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How Fiber Fared in the New Food Label

24 May

After 9 arduous years of deliberations, the FDA finally rolled out the final rule on the new food label last week.

In a nutshell, the biggest changes you will notice by 2018 are outlined in the FDA’s infographic:

label2

Much of the food label media attention has centered on 3 of the most obvious changes:

  1. More realistic serving sizes (so long 1/2 cup of ice cream serving…)
  2. Addition of the added sugars line (bad news for the entire “fruited yogurt” industry…), and
  3. Changes in nutrients required (adding vitamin D and potassium and deleting vitamins A and C).

Most nutrition advocates are generally pleased with the direction of the food label change. First Lady Michelle Obama summarized the changes by saying, “Very soon you will no longer need a microscope, a calculator or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food that you’re buying is actually good for your kids, so that’s a phenomenal achievement.”

But how did fiber fare with this food label overhaul?

There are 2 changes with regards to fiber on the new food label:

  1. The FDA defined dietary fiber for the first time saying fiber, “includes naturally occurring fibers and only fibers added to foods that show a physiological health benefit”
  2. The Daily Value (DV) for fiber will be changing from 25 grams to 28 grams per day

With regards to the definition of fiber, the FDA determined that there is adequate scientific evidence to support the notion that the following added fibers may have beneficial health effects for humans:

  • Cellulose (improves bowel function)
  • Guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (lower blood total and/or LDL cholesterol values)
  • Psyllium husk (aka inulin and was added to the definition of fiber because of its role in bowel health)

This refined definition also means that all of the other functional (added or “fake”) fibers you find added to processed foods will not be able to count as dietary fiber since there is no evidence supporting their beneficial effect on health.

And what about the change in daily value from 25 to 28 grams? Well, let’s keep this in perspective: most Americans eat only 12-15 grams per day, so most of us would still benefit from eating more fiber. Whether that’s 25 or 28 grams probably doesn’t matter: we need to eat more plants and less processed foods with food labels on them.

Manufacturers will have to roll out the new food label by July 26, 2018. For companies with less than $10 million in annual food sales will be given an additional year to comply.

As renowned nutrition expert Marion Nestle so eloquently put it in her Scientific American blog post today, “But let’s keep this in perspective. Healthful diets are based on foods, not food products. We would all be healthier eating foods that do not come with Nutrition Facts panels, and saving most of those that do for once-in-a-while occasions.”

 

 

Frankenfiber: Coming Your Way

15 Apr

Frankenfiber: Coming Your Way

The hot topic is getting hotter. Genetically engineered foods have been in the US food supply since 1996, but public interest seems to finally be reaching fever pitch.

Although some surveys suggest that more than 90 percent of American support labeling of GE ingredients, public interest still belies what is already happening – or has happened – in our food supply.

Despite 70 bills introduced in more than 30 states to require GE labeling or prohibiting genetically engineered foods, only 3 states have enacted legislation to do so (Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont).

While a vocal core of activists remain skeptical about the safety of GE foods for both our bodies and the environment, many run-of-the-mill Americans may be surprised to learn just how prolific these foods already are. According to the USDA, today, in the US:

  • 89% of corn is genetically engineered
  • 94% of soybean is genetically engineered
  • 91% of cotton is genetically engineered

If you don’t eat corn, soybean, or cotton, does it matter? It does matter, because you are most certainly eating those foods!

The pro-GE labeling group Just Label It maintains that 9 GE crops can be found in more than 80% of processed food in the US: corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, yellow squash, zucchini, Hawaiian papaya, and cotton.

GMO

I’m still not sold on how much GE zucchini, yellow squash or papaya is really showing up in processed food – but I was surprised to hear the FDA give the GE green light to 2 pretty popular foods last month: Arctic Apples and Innate Potatoes.

Arctic Apples” are the trade name given to the company Okanagan’s Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties of apples. These arctic apples are genetically engineered to resist browning that occurs when the flesh is exposed to oxygen (also called oxidation).

Innate Potatoes” are the trade name given to the company Simplot’s varieties of Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, and Atlantic potatoes that are genetically engineered to lessen black spot bruising by lowering levels of those enzymes in the potatoes.

The Innate Potatoes also produce less acrylamide, a cancer-causing agent that forms when foods are cooked at very high temperatures, as in frying (which is the primary way that Americans eat potatoes: as French fries and potato chips!)

While advances in biotechnology can certainly be exciting, in the case of brown and bruised-looking apples and potatoes, I’m doing perfectly fine with the old-fashioned home remedy: vitamin C or water.

Rubbing a little citrus juice on your cut apples (and pears) prevents browning, and with a lot less fanfare than genetically engineering the fruit. The vitamin C in citrus exhibits its antioxidant properties and stops oxidation, or browning.

For potatoes, covering cut potatoes in water does the trick by blocking exposure to oxygen and preventing oxidation.

