Fruit Juice: Health or Hype?

Every time we turn on the TV, listen to the radio, drive down the road, we are bombarded with advertising from food marketers proclaiming that their product is the secret to weight loss, longevity, and pleasure. With over 200 food choices to make every day it is difficult to sort through claims produced by food manufacturers to make the best choice for your health. Today we’ll tackle the issue of fruit juices: health or hype

As part of its ongoing efforts to uncover over-hyped health claims in food advertising, the Federal Trade Commission has issued an administrative complaint charging the makers of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their products will prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:

Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled. When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made. Contrary to POM Wonderful’s advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses.

No one can argue that Pomegranates are a wonderful and healthy food, full of vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants, but a line must be draw as food marketers push their products to the extreme. According to Self Nutrition Data, pomegranates are a good source of dietary fiber (11 grams each), 5 grams of protein, folate (107 micrograms), calcium (28.2 mg), vitamin C (28.8 mg), and vitamin K (46.2 mcg). Since POM is made from 100% pomegranate juice, one would think it would have many of the same great nutrients.

Not so. A $3.99 16-oz bottle has 320 calories, 72 grams of sugar, no fiber, and no vitamin C, calcium, folate or vitamin K. Yes, the only ingredient many be pomegranates, but by stripping away the fiber and nutrients, you just have sugar-water. Nutritionally speaking, these aren’t much different from a soda. This isn’t unique to pomegranate juice. All fruit juice loses much of the original fruit’s nutritional value when the juice is extracted, but POM is going a bit overboard with their health claims. A glass of POM a day is not going to prevent heart disease if the rest of your diet is laden with trans and saturated fat. It is important to look at your diet in its entirety, rather than trying to gain benefits from a single serving of fruit juice.

So let’s get over this hype and get healthy! Swap out the juice and reach for a piece of fruit! Aim for 2-4 servings of fruit per day. If you enjoy fruit juice, try diluting it with sparkling water to make your own spritzer. Next time you are at a grocery store, take a closer look at the health claims the manufacturer proclaims. Turn the package over and take a look at the actual nutrition panel and judge the food for yourself. Knowledge is power, and make sure you are well-armed!

What are your thoughts on this Fruit Juice Debate? Do you have any other health claims that you are confused about?

Fake Dyes Added to Food Might Lead to Cancer

Still looking for that natural ingredient in the dye Red 40?  Yeah, I haven’t found it either.  But I have recently discovered that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has found links of specific dyes to harmful consequences.

Michael Jacobson, executive director at CSPI stated that the addition of these dyes does in no way alter the taste or flavor, but is simply for aesthetics.  So I’m thinking, that’s not that bad, right?  We all deserve something pretty to look at.  But wait, the addition of the dyes might not add flavor, but can create allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children, while causing cancer in all other ages.  Knowing this, I’ll pick something else in my life to be pretty!

The research states the dyes Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are currently contaminated with cancer causing agents.  But still in our food.  Also, Red 3 is classified as a carcinogen by the FDA, but still in our food.  Am I missing something here?  Shouldn’t we try to avoid cancer causing agents?  Statistics show that food manufacturers pump an estimated 15 million pounds of these cancer-colors into commercial products a year!

As far as a solution, the British government is in the works of banning all usage of the majority of dyes.  Also, the European Union is establishing warnings, like they have on cigarettes, of cancer risks and other issues.  The United States?  Not so much work as of yet, but I’m sure with the CSPI pumping out this type of information, it won’t be long until someone gets the ball moving and only the natural rainbow in our meals!

Supplement Scandals

By Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

More supplement issues in the news? I can’t say I’m surprised. With a lack of the tight restrictions that prescription drugs have, supplements can do things like:

  • make broad health claims as long as they don’t say they are a ‘cure’
  • avoid sending clinical trials to the FDA to prove the safety of a product

This week, a supplement scandal emerged involving an ethical question. Can pharmaceutical executives have personal side ventures in which they sell compound X as a supplement? What about while the pharmaceutical company is still running clinical trials on the same compound as a prescription cancer treatment?

British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline found itself in the news this past Thursday after telling two employees to ‘distance themselves’ from their side company Healthy Lifespan Institute (HLI).  Glaxo discovered through a business and technology website that HLI was selling supplements containing the compound resveratrol, found in red wine. In 2008 Glaxo spent over $700 million to buy the biotech company that developed the resveratrol formula, with the hope that it would be used in the future as a prescription drug.  They are now testing it for use as cancer and type 2 diabetes treatments ( a potential financial jackpot for the company).

Later news updates divulged that the two employees resigned from HLI and that the side venture no longer sells the supplement after censure demands from Glaxo. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. A scary piece of information also emerged; Glaxo clinical trials with the resveratrol resulted in kidney failure in some patients. While it seems that the supplement was not ‘identical to the drug compound’ and in a less concentrated form, it’s worrisome to think that the same compound appears in an unregulated supplement!

Whole Foods: A Hyper-Local Grocery Store!

