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    Archive for the ‘dyes’ Category

    New Products, Same Old Deception

    I enjoy keeping up with Big Food’s product releases. Not only is it mind-blowing to see how many different ways you can rearrange crop subsidies, unhealthful oils, and added sugars to come up with “new” items; it’s also fun to see what front-of-package health claims and call-outs are trotted out.

    The three products below may be new on the shelf, but the “wholesome and healthy” deception is the same old dog and pony show.

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    Petroleum: It’s What’s For Breakfast

    Petroleum dependence has our food system in an increasingly suffocating vice grip.  Plastic packaging — a by-product of oil refining — is ubiquitous, livestock operations gobble up fossil fuels in mind-blowing amounts, and the concept of “food miles” (the total distance food travels from farm to table, often times including multiple stops at factories and processing plants) has entered public discourse, albeit with some controversy.

    As important as packaging and transportation are to environmental concerns, it turns out that ingredients also matter.  Processed foods are consumed at all hours of the day, but one of the most startling examples of foods high in petroleum-derived ingredients can be seen with popular breakfast products — especially cereals.  The ingredients listed below do a better job of feeding our food system’s reliance on petroleum than they do nourishing our bodies.

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    Nestlé Condones Sugary Snacks and Dyes For Kids; Breaks “Advertising to Children” Pledge?

    All is not well on Nestlé’s Nesquik website, and that goes for both the parents’ and children’s respective “areas”.

    Let’s begin with the material targeted at parents.  Take a look at this horrific “we care about your children’s health” list “to get children to drink milk”:

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    The Newest Easter Treat: Artificially Dyed Cornstarch?

    Yesterday afternoon, Small Bites reader Raquel Cordero Perry notified me of a rather peculiar product she spotted at her local supermarket — edible Easter basket grass (pictured at right)!

    Well aware of my obsession with ridiculously processed fake foods, Raquel (very accurately) thought I would get a kick out of this unidentified food object and sent me a photo of the product’s front package.  Little did I know I was on the verge of coming across one of the most junky, artificial, processed foods I’ve encountered in quite some time.

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    A “Real” Cheesecake… Bursting with Artificial Ingredients

    Cheesecakes run the dietary gamut.  From raw vegan varieties to low-carb versions to the monstrosities unleashed by The Cheesecake Factory, there truly is a type for everyone.

    While those Cheesecake Factory creations can certainly be considered “blog worthy” (with their huge portions and nutrition figures that defy human comprehension), it is Jell-O No Bake Real Cheesecake products that really hit processed-food gold.

    According to the packaging, “your friends and family will think that you made dessert from scratch!”.  The product’s website unashamedly describes these as “homemade delicacies”.

    Alas, unless you call a chemical-laden warehouse packed to the gills with industrial machinery “home”,  very little about this product screams “made from scratch.”

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    Health Hype on Aisle 5!

    gogurtAh, that ubiquitous marketing tactic known as the “health halo” appears to be multiplying.

    You know the drill.  Take minimally nutritious food, sprinkle one fiftieth of a pinch of “something healthy”, and market the living *bleep* out of said ingredient on the product’s packaging.

    Consider these recently-spotted offenders:

    • Cinnamon Chex.  “With a touch of real cinnamon,” no less.  Cinnamon offers fiber, manganese, and heart-healthy phytonutrients and antioxidants.  Alas, this cereal contains more sugar, oil, and salt than it does the sweet spice.
    • Betty Crocker Quick Banana Bread Mix.  “With real bananas,” the box touts.  The bananas are in there, alright.  As dried flakes.  Right after white flour, sugar, and partially hydrogenated oils.  PS: Each of the finished product’s twelve servings offers up an entire gram of trans fat.
    • Yoplait Go-Gurt Strawberry Splash & Berry Blue Blast portable yogurt flavor-combination packs. There isn’t a single strawberry or blueberry in either yogurt, not even in dehydrated or powdered form.  Instead, we get artificial dyes (the same ones banned by the European Union) and flavors.
    • Oscar Mayer Lunchables Sub Sandwich, Turkey and Cheddar.  This is described as “more wholesome” than previous varieties.  Does this ingredient list scream “wholesome” to you?

