The Food Label: Lies of the Food Industry

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Uncategorized

Can BIG FOOD Inc. Be Trusted?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

food labelsHealthy Eating Is In. We are told we need more fiber, whole grains, fruits & vegetables, nuts and omega-3s in our diet. As a consequence more and more Americans are reading food labels to be sure that the foods they are buying are healthy.

But are those food labels deceptive? Is it possible that BIG FOOD Inc. could actually be lying to us? Could it be that the food manufacturers care more about their profits than about our health?

Normally I base my health tips on clinical studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. However, this week I am reporting on an article called “Hijacked. How the Food Industry Turns Diet Advice into Profits” from the October 2014 issue of Nutrition Action Health letter because they do an excellent job of exposing the lies of the food industry.

The Food Label:  The Lies of the Food Industry

False Fiber

high fiberFor example, Nutrition Action describes how the food industry tries to fool us into thinking that their processed foods are healthy by making fiber claims on their labels that are deceptive, if not downright false.

Everyone knows that eating fiber rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes is good for us. But wouldn’t it be more fun if you could get the same amount of fiber in your breakfast bars, cakes, cookies and even yoghurt?

The food manufacturers are only too happy to oblige. DuPont, for example, manufacturers and artificial fiber called Litesse by chemically linking glucose (dextrose) molecules into a non-digestible polydextrose polymer. They tell the food manufacturers that they can use Litesse to “tap into this market opportunity and project a healthier image for your product”. I’d be much more impressed if they were talking about a healthier product rather than a “healthier image for your product” It’s all about image, isn’t it.

Similarly, Archer Daniels Midland manufactures a digestion-resistant form of maltodextrin they call Fibersol-2. They tell food manufacturers “who knew fiber could be clean and clear?” (Translation: Adding bran to your products might make them denser and chewier. You can add Fibersol-2 to your doughnuts or cookies and it won’t change their taste or texture).

The problem is that there are few clinical studies showing that these artificial fibers have the same benefits as the fibers we find in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In addition, these fibers don’t fill you up the way that unprocessed fibers found in foods do (something we scientists refer to as satiety). For example, if you eat a bowl of oatmeal you’re not going to be hungry for a long time. However, recent studies show that adding an equivalent amount of one of these artificial fibers to a muffin or breakfast bar has no effect on how hungry you feel after eating it.

Nutrition Action also raised concerns about highly processed natural fibers such as inulin, maltodextrin, soluble corn fiber or resistant wheat starch. In this situation, they may be oversimplifying their messaging a bit. I agree with their statement that adding these purified fibers to solid foods like cookies or muffins has relatively little effect on either satiety or regularity, but these fibers do have some benefits when used in the right kinds of foods.

For example, inulin is an excellent prebiotic. Its addition to processed foods as a prebiotic, rather than a source of fiber, is appropriate. Maltodextrin needs to be digested before its component sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream, so it enters the bloodstream a bit more slowly than simple sugars. When used in sports drinks it helps stabilize blood sugar and provide more sustained energy. Similarly, the addition of soluble corn starch to a protein shake slows gastric emptying, which also stabilizes blood sugar and provides sustained energy. Wheat bran in a protein shake, on the other hand, would be an inappropriate choice. It would just settle to the bottom of the glass.

The Bottom Line: The best place to get your fiber is from fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grains. Before you reach for a processed food that claims to be high in fiber read the label carefully. Make sure that fiber comes from foods rather than artificial fibers. If the main fiber ingredient is a processed fiber, make sure that the type of fiber is appropriate for the food you are consuming.

Vegetable & Fruit Follies

fruits and vegetablesEveryone knows that fruits and vegetables are good for us. They are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients as well as fiber. But who wants to spend the time peeling an orange or washing the pesticides off that broccoli? It’s much more fun to get our fruits and vegetables from chips, pasta, and breakfast cereals.

Once again, the food manufacturers are only too happy to oblige. The chemical companies make a variety of fruit and vegetable powders that food manufacturers can add to their products. For example, PowderPure tells food manufacturers “Whether you want to add nutrition to your label, infuse full color or formulate a specific flavor profile for your discerning consumers, PowderPure has the right powder to enhance your presence in the marketplace”. You will notice they are talking about adding nutrition to the label, not to the food. They are talking about “enhancing your presence in the marketplace”, not making your food healthier.

The problem is that sprinkling a little fruit and vegetable powder into a processed food will never provide the full range of nutrients that those fruits and vegetables would have provided.

Most manufacturers can’t (or won’t) specify the amounts of nutrients and phytonutrients you get from the fruit & vegetable powders they add to their processed foods, but that doesn’t stop them from making label claims like “We pop a flavorful blend of nine veggies…[in our chips]” or there is “half serving of vegetables in a 2 oz serving…[of our pasta]”.