Short Pump Virginia was in the news this past week when Whole Foods Market announced they took over an acre in  for a community garden that will help supply its local store. This is the first on-site field-to-store garden in the country and was exiting news to proponents of the Local Food Movement. The garden has separate areas for composting, an orchard and space for individual gardens and for demonstration and educational programs. By producing food on site, it will be much more sustainable and energy effecient, since this food will have no “food miles“- a buzz word that indicates how far, and how much gas has to be burned for that food to reach your table from the field.

The goal of the community garden plot is not only to have items for sale, but to create a space for education. The company invites the public to an open house and there is the potential that a few of the plots will be rented to individual growers.

Visit the Whole Foods Short Pump Website here or they can be found on Twitter @WFM_Shortpump

What’s your take on Local Foods? Do you make a special effort to buy locally grown produce? What do you think about Whole Foods taking this extra step? Is it just a publicity gimmick or can this create positive change towards a more sustainable food system ?

Serving Sizes, Packaged Food Nutrition Labels May Get a Makeover per the FDA

If you have ever read a nutrition facts label, you have probably seen the “serving size” listed right at the top. But do you know where that number comes from? (Hint, not an independent third party.) It’s actually the manufacturers themselves. Buy a big packaged muffin in the store and chances are the serving size is half a muffin. Check the cookies. The serving size is probably one or two. It’s not just junky foods either. I checked my package of alfalfa sprouts. One serving is supposedly 2/3 of the entire package. Now, I love my sprouts, but I’m lucky to get a small handful on a sandwich or salad.

So why is this an issue? Well, if you haven’t heard there’s an obesity epidemic going on in the United States. We don’t get enough exercise. We don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. We sit too much. We eat too much food we don’t bother to make ourselves. We eat a lot of stuff out of boxes and packages. Probably most important, many Americans don’t really know how to nourish ourselves and balance out our eating.

Weight management is multifaceted. But when it comes to the purpose of nutrition facts labels, it’s all about educating the consumer about how much food, calories, and nutrients are in a realistic serving. So recently, the FDA has said they need to look at what they can do to help people manage how much they eat and make sure they aren’t confused by the information provided.

Recently, Barbara O. Schneeman, director of the F.D.A. office that oversees nutrition labels was quoted in the New York Times on this topic as saying:

“We are actively looking at serving size and evaluating what steps we need to take. Ultimately, the purpose of nutrition labeling is to help consumers make healthier choices, make improvements in their diet, and we want to make sure we achieve that goal.”

Right now they are considering doing two things: bringing the serving size more in line with what people actually eat and then moving key information to the front of the package. The front-of-package initiative is part of the bigger issue of all the “spots, checks, marks” and other labels that food manufacturers use to give packaged foods a “health halo.” I think this is an important step for the FDA to get involved. The manufacturers’ front-of-package labeling is nothing more than snazzy marketing designed to make people put the package in the cart. If the FDA can oversee a single system for front of package labels that brings some key information to the front (like 120 calories per serving, 2.5 servings per container) this may help bring awareness to how much they are actually taking in if they consume half or the entire container.

The FDA says the front of package label would be voluntary for companies, but what they are considering is regulations that would prevent companies from promoting “benefits” on the front, while downplaying any “downsides” to the foods. I think this step is crucial. The more messages you have, the more potential for confusion. There’s only so much space on the package.

It’s not like this is the first time the FDA has tried to step in and tell companies that they should accurately portray the amount in the package on the nutrition label. Here’s a warning letter they issued back in 2004 (yep, about six years ago):

FDA also recognizes that there is a growing trend in the marketplace for jumbo or super-sized servings. When such products are intended to be consumed by one individual in one eating occasion, the nutrition information should be based on the entire contents of food in the container. We recognize that the current serving size regulations allow for such products to be sold as either one, or more than one, serving even if they are usually consumed at one time. FDA intends to re-evaluate this aspect of the serving size regulations. In the meantime, we encourage manufacturers to provide the most accurate and useful nutrition information to consumers by taking advantage of the flexibility in current regulations on serving sizes and label food packages as containing a single-serving if the entire contents of the package can reasonably be consumed at a single-eating occasion.

If FDA has addressed this in 2004 and warning letters to companies have not inspired any positive change in nutrition labels, then maybe it is high time they set tougher regulations. It does not appear that self-regulation is working.

I’m not so sure how changing the serving size standards to reflect what people actually eat would work because we eat too much now. How do you determine the “real” size people eat? It’s better to show the real size people should eat, but the problem with that is it depends on age, gender, weight, and amount of exercise. It’s hard to give a “one size” serving to fit all Americans.