    Thank you to Small Bites intern Laura Smith for valuable assistance with this post.

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    Survey Results: Label Detectives

    The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors to identify particular ingredients they consciously try to avoid when purchasing food.

    Partially hydrogenated oil (44%) and high fructose corn syrup (43%) led the pack, while artificial dyes seemed troublesome to less visitors (9%).

    MSG, meanwhile, received 24% of votes.

    Three percent of respondents weren’t fazed by any of those ingredients, while 38% do not feel comfortable consuming any of them.

    The #1 enemy on that list is certainly partially hydrogenated oil.

    There is clear evidence showing the harmful effects it has on lipid profiles and, consequently, heart disease risk.

    The high fructose corn syrup situation goes beyond nutrition. Although it contributes as many calories to food as sugar (16 calories per teaspoon), its environmental effects are far worse.

    Additionally, because it is such a cheap ingredient, companies liberally include it in a variety of processed foods, in turn increasing total calories.

    It also doesn’t help that it is in everything from bread to Gatorade to pasta sauce.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that the more of these ingredients you see on a nutrition label, the more processed — and less nutritious — a given product is.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dyes/Farmed Salmon

    Are the synthetic dyes [fed to farmed salmon] harmful?

    I googled astaxanthin and found a website talking about how it’s an antioxidant and prevents cancer and is necessary for the healthy growth of the farmed salmon.

    Surely that can’t be true.

    — Kristin
    Via the blog

    That is technically true, but there is more to this story.

    While both astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration (although people trust that organization to varying degrees), certain concentrations of canthaxanthin have been associated with eye defects.

    Interestingly, different countries have different ideas of how many parts per million of that synthetic dye are “safe.”

    That being said, the vast majority of salmon farmed in the United States and Europe is only fed astaxanthin.

    In other parts of the world, though, farmed salmon is only fed canthaxanthin (it is the cheaper of the two dyes.)

    I still would not be too worried. You would need to be eating a LOT of salmon dyed with canthaxanthin to be affected.

    What all of this ties into, though, is another controversial topic – COOL (Country of Origin Labeling.)

    Although it is required for all fish sold in the United States, I have seen it very sparingly in supermarkets.

    As far as I am concerned, the core issue surrounding these food dyes isn’t so much possible health repercussions, but rather truthful advertising to consumers.

    If farmed salmon were to either remain gray or be dyed another color (say, white), then consumers would immediately know they are not purchasing a wild variety, and there would be no room for mislabeling (remember this infamous study by Marian Burros of The New York Times?).

    Since farmed salmon is nutritionally inferior to its wild counterpart (more saturated fat, higher Omega 6 fatty acid content, lower Omega 3 fatty acid content), people should not be left in the dark.

    This is not to say farmed salmon should completed avoided or viewed in the same light as deep fried fish nuggets, but consumers have a right to know exactly what they are putting on their plates.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Food Dyes

    I was trying to think of things that are artificially dyed red and salmon came to mind.

    Farmed salmon would be gray without the dye they are fed because they don’t eat their natural ocean diet of krill.

    I know some other meats are dyed red to make them look more appetizing to people.

    What are these dyes made of?

    — Kristin
    Via the blog

    For the most part, farmed salmon are simply fed synthetic versions of two pigments of the carotenoid family — astaxanthin and canthaxanthin.

    Wild salmon take in the naturally occuring versions of these carotenoids by virtue of their aquatic diet.

    Farmed salmon — subsisting mainly on grains and corn — need these dyes added to their feed so they can have a pleasing rosy color.

    This is mostly done for aesthetic purposes.

    Would you be interested in taking home a filet of salmon that was completely gray? No, you wouldn’t. And salmon farming companies know this very well.

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