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The Great Pumpkin & A Healthy Halloween

October 31, 2012 •  7 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Did you know that according to the National Retail Federation, there will be over $1 billion in candy sales this Halloween? In 2005, the average American consumed 25.7 pounds of candy, per capita, much of it around Halloween. And on top of that, the CDC recently reported that 1in 3 Americans are expected to have diabetes in the next forty years.

So what’s a parent to do? It’s Halloween, for crying out loud!

When trick-or-treating entered the American scene in the 1920s, neighbors gave children items like apples, pastries, breads and even money. So why, 40 years later, are there $1 billion in candy sales each Halloween? How has food marketing taken over this tradition?

“Companies went after Halloween candy a long time ago,” says Nancy Childs, Ph.D., professor of food marketing. “Candy companies are active and aggressive marketers who offer convenient, pre-packaged treats to fulfill the tradition.”

But have you ever read the side of a candy box?

According to Pure Fun Candy, the FDA does not monitor artificial colors, flavors and preservatives nor require that they be tested. Rather, the concept of “threshold of toxicological concern” has been proposed by the FDA to set acceptable daily intake for chemicals of unknown toxicity, apparently on the theory that a little bit can’t hurt. But have you ever seen a kid eat a ‘little bit’ of candy?

On top of that, research published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal in the UK, suggests that these additives do affect the brain chemistry of children, causing hyperactivity and ADHD like behavior. The research is so strong that Wal-Mart in the UK agreed to ban these ingredients in children’s foods and government agencies around the world have banned or removed these chemical additives in children’s foods. But American kids still consume these additives in record amounts, especially at Halloween.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

And while sugar is still sugar, organic candy does not contain toxic pesticides, high fructose corn syrup or other chemicals or genetically modified ingredients (ingredients engineered into corn and soy by the agrichemical industry to help these plants produce their own insecticides or withstand increasing doses of weed killers) that aren’t used in children’s foods in other countries.

But with budgets tight, that’s not an option to most families, But given reports by CNN addressing toxicity in children and last year’s Senate hearing in which CNN’s medical correspondent, Sanjy Gupta, addressed the same, perhaps we should take a cue from parents in the 27 countries in the European Union, in Canada, Australia and try to avoid the ingredients that their government agencies have banned in children’s foods – things like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, MSG and those genetically engineered ingredients producing their own insecticides.

Do One Thing

So while we can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, we can all do something, focusing on progress not perfection. So maybe this Halloween, you can opt-out of juice that contains high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors as a way to reduce your children’s exposure. Or when it comes to that inevitable deluge of candy, you can offer to engage your kids in a candy swap. For every few pieces of conventional candy that they collect, trade them in for a healthier treat, a sticker or some small toy.

Or better yet, write a letter to the Great Pumpkin. Apparently, he’s been known to bring little presents like gift cards or a book to children who leave their candy baskets outside the front door for him in the first week of November.

You can make a difference in the health of your family. The opportunity is enormous, and the time is now.

To learn more about ways to protect your children from genetically engineered ingredients in Halloween candy, you can visit the Non-GMO Project’s Guide to Halloween.

Additional information is also available at www.greenhalloween.org

The Real Bears: Learn the Truth About Soda

October 10, 2012 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

A picture is worth a thousand words.  In this case, a little video does the trick.

In this new video, bravely and creatively directed, learn the truth about what happens to the bears who drink sugary sodas, then share this with everyone that you love.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

Though consumption has declined slightly in recent years, soda and sugary drinks still are the biggest single source of calories in the American diet, accounting for about 7 percent.

And while Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other soda companies spend lavishly to position the products as sources of happiness, sugary drinks are directly linked to obesity and diabetes.

Each additional sugary drink consumed per day increases the likelihood of a child becoming obese by about 60 percent.

Drinking one or two sugary drinks per day increases one’s risk for type 2 diabetes by 27 percent.

Because as The Real Bears site suggests, “Big soda companies have billions of dollars to tell their story, but we have each other.”  And love.  That’s a big one, too.

