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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.

 

Fiber Food Additive to Fight Appetite

20 Jan

Fiber Food Additive to Fight Appetite

Every fiber fan knows that fiber makes you feel full. But there comes a point when you can only rationalize so much roughage!

Well – lucky for you, scientists in the United Kingdom have isolated a food additive that promotes satiety, and its name is proponiate.

A small study published in the online journal Gut showed that people given the additive proponiate gained less weight over a 24-week period compared to those who were given inulin. The proponiate people also had less abdominal and liver fat than the inulin group.

Proponiate is produced when dietary fiber is fermented in the gut. By delivering proponiate to the colon, researchers theorized that they could increase peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon like peptide-1 (GLP-1) secretion, which in turn would reduce calorie intake and blunt weight gain in overweight adults.

Now you can’t run to the store to pick up proponiate just yet – or probably anytime soon. But maybe down the road? The scientists did comment that these findings may represent, “a novel route to improve weight management at the population level.”

 

Restaurant Calorie Counts: Right to Know?

10 Dec

Restaurant Calorie Counts: Right to Know?

The FDA recently finalized their rule stating that calories will have to be posted “clearly and conspicuously” at:

  • Restaurants with 20 or more outlets
  • Vending machines with 20 or more machines
  • Retail outlets such as movie theaters with 20 or more theaters

While calories need to be posted up front on menu boards at fast food establishments and in menus at casual fast and sit down restaurants, additional information such as total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars and proteins have to be available (provided upon consumer request, usually done online or pamphlet).

Why Disclose Calories at Restaurants?

  • Studies show eating out more frequently is associated with obesity, higher body fatness, or higher BMI. (Example: women who eat out more often (5+ times/week) eat 290 more calories on average each day than those who eat out less often.
  • Americans eat and drink 1/3 of their calories away from home
  • More than 2/3 of Americans favor posting calories throughout ready prepared food outlets including movie theaters, vending machines, supermarkets

Does Calorie Shaming Work?

  • NYC study: 1 in 6 customers used the calorie information and purchased 106 fewer calories than customers who did not see or use the calorie information at chain restaurants
  • Subway chains in NYC: 1 out of 3 customers (37%) reported that nutrition information affected their purchases; they purchased 100 fewer calories per meal than those who saw the information and reported it had not effect
  • Parents of kids age 3-6 who were presented a McDonald’s menu with calorie labeling ordered an average of 100 fewer calories for their children than those who did not receive calorie info

What Will Be the Impact?

  • CSPI estimates that similar changes at chain restaurants could result in 30 calorie per person per day decrease in intake
  • Product reformulation resulting from calorie posting rules has already and will continue to result in further reduction in calories (Example: California Pizza Kitchen’s “Small Cravings” menu, Cheesecake Factory’s “SkinnyLicious” line, Denny’s “Fit Fare”)
  • Obesity epidemic can be explained by 100 calorie per day imbalance – so baby steps are important!

By the Numbers: Why Does This Matter?

  • Medium movie theater popcorn without butter topping: 1,200 calories (same as 4 McDonald’s Cheeseburgers or 5 slices Papa John’s pepperoni pizza)
  • Cheesecake Factory: Bruleed French Toast 2,780 calories (would have to swim laps for 7 hours to burn off) – meal also has 5 days saturated fat and 24 teaspoons sugar; Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic: 2,410 calories (five hour job to burn off)
  • Outback Steakhouse: Bloomin’ Onion 1,959 (in total onion, 6 servings)
  • Claim Jumper Chicken Pot Pie: 2,078 calories and Chocolate Motherlode Cake: 2,768 calories per slice

For more information on the new FDA rule, check out my segment on KPBS San Diego on the topic here.

Food Label Gets a Facelift

27 Feb

Food Label Gets a Facelift

For 20 years the Nutrition Facts panel has graced the packaging of foods we eat in the United States. But today, the FDA will announce their long overdue proposed changes to the ubiquitous label.

Why the need for change?

In the 20 years that the Nutrition Facts panel has been around, Americans have gotten fatter. The label in its current form doesn’t reflect the most updated nutrition science or realistic portion sizes.

Here’s what the food label has looked like since 1993:

And here’s what the proposed, updated label might now look like: