Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pepperidge Farm Ousts Artificial Colors from Colored Goldfish

While the F.D.A’s two-day hearing on petroleum-based artificial colors continues today, know that American companies offer different products to American and European consumers.

In the United States, for example, M&M’s and Skittles (Mars, Inc.), Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars (Kellogg’s) and strawberry sundaes at McDonald’s contain artificial dyes, while the same products in Europe are colored with plant-based extracts.

In the European Union, warning labels are required for foods containing any of six artificial colors. Because of Europe’s heightened awareness of synthetic dyes, a warning label is tantamount to limited sales. Thus, extracts from real foods such as beets, paprika and turmeric are used to color.

But not all American companies are so stuck in their hometown mud. Pepperidge Farm, which, for seven years, had used artificial colorants in its colored goldfish, switched to natural dyes in July 2010.

The colored goldfish are now brightened with annatto extract, beet juice concentrate, paprika extract, paprika, turmeric extract, huito juice concentrate and watermelon juice concentrate, instead of blue 2, red 40, red 3 and blue 1. (There is a banner on the new bags with "Colors From Natural Ingredients" written.)

Interestingly, Pepperidge Farm cited customer preference for its recent switch, the same reason it gave me in September 2008 for employing artificial colors in 2003.

Pepperidge Farm, March 2011: “There were so many consumers who had children that had problems with artificial colorings that we decided to change to the natural colorants.”

Pepperidge Farm, September 2008: “We used to use natural colorings, but we couldn’t achieve the vibrant colors that consumers wanted, so we had to go the other way. Consumer preference was for a brighter, broader range of colors.”

While it may seem that the large corporations exert iron-fisted control, know that public sentiment and purchasing power—and their role in the bottom line—shouldn’t be taken for granted. Don’t like a product? Make a phone call (or six).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

F.D.A. Hearing on Artificial Colors Starts Today

Artificial colorants in food and medicine are absolutely unnecessary. Petroleum-based, these dyes are purely aesthetic, meant to appeal to our innate attraction to brighter foods. (Most fruits and vegetables brighten as they ripen.)

Many believe there is a link between these dyes and ADHD. Since 1976, the Feingold Association has been helping families understand and avoid artificial colors and other preservatives. Like so many other topics discussed here, awareness is the first step in educating oneself.

Undoubtedly, there will soon be more awareness about artificial colors, thanks to a two-day Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) hearing that starts today. In addition, there’s a story on the front page of today’s New York Times (with three Froot Loops interspersed in the copy!) discussing the hearing and artificial colors in general.

(UPDATE: As of 2:00 p.m., "F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings" is the most e-mailed article on the Times website.)

Remember, artificial colors aren't just in obvious junk food. Dannon Light & Fit blueberry yogurt contains blue 1 and red 40!

Click here to read the entire article, but here are the first three paragraphs:

"After staunchly defending the safety of artificial food colorings, the federal government is for the first time publicly reassessing whether foods like Jell-O, Lucky Charms cereal and Minute Maid Lemonade should carry warnings that the bright artificial colorings in them worsen behavior problems like hyperactivity in some children.

"The Food and Drug Administration concluded long ago that there was no definitive link between the colorings and behavior or health problems, and the agency is unlikely to change its mind any time soon. But on Wednesday and Thursday, the F.D.A. will ask a panel of experts to review the evidence and advise on possible policy changes, which could include warning labels on food.

"The hearings signal that the growing list of studies suggesting a link between artificial colorings and behavioral changes in children has at least gotten regulators’ attention — and, for consumer advocates, that in itself is a victory."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Philadelphia School Battles Students’ Bad Eating Habits"

Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, wrote another great piece yesterday, this one on how a Philadelphia inner-city school is trying to battle childhood obesity.

The import of healthier eating now transcends socioeconomic demographics; it is no longer just the provenance of upper-middle class whites.