Learn more, get the facts, protect your loved ones at The Real Bears.

Watch Celebrities On Our Right To Know What We Are Eating

October 9, 2012 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

In the absence of any federal labeling law, California is trying to become the first state to label genetically engineered ingredients in foods.  This could impact the county, as they represent the largest state economy in the US and the 8th largest in the world.

How could this affect all of us?  When legislation was proposed in California for Coke and Pepsi to label a caramel color in their sodas as potentially carcinogenic, rather than do so, the soda giants reformulated their products….across the country.

If this legislation (Proposition 37) passes in California, as Jillian Michaels, Danny DeVito, Dave Matthews and others are urging in this public service announcement, the food industry might very well decide to reformulate their products here in the US for all of us, in order to avoid the liability that these labels might carry, removing GMOs from their products and replacing them with alternatives, much like what they have done in over 40 countries around the world, like all European countries, the UK, China, Australia, Japan and India, where GMOs are already labeled.

If you have friends or family in California, please share this important message, as we all have the right to know what we are eating, and what happens in California has the potential to impact all of us.

 To learn more about this proposition and its ability to impact all of us, please visit California’s Right to Know

 

Are You Wondering If Organic Food Is Worth the Cost?

October 7, 2012 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice specializing in metabolism and sport nutrition. She is a friend of the AllergyKids Foundation, and we recently invited her to share her thoughts on the Stanford Study, the value of organic foods and other topics.

In an analysis of 237 studies of organic produce, meats and dairy foods, Stanford scientists determined that organic foods are no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts.   The recent study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine has the food world spinning.  The scientists looked at vitamin C in produce and omega three fatty acids in animal products among other nutrients and concluded that there just wasn’t enough difference to impact human health.

Human nutrition is a young science.  The first “vitamin” was discovered early in the 20th century, the Recommended Dietary Allowances were first released in 1941 and the first dietary guidelines were established in 1980.

Since the beginning, nutrition science has been preoccupied with identifying essential nutrients.  This early orientation has led too many nutrition scientists down a path of reductionist thinking, as if food were merely a delivery vehicle for essential nutrients in our diet.  Today the rest of the food world is pushing back.  Farmers, chefs, journalists, environmentalists, foodies, as well as many more integrative nutritionists, dietitians and other health care providers are crying foul.

The push back to the Stanford study has been enormous.  Many Americans have become far too sophisticated in the post Omnivore’s Dilemma era to take the narrow findings of this study at face value.  Every post I have read over the past two days immediately points to the real differences between organic and conventional food.  To many consumers, the value of organic food production was never only about the nutrients.

The Problem with Reductionist Science

The traditional approach to studying nutrition is fragmented.  Nutrition science often focuses on the smallest components of the diet, the essential nutrients.  Most funding for nutrition research is appropriated for studies regarding specific nutrients.

It is easier to study a single nutrient compared to the overall diet.  This is why you get to read front page stories telling you to avoid fat, or more specifically to eat more unsaturated fat, and even more specifically to consume more omega 3 fatty acids.

There is very limited research looking at overall dietary patterns, and even less linking the production of food to anything.   Too often the only concern is what happens to man.  Nutrition science tends to ignore the rest of our ecological home.  Today, there is a need for nutrition science to connect more of the dots.

WHAT ABOUT THE VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Most critics of the Stanford study focus on the findings of the researchers.  People want to think organic food must be far superior compared to conventionally raised foods.  But research looking at nutrient content of organic versus conventionally grown food is mixed.

Sometimes conventional foods show higher nutrient content.   (Although research shown below shows that organically grown produce has higher content more often)  Still, this kind of data doesn’t often inspire the average Joe or Jane to pull out their hard earned cash to pay a premium for an organic product.

OMEGA THREE CONTENT IS DIFFERENT

The omega three fatty acid data is more compelling.    Greater amounts of omega three fatty acids are thought to be health promoting.  A lower ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is linked to less inflammation.  Less inflammation is associated with reduced risk of everything from cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to allergies, asthma, and more.