The Bottom Line: Ignore the label claims of fruits and vegetables added to the processed foods you see in the market. The fruit and vegetable powders added to those foods provide no proven benefit. The best place to get your fruits and vegetables is to [surprise] eat your fruits and vegetables.

The Fruits & Vegetables in a Capsule Con

fruits and vege capsuleOne of my pet peeves is the food supplement manufacturers who try to tell you that they have concentrated a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables in a capsule. For example, one company claims that their capsules contain apple, barley, broccoli, beet, cabbage, carrot, cranberry, date, garlic, kale, oats, orange, parsley, peach, pineapple, prunes, spinach, plant enzymes, fiber, and acidophilus. All this in one capsule!

While this list sounds impressive, you need to ask whether they are providing meaningful amounts of those fruits and vegetables. For example, the product claims to have oats. A serving of oats is equal to 1/3 cup dry oats and weighs about 28 grams. A capsule typically weighs about 0. 5 grams. Therefore, to get the equivalent of one serving of oats from a capsule, you would have to consume 56 capsules! And that’s assuming that the entire capsule was filled with oats.

Broccoli is another claimed ingredient. A serving of fresh broccoli weighs 88 grams, but roughly 80 grams of that is water. So if you dehydrated the broccoli you would be left with about 8 grams of material. Therefore, to get a single serving of dehydrated broccoli you would have to consume 16 capsules. Again, that’s assuming that the capsules were completely filled with just broccoli.

You can do this kind of calculation with each ingredient they claim is in their capsules. But when you add up the number of capsules needed to get a reasonable amount of each of these ingredients, the capsule total is staggering.

As for essential nutrients, when you read the label you usually discover that their capsules only contain small amounts of a few essential nutrients. They simply do not provide significant amounts of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you would have been getting if you ate the real foods.

The Bottom Line: Leave those supplements claiming to have concentrated lots of fruits and vegetables into a single capsule on the shelf. Those claims are grossly deceptive because the capsules do not contain significant amounts of the fruits and vegetables listed on the label. They do not provide the nutrients you would have gotten if you had eaten the real foods. Once again, the best way to get the fruits and vegetables you need in your diet is to actually eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

Omega Oops

Fish OilOmega-3 fatty acids are in fashion, so omega-3 claims are springing up everywhere. You can find omega-3 enriched eggs, milk, juices, bars, and even pasta. I won’t address the controversies about omega-3 benefits in this article because I have written about them previously (“Is Fish Oil Really Snake Oil?” , “Can Fish Oil Make Children Smarter?” , or “Do Omega-3s Slow Cognitive Decline?”.

The other point that Nutrition Action made was that the amount of omega-3s provided by these omega-3 enriched foods was seldom enough to provide any significant health benefit. It is the long chain omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA that are thought to provide the health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends 500 mg/day of these long chain fatty acids for people who have no history of heart disease, and over 1,000 mg/day for people with prior history of heart disease. In that context the few mg of long chain omega-3s provided by most omega-3 enriched foods is a drop in the bucket.

The story is even more tenuous for those manufacturers who add the short chain omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is found in most vegetable oils and plant seed oils, to their products. That’s because the efficiency of conversion of short chain to long chain fatty acids in the body is only 10-15% for most people. One tablespoon of canola or soy oil provides about 1,000 mg of ALA. Once again, those products providing only a few mg of short chain omega-3s provide little benefit.

When asked why they added omega-3s to their pasta, one manufacturer said “We have to because of the competition”, not “We wanted to make our product healthier”.

The Bottom Line: Avoid those omega-3 enriched processed foods that provide only a few mg of omega-3 fatty acids, especially if their source of omega-3 fatty acids is listed as ALA, vegetable oils or plant seed oils. The best place to get your omega-3s in the amounts that you need is still cold water fish and fish oil supplements.

The Bottom Line

The October 2014 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter exposed many of the deceptive labeling practices that food manufacturers use to make their products seem healthier than they are. In particular:

  • The best place to get your fiber is from fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grains. Before you reach for a processed food that claims to be high in fiber, read the label carefully. Make sure that fiber comes from foods rather than artificial fibers. If the main fiber ingredient is a processed fiber, make sure that the type of fiber is appropriate for the food you are consuming.
  • Ignore the label claims of fruits and vegetables added to the processed foods you see in the market. The fruit and vegetable powders added to those foods provide no proven benefit. The best place to get your fruits and vegetables is to [surprise] eat your fruits and vegetables.
  • Leave those supplements claiming to have concentrated lots of fruits and vegetables into a single capsule on the shelf. Those claims are grossly deceptive because the capsules do not contain significant amounts of the fruits and vegetables listed on the label and do not provide the nutrients you would have gotten if you ate the real foods. Once again, the best way to get the fruits and vegetables you need in your diet is to actually eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid those omega-3 enriched processed foods that provide only a few mg of omega-3 fatty acids, especially if their source of omega-3 fatty acids is listed as ALA, vegetable oils or plant seed oils. The best place to get your omega-3s in the amounts that you need is still cold water fish and fish oil supplements.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Trackback from your site.

