We Have Ways of Making You Like It
Most processed foods are either bland or bitter without seasonings. That’s why they are likely to contain heaps of salt, sugar or MSG. With consumers ever more health conscious, the food industry is looking for ways to make their foods more palatable without all the additives. Food technologists at the Linguagen Corporation have received a patent for the first molecular compound that will block bitter tastes in foods, beverages and pharmaceuticals. The compound, named adenosine-5′-monophosphate, or AMP, occurs naturally in certain foods, including human breast milk. According to company spokesmen, AMP added to coffee and canned citrus fruit blocks some of the acidic tastes from being absorbed by the tongue. Coca-cola, Kraft Foods and a soyfood company called Solae have shown interest in flavor and taste technology. Cola drinks require large amounts of sweeteners to mask the bitter taste; bitter tastes develop during the process of canning and processing; and processed soy foods taste terrible without a lot of flavoring. The technology faces many hurdles, however. The tongue has more than 30 bitter-taste receptors so finding a universal blocker is impossible. But the biggest hurdle will be consumer acceptance– “convincing customers that the products taste the same once the sugar and salt contents have been reduced and replaced with a blocker,” as one spokesman put it. And the industry may have trouble convincing the public that the bitter taste bud, which helps warn us away from foods we shouldn’t eat in large quantities, is something we should suppress (New York Times, 8/26/03).
Meanwhile, Back at the Soy Factory…
Until technologists figure out a way to totally deaden our taste buds, food processors must fall back on the old standbys. For soy milk, this is sugar. According to a press release from the Center for Food Reformulation at Tiax, a Cambridge, Massachusetts technology-development company, “a recent study. . . shows that while consumer interest in soymilk products continues to rise, manufacturers are still struggling to formulate a balanced, good tasting product. In many cases, companies have opted to dilute the health benefits derived from soy-based products by increasing the amount of sugar in their soymilks in an effort to ensure flavor acceptance.” The study, completed in 2001, compared 64 soymilks on the market and found that the level of sugar varies from 4 grams to 16 grams (just over a tablespoon) per eight-ounce serving. “This study demonstrates the challenges that food manufacturers face in making products that are both healthy and appealing to consumers,” said Jack Keniley of Tiax’s Food, Health and Nutrition group, who coordinated the study. “Many consumers are educated about the benefits of soy and the importance of it as an addition to their diet–but they often don’t like the way it tastes. The increase of sugar is a clear indication that food manufacturers recognize they must find ways to meet consumer flavor expectations.” The study concluded that soymilk manufacturers “needed to make considerable improvements in taste, texture and consistency in order to ensure repeat purchase of their products by consumers.” In other words, consumers will buy soymilk once because advertising hype tells them it is good for them, but most don’t buy again because they don’t like the strong, beany taste of the soybean (www.tiax.biz).
And If It Tastes Good, You Musn’t Eat It!
A new reason for not eating delicious, satisfying foods like cheese, meat and chocolate, says soy-promoting Neal Barnard, MD of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, is that these foods create opiates in the brain and make you feel good. “There’s a reason why people call these things ‘comfort foods,'” says Barnard. “They’re getting an opiate when they eat them.” New research indicates that many traditional high-fat foods stimulate the production of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with intense good feelings. Naturally, the food puritans are not pleased. Surely Mother Nature did not design food for us to enjoy! Someone must be punished for foisting comfort foods on the public and since we can’t sue Mother Nature, Barnard suggests we sue the fast food chains who have gotten the public “suckered into high-fat meals–like cheeseburgers and shakes. . .” (Washington Times 6/15/03). The food chains need to be sued, all right, not for the natural foods they serve, but for using imitation foods, particularly partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which doesn’t tickle our pleasure centers in quite the same way and makes us eat and eat and eat in a desperate attempt to get into the comfort zone.
