Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


Top 10 Ways To Stop Cravings For Sugar, Salt and Fats

by Dr. Mark Hyman     October 14, 2013

According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Food Corporations Turn to Chefs in a Quest for Healthy Flavor,” Big Food companies like PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, and even fast food giants like Taco Bell are changing their ways in response to the increasing public demand for healthier food options. To improve their image as healthy food manufacturers, Big Food corporations have called upon top chefs to help them create healthy menu makeovers, infusing real, fresh, whole food into old recipe favorites.

Why is this happening now? Intense pressure brought on by politicians and their constituents (you and me!) has given these food manufacturers no choice but to respond to the public outcry for healthier food. It’s no longer enough for these companies to earn a profit by selling food that tastes good. People are beginning to use the power of the pocketbook to show these companies that the food they sell must also be nutritious.

That’s because people everywhere are waking up. They are beginning to see the dangers of genetically-modified ingredients and all the sugar, salt, and fats hidden in our food supply. From fancy restaurants to fast food chains, chefs are catching on that people want their food to make them feel good, not just while they are eating it but hours, days, and years afterward.

Really, this news shouldn’t make the headlines. This is common sense! Paying for food that makes us sick is as crazy as shooting ourselves in the foot. It just doesn’t make sense.

Big Food is finally getting the message and getting on board.

But remember, no processed or fast food option will ever be better than a healthy home-cooked meal. The best way to ensure you are eating the highest quality, most nutritious food possible is to prepare your own food in your own kitchen. We are all chefs. You don’t have to be trained at Le Cordon Bleu to know your way around a kitchen. You just need a little knowledge, some imagination, and a sense of adventure.

A desire for real food is a fundamental part of our basic biological blueprint. Given the chance, our taste receptors will naturally gravitate toward the inherent sweetness found in vegetables, fruits, and even nuts and seeds.

So, how do you reprogram your taste buds to ditch the cravings for sugar, salt, and fats? You can start by eating real, fresh, whole foods. Avoid fake, commercialized foods that come in convenience packages or are made in a lab.

Here are 10 more tips to get you excited about ditching the sugar, salt, and fats:

  • Sauté or roast your veggies to bring out their natural sweetness. Properly searing your chicken or meat brings out the inherent sweetness by way of the Maillard reaction. This is a fancy name for what happens when you create that nice, brown crust on your meat.
  • Play with herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, basil, and oregano to add flavor and phytonutrients! Finish a meal by adding fresh herbs before plating or serving. This last-minute addition kicks the flavor up a notch!
  • Healthy fats found in avocado, coconut, and tahini not only increase the flavor of your meal, they also add that creamy, luscious texture found in many rich foods.
  • Try creating a savory, umami (Japanese for “delicious”) flavor. Add moderate amounts of tamari, umeboshi plum paste, balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, dried mushroom, or sea vegetables to your next stew, soup, sauce, or stir-fry.
  • Cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, ginger, and even cayenne or chipotle pepper powder are all extremely flavorful additions to a meal. Spices like these excite your taste buds and grab your attention. This is helpful, because, as studies show, when we are focused on actually tasting our food rather than mindlessly gobbling it up, we actually need less food to feel satisfied.
  • Befriend some kitchen must-haves like real vanilla extract or vanilla bean or coconut butter. Or use common, every-day foods like lemons in some creative ways. For example, use lemon zest to add real zing to any meal!
  • For the most flavor, eat seasonally and locally. Canned or packaged foods or foods that have traveled great distances in the back of a truck just can’t compare to the succulence of a fresh piece of locally grown fruit.
  • Check your hydration. Digestion starts in your mouth with your saliva, which helps us taste all the magnificent flavor in food. If you are dehydrated and not producing enough saliva, you won’t really be able to enjoy your food.
  • Check your medications. Believe it or not, most medications interfere with the body’s ability to taste and smell. Some of them can even create an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth.
  • Got nutrition? Nutrient deficiency is an important cause of improper taste perception. A lack of certain vitamins and minerals can markedly impair your ability to smell and taste food. Most Americans have several nutrient deficiencies, but there is one in particular that can especially keep you from enjoying your next meal: zinc. Try adding foods like oysters, pecans, sunflower seeds, and lentils to increase your daily intake of this important mineral.

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The 5 Most Prominent Minerals In The Body and Their Use

by Fiora Stevens on August 5, 2013

Health conscious people often talk about getting enough vitamins and minerals, but do you know which minerals your body requires in the greatest amounts? And do you know what they do, and how they keep your body working in tip top shape? Let’s take a look at the five most prominent minerals in the human body, and how they lend themselves to health and proper function.

1. Calcium
If you see calcium and think “strong bones,” you’re certainly on the right track – but that’s not all calcium does! In addition to helping build and maintain the strength and structure of bones and teeth, calcium also plays a significant role in blood clotting, sending signals in the nervous system, regulating blood pressure, hormone secretion, and enzyme function.

Calcium also works with countless other vitamins and minerals to ensure that they can do their jobs to the fullest effect. Plus, calcium helps the body to excrete any lead that it takes in, aiding in the avoidance of lead poisoning.