If you have time, read the entire article. Even better, also watch the accompanying video, “Food Fight,” which can be found on the same web page as the written story. At play are numerous issues (social, physiological, educational, financial, etc.) which encapsulate what we, as a society, are battling.

Both the article and the video provide the story of how one resourceful group of parents and teachers is trying to make a difference for the next generation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wasted Food: Another Mountain to Climb

A reader recently left a comment about wasted food, which, in the United States, is a staggering problem.

According to Jonathan Bloom, the author of “American Wasteland,” “Americans waste more than 40 percent of the food we produce for consumption. That comes at an annual cost of more than $100 billion.”

Forty percent sounds bad, but the number is even scarier when translated into pounds. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates America throws away 66 billion pounds of food each year, while the recent documentary “Dive!” cites 96 billion pounds as the number. Either way, we have a problem.

Supermarkets, school and office cafeterias, restaurants, farms, private homes and catering companies are all guilty. Yes, some food is rescued for the hungry by groups like City Harvest, but the majority is thrown away and ends up in landfills.

The sad part is that much of the discarded food is completely edible. “Dive!” focuses on the needless waste produced by supermarkets. Here’s the trailer:

In private homes, I think a factor is many people's aversion to leftovers, which is downright silly. Also, letting food wallow in the refrigerator and not putting it in the freezer, which will preserve it, is another problem.

Do you have any other food-saving tips?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Like Strawberries? Help Fight Methyl Iodide (Again)

I received the following action alert yesterday from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). It concerns the possible use of methyl iodide on California’s strawberry crop. We should all be concerned and take time to sign PAN’s petition.
Together, we’ve worked for over 5 years to stop the use of cancer-causing methyl iodide, called by scientists “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.” Last week, that work paid off with two big breaks.

First, the agency head who ignored her own scientists to approve methyl iodide for use in California, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, resigned and went to work for Clorox. At least this revolving door is an exit.

Second, U.S. EPA is reconsidering its decision on methyl iodide - despite intense pressure from Arysta, the largest private pesticide company in the world, to keep it on the market. On March 17, the agency opened public comment on our legal petition to end all uses of this pesticide, nationwide. The science is clear: this pesticide is too toxic to be used safely. But the pesticide industry will keep weighing in. We need your voice at the table. Now.

Sign this petition to U.S. EPA, urging Administrator Lisa Jackson to follow the science, and do the right thing.

Our asks:

• End all uses of methyl iodide immediately. Don’t let the pesticide industry override science. An 11th Hour Pesticide, methyl iodide was ushered in during the final moments of the Bush Administration nationally, and the Schwarzenegger administration in California — despite warnings from government scientists and Nobel laureates. Methyl iodide is a known carcinogen, and linked to late-term miscarriages and neurological disorders.

• Support innovative farmers and scientists in green agriculture. U.S. EPA should initiate agreements with the USDA and President Obama to maintain funding for green payments to farmers to grow food without toxic chemicals like methyl iodide. These farmers steward the land and support strong rural economies.
Click here to read more about the issue from Rodale News.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Shopping Strategy to Help Combat Rising Food Prices

Take it from someone who shops for food almost every day and knows the prices of fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, bread, fish and grains like the back of his hand: The cost of food is rising.

Two main culprits are severe weather incidents worldwide (floods, droughts, etc.), which have reduced crop yields, and political instability in the Middle East, which has caused a spike in oil costs. (Oil is essential to the modern food system.)

Cooking from scratch is a lot cheaper than eating out or buying prepared or packaged foods. Yet, even if one cooks, shopping efficiently is essential.

During a recent cooking lesson, my students were surprised at how little food I brought, which happens often. One of the dishes we made, a Thai curry, required a zucchini. I bought the smallest one I could find, but even that was too much.

One student said she easily would have bought two zucchini—and bigger ones!—if she had done the shopping. Over purchasing is a surefire way to needlessly add to an already inflated food bill.

So, what to do?