The Fear Factor
When the guilt trip doesn’t work, the food industry turns to the other potent weapon in their arsenal: Fear. A good example can be found in the recent headline, “Women Who Eat High-Fat Foods Could Be Doubling Their Risk of Breast Cancer, Scientists Say.” This and similar pronouncements heralded a new study published in International Journal of Cancer: “Eating high-fat red meats and dairy products such as cream [one of those comfort-zone foods] may increase the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women,” says nutrition researcher Eunyoung Cho of the new study. “I would not recommend that [Atkins] diet for premenopausal women unless they replace red meat with poultry and fish.. . . Breast cancer risk increases 58 percent by eating animal fat.” What the study really showed was that if your diet contains 14 percent of calories as animal fat, your chances of getting breast cancer are 0.68 percent; if your diet contains 18-21 percent of calories as animal fat, your chances of getting breast cancer are 0.88 percent; and if your diet contains more than 21 percent animal fat, your chances of getting breast cancer actually go down to 0.73 percent. Spokesmen for the study used every trick in the book to make these trivial results seem scary. In addition to the incredible hype over minor differences, they divided the subjects into unequal quintiles (the highest quintile of 21-46 percent had the greatest range); determined fat percentages by dietary recall that was surveyed only two times during the study; neglected to mention that there were twice as many smokers in the group with highest animal-fat consumption compared to lowest; and failed to report on many studies showing that animal fats have no effect on breast cancer rates (Int J Cancer 2003 Mar;104(2):221-7).
A new TV ad in Canada advises viewers to “Ask your doctor about the Heart Protection Study from Oxford University.” This was a large study that showed a small but statistically significant relationship between treatment with statin drugs and lowered rates of heart disease–as one commentator put it, take a massive group and follow them long enough and something statistically significant will come out. But what the ad doesn’t tell you is that there are two recent studies, both of large groups, where treatment with expensive statin drugs made no difference in outcome. In the ALLHAT study, deaths in the second largest cholesterol-lowering trial ever were equal in both the treatment and control groups. In the ASCOT study, just published in The Lancet, those taking Lipitor fared only slightly better than those taking a dummy pill. Neither study made mention of the side effects experienced by those on cholesterol-lowering drugs, including neuropathy, muscle wasting leading to crippling back pain, heart failure, liver failure, cancer, weakness, fatigue, depression and memory loss. Instead, the industry is claiming that statin drugs can help patients have less anxiety, less depression and less hostility! (The Record 8/11/2003). Now throw in “the promise” that statins will protect against Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis (Newsweek 8/14/03) and you’ve come up with a scheme aimed at putting the entire population on expensive drugs that have subtle but serious side effects. Fortunately, not all of the people are fooled all of the time and statin sales have not lived up to expectations. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal carried the title: “The Statin Dilemma: How Sluggish Sales Hurt Merck” (8/25/03).
We’ve heard fantastic claims about various nostrums, but the hype surrounding a new remedy called the “polypill” takes the cake. Proposed not by crackpots but by two distinguished scientists, Nicholas Wald, Professor and Head of Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, and Malcolm Law, a Professor at the University of London and University of Auckland in New Zealand, and promoted by none other than the prestigious British Medical Journal (and also hyped in the tabloids), the polypill will contain six different ingredients: a statin to lower LDL cholesterol, three (yes three) blood pressure drugs (a beta blocker, a diuretic and an ACE inhibitor), aspirin to reduce clotting tendencies and folic acid thrown in to prevent high homocysteine levels. Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, introduced the polypill by stating that this was possibly the most important issue of the journal in the last 50 years. He urged readers to save their copy since it would likely become a collector’s item because of the Wald and Law contributions. Wald and Law claim that the polypill will have “a greater impact on the prevention of disease in the Western world than any other known intervention.” There have been absolutely no studies on the proposed panacea but the inventors insist that they can prevent almost nine out of ten heart attacks and four out of five strokes in anyone with cardiovascular disease and everyone age 55 or older. Claims for the efficacy and safety of the polypill are based solely on meta-analyses and statistical analyses of clinical trials. This magic bullet will have very few side effects, say the promoters, because lower-than-normal dosages will be used. For those who believe all this, we have a bridge for you.