If you are unswayed by the safety claims about GE foods, the only way to ensure you are eating completely GE-free is to go organic. 100% organic – all the time.

Or you could move to Europe – where if a food contains a GE ingredient, it must be labeled as such.

 

2015 Dietary Guidelines: Piling it On

24 Feb

2015 Dietary Guidelines: Piling it On

Every 5 years, a panel of US nutrition experts convenes to produce a blueprint for how Americans should eat. This monstrous document – called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) – is set to publish later this year.

The 2015 DGA Advisory Committee has been busy poring over research conducted since the last DGAs were published in 2010. This research sets the stage for what will become simple and straightforward (yet evidence-based) suggestions for improving the diet of an alarmingly overweight and obese population.

The 2010 DGAs were memorable in that they accompanied the introduction of MyPlate and ushered out the era of pyramid-based food guides.

Although it does not appear that the 2015 DGAs will feature any dietary bombshells, the committee did raise a few eyebrows with its preliminary advisory report released last week.

Among the recommendations are:

Cholesterol

  • The committee recommends lifting the 300 mg per day cholesterol limit citing a lack of evidence to support this approach to reducing heart disease risk.
  • This is an interesting, yet not-all-that-important development since most practitioners have long known that research supports focusing on the type of fat – and not cholesterol or total fat numbers – when providing instruction a heart healthy diet.

Caffeine

  • The committee asserts that drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day is not linked to any long-term health risks, and, in fact, has been associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • This is unusual in that questioning the safety of caffeine was never part of the larger discussion on chronic disease risk, and a focus on caffeine draws attention away from the real issues at hand which are excess calories from added sugars and fats that promote overweight and obesity.

Sustainability

  • For the first time, the DGAs may ask Americans to consider sustainability and environmental concerns when selecting foods.
  • While it is no surprise that a diet heavily reliant on animal products uses more non-renewable resources than a plant-based one, this recommendation seems to have really irked some lawmakers and animal food interest groups who claim the committee has no place recommending factors that are “extraneous” to the diet.

While it remains to be seen what exactly will make it to the final report, most health professionals agree that one move in the right direction with these DGAs appears to be the trend away from nutrient-specific recommendations (i.e., eat less saturated fat, eat more potassium) to more food-based recommendations  like eat more plants.

To provide public comment on the proposed 2015 DGAs until March 9, 2015 check out http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2015/comments/.

Consuming for a Cause: National Non-GMO Month

15 Oct

Consuming for a Cause: National Non-GMO Month

October is National Non-GMO Month.

Did you know:

  • In the US, foods with genetically modified (GM) ingredients do not have to be labeled as containing GM ingredients
  • More than 80% of the packaged and processed foods in the US contain GM ingredients
  • 90% of the corn, canola & cotton in the US is GM

Think this doesn’t affect you? Think again…because it does!

GM corn becomes GM animal feed, high fructose corn syrup and corn oil. GM canola and cotton turn up in your foods as canola oil and cottonseed oil.

So unless you are eating 100% organic – it’s pretty safe to assume you are eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Genetic modification is the use of the experimental technology called gene splicing to add DNA from one organism into another, creating a potentially unstable end product.

Because these products have only been in our food supply for a few decades, the jury is still out on whether or not GM foods are safe; however, many health advocates maintain that as a consumer, you should have a right to know what is in your food.

Enter the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project is the only independent 3rd party verifier of GM-free foods in the US. Their mission is to:

  • Preserve and build sources of non-GMO products
  • Educate consumers about GM ingredients
  • Provide verified non-GMO choices

You can find a list of GM-free products, restaurants and retailers on their website here.

To learn more about National Non-GMO Month, visit www.nongmomonth.org or check out my recent TV segment on eating GM-free foods.

Whole Grain Food Fight

23 May

Whole Grain Food Fight

How hard is it to cook whole grain pasta?

Well for some school districts, implementation of the new school lunch nutrition standards has proven to be a “significant challenge”.

With their cleverly worded euphemism “School Meal Flexibility”, the USDA this week announced they will allow some schools to delay adding whole grain pastas.

Currently the USDA requirement is that 50% of grain foods be whole-grain rich, with that number rising to 100% by next year. Schools cite difficulty obtaining compliant foodstuffs, declining revenues, and low acceptability by kids as primary barriers.

Adding fuel to the whole grain fire, the USDA announcement comes on the heels of this week’s Republican-led House chastisement of the Obama administration’s efforts to improve school lunch.

Who knew whole grains could feed this much political pushback?!

In a public statement, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Nutrition Policy Director Margo Wootan laments, “I miss the days when school lunch nutrition used to be a bipartisan issue, as it was for decades after the school lunch program was established under President Truman.”

But this the only starch-fueled fight going down in government. The potato processors are feuding with Congress to keep their spuds in the WIC program. More on that next week.