2. Sodium
Often, not taking in too much sodium is the focus of many healthy eating plans. But although too much sodium can be harmful, this mineral is very much a necessity for the human body. One of the most important uses of sodium is to ensure that the body’s fluid balance stays in check, and that each individual cell has just the right amount of fluid inside it to function properly. Sodium is also a key factor in sending signals from one nerve to another, as well as helping muscles to contract and release.

3. Chloride
Chloride is absolutely crucial to the human body, yet, it’s not a mineral we hear much about. Acting in concert with sodium, chloride is a key factor in preserving fluid balance throughout the body and helping fluids to move in and out of cells and tissues. Chloride is also incredibly important in ensuring that the body’s pH level stays within a safe range. Finally, chloride ions work to send electrical impulses down nerve pathways.


4. Potassium
Like sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte that regulates the body’s fluid levels, as well as the transportation of those fluids. And like sodium and chloride, potassium plays a major role in nerve signal transmission due to its electrical charge.
The contraction, flexing, and releasing of muscles is also reliant on potassium working in tandem with sodium. In addition, potassium can help prevent kidney stones, and levels of potassium that are too low have been tied to high blood pressure.

5. Phosphorus
This all-important mineral is found in every single cell. Phosphorus is a key component of the underlying structure of DNA, and also helps form the cell membranes that control what can and cannot enter an individual cell. Like calcium, phosphorus lends its strength to teeth and bones. Phosphorus also helps individual cells to convert food into energy, and is also a major player in the systems that maintain a balanced pH within the body.


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Scientists Officially Link Processed Foods To Autoimmune Disease

March 8, 2013  by: True Activist

The modern diet of processed foods, takeaways and microwave meals could be to blame for a sharp increase in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, including alopecia, asthma and eczema.

A team of scientists from Yale University in the U.S and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, say junk food diets could be partly to blame.

‘This study is the first to indicate that excess refined and processed salt may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases,’ they said.

Junk foods at fast food restaurants as well as processed foods at grocery retailers represent the largest sources of sodium intake from refined salts.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal sent out an international team of researchers to compare the salt content of 2,124 items from fast food establishments such as Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway. They found that the average salt content varied between companies and between the same products sold in different countries.

U.S. fast foods are often more than twice as salt-laden as those of other countries. While government-led public health campaigns and legislation efforts have reduced refined salt levels in many countries, the U.S. government has been reluctant to press the issue. That’s left fast-food companies free to go salt crazy, says Norm Campbell, M.D., one of the study authors and a blood-pressure specialist at the University of Calgary.

Many low-fat foods rely on salt–and lots of it–for their flavor. One packet of KFC’s Marzetti Light Italian Dressing might only have 15 calories and 0.5 grams fat, but it also has 510 mg sodium–about 1.5 times as much as one Original Recipe chicken drumstick. (Feel like you’re having too much of a good thing? You probably are.

Bread is the No. 1 source of refined salt consumption in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just one 6-inch Roasted Garlic loaf from Subway–just the bread, no meat, no cheeses, no nothing–has 1,260 mg sodium, about as much as 14 strips of bacon.

How Refined Salt Causes Autoimmune Disease

The team from Yale University studied the role of T helper cells in the body. These activate and ‘help’ other cells to fight dangerous pathogens such as bacteria or viruses and battle infections.

Previous research suggests that a subset of these cells – known as Th17 cells – also play an important role in the development of autoimmune diseases.

In the latest study, scientists discovered that exposing these cells in a lab to a table salt solution made them act more ‘aggressively.’

They found that mice fed a diet high in refined salts saw a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells in their nervous systems that promoted inflammation.

They were also more likely to develop a severe form of a disease associated with multiple sclerosis in humans.

The scientists then conducted a closer examination of these effects at a molecular level.

Laboratory tests revealed that salt exposure increased the levels of cytokines released by Th17 cells 10 times more than usual. Cytokines are proteins used to pass messages between cells.

Study co-author Ralf Linker, from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said: ‘These findings are an important contribution to the understanding of multiple sclerosis and may offer new targets for a better treatment of the disease, for which at present there is no cure.’

It develops when the immune system mistakes the myelin that surrounds the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord for a foreign body.

It strips the myelin off the nerves fibres, which disrupts messages passed between the brain and body causing problems with speech, vision and balance.

Another of the study’s authors, Professor David Hafler, from Yale University, said that nature had clearly not intended for the immune system to attack its host body, so he expected that an external factor was playing a part.

He said: ‘These are not diseases of bad genes alone or diseases caused by the environment, but diseases of a bad interaction between genes and the environment.

‘Humans were genetically selected for conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, where there was no salt. It’s one of the reasons that having a particular gene may make African Americans much more sensitive to salt.

‘Today, Western diets all have high salt content and that has led to increase in hypertension and perhaps autoimmune disease as well.’

The team next plan to study the role that Th17 cells play in autoimmune conditions that affect the skin.

‘It would be interesting to find out if patients with psoriasis can alleviate their symptoms by reducing their salt intake,’ they said.

‘However, the development of autoimmune diseases is a very complex process which depends on many genetic and environmental factors.’