Grass fed beef is markedly different than beef from conventionally raised cattle.    Grass fed beef contains more omega 3 fatty acids.   Grass fed beef has a 2:1 ratio of omega six to omega three fatty acids; conventional beef has a ratio of 9:1.  The greater amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in grass fed beef is bonus.

WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE HEALTH, NUTRITION AND DISEASE?

The Stanford’s study glaring omissions are exactly what has so many people energized about eating closer to the earth and preferentially choosing organic foods.

  1. People know that water is important.  Runoff from conventional farms using conventional NPK fertilizer pollutes the waterways and creates dead zones in the oceans.
  1. Today’s educated consumers don’t want to consume added hormones in their food supply.  The use of recombinant bovine growth hormone in dairy cows is far less common than it once was.  Many consumers won’t buy milk containing rBGH.
  2. The educated food consumer knows that 80% of all antibiotics are used with animals, often in animal feed as a growth enhancer.  They worry about the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  1. Today’s consumers are concerned about exposure to pesticides, insecticides and other chemical agents used in conventional farming.  They are aware these substances pose risk to human health.  They bio-accumulate in fat stores.

These agents are known endocrine disruptors.   95% of “persistent organic pollutants” enter our body via the food supply.  These chemical agents impact all life forms, especially compromising biodiversity of insects and microbes in the soil.

  1. Consumers have every reason to be wary of genetically engineered and GMO foods.   Studies regarding the safety of genetic engineering are inadequate.

Proponents of genetic engineering would like consumers to accept that GMO foods are “substantially equivalent” to traditionally cultivated foods.   Currently, substantial equivalence is determined using 90 day studies with lab rats.  No wonder the current initiative to label GMO foods in California garners huge public support.

WE CAN NOT AFFORD TO EAT ACCORDING TO REDUCTIONIST SCIENCE

When making food choices we can no longer afford to only consider the nutrient content of food.   The way food is grown and harvested matters.  They way in which food is processed matters.  The methods and packaging used to transport our food matters.

Today nutrition scientists need to broaden their scope and consider their findings in much broader context.  The range of issues impacting human health encompasses the health of our precious resources:  the vitality of livestock, crop diversity, soil ecology, the health of our oceans, our supply of fresh water and clean air.   Everyone connected to the food supply needs to understand and respect this truth.  Good nutrition has never been just about the nutrients.

_____

Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice specializing in energy metabolism and sport nutrition. Bonnie works extensively with individuals and families addressing nutrition concerns throughout the lifecycle, with a special focus on maternal, infant and child nutrition.  She is a speaker and author, writing her blog at www.muchmorethanfood.com

The ABCs to Learning About What’s in Our Food

October 3, 2012 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

If you are just getting started on trying to eat a little cleaner or reduce your families exposure to artificial ingredients, you may be hearing about something called “genetically engineered foods.”  If you haven’t heard about them, you’re not alone.  A lot has changed in our food in the last decade, and given the juggling act that most of us perform on a daily basis, coupled with the fact that these new ingredients were never labeled, we worked with researchers to pull together this information together for you.

FACT SHEET: GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS

Questions and Health Concerns

What are genetically engineered (GE) foods?

These are foods created from the insertion of a gene, bacteria or virus from one species into a different species to produce a desired effect, usually resistance to herbicides or insects. The terms genetically modified (GM) and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are typically used interchangeably with GE.

Are they the same as foods from traditional breeding?

No. Traditional breeding between the same or similar species, such as crossing two types of corn or apples, has been done for thousands of years. GE foods, only developed in the past few decades, are created in a lab and are between different species.

What kinds of food are genetically engineered?

There are currently six major foods sold in the U.S. that are typically genetically engineered. These are listed below with the percent that are GE:

Corn 88%

Soybeans 94%

Cotton (Cottonseed oil) 90%

Canola 90%

Sugar beets 95%

Because most of these are used widely, about two-thirds of processed food contains a GE ingredient. Conversely, the vast majority of raw fruits and vegetables are not GE. Organic foods, by definition, can’t be GE.

