Archive for the ‘Center for Science in the Public Interest’ Category

But now they're adding sugar?

Friday, July 8th, 2011

We've removed the HFCS

A few days ago I re-read Taubes's July 2002 article in The New York Times and the November 2002 "Nutrition Action Health Letter" article from CSPI that looked at his claims that refined carbohydrates are the problem and contradicted many of them. I have 40+ years of personal experience of reading articles critically. I fully understand that all one sees in print may not tell the entire story or may be slanted toward a particular view of the truth.

But I was still surprised to see a Wall Street Journal article ("Personal Journal, Wednesday July 7, 2011 pp. D1-2) titled "Sweet Revenge, Chefs Pour on the Sugar."

The story of high-fructose corn syrup dates back to the aftermath of WWII. Two major war-time industries needed to continue employing large numbers of workers, especially with all the GIs returning. So toxic chemicals became pesticides and gunpowder morphed into fertilizer. Corn was felt to be the most efficient crop in converting sunlight to food energy, so it became the most favored crop. Soon there was the question of new uses for all that corn.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was first introduced by Richard O. Marshall and Earl R. Kooi in 1957.  The industrial production process was developed by Dr. Y. Takasaki in Japan from 1965 to 1970 and Takasaki is known to many as the creator of HFCS. HFCS was rapidly introduced to many processed foods and soft drinks in the U.S. from about 1975 to 1985.

High-fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to produce corn starch, then processing that starch to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose, and then adding enzymes that change some of the glucose into fructose.

The problem of course, is the rapid absorption of both HFCS and table sugar leading to a surge of insulin levels, resultant lowering of elevated blood sugar levels and, perhaps to hunger and subsequent over-eating. Taubes may have that part correct.

Now however, many high-level chefs are turning away from HFCS and substituting sugar. That's also been true for food-producing companies; you can now purchase Wheat Thins or Pepsi sweetened with sugar instead of HFCS.

But these are better for you

But my copy of Harvard's School of Public Health "Nutrition Source Update," led me to their new Healthy Eating Pyramid (link below) which puts sugary drinks and sweets at the small end with a comment to use them sparingly.

The chef's in the "Sweet Revenge" article have it wrong; they think HFCS is worse for you than sugar (many scientists think both have negative effects on health) and are surprised to find it in so many commercial foods, e.g., oyster crackers.

The American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association both urge all of us to restrict our intake of all caloric sweeteners. The research director of the University of Cincinnati's Diabetes and Obesity Center says HFCS and table sugar are biochemically identical.

So I believe it's time to cut down on HFCS, table sugar, honey, brown sugar, golden syrup (made from cane sugar) and even agave nectar.

Your dentist will be happy and in the long run I think you'll have better overall health.

Lies, damn lies and misleading labels

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware)

A while back I mentioned the Nutrition Action Healthletter that the Center for Science in the Public Interest puts out. The April edition has a fascinating article titled "10 Common Food Goofs" written by CSPI's PhD house nutritionist, Bonnie Liebman. I knew some of the concepts she mentioned, but certainly not all of them and her specific examples are superb.

The main thrust is we need to read labels and read them carefully. Yet even if we do so the food industry with the "help" of the FDA frequently misleads us. One examples had to do with portion size.  My wife, an extremely successful lifetime member of Weight Watchers (she's five foot nine and weighs 130 pounds), taught me this concept a while back. Her idea of an appropriate serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards.

I started from there and looked at what I ate. Twenty-six pounds ago my typical meat serving was 12-16 ounces, now it's six to eight ounces (I'm five foot eleven and now weigh 150 pounds). But Liebman takes the concept and moves it into areas I never thought my way through before.

One example is Fat Free Coffee-mate. Nestle's Original variety has a label that states it's free of cholesterol, lactose, gluten and trans fat and the Nutrition Facts label claims 10 calories, and zero cholesterol, sugar or salt.

There's a catch though and that's serving size. The FDA and the food manufacturers have decided to round down if you use just one absolutely level teaspoon as the serving size. That's not what most of us do when we use a coffee creamer.

If I do have a cup of coffee I almost always add a creamer and I don't measure out a level teaspoon. I usually don't pour the Coffee-mate, but I certainly use more than the "serving size." Liebman says if you drink a 12-ounce mug of coffee and pour in two tablespoons of Coffee-mate, you've actually added 50 calories and 1.6 grams of saturated fat, more calories and nearly as much saturated fat as if you'd added a similar amount of half and half.

There are nine other examples in her article, but the drift is the same. Serving sizes of a variety of foods, e.g., ice cream, aren't what the label may lead you to think. Contents may include only tiny amounts of what the label raves about (added fruits and veggies) or may have added vitamins that are best obtained from foods, e.g., not from expensive water that also contains added sugar and therefore calories.

On the other hand there are code words, "natural" and "made with real fruit" are two that Leibman mentions. We either don't know the code or need a magnifying glass to read the micro-print that explains it. The word "Natural," except for meats and poultry, is one of the vaguest terms in advertising. And Organic doesn't mean calorie-free.