Let’s take cereal. Toasted oats serving size is usually one cup. Other sugary cereals usually have a serving size of 3/4 cup. I don’t think it should be permissible for companies to choose 3/4 cup to make their products look nutritionally comparable to other cereals (calories and sugar look lower because the serving size is smaller). But what do you choose as the new standard? Even if “two cups” is more like what people actually eat, is it more than they should eat? Maybe for a 50-year-old overweight female, but maybe not for a 17-year-old high school track star. I would love to hear your comments below with good suggestions for how this would pan out in a realistic way.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provides food and nutrition advice for anyone over age two, gives custom recommendations for servings of foods. Anyone can get a custom recommendation and track their intake for free online. So that’s a place to start. Educate yourself on what you should eat. Buy fewer packaged foods in general. Eat smaller portions. Only eat when you are hungry. All these things will help you in your “healthy weight” journey.

What do you think the FDA should do to educate consumers on food packages?

Read more: Serving Sizes, Packaged Food Nutrition Labels May Get a Makeover per the FDA http://www.dietsinreview.com/diet_column/02/serving-sizes-packaged-food-nutrition-labels-may-get-a-makeover-per-the-fda/#more-17235#ixzz0rPyNzMaz

2010 Dietary Guidelines Summary Released!

It’s big news for nutrition. We may have new advice for eating healthy… and you can give your 2 cents, if you feel so inclined. Every five years the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated to reflect the latest knowledge in science and research. The Guidelines are used for government nutrition initiatives, programs and education, as well as by dietitians and health professionals to help educate people about eating healthier.

Dietary Guidelines (DG) Advisory Committee released their Executive summary on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010. The full report can be found here and is currently open for public comments. (that’s you, the public…let your voice be heard and comment on the Executive Summary).

The Committee has used a state-of-the-art, web-based electronic system and methodology, known as the Nutrition Evidence Library, to answer the majority of the scientific questions it posed, about specific nutrients and foods.

What’s New in 2010?

The 2010 Guidelines are different from previous reports in that this one addresses an American public of whom the majority are overweight or obese and yet under-nourished in several key nutrients. (It may sound strange, but it is possible to be overweight and under nourished at the same time.)

This DG also focuses more on children because primary prevention of obesity must begin in childhood. They say this is the single most powerful public health approach to combating and reversing America’s obesity epidemic over the long term.
To reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity in our country they recommend that we:

  • Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
  • Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. In addition, reduce sodium intake and intake of refined grains.Daily sodium intake be 1,500 mg, (down from 2,300mg in the 2005 recommendations).
  • Eliminate Trans-fatty acids from the diet, and seeking to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in diet.
  • Increase physical activity: adults should get at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. Kids and teens should do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous physical activity each day.

While I strongly support these recommendations, there are several things that must be changed about our  Food environment so that eating healthy is easy, accessible and affordable. Hopefully our government will launch initiatives that seek to improve the following points:

  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, including safe food handling skills, and empower and motivate the population, especially families with children, to prepare and consume healthy foods at home.
  • Increase comprehensive health, nutrition, and physical education programs and curricula in US schools and preschools, including food preparation, food safety, cooking, and physical education classes and improved quality of recess.
  • For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.
  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.
  • Increase environmentally sustainable production of vegetables, fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains.
  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.

With over two thirds of our population either overweight or obese, this has a huge impact on the healthcare system, and our entire nation. On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium. Added Sugar and Fat contribute approximately 35 percent of calories to the American diet. (these are just empty calories) The current US Food environment is loaded with excess sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, making it harder for the average consumer to eat healthy. We have to seek out healthy foods and do some detective work when eating out.

This summary is now open for public comments-so what do you have to say? Tell me here or submit your comment to the committee here! You can also read what others are saying here. Will changing the recommendations help make American healthier or do we first need to change the entire food environment?

Cancer Panel Sets Sights on Food

Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

The President’s cancer panel for the first time in its history is releasing a report that advises Americans to be more vigorous with chemical regulation and supports the organic food movement. Since its establishment in 1971,this panel of experts has suggested that cancer risk be reduced through self-exams, screenings like mammograms, and doctor’s visits. A great source of information on cancer risk can be found on the American Cancer Society website. But the newly released report cites weak laws, enforcement, and the ‘presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary’ as a reason to focus cancer prevention strategies on food. Such controversial chemicals include bisphenol-A or BPA, found in food and beverage containers. In addition to more astringent control of chemical use in food products, the cancer panel urges the consideration of organic food usage and foods without preservatives, filtering drinking water, and storing food in glass or stainless steel containers (to avoid chemicals from plastics).

The suggestion of organics has piqued the interest of many. For some consumers, the biggest hurdle in joining the organic movement has been price compared to conventionally grown foods, and the ‘Why bother? How would it help?’ mindset. The release of such information by highly regarded medical professionals to answer the ‘why bother’ may start to tip the balance more in favor of organics for consumers. For those who have joined the organic movement, this suggestion may seem slow on the uptake.

The fact that the president’s cancer panel is beginning to recognize the importance of what we eat and put into our bodies is a great move in the right direction. Not only are the suggestions put forth by the panel important, but will hopefully encourage the population to take more of an interest in produce and whole grains as opposed to processed snacks.

See the New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/opinion/06kristof.html?th&emc=th

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