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.

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Latest Article

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

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.

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