Stick to Good Salts

Refined, processed and bleached salts are the problem. Salt is critical to our health and is the most readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world. Our bodies are not designed to processed refined sodium chloride since it has no nutritional value. However, when a salt is filled with dozens of minerals such as in rose-coloured crystals of Himalayan rock salt or the grey texture of Celtic salt, our bodies benefit tremendously for their incorporation into our diet.

“These mineral salts are identical to the elements of which our bodies have been built and were originally found in the primal ocean from where life originated,” argues Dr Barbara Hendel, researcher and co-author of Water & Salt, The Essence of Life. “We have salty tears and salty perspiration. The chemical and mineral composition of our blood and body fluids are similar to sea water. From the beginning of life, as unborn babies, we are encased in a sack of salty fluid.”

“In water, salt dissolves into mineral ions,” explains Dr Hendel. “These conduct electrical nerve impulses that drive muscle movement and thought processes. Just the simple act of drinking a glass of water requires millions of instructions that come from mineral ions. They’re also needed to balance PH levels in the body.”

Mineral salts, she says, are healthy because they give your body the variety of mineral ions needed to balance its functions, remain healthy and heal. These healing properties have long been recognised in central Europe. At Wieliczka in Poland, a hospital has been carved in a salt mountain. Asthmatics and patients with lung disease and allergies find that breathing air in the saline underground chambers helps improve symptoms in 90 per cent of cases.

Dr Hendel believes too few minerals, rather than too much salt, may be to blame for health problems. It’s a view that is echoed by other academics such as David McCarron, of Oregon Health Sciences University in the US.

He says salt has always been part of the human diet, but what has changed is the mineral content of our food. Instead of eating food high in minerals, such as nuts, fruit and vegetables, people are filling themselves up with “mineral empty” processed food and fizzy drinks.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.

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Food cravings engineered by industry

How Big Food keeps us eating through a combination of science and marketing

By Kelly Crowe, CBC News    Posted: Mar 6, 2013 

Standing in her kitchen in downtown Toronto chopping vegetables for dinner, Pat Guillet is aware she has entered the battleground.

“Whenever you go grocery shopping, or into your kitchen, you’re in a war zone. You have to really be prepared before you go in,” she said. She decides, in advance, exactly what she’s going to eat, and she forces herself to stick to the plan. Because she knows she is just one sweet mouthful away from a descent back into hell. Pat Guillet is a food addict.

“I ate to the point it hurt to move. And I would just lie in my bed and wish I was dead,” she said. She has finally wrestled her addiction under control and now she counsels other food addicts to avoid processed food. “Yeah, just the sight of the packages will trigger cravings,” she said.

Craving. It doesn’t just happen to food addicts. Most people have experienced the impulse to seek out and consume a favourite packaged snack food. On one billboard, recently put up in Toronto, the intention to make you reach for another one is prominently declared, in large letters that tower over the city street. It’s a picture of a box of crackers, and the promise “You’ll be back for more.”

They know you will be back, because they’ve done the research necessary to make it happen.

“These companies rely on deep science and pure science to understand how we’re attracted to food and how they can make their foods attractive to us,” Michael Moss said.

The New York Times investigative reporter spent four years prying open the secrets of the food industry’s scientists.

“This was like a detective story for me, getting inside the companies with thousands of pages of inside documents and getting their scientists and executives to reveal to me the secrets of how they go at this,” he said. What he found became the title of his new book, Salt, Sugar Fat: How the food giants hooked us.

“I was totally surprised,” he said. “I spent time with the top scientists at the largest companies in this country and it’s amazing how much math and science and regression analysis and energy they put into finding the very perfect amount of salt, sugar and fat in their products that will send us over the moon, and will send their products flying off the shelves and have us buy more, eat more and …make more money for them.”

It’s not surprising to Bruce Bradley. He’s a former food industry executive who spent 15 years working at General Mills, Pillsbury and Nabisco, and ran some common food brands including Honey Nut Cheerios and Hamburger Helper. But one day he discovered he couldn’t do it anymore.

“There were certainly times that I felt uncomfortable or troubled by what I was doing,” he said. “I think that’s ultimately one of the reasons why I left the industry. As you start to get glimpses of products and you understand better how consumers are using them, and then you see trends like obesity and health issues that are increasing, mainly driven by the food we eat, it was hard for me not to just take a more thorough assessment of what I was doing.”

Now he writes a blog, critical of the food industry.

“I decided to step out and ultimately speak out in hopes of bringing more awareness to the issue,” he said. “What we eat and drink from a lot of these big food and beverages companies isn’t that good for us and we should reconsider it,” he said. “These products are designed to keep you coming back to eat more and more and more. They’re trying to increase their share of your stomach.”

Pat Guillet said it’s hard to overcome the addictive appeal of processed foods like ice cream.

A Google search of the patents held by the food industry provides a glimpse of the complex technical engineering that goes into building a simple cracker. Scan the scientific journals, or read the food industry publications and a picture emerges of an army of chemists, physicists and even neuroscientists, all working to make sure you want a second cookie.

And to understand the research, you need to speak the language. There’s ‘mouth feel,’ ‘maximum bite force,’ and the important concept of ‘sensory specific satiety,’ the rate at which a food product loses its appeal as it is being eaten.

“That’s an expression that says when food has one overriding flavour, if it’s attractive, it will be really attractive to us initially, but then we’ll get tired of it really fast,” Moss said. “And so these companies make a concerted effort to make their foods not bland, but really well blended.”

That’s so people don’t get too full too fast, and stop eating too soon. “If the taste builds too much, consumption will stop … and snacks need to be eaten non-stop until the packet is finished,” Thorton Mustard wrote, back in 2002. He was a food industry consultant who revealed, early on, some of the secrets of the food industry, in a book called The Taste Signature Revealed. He wrote that fullness or satiety, is “quite a serious enemy for a product.”

Mustard claimed he could help food companies design foods that were guaranteed to be “more-ish,” which he defined as a quality that made a consumer want to eat more. It helped, he advised, if the food was easy to chew.

“If people had to chew the food to extract the flavour enjoyment, it would take longer to eat, be better digested, and the feeling of being full reached far sooner. People would need to consume less,” he wrote.

Thornton Mustard has retired and couldn’t be reached for comment, but Chris Lukehurst is continuing his work through The Marketing Clinic, the consulting company that Mustard founded.

“So people read that book, and we’ve been contacted by people saying, can you really do this? Because we’ve got a problem and we think you can solve it,” Lukehurst said.

On the art of “more-ishness,” Lukehurst explained it this way. “Some products, like most savoury snack products, want to be continually more-ish, so at the end of each product, they want you to reach out for the next product and put it in again, and they often achieve that by having an intense taste at the front of the mouth, and that dies off quickly, and so by the time you’ve finished each mouthful, you’re looking to re-taste what you’ve lost.”

Chocolates tend to be round to create a pleasant, melting sensation in the mouth.
(Martial Trezzini/Keystone/Associated Press)

The crunch is also crucial, Lukehurst said. “It’s partly the noise, the noise amplifies, through the jaw bones connected to your ears, and you can hear the crunch quite loudly when you bite. But it’s also the physical requirement to chew on something and crunch it. It just distracts you and pours your mind onto what you’re eating.”

The importance of “crunch” was confirmed in a study funded by Unilever where the scientists tested whether people’s perception of a chip was altered by the sound it made when they bit into it. The researchers concluded that “the potato chips were perceived as being both crisper and fresher when … the overall sound level was increased,” indicating another possible way to control the perception of the product, although, the authors wrote, “consumers are often unaware of the influence of such auditory cues.”

It also helps if the food dissolves quickly in the mouth, tricking the brain into believing that no calories have been ingested. It’s called “vanishing caloric density.”

“What happens is that your brain gets fooled into thinking the calories have vanished and you’re much more apt to keep eating before the brain sends you a signal …you’ve had enough,” author Michael Moss said.

The ultimate goal is the bliss point. “The company’s researchers have learned to study their products, fiddle with the formulas until they hit that very perfect spot of just enough and not too much sugar to create what they call the bliss point,” he said.

Melt-in-the-mouth appeal
Food scientists have even studied the architecture of the mouth. In a paper published in the Journal of Biomechanics, scientists from the Nestlé Research Center examined the “detection mechanisms in the oral cavity,” to study how well the mouth could detect the thickness of a plastic disc placed on the tongue. The researchers created a model that would predict the load exerted on the disc when it was deformed by the tongue.

Three years later, Nestlé announced a new chocolate with a shape based on the geometry of the mouth, that hits “certain areas of the oral surface, improving the melt-in-mouth quality while simultaneously reserving enough space in the mouth for the aroma to enrich the sensorial experience,” the press release announced.

It’s a clue to understanding why chocolates tend to be round. It seems consumers don’t enjoy a piece of chocolate as much if it has sharp edges. “Absolutely, we’re looking for chocolate to be comforting, to be a really pleasant, lovely experience in the mouth,” Chris Lukehurst said. “Melt is a very soft, soft experience, and if it’s got sharp corners, you’re really spoiling that and setting the consumer on edge slightly, before they get the melt. Much better if it’s nicely rounded and they’re already comforted and enjoying it first.”

And whatever happens on the tongue triggers a response in the brain. That’s why neuroscience is the next frontier for the food industry. Francis McGlone was a pioneer when he left academia to work for Unilever, one of the world’s largest food companies, back in 1994.

“I think I was the leading edge of something which I think is going to become far more prominent,” McGlone said. After more than a decade of industry research, he’s back in academia, but he remembers his time in the food industry fondly. “As a basic neuroscientist, I was able to look at the mechanisms that drove preference for various types of food,” he said.

What are those drivers of food preference, in McGlone’s opinion? His answer sounded familiar. “I am afraid we find high fat, high sugar, high salt foods very appealing,” he said.

“Salt, sugar and fat are the three pillars of the processed food industry,” Michael Moss said. “And while the industry hates the world ‘addiction’ more than any other word, the fact of the matter is, their research has shown them that when they hit the very perfect amounts of each of those ingredients … they will have us buy more, eat more.”

When Moss began working on his investigation into the science of food processing, he was sceptical of concept of food addiction. “Until I spent some time with the top scientists in the U.S. who say that yes, for some people, the most highly loaded salty, sugary, fatty foods are every bit as addictive as some narcotics,” he said.