When shopping, think about how many people you are cooking for and physically portion out amounts for that number. Making roasted potatoes? Visualize how many potatoes each person will eat, taking into account how the potatoes will be cut and served, their role in the meal and what other foods will be on the plate.

While doing these calculations, actually pick up the number of potatoes (or string beans, mushrooms, etc.) you think will suffice for each person. Cooking for five? Take five of those portions. You’ll be surprised; you may find yourself buying half of what you normally purchase.


Sure, this precludes leftovers, but an inordinate amount of leftovers end up in the garbage, a total waste of money.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Quick and Easy Nutrition: A Shake of Cinnamon

Eating healthy doesn’t only mean consuming a ton of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and grass-fed beef.

Simple seasonings and add-ons like fresh lemon juice, ground pepper, unrefined sea salt and parsley—in addition to delivering great flavor—provide important health benefits as well.

Another healthy quickie is cinnamon. An innocent shake or two of the spice can help our blood flow smoothly and help regulate our blood sugar levels.

Add cinnamon to yogurt, pancakes, ice cream, oatmeal, fruit pies and raw or baked apples.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Do Fast Food, Junk Food and Sodas Belong in Hospitals?

This from The Globe and Mail (a Canadian newspaper), which will likely add fuel to the nanny state-common sense debate:
"The Burger King restaurant inside Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children served its last Whopper this weekend, closing down after the hospital chose not to renew its lease.

"The decision followed a bidding process for the food court slot at Canada’s largest pediatric hospital that was meant to offer healthier food options to visitors and staff. It reflects rising consciousness in health institutions of the need to send consistent messages about nutrition and diet at a time when obesity rates across North America are at an all-time high."
Not having fast food restaurants in hospitals is a no-brainer, in my opinion. Taking this to the next level, I don’t think sodas and other junk foods should be sold in hospitals’ smaller gift shops. There are a million other places that sell that stuff; why should institutions that cater to our health have a hand in destroying it?

I understand the for-profit nature of our huge hospital chains, but shouldn’t common sense factor into the number-crunching just a little bit?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Nate Silver: "How to Beat the Salad Bar"

For those who rely on salad bars for meals or snacks, make sure to read “How to Beat the Salad Bar” in yesterday’s New York Times by numbers guru Nate Silver.

Silver does a price analysis of the per pound charge of salad bar ingredients compared to what they would cost if bought separately.

“Of course salad bars provide for a certain measure of convenience,” Silver writes, “but the ingredients I crosschecked were, on average, 70 percent more expensive at the salad bar than on the shelves.”

To get more bang for your buck, Silver advocates loading up on higher-priced ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts and mesclun greens. Cheaper vegetables such as carrots and cucumbers make your salad very, very expensive.

Consider me old-fashioned, but I think any convenience provided by a salad bar is severely mitigated by other people’s fingerprints and saliva spray, ingredients which Silver doesn’t tabulate into his calculations.

Click here to read Silver’s quick analysis.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Next Big Fight: Genetically Engineered Foods

There’s a lot going on in the real food movement, but the fight against genetically engineered (GE) foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in foods is starting to pick up steam.

Unfortunately, GE alfalfa and sugar beets have been approved for use in the United States, and GE salmon isn’t far behind. While these are awful developments, they have actually helped raise awareness about the topic.

Mark Bittman of The New York Times recently wrote about the labeling (or lack thereof) of GMO foods in his online column.

And now we have the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) joining the fracas with the formation of a “Millions Against Monsanto” campaign. A big nationwide day of action is planned for October 16 (World Food Day), but local rallies are also planned for March 26, including one in front of the White House.

Click here for more information about the upcoming events.

Click here for OCA’s list of “10 Things Monsanto Does Not Want You to Know.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beatriz Conquers the South Bronx's Food Desert (TY, TJ's)

The familiar is often the easiest path. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best one.