Leave a comment

Recent Videos From Dr. Steve Chaney

READ THE ARTICLE
READ THE ARTICLE

Latest Article

Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

Posted July 10, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Are You Just Wasting Your Money On Supplements?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

supplements for cardiovascular health wast moneyYou’ve seen the headlines. “Recent Study Finds Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.”  You are being told that supplements are of no benefit to you. They are a waste of money. You should follow a healthy diet instead. Is all of this true?

If I were like most bloggers, I would give you a simple yes or no answer that would be only partially correct. Instead, I am going to put the study behind these headlines into perspective. I am going to give you a deeper understanding of supplementation, so you can make better choices for your health.

 Should we use supplements for cardiovascular health?

In today’s article I will give you a brief overview of the subject. Here are the topics I will cover today:

  • Is this fake news?
  • Did the study ask the right questions?
  • Is this a question of “Garbage In – Garbage Out?
  • Reducing Heart Disease Risk. What you need to know.

All these topics are covered in much more detail (with references) in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths”, which will be published this fall.

 

How Was This Study Done?

supplements for cardiovascular healthThis study (D.J.A. Jenkins et al, Journal of the American College Of Cardiology, 71: 2540-2584, 2018 ) was a meta-analysis. Simply put, that means the authors combined the results of many previous studies into a single database to increase the statistical power of their conclusions. This study included 127 randomized control trials published between 2012 and December 2017. These were all studies that included supplementation and looked at cardiovascular end points, cancer end points or overall mortality.

Before looking at the results, it is instructive to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the study. Rather than giving you my interpretation, let me summarize what the authors said about strengths and weaknesses of their own study.

The strengths are obvious. Randomized control trials are considered the gold standard of evidence-based medicine, but they have their weaknesses. Here is what the authors said about the limitations of their study:

  • “Randomized control trials are of shorter duration, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.”
  • “Dose-response data were not usually available [from the randomized control studies included in their analysis]. However, larger studies would allow the effect of dose to be assessed.”

There are some other limitations of this study, which I will point out below.

Is This Fake News?

supplements for cardiovascular health fake newsWhen I talk about “fake news” I am referring to the headlines, not to the study behind the headlines. The headlines were definitive: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” However, when you read the study the reality is quite different:

  • In contrast to the negative headlines, the study reported:
    • Folic acid supplementation decreased stroke risk by 20% and overall heart disease risk by 17%.
    • B complex supplements containing folic acid, B6, and B12 decreased stroke risk by 10%.
    • That’s a big deal, but somehow the headlines forgot to mention it.
  • The supplements that had no significant effect on heart disease risk (multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C) were ones that would not be expected to lower heart disease risk. There was little evidence from previous studies of decreased risk. Furthermore, there is no plausible mechanism for supposing they might decrease heart disease risk.
  • The study did not include vitamin E or omega-3 supplements, which are the ones most likely to prove effective in decreasing heart disease risk when the studies are done properly (see below).

Did The Study Ask The Right Question?

Most of the studies included in this meta-analysis were asking whether a supplement decreased heart disease risk or mortality for everyone. Simply put, the studies started with a group of generally healthy Americans and asked whether supplementation had a significant effect on disease risk for everyone in that population.

That is the wrong question. We should not expect supplementation to benefit everyone equally. Instead, we should be asking who is most likely to benefit from supplementation and design our clinical studies to test whether those people benefit from supplementation.

supplements for cardiovascular health diagramI have created the graphic on the right as a guide to help answer the question of “Who is most likely to benefit from supplementation?”. Let me summarize each of the points using folic acid as the example.

 

Poor Diet: It only makes sense that those people who are deficient in folate from foods are the most likely to benefit from folic acid supplementation. Think about it for a minute. Would you really expect people who are already getting plenty of folate from their diet to obtain additional benefits from folic acid supplementation?

The NIH estimates that around 20% of US women of childbearing age are deficient in folic acid. For other segments of our population, dietary folate insufficiency ranges from 5-10%. Yet, most studies of folic acid supplementation lump everyone together – even though 80-95% of the US population is already getting enough folate through foods, food fortification, and supplementation. It is no wonder most studies fail to find a beneficial effect of folic acid supplementation.

The authors of the meta-analysis I discussed above said that the beneficial effects of folic acid they saw might have been influenced by a very large Chinese study, because a much higher percentage of Chinese are deficient in folic acid. They went on to say that the Chinese study needed to be repeated in this country.