Francis McGlone made a similar point in a television program for the BBC, when he put a British chef into a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, (an fMRI), fed him chili, and took images of his brain, which showed how the burn from the chili peppers triggered the release of endorphins. “The consequence of that low level of pain is that it floods the brain with its own natural opiates, so you can see another way of kicking up a pleasure system,” McGlone said.

But many ingredients in processed food have nothing to do with taste. They’re there to reproduce a certain texture, to control the moisture level, to keep the various ingredients from separating and spoiling during the months that they will sit on the shelves.

Food companies seek the perfect spot of just enough sugar to create what they call the bliss point, says author Michael Moss. (Naum Kazhdan via Pulitzer Prize Board/Associated Press/New York Times)

“Absolutely, that’s essential to the processed food industry, that their food be able to remain in a warehouse, in shipping, and then in the grocery story for weeks or months at a time,” Moss said.

To mask the bitterness or sourness that the formulations can cause, the food industry uses flavour enhancers, invisible ingredients that trick the brain into tasting something that isn’t there, and not tasting something that is there.

“Ingredients like that are kind of bundled under what may seem like relatively innocuous labels like ‘natural flavours’ or even ‘artificial flavours,’ when truly they are much more surprising when consumers really understand what it is,” Bruce Bradley, the former food industry executive, said. “There’s tremendous amounts of money spent behind creating tastes and smells that feel real but in reality are completely artificial.”

‘These products are designed to keep you coming back to eat more and more and more. They’re trying to increase their share of your stomach.’— Bruce Bradley

Because without flavour enhancement, no one would eat it. “It would taste horrible, you’d want to spit it out,” Bradley said.

Michael Moss was treated to a special taste test, while researching his book. “Kellogg invited me into their R&D department, and prepared for me special versions of their iconic products, without any salt in them at all. And I have to tell you, it was a God-awful experience tasting those things. Normally, I can eat Cheez-Its [crackers] all day long, but the Cheez-Its without the salt? I couldn’t even swallow them. They stuck to the roof of my mouth. The real impressive moment was when I turned to the cereal, which, without salt, tasted like metal. One of the miracle things that salt adds to processed foods, it will cover up some of the off notes that are inherent to the food processing systems that they rely on.”

Bruce Bradley says all of that processing takes food to a different place. “We’re not talking about food actually being real anymore. It’s synthetic, completely contrived and created, and there’s so many problems about that because our bodies are tricked and when our bodies are tricked repeatedly dramatic things can happen, like weight gain” or endocrine disruption, diabetes and hypertension, he said.

What about the scientists who created these products? Moss says some of them are having second thoughts about their popular creations. “A number of the people I talked to invented these icons really in a more innocent era, when our dependence on processed foods was much less than it is now. And over time, they’ve come to regret how their inventions have come to be so heavily depended on by us. So yes, any number of these scientists are now looking for ways to help their companies improve the health profile of their products.”

Appreciating the power of salt, fat and sugar in snack foods could help people from overdoing it.

Bruce Bradley says he believes food companies are trying to make some changes. ” think there’s an element of it that’s sincere. I’ve certainly worked on several products where there was a sincere effort to reduce the amount of sodium or sugar in that product,” he said.

But he says there is only so much tinkering that can happen with the three basic building blocks of processed food. “To make these highly processed foods taste great, they require salt and sugar and fat, and so while there may be some very good intentions … it’s just not in the cards to get a product that tastes really great.”

Chris Lukehurst believes the food industry is making a mistake trying to formulate lower salt, sugar and fat versions of their popular brands while still hoping to match the original taste. Instead he says the food engineers should tinker with the crunch, the mouth feel and other sensory aspects to make consumers like the new versions better, for different reasons.

“What we would argue is don’t try to make it taste the same, make it work better for the consumer. So when they’re tasting this product, they may well notice a taste difference, but the emotional delivery they’re getting out of it is at least better than it was before,” he said. “Let’s find what emotions are lacking when you take the fat out. How can we make those emotions up in different ways?”

Today’s grocery shelves are filled with the promise of healthier snack foods. Cookies now sport a bright green label, claiming to be a “sensible solution.” Chips boast about “the goodness of whole grains,” and crackers proudly declare that they’ve been “baked,” not fried.

Pressure on food industry
Bruce Bradley believes the food industry has simply identified a new market opportunity. “These companies are extremely profit-focused, as are all publicly held companies out there. It is a quarter to quarter profit drill,” he said. “If the food industry can find a way to market it and make money off of it, I’m sure they will. But if, in the long term, it is decreasing the amount of food that they can sell, I don’t see that as being an avenue that they will go down.”

“There’s huge and growing pressure on the food companies now, from consumers who are concerned about what they’re putting in their mouths,” Michael Moss said. “There’s equal pressure coming from Wall Street, which is concerned about sales, and there’s starting to be increasing attention paid by government regulators. I think you have all three of those converging on the food giants right now, and of course, what will happen remains to be seen.”

Meanwhile, Moss has his own food cravings to fight. “I’m a huge fan of potato chips and I can overdo it like the next person,” he said. “But what’s really helped me is getting inside the companies and understanding how they formulate and perfect their product. I can see where they’re coming at me and appreciate the power of the salt, the fat and the sugar in potato chips. And I think that helps me control my indulgence.”