Beatriz, a participant in the Ironwill Foundation’s six-week wellness program at the Mercy Center in the South Bronx that I discussed yesterday, left her comfort zone to buy food for her family, which includes two young children.

Instead of shopping at her neighborhood’s overpriced and lacking Pioneer supermarket, Beatriz, armed with newfound knowledge and confidence, took her shopping cart and food stamps on the subway and traveled 30 minutes from Mott Haven’s food desert to the Upper West Side’s food embarrassment of riches. (Fairway, Trader Joe’s, West Side Market, Whole Foods and Zabar’s are within a one mile stretch.)

Before the Ironwill/Mercy Center program, Beatriz had heard about the benefits of healthy eating from her sister, a personal trainer, but had turned a deaf ear.

“We used to get into fights about food; I thought she was crazy and weird,” Beatriz said. “Then I heard it again in the classes. Sometimes you pay more attention to other people than family.”

Beatriz shopped at Trader Joe’s and encountered a selection and quality of food she said she would never find at Pioneer.

“I bought eight big bags of food for $150 worth of food stamps,” Beatriz said, unabashedly unashamed of government assistance. “I thought it was going to cost $300.”

In addition to lower prices for her usual purchases, Trader Joe’s provided Beatriz with superior quality.

“It was $2.99 for a bag of oranges at Trader Joe’s, compared to $4.99 at Pioneer, and the Trader Joe’s was much better,” she said. “Mixed salad greens were $1.99 for a bag of organic instead of $3.99 for regular. The snacks for my kids—$1.99 for organic nacho chips instead of regular for $3.99. And the bag was bigger.”

Beatriz also bought blood oranges, organic yogurt and Kerrygold butter (which we tasted and discussed in class), items she said she would never find in her neighborhood.

Her purchases lasted almost two weeks and Beatriz’s food shopping will now revolve around regular weekend trips to Trader Joe’s.

“That’s my new market,” she said smiling.

Bravo, Beatriz.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mercy Center & Ironwill: Helping Others in the South Bronx

Several times during the year, the Ironwill Foundation offers a six-week wellness program at the Mercy Center in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx.

The program focuses on issues related to nutrition, shopping and cooking, which fits into Mercy Center’s mission of “offering programs and services that empower women to reach their full potential and become agents of change in their families and communities.”

I recently became involved with Ironwill and just finished my first six-week session.

The environment is challenging, as there is limited access in the South Bronx to affordable, healthy food. There is relatively no education available in regard to proper food choices and food package labeling—which is mind-boggling to begin with—can be especially daunting (I would even say insidious) for those whose first language is not English.

The local Pioneer supermarket specializes in packaged and processed foodstuffs. What good food there is tends to be exorbitantly priced, especially for those in Mott Haven, where, according to the Mercy Center, “the median household income is $14,271, compared [to] the citywide median of $31,717 and the U.S. median of $41,994.”

Despite the inherent hurdles, the women loved the program and started pondering changes they could make to improve how they and their families eat and think about food. The highlight, though, was undoubtedly the action taken by Beatriz, the mother of two young children.

Check back tomorrow to learn how Beatriz changed her thinking about food and conquered her neighborhood’s food desert. It’s an inspiring story.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Australia's "Swap It, Don't Stop It" Anti-Obesity Campaign

As we saw yesterday in the story from Mexico, it’s not just the United States that has an obesity crisis. The problem exists in most of the developed world.

Treating obesity and obesity-related illnesses costs hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Governments, already squeezed financially, are realizing that healthier populations will alleviate some of their financial burdens. (Click here to read about supersized emergency equipment.)

In this vein, the Australian Government just started the “Swap It, Don’t Stop It” campaign, which urges citizens to lose weight by making “healthier lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.”

According to Nicola Roxon, the Australian Health Minister, “obesity cost Australia a massive $58.2
billion.” In addition, over 60 percent of Australian adults are overweight or obese.

