that message twice.”
Allen is celebrating the changes, but notes there are still gaps, such as:
  • The regulations don’t apply to deli, bakery and bulk foods.
  • Beer is exempt from listing glutens, although the beverage may contain sulphites that trigger asthma and caramel colouring that include dairy.
  • The term “may contain X” is not regulated for allergens not listed in the ingredients, but may have cross-contaminated the food in trace amounts at the factory.
Allen hopes allergic consumers will monitor the new labels and report potential problems to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Some companies have already been identifying “plain language” ingredients in their products voluntarily.
Liza Lukashevsky takes care to decipher ingredient lists after discovering her 10-year-old son Charlie is allergic to soy, yeast and sulphites.
“I think the more information that is put on food, the better,” said Lukashevsky, owner of the Nut House, a bulk food store in Toronto with labelled bins.
Lukashevsky recalled that when her son was 2½, a daycare worker was pleased that he had eaten all his vegetables — a whole bag of edamame beans that the worker didn’t realize were soy.

Guidance for caregivers

“That would’ve been a great example where if underneath edamame it says ‘contains soy,’ and she wouldn’t have given it to him,” said Lukashevsky, noting the daycare worker said she felt horrible seeing the boy break out in rashes.
Caregivers including daycare workers who look after children and shop for them could really benefit from the new labels, she said.
The new food allergen labels will bring a sigh of relief to many parents and school board bureaucrats, said Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean of the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
Australia and New Zealand also require warning of allergens on food labels, Charlebois noted. The United States and the EU are working on similar regulations.
Charlebois applauded the changes, but also called for allergen labels to be standardized globally for consistency and clarity.

With files from CBC’s Marijka Hurko and Melanie Nagy   
List of food allergen names ~ CFIA

Source: CBC