For Pat Guillet, back in her kitchen, determinedly chopping celery, there is little hope for relief. “If I had one spoonful of ice cream, I would want the whole tub,” she said. “And there were times I ate the whole tub. And I would sit there and say ‘I’ve gotta stop, I’ve gotta stop,’ really feeling completely unable to act on what my brain is telling me.”

That’s why she is bracing for a lifelong battle with the sugar demons that lurk in the processed food aisle. “These foods are so addictive, so appealing, they give you a high and you feel better,” she said. “And the thing many food addicts say is, long after the food causes us joy, long after it causes us misery, we still couldn’t stop. It becomes hard-wired and it’s very hard to overcome.”

This is the first of two special features by health reporter Kelly Crowe on how industry designs food so that we crave them.

With files from CBC’s Brigitte Noel

source: CBC.ca

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Worth its salt? Chain restaurant burger can contain a day’s worth


TORONTO – A hamburger or stir fry from a chain restaurant may contain the total daily recommended amount of sodium Canadians should consume, suggests a study published Wednesday in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

When it came to stir fries, some sandwich wraps and even salads, researchers were surprised at the wide variation in the amount of sodium they contained, said Mary L’Abbe, chair of the University of Toronto’s department of nutritional sciences and senior author on the study.

“Some of the top quarter of the foods were above the upper level for a day, but yet the lower end were … half your recommendation, so there was this big variety.”

The daily recommended amount of sodium is 1,500 milligrams and no more than 2,300 milligrams — the equivalent of about a teaspoon of salt — is suggested per day. Research shows the average Canadian consumes 3,400 milligrams per day.

“You would normally think salad is a very healthy choice and so absolutely a large number of those salads were quite low in sodium … but at the same time there were also salads that had up to 2,200 milligrams (of sodium) per serving,” L’Abbe said.

“So you could get the low end and have only 200 milligrams of sodium and you could get the high end, 2,000 milligrams of sodium.”

The University of Toronto study of 4,044 foods from 85 chain restaurants found that, on average, a single menu item from a sit-down restaurant, such as a hamburger, sandwich or stir fry, contained almost 100 per cent of the daily recommended amount of sodium, or an average of 1,455 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Side dishes contained almost half that, an average of 736 milligrams of sodium.

Many foods geared toward children were also found to be high in sodium.

Health Canada has been educating Canadians on reducing sodium levels, but the focus has been on packaged foods and the agency has not issued guidelines for the restaurant sector, L’Abbe said.

It’s been estimated that reducing Canadians’ dietary sodium intake by 1,800 milligrams per day would result in an annual health-care savings of $2.33 billion, L’Abbe and co-author Mary Scourboutakos, who worked on the study as part of her doctoral research, said in the report.

About a quarter of Canadians eat something prepared at a sit-down restaurant, cafeteria or other food venue every day. Too much sodium causes high blood pressure, a leading cause of illness and premature death, the Ontario Medical Association said in a statement.

“We’re especially concerned because the sodium in restaurant foods is hidden,” said Dr. Doug Weir, president of the Ontario Medical Association.

“There is no easy way for patrons to choose lower-sodium options, because for the most part sodium content is not posted on the menu. Our patients, and especially those at risk for high blood pressure (40 per cent of population), need better information so that they can choose lower-sodium foods in restaurants. Menu labelling is the best way to do this.”

Dietitians of Canada, which helped prepare the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Health Canada in 2010, also says the food industry needs to cut down on added sodium.

“Sodium reduction targets need to be set, monitored and reported on foods available in the food supply and that includes foods in restaurants and other food service establishments,” Janice Macdonald, the organization’s director of communications, wrote in an email.

Sodium is a component of table salt, the chemical sodium chloride. It’s used in many foods and not only for taste.

In bread, you need salt as part of the leavening process. It’s often used to help foods brown. Sodium is used in processed cured meats as a preservative.

In the restaurant industry foods with salt and a variety of salt additives hold more moisture. When the food is being cooked ahead of time, it doesn’t dry out, L’Abbe explained.

Ditching the salt shaker is only one way to decrease sodium consumption.

At a fast-food or sit-down restaurant ask if there are lower-sodium choices. When it’s possible to customize your food, ask if they would not add salt to your food.

Choose lettuce, onions and tomatoes for your burger rather than cheese, ketchup, mustard and relish, which add more sodium. Order smaller portions and share. Ask for gravy, sauces and dressings on the side and use a lesser amount. Add flavour with herbs, pepper and other seasonings rather than salt, L’Abbe suggested.

Visit the Healthy Canadians website for more tips on choosing foods that lack sodium when eating out and grocery shopping.

Bill C-460, being debated in Parliament, is asking chain restaurants to provide calorie numbers and high-sodium warnings on menus.

Sodium Awareness Week kicks off March 11.