While the “Swap It” message is a serious one, its spokesman is Eric, an animated blue balloon character. I am sure this was done on purpose, in an attempt to soften the weighty nature of the topic; I wonder if Australians will feel pandered to. I doubt this would work in the United States if aimed at the adult population.

According to the press release announcing the campaign:
“On television, in print and on the radio, Eric will urge Australians to make some simple lifestyle changes to become healthier – for instance swap big for small (portion control); swap often for sometimes (occasional treats); swap fried for fresh (nutritional quality); swap sitting for moving (physical activity); and swap watching for playing (physical activity).”
Click here to visit the “Swap It, Don’t Stop It” website.

Monday, March 14, 2011

School Food: Mexico Faces Same Issues as United States

While the United States tries to improve school food in an attempt to tackle childhood obesity, Mexico finds itself in a similar boat, according to an article in today’s New York Times.

Similar issues seem to be at play in both countries, including bureaucracy, corporate interests and kids' already-developed palates.

"By all measures, Mexico is one of the fattest countries in the world, and the obesity starts early. One in three children is overweight or obese, according to the government. So the nation’s health and education officials stepped in last year to limit what schools could sell at recess. (Schools in Mexico do not provide lunch.)

"The officials quickly became snared in a web of special interests led by Mexico’s powerful snack food companies, which found support from regulators in the Ministry of the Economy."
Soft drinks have been removed from schools, though, and fried foods have been drastically reduced.

But the battle has just begun, since, according to the article, “Dr. José Angel Córdova, Mexico’s health minister . . . estimates that one-third of Mexico’s health care spending goes to fight diseases related to obesity.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, March 11, 2011

New York Times: "A Young Generation of Farmers Emerges"

There was an interesting and heart-warming (for me, at least) article earlier this week in The New York Times about young farmers in Oregon.

The headline, “In New Food Culture, a Young Generation of Farmers Emerges,” sums up the piece nicely, but two issues caught my eye.

First, as the real food movement takes hold and we better understand the damages caused by our modern food supply, those getting into farming are not what would be considered typical farmers:

“Many shun industrial, mechanized farming and list punk rock, Karl Marx and the food journalist Michael Pollan as their influences. The Joneses say they and their peers are succeeding because of Oregon’s farmer-foodie culture, which demands grass-fed and pasture-raised meats.”
Second, the young farmers—like those of us rediscovering real food—have had to search for and find information on their own:
"But finding mentors has been difficult. There is a knowledge gap that has been referred to as ‘the lost generation’ — people their parents’ age may farm but do not know how to grow food. The grandparent generation is no longer around to teach them.”
I love the "lost generation" analogy. (It holds true in the supermarket as well, evidenced by the contents of many shopping carts.) Also, parents knowing how to farm but not knowing how to grow food is such a poignant indictment of the industrial food system.

Click here to read the article.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Louise Slaughter Fights Antibiotics In Our Food Supply

Many elected officials have one or two issues that they become identified with.

Luckily for us, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) fight is against the needless administering of antibiotics to our farm animals. Yesterday, Slaughter, who has degrees in both microbiology and public health, reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would restrict such use.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals, not humans. The majority given to our livestock is added to its feed in micro dosages to promote growth and to protect against the miserable living conditions of most commercial feedlots.

Unfortunately, the transaction doesn’t end at the barnyard door and we end up eating tainted chicken, beef and pork. Bacteria in the animals are never killed off by the micro amounts of antibiotics and instead develop resistance to those same antibiotics, an essential part of modern human medicine.

According to the press release on Slaughter’s website, “Every year, two million Americans acquire bacterial infections during their hospital stay, and 90,000 will die from them. Tragically, 70 percent of their infections will be resistant to the drugs commonly used to treat them.”