Does genetic engineering improve the nutritional quality of foods?

No. There are no GE foods on the market in which nutritional quality is enhanced beyond a non-GE food counterpart.

Is the act of genetic engineering precise?

No. The entire foundation of GE is that the introduction of one foreign gene, bacteria or virus into a plant will activate one protein, producing one desired effect and nothing more. But this ignores basic science – the chances of harmful unintended consequences with GE are substantially increased:[i]

One gene often creates multiple proteins

  • The location of the gene often varies, which can affect whether it produces the desired protein or not
  • The insertion of the gene can disrupt the genetic blueprint of the plant
  • The new gene can either silence other genes that were normally active or activate other genes that were silent
  • A promoter (typically a virus) is usually added that helps the gene activate a desired protein. However, it may also activate other proteins that were silent, which could lead to harmful effects on humans.

What evidence of harmful effects are there?

The deadliest incident occurred in the food supplement l-tryptophan, which had been used safely by millions of people as a sleep aid for decades. However, when a Japanese company produced a GE version in the late 1980’s, thousands of people contracted an extremely painful, serious disease, EMS, that killed at least 37 and left thousands with disabilities, including paralysis.[ii] The FDA subsequently removed virtually all l-tryptophan off the market, although only the GE version was linked to EMS.

It’s more difficult to detect harmful conditions such as cancer, birth defects, toxins or allergies, since they have other causes and/or can take longer to develop than EMS. Moreover, the FDA doesn’t require GE foods to be labeled, so most people don’t know they’re consuming them. This makes it virtually impossible to isolate and track them.

However, numerous credible animal studies all over the world have shown disturbing results. For example:

- In Scotland, GE potatoes fed to rats showed lowered nutritional content and suffered damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers and testicles and enlarged intestines[iii]

- In Australia, a harmless gene in a bean engineered into a pea produced immune reactions in mice, indicating allergic reactions and/or toxins[iv]

- In Austria, a government study showed that mice fed GE corn had fewer litters and fewer total offspring[v]

- In France, a study found that GE corn previously thought harmless revealed hormone-dependent diseases and early signs of toxicity in rats[vi]

Harm to animals doesn’t necessarily prove harm to humans. However, it is a definite indication that more studies should be done. This hasn’t happened.

How is safety testing done in the U.S.? Is it adequate?

The FDA is responsible for food safety. However, it doesn’t do any testing on GE food and doesn’t require any independent tests. The only studies done are by the same companies developing the foods and they’re not required to give all their data to the FDA. They only need to declare their studies are adequate and that the GE food is safe. By and large, GE food safety is self-regulated.

The bottom line

Plants can be genetically engineered to be resistant to pests or herbicides. But in the process, there is evidence they may be causing harm to human health as an unintended consequence.


[i] Commoner, Barry, Unraveling the DNA Myth: The Spurious Foundation of Genetic Engineering, Harper’s, Feb. 2002.

[ii] Crist, William, Toxic L-tryptophan: Shedding Light on a Mysterious Epidemic, 2005, available athttp://www.seedsofdeception.com/Public/L-tryptophan/1Introduction/index.cfm.

[iii] Ewen, SW, Pusztai, A, Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine, Lancet, Oct. 16, 1999, 354(9187): 1353-4.

[iv] Prescott, V et al, Transgenic Expression of Bean α-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2005, 53:9023-9030.

[v] For the full study in English, seehttp://bmgfj.cms.apa.at/cms/site/attachments/3/2/9/CH0810/CMS1226492832306/forschungsbericht_3-2008_letzfassung.pdf

[vi] Seralini, G-E et al, How Subchronic and Chronic Health Effects can be Neglected for GMO’s, Pesticides or Chemicals; International Journal of Biological Sciences, 2009, 5(5): 438-443.

This Fact Sheet is provided by: Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, www.oregonpsr.org.