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Top 10 Food Additives To Avoid

Jun 28 2012 by 

If you’ve ever made homemade bread, crackers, muffins, etc then you know that you pretty much have a ‘shelf life’ of about 1 day before you have to move them to the fridge or freezer before they spoil.  So what about those products on the shelf at the store?  How does that loaf of bread, prepared salad, can of soup or deli meat stay fresh after weeks and months just sitting there?  The answer – food additives, preservatives and chemicals.  Unbelievably there are over 300 chemicals used in processed foods today and statistics show that the average American household spends about 90 percent of their food budget on such foods!  These manmade chemicals are seen as foreign to our bodies, which often results in a number of implications to our health and well being.  Allergies are a common side effect and MSG is known to cause overeating and weight gain.  The best way to avoid exposure to these harmful chemicals is to understand the most common and dangerous additives and which foods they are most often found in.  Here is our list of the top 10 food additives to avoid.

1. Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame, (E951) more popularly known as Nutrasweet and Equal, is found in foods labeled “diet” or “sugar free”. Aspartame is believed to be carcinogenic and accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined. Aspartame is not your friend. Aspartame is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. Known to erode intelligence and affect short-term memory, the components of this toxic sweetener may lead to a wide variety of ailments including brain tumor, diseases like lymphoma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, emotional disorders like depression, anxiety attacks, dizziness, headaches, nausea, mental confusion, migraines and seizures. Acesulfame-K, a relatively new artificial sweetener found in baking goods, gum and gelatin, has not been thoroughly tested and has been linked to kidney tumors.
Found in: diet or sugar free sodas, diet coke, coke zero, jello (and other gelatins), desserts, sugar free gum, drink mixes, baking goods, table top sweeteners, cereal, breathmints, pudding, kool-aid, ice tea, chewable vitamins, toothpaste

2. High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a highly-refined sweetener which has become the number one source of calories in America. It is found in almost all processed foods. HFCS packs on the pounds faster than any other ingredient, increases your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and contributes to the development of diabetes and tissue damage, among other harmful effects.
Found in: most processed foods, breads, candy, flavored yogurts, salad dressings, canned vegetables, cereals

3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG / E621)

MSG is an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer in soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees, and many restaurant foods. MSG is known as an excitotoxin, a substance which overexcites cells to the point of damage or death. Studies show that regular consumption of MSG may result in adverse side effects which include depression, disorientation, eye damage, fatigue, headaches, and obesity. MSG effects the neurological pathways of the brain and disengages the “I’m full” function which explains the effects of weight gain.
Found in: Chinese food (Chinese Restaurant Syndrome ) many snacks, chips, cookies, seasonings, most Campbell Soup products, frozen dinners, lunch meats

4. Trans Fat

Trans fat is used to enhance and extend the shelf life of food products and is among the most dangerous substances that you can consume. Found in deep-fried fast foods and certain processed foods made with margarine or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fats are formed by a process called hydrogenation. Numerous studies show that trans fat increases LDL cholesterol levels while decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increases the risk of heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, and contributes to increased inflammation, diabetes and other health problems. Oils and fat are now forbidden on the Danish market if they contain trans fatty acids exceeding 2 per cent, a move that effectively bans partially hydrogenated oils.
Found in: margarine, chips and crackers, baked goods, fast foods

5. Common Food Dyes

Studies show that artificial colorings which are found in soda, fruit juices and salad dressings, may contribute to behavioral problems in children and lead to a significant reduction in IQ. Animal studies have linked other food colorings to cancer. Watch out for these ones:
Blue #1 and Blue #2 (E133)
Banned in Norway, Finland and France. May cause chromosomal damage
Found in: candy, cereal, soft drinks, sports drinks and pet foods
Red dye # 3 (also Red #40 – a more current dye) (E124)
Banned in 1990 after 8 years of debate from use in many foods and cosmetics. This dye continues to be on the market until supplies run out! Has been proven to cause thyroid cancer and chromosomal damage in laboratory animals, may also interfere with brain-nerve transmission
Found in: fruit cocktail, maraschino cherries, cherry pie mix, ice cream, candy, bakery products and more!
Yellow #6 (E110) and Yellow Tartrazine (E102)
Banned in Norway and Sweden. Increases the number of kidney and adrenal gland tumors in laboratory animals, may cause chromosomal damage.
Found in: American cheese, macaroni and cheese, candy and carbonated beverages, lemonade and more!

6. Sodium Sulfite (E221)

Preservative used in wine-making and other processed foods. According to the FDA, approximately one in 100 people is sensitive to sulfites in food. The majority of these individuals are asthmatic, suggesting a link between asthma and sulfites. Individuals who are sulfite sensitive may experience headaches, breathing problems, and rashes. In severe cases, sulfites can actually cause death by closing down the airway altogether, leading to cardiac arrest.
Found in: Wine and dried fruit 

7. Sodium Nitrate/Sodium Nitrite

Sodium nitrate (or sodium nitrite) is used as a preservative, coloring and flavoring in bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, corned beef, smoked fish and other processed meats. This ingredient, which sounds harmless, is actually highly carcinogenic once it enters the human digestive system. There, it forms a variety of nitrosamine compounds that enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc with a number of internal organs: the liver and pancreas in particular. Sodium nitrite is widely regarded as a toxic ingredient, and the USDA actually tried to ban this additive in the 1970′s but was vetoed by food manufacturers who complained they had no alternative for preserving packaged meat products. Why does the industry still use it? Simple: this chemical just happens to turn meats bright red. It’s actually a color fixer, and it makes old, dead meats appear fresh and vibrant.
Found in: hotdogs, bacon, ham, luncheon meat, cured meats, corned beef, smoked fish or any other type of processed meat 

8. BHA and BHT (E320)

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are preservatives found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils. This common preservative keeps foods from changing color, changing flavor or becoming rancid. Effects the neurological system of the brain, alters behavior and has potential to cause cancer. BHA and BHT are oxidants which form cancer-causing reactive compounds in your body.
Found in: Potato chips, gum, cereal, frozen sausages, enriched rice, lard, shortening, candy, jello

9. Sulfur Dioxide (E220)

Sulfur additives are toxic and in the United States of America, the Federal Drugs Administration have prohibited their use on raw fruit and vegetables. Adverse reactions include: bronchial problems particularly in those prone to asthma, hypotension (low blood pressure), flushing tingling sensations or anaphylactic shock. It also destroys vitamins B1 and E. Not recommended for consumption by children. The International Labour Organization says to avoid E220 if you suffer from conjunctivitis, bronchitis, emphysema, bronchial asthma, or cardiovascular disease.
Found in: beer, soft drinks, dried fruit, juices, cordials, wine, vinegar, and potato products

10. Potassium Bromate

An additive used to increase volume in some white flour, breads, and rolls, potassium bromate is known to cause cancer in animals. Even small amounts in bread can create problems for humans. Found in: breads

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High blood pressure and healthy eating

It’s always wise to make healthy food choices. It becomes even more important when treating hypertension.
Changing the foods you eat is a great way to help lower blood pressure. Eating healthier foods at home and outside of the home is an important part of reaching a goal of lower blood pressure. Here are some tips on eating to help lower blood pressure:
  • Limit your alcohol intake to 2 drinks daily or less, to a maximum of 9 drinks per week for women and 14 drinks per week for men.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet (e.g., increase the amount of fruits and vegetables, grains, and cereals).
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist first before adding foods or supplements that are rich in potassium.
  • Read food labels to get more information about the nutrients in the foods you are eating.
  • Eat less saturated fat and cholesterol whenever possible (e.g., choose lean cuts of meat and avoid foods containing saturated fats; choose low-fat dairy products).
  • Get plenty of fibre.
  • Eat more whole grains and get more of your dietary protein from plant sources.
  • Reduce the amount of salt in your food.

More on salt

The majority of people consume much more than the recommended limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day, when in fact, your body only needs 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg per day to function healthily. The good news is that there are many simple ways that you can cut down on your salt intake, starting today.
  • Replace salt with other tasty seasonings. Try adding flavour to your food with herbs and spices such as oregano, basil, thyme, or pepper. Garlic and lemon are also delicious options to boost taste.
  • Consume processed foods less often. About 80% of our daily salt intake comes from processed foods, especially pizza, breads, soups and sauces. An easy way to consume less processed food is to avoid buying anything in a can, box, or bag, as these often contain high amounts of salt. Fresh foods do not contain added salt and are lower in sodium than pre-packaged foods.
  • Read the nutrition labels. The nutrition facts will tell you the amount of sodium in the serving size indicated at the top of the table (read this number carefully as it is dependent on the indicated serving). It will also tell you the percentage of the daily value (%DV) of sodium it contains.
  • Choose low-sodium products. Many food products now offer a reduced or low-sodium alternative.
  • Be aware of salt or sodium in disguise. There are other compounds that can increase the sodium content of food. These include monosodium glutamate (MSG), baking powder, baking soda, disodium phosphate, and sodium nitrate or nitrite. Read the ingredient label to determine if these compounds are included.
  • Remove or cut down the amount of salt in recipes. Cut the amount of salt called for by half and your taste buds won’t even know the difference!
  • Ask for the nutrition facts when eating out. Nutrition information is often available on restaurant websites or can be given to you upon request. Use this information to choose meals that are lower in sodium.
  • Try to limit the use of condiments. Condiments can contain high amounts of salt, so cutting back or limiting their use will help reduce your daily salt intake.

The DASH diet

A common diet that is often used to manage blood pressure is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This diet is rich in fibre and nutrients and contains much more potassium, calcium, and magnesium than the average diet.
Many studies have shown that in as little as several weeks, people on this diet significantly reduced their blood pressure, and that it is a very effective diet in reducing the risk of diabetesheart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
The key to success with any new diet is in not making drastic changes all at one time. It takes time to develop new eating habits and make food choices that make you feel healthier and satisfied.
There are some useful tips that you can use to adjust to the DASH diet:
  • Add more fruits and vegetables slowly to your diet. Try replacing fatty snacks with a fruit instead.
  • Increase your daily intake of dairy products. If you have trouble digesting dairy products, there are lactose intolerance pills that can aid in digesting these foods.
  • Replace enriched flour breads with whole grain bread.
  • Choose whole-grain cereals without large amounts of additives and sugar.
  • Eat fruit-flavoured gelatin or dried fruit snacks.
  • Add more nuts, seeds, and legumes to your daily diet.
  • Eat more potassium-enriched fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep to modest amounts of protein foods, preferably soy, fish, and poultry.
Visit Health Canada’s website to get a copy of Canada’s Food Guide for more information on healthy eating.
source: Canada.com