Says Slaughter:
“Antibiotic resistance is a major public health crisis, and yet antibiotics are used regularly and with little oversight in agriculture. As a microbiologist, I cannot stress the urgency of this problem enough . . . When we go to the grocery store to pick up dinner, we should be able to buy our food without worrying that eating it will expose our family to potentially deadly bacteria that will no longer respond to our medical treatments.”
To protect yourself and your family, look for chicken, beef, pork, eggs and dairy that are free of antibiotics. Organic food cannot contain antibiotics. Click here for more information about this topic, courtesy of Keep Antibiotics Working.

Also, remember that antibiotics and hormones are different, but some companies—especially chicken producers—will do their best to confuse us. Click here for a past post I wrote that will help clarify the issue and simplify your shopping.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yes, Virginia, Heinz Makes Organic Ketchup

Several times in recent cooking lessons my plea to have moms replace conventional ketchup with organic has been answered with a “But my kids will only eat Heinz!”

Fair enough; brand loyalty (marketing?) can be very persuasive. Heinz, fully understanding this, makes organic ketchup.

(Why purchase organic ketchup in the first place? Organic tomato products cont
ain three times more of the antioxidant lycopene than conventional tomato products and are devoid of the harmful pesticides used on the majority of non-organic tomatoes.)

Some are surprised to learn that Heinz is in the organic ketchup game and that I advocate buying big, bad Heinz instead of smaller organic brands such as Organicville or Annie’s.

First, Heinz isn’t stupid. Retaining and capturing market share,
whether through its own label or by buying smaller organic companies, equals more profits. Take a look at the chart below to see the host of smaller organic food companies that have been bought by the huge multinationals. (Chart courtesy of Philip Howard, a professor at Michigan State; click for more detail.)

Second, getting our kids to eat organic ketchup instead of conventional is a win on so many levels (the health of our children, soil, water supply, etc.), no matt
er what the brand.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Have We Lost the Ability to Taste and Understand Flavors?

One unfortunate by-product of the proliferation of packaged and ready-to-eat foods is that children—and many adults—lack an understanding of ingredients, don’t know where varied flavorings come from and can’t properly season food.

Since our food boxes and packages contain everything, our senses have become comatose.
Instead of learning how to season to satisfy our personal palates, we just open and pour.

Take, for example, Quaker Instant Oatmeal and its “maple & brown sugar” variety. The idea sounds great, except there is no “maple” and no “brown sugar” in the ingredients. My guess is that “sugar,” “natural flavor” and “caramel color” are the cheap stand-ins for what PepsiCo, which owns the Quaker Oats Company, wants us to taste and, eventually, to believe are the flavors of maple (syrup?) and brown sugar.

The real loss, though, is that our kids never learn the sensory and tactile skills of seasoning to taste. More salt? A little pepper? Another dash of cinnamon? A squeeze of lemon juice? No chance; whatever is in the box is the total package.

If you aren’t ready yet to make your own oatmeal, fine. (However,
it takes only about four minutes, roughly two minutes more than the instant packaged variety needs in the microwave.)

But instead of buying any of the flavored varieties, purchase the instant oatmeal in its plain form. Put out some cinnamon, real maple syrup, raisins and walnuts and allow everyone to shake, pour, sprinkle and stir themselves silly.

Monday, March 7, 2011

American Beverage Association on Bisphenol A (BPA)

A reader recently asked if aluminum soda cans contain Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine-disrupting chemical used in many plastics and aluminum cans.

I found the following statement on the website of the American Beverage Association, the lobbying arm for the soda and sweetened drink companies.

Whether or not everything in the statement is true, remember that the big food companies consistently use lax governmental policies as cover for their products.
America's non-alcoholic beverage industry is committed to using products and containers that meet or exceed all government health, safety and quality standards. Recently, questions have been raised about bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to make a type of plastic known as polycarbonate and epoxy resins, which are sometimes used as can liners for food and beverage containers.

The beverage industry's products and containers are safe and pose no public health risk, including any alleged risk associated with BPA.