Bottom line: read labels with extreme care. Better still, stick to unprocessed foods without labels.



What should I eat today? It depends who you trust.

Friday, May 13th, 2011

I ate out last evening and splurged a bit (I had one glass of Riesling, split an calamari appetizer, ate two-thirds of a Thai entree and split a favorite dessert, sticky rice with mango). So today my weight is up a little, but still within my allowable range.

Watch out for scam artists

But that sent me to my stack of recent articles on healthy and unhealthy eating and in particular to one from the April 2011 edition of the Nutrition Action Healthletter put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). I have four of their articles sitting on my work desk amidst others I found on the internet or in a medical journal.

The one that caught my eye was titled "10 Common Food Goofs: "Fool me once..." and written by Bonnie Liebman. She is the Director of Nutrition for CSPI, got an MS degree from Cornell and has worked since 1977 for the CSPI almost from its inception.

I was going to ping off her article, but then got caught up after Googling Liebman, in following the Web trail back to a harsh critique of CSPI coming from an organization called The Center for Consumer Freedom (TCFCF)

I personally respect CSPI, but my intellectual curiosity kicked in and I wanted to know if the criticisms, calling CSPI the "undisputed leader among America's 'food police,'" came from a valid source. It took a bit of hunting, but what I found was interesting.

The non-paper trail for TCFCF leads to an interesting character, Richard Berman, a high-paid lobbyist for the restaurant and beverage industry. I don't know his actual salary, but he traded in one very fancy house for another even fancier one in the past decade and a half. One ABC article said his business got $1.5 million back in 2004 from TCFCF.

His internet overview of CSPI slams its director, Michael Jacobson, an MIT-trained PhD microbiologist. But when I followed up on Jacobson's reputation, I found the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had given him its 2010 Foundation Hero's Award.

Berman, on the other hand, was noted in the 2006 ABC article I found online, as one of a growing group of lobbyists who've set up non-profit front groups to push their corporate messages. The Center for Media and Democracy was quoted as saying groups have filed complaints with the IRS against such smear tactics. A former IRS division director was quoted as saying, "If someone sets up a website claiming the moon is made of green cheese and they go through some elaborate proof of that, the IRS isn't going to say that's too absurd. It's a form of free speech."

So I'm going to stick with CSPI's publications and ignore Berman's industry-favoring slant. I found it interesting that one of the websites I found in tracing Berman's roots is titled

I think my bottom message is don't believe all that you read. Check up even on sites and publications you normally have confidence in.

That was a divergence from my usual blog posts, but I thought it was worth my time and hopefully yours too.


Leave it to we Beaver's

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

a tree, post-beaver

The May 4, 2011 edition of the Wall Street Journal had an article that quickly send me to my computer. The title was "Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier." Well, until I read the article and then hunted down background information, I certainly didn't know I could be chewing on logs (or derivatives thereof) in my daily diet

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization I generally trust, has a website on food additives. There's a couple of pages on the good, the semi-bad and the ugly (as I would phrase it) and then 25+ pages on specific additives. I'll drop in a link to that fascinating section of the CSPI's web content if you want to learn more and perhaps return to the general topic in a later post.

In the meantime back to the May 4th article and its cousins. I say that since Googling "wood pulp in food" yields links to a considerable number of articles, blogs and other Internet-accessible items on the subject. I just printed out a page from a blog from India, a 2006 Dow Chemical Company's attorney's letter (the first page of 68) requesting an exemption to for considering wood pulp as a food additive and an FDA paper on the subject.


The bottom line is CPSI in their extensive listing of food additives rates carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) in their group "Cut Back: Not toxic, but large amounts may be unsafe or promote bad nutrition."

Yet processed food manufacturers are using more CMC and other cellulose (read this as wood pulp) deriviatives to increase fiber content of white bread (I don't eat white bread), allow hurried/lazy cooks to add pre-shredded cheese (we shred our own) and enhance something called "mouth feel" in ice cream.

To make the powdered form of cellulose, wood is cooked in chemicals to separate the constituent and then, in some cases, processed further with acid to break down the fiber.

If made properly, (ah, there's that word "if" again), cellulose is a). supposed to be harmless in small amounts and b). isn't absorbed by the body, thus adding bulk to foods without adding calories. It also adds fiber to foods that otherwise are low in this component.

The WSJ article quotes Michael Jacobson, the CSPI's executive director, as saying, "Cellulose is cellulose." He then apparently said that no research points to health problems secondary to eating cellulose.

The FDA limits the percentage of cellulose in some foods (e.g., cheese spread and jams) and sets an upper ceiling (usually 1 to 4 %) for how much cellulose can be added to meat products.

Well I know we need fiber in our diet and it appears that this additive isn't bad for you. But I prefer not to eat processed foods and to get my fiber in natural forms.

So I Googled "Food high in fiber" and found a Mayo Clinic website that listed, amoung other foods: raspberries, unpeeled pears and apples, whole-wheat spaghetti, bran flakes, cooked split peas and lentils and artichokes.

It's your choice; Processed foods with added wood pulp or plain old fruits and veggies.

Chew on!