In fact, the US study has already been done. A large study called “The Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE)” study reported that folic acid supplementation did not reduce heart disease risk in the whole population. However, when the study focused on the subgroup of subjects who were folate-deficient at the beginning of the study, folic acid supplementation significantly decreased their risk of heart attack and cardiovascular death.  This would seem to suggest using supplements for cardiovascular health is a good idea.

Increased Need: There are many factors that increase the need for certain nutrients. However, for the sake of simplicity, let’s only focus on medications. Medications that interfere with folic acid metabolism include anticonvulsants, metformin (used to treat diabetes), methotrexate and sulfasalazine (used to treat severe inflammation), birth control pills, and some diuretics. Use of these medications is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine medication use with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial.

Genetic Predisposition: The best known genetic defect affecting folic acid metabolism is MTHFR. MTHFR deficiency does not mean you have a specific need for methylfolate. However, it does increase your need for folic acid. Again, this is not a concern when the diet is adequate. However, when you combine MTHFR deficiency with a folate-deficient diet, health risks are increased and supplementation with folic acid is more likely to be beneficial. I cover this topic in great detail in my upcoming book, “Slaying The Supplement Myths”. In the meantime, you might wish to view my video, “The Truth About Methyl Folate.”

Diseases: An underlying disease or predisposition to disease often increases the need for one or more nutrients that help reduce disease risk. The best examples of this are two major studies on the effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in women. Both studies found no effect of vitamin E on heart disease risk in the whole population. However, one study reported that vitamin E reduced heart disease risk in the subgroup of women who were post-menopausal (when the risk of heart disease skyrockets). The other study found that vitamin E reduced heart attack risk in the subgroup of women who had pre-existing heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Finally, if you look at the diagram closely, you will notice a red circle in the middle. When two or three of these factors overlap, that is the “sweet spot” where supplementation is almost certain to make a difference and it may be a good idea to use supplements for cardiovascular health.

Is This A Question Of “Garbage In, Garbage Out”?

supplements for cardiovascular health garbage in outUnfortunately, most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” rather than the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question.

In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.

Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.

 

Should We Use Supplements For Cardiovascular Health?

 

If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this meta-analysis is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but the analysis did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s.

However, if you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.

I would be remiss, however, if I failed to point out that we know healthy diets can decrease heart disease risk. In the words of the authors: “The recent science-based report of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, also concerned with [heart disease] risk reduction, recommended 3 dietary patterns: 1) a healthy American diet low in saturated fat, trans fat, and meat, but high in fruits and vegetables; 2) a Mediterranean diet; and 3) a vegetarian diet. These diets, with their accompanying recommendations, continue the move towards more plant-based diets…” I cover the effect of diet on heart disease risk in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths”.

 

The Bottom Line

 

You have probably seen the recent headlines proclaiming: “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Don’t Lower Heart Disease Risk.” The study behind the headlines was a meta-analysis of 127 randomized control trials looking at the effect of supplementation on heart disease risk and mortality.

  • The headlines qualify as “fake news” because:
    • The study found that folic acid decreased stroke and heart disease risk, and B vitamins decreased stroke risk. Somehow the headlines forgot to mention that.
    • The study found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C had no effect on heart disease risk. These are nutrients that were unlikely to decrease heart disease risk to begin with.
    • The study did not include vitamin E and omega-3s. These are nutrients that are likely to decrease heart disease risk when the studies are done properly.
  • The authors of the study stated that a major weakness of their study was that that randomized control studies included in their analysis were short term, whereas longer duration studies might be required to fully capture chronic disease risk.
  • The study behind the headlines is of little use for you as an individual because it asked the wrong question.
  • Most clinical studies focus on the “Does everyone benefit from supplementation question?” That is the wrong question. Instead we need more clinical studies focused on the “Who benefits from supplementation?” question. I discuss that question in more detail in the article above.
  • In addition, most clinical studies of supplementation are based on the drug model. They are studying supplementation with a single vitamin or mineral, as if it were a drug. That’s unfortunate, because vitamins and minerals work together synergistically. What we need are more studies of holistic supplementation approaches.
  • Until these two things change, most supplement studies are doomed to failure. They are doomed to give negative results. In addition, meta-analyses based on these faulty supplement studies will fall victim to what computer programmers refer to as “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. If the data going into the analysis is faulty, the data coming out of the study will be equally faulty. It won’t be worth the paper it is written on. If you are looking for personal guidance on supplementation, this study falls into that category.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for everyone, this study is clear. Folic acid may decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. A B-complex supplement may decrease the risk of stroke. All the other supplements they included in their analysis did not decrease heart disease risk, but they did not include vitamin E and/or omega-3s in their analysis.
  • If you want to know whether supplements decrease heart disease risk for you, this study provides no guidance. It did not ask the right questions.
  • However, we do know that healthy, plant-based diets can decrease heart disease risk. I cover heart healthy diets in detail in my book, “Slaying The Food Myths.”

 

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

UA-43257393-1