Can manufacturers rely on can linings, which may contain trace amounts of BPA, to prevent spoilage and protect food and beverages from direct contact with the can. However, these trace amounts are virtually eliminated during the curing process which results in the protective polymer coating. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other government agencies around the globe have found no public health risk associated with BPA in any food or beverage.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why Are Some Oranges More Orange Than Others?

The ways that the food companies trick us into buying their products are myriad. There are shameless marketing campaigns, deceiving nutritional claims and subtler ploys that tug at our innate senses.

Qualifying in the last category was my orange buying experience of the other day. Picking up a four-pound bag of organic oranges, I thought to myself, “Wow, Rob, these oranges really are a bright orange!”

I put the bag into my shopping basket but did a double take when some of the oranges looked noticeably duller in color than the ones I first saw.

I then realized that I had been hoodwinked. Red plastic mesh on one side of the bag brightened oranges close to it immeasurably. The oranges near the plain, see-through plastic part of the bag were a much fainter orange color. (Click photo above for more detail.)

"Holy organic optical brighteners, Batman!"

"Robin, my boy, life isn’t fair. But at least they didn’t use artificial colors or spray paint."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"Can Exercise Keep You Young?"

There was an interesting article in the New York Times' Well blog yesterday about mice, exercise and mitochondria.

To sum up, “exercise reduced or eliminated almost every detrimental effect of aging in mice that had been genetically programmed to grow old at an accelerated pace.”

Even if you know a bit about the aging process, it’s worth the couple minutes needed to read the piece. And some of the reader comments are pretty funny, as well.

Click here to read “Can Exercise Keep You Young?”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Artificial Coloring for Red Cerignola Olives? WTF!!

Artificial colors in food serve no functional purpose but aesthetic and are usually found in junk foods such as Gatorade, Pop-Tarts, Froot Loops and Yoplait Trix Yogurt, which, the more I think about it, are nothing more than extremely profitable adult arts and crafts projects.

These petroleum-based synthetic dyes—scientifically proven to cause Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anecdotally linked to allergic reactions—are also employed in seemingly healthier packaged foods like Dannon’s Light & Fit yogurts and Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain cereal bars.

But I was absolutely shocked yesterday when I found out that red Cerignola olives, a bright addition to olive mixes, are colored with FD&C Red 3. I contemplate the ingredients and origins of almost everything I eat, yet I never, ever thought about these olives’ bright red glow.

A little research, though, helped make everything clear. Olives start out green and most mature to somewhere in the purple-black spectrum. A few remain green when ripe, while others turn brown. Some olives, during the maturation process, may be red for a day or two.

Click here to watch a quick video that explains olives’ (natural) coloring process.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Non-GMO Labeling and the Center for Food Safety's App

The issue of genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified (GM) crops—the terms are used interchangeably—is becoming a much-discussed topic in the United States.

According to the Center for Food Safety, “A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer.”

The majority of the population doesn’t want to eat GE foods, yet a large percentage of our food—especially processed foodstuffs—contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Recently, four crops—corn, soybeans, canola and
cotton—have been the source of the majority of genetically modified ingredients in our food. However, that will change radically with the USDA’s fresh approval of GE alfalfa and sugar beets. In addition, the FDA is on the verge of approving GE salmon.

Even more damning is that foods containing GMOs do not have to be labeled as such, leaving most consumers in the dark about their presence, and, I would argue, their very existence.

In response, some food companies with a conscience (they do exist!) have taken to labeling their foods GMO-free. For example, I just noticed a logo—“NON GMO Project VERIFIED”—on a bottle of San-J soy sauce (photo, above; click for more detail). A bottle bought several
months ago did not have that label.

Remember, organic products are not allowed to have GMOs, so buying organic, when feasible, is always the safest play, especially since many non-organic GMO-free foods aren't labeled like the soy sauce.

A great resource for better understanding and avoiding GMOs is the Center for Food Safety’s “True Food Shopper’s Guide,” which lists non-GMO and GMO brands for all food groups. Click here to read it now. A free app is also available; download it on iTunes or Android Market.