Pass the Saturated Fat
The Aetna InteliHealth website (featuring Harvard Medical School’s Consumer Health Information and ads for Revival soy products) continues to lambast “cholesterol-rich foods” such as fatty meats, butter and full-fat cheeses. “All vegetable oils are a healthier alternative to butter and lard,” they say, “because they can be rich in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats–both of which can modestly lower cholesterol.” We’d like to remind the folks at Harvard and Aetna about a study published in the British Medical Journal almost 40 years ago. Patients who had already had one heart attack were assigned to one of three groups and given polyunsaturated corn oil, monounsaturated olive oil and saturated animal fats respectively. The endpoints were further heart attack or death. Blood cholesterol levels were lowered by an average of 30 percent in the corn oil group while there was no change in the other two groups. However, at the end of the two-year trial only 52 percent of the corn oil group were still alive and free of a fresh heart attack. Those on the monounsaturated olive oil fared little better: 57 percent survived and had no further heart attack. But those eating saturated animal fats fared the best with 75 percent surviving and without further attack (BMJ 1965;1:1531-33). The recent crescendo of anti-saturated-fat/pro-statin polemic does not come from convincing new evidence, we think, but from a sense of desperation. The public just isn’t buying the propaganda anymore. Even a small percentage of American consumers returning to real foods like butter and cheese is enough to send the whole agricultural/pharmaceutical/food processing complex, built on the vegetable oil/lowfat dairy paradigm, into a tailspin.
While the Diet Dictocrats continue to demonize cholesterol and saturated fat, reports trickle in about the importance of cholesterol and animal fats for the proper development and overall health of our children. A recent study by Dutch scientists found that daily consumption of whole milk and butter was linked with significantly reduced rates of asthma and wheezing. (Thorax, Jul 2003;58(7):567-72). Another study found that a high-fat diet protects brain cells in children who have seizures (a condition that affects one in every 25 children and 1 percent of adults). The high-fat diet is linked to improved energy utilization by mitochondria in the developing brain (UPI Science News 3/1/2003). Another study found that children whose mothers took cod liver oil during pregnancy and lactation scored higher on intelligence tests (Pediatrics Jan 2003;111(1):e39-44). And, finally, an unpublished report on holoprosencephaly, a birth defect associated with cognitive impairment and facial deformity, found that the condition occurs in infants whose mothers have low levels of cholesterol. Regarding these findings, Judith Hal, Professor of pediatrics and medical genetics at the Children and Women’s Health Center of British Columbia in Vancouver stated: “One of the concerns beginning to emerge is that our fad for low-cholesterol may be good for heart disease that affects adults later in life, but may be bad for the embryo and the fetus” (BioMednet News and Features 8/7/03). We’d express this more strongly: The fad for lowfat, low-cholesterol diets is bad enough for adults, but for children it has been an absolute disaster.
Bound To Lose
An alert member has sent us a list of suggested “pre-competition meals,” put together by Dr. Rachel Brown, a nutritional scientist and lecturer at the University of Otago who is “involved with improving the nutritional status of a variety of top New Zealand athletes.” Suggestions include: white toast with margarine, honey and banana; muffins or crumpets with jam and margarine; creamed rice and tinned fruit in syrup; pancakes with yogurt and tinned fruit in syrup; pancakes, sugar or maple syrup and tinned fruit; spaghetti or white toast, with margarine; and low-fibre cereal, e.g. rice bubbles with milk and tinned fruit. For those who tend to be nervous before an event she suggests a liquid meal replacement! Did this lady get a grant from the tinned fruit people? With her kind of advice, the athletes she works with are bound to lose.
We noted the following suggestion in the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension newsletter for May, 2003 (paid for with your tax dollars): “Watch for Grasshoppers!! If you treat for grasshopper control, treat early! It is more effective and more cost efficient. For range and pasture consider treating if the hoppers are under 1/3 inch. . . malathion, sevin and dimilin are the only choices. These chemicals only work on small grasshoppers. For crops, including alfalfa, our choices are greater. Lorsban and Warrior worked well last year. Early treatment is still better.” The Chinese have a better idea. They are enlisting armies of ducks to prevent a plague of locusts engulfing swaths of cropland. Four thousand hungry ducks will be unleashed in fields to munch their way through as many of the insects as they can. “Ducks are the best way to get rid of locusts because they have such a big appetite,” said a spokesman from a locust station in Manasi. “After two or three months, they typically weigh around two kilos and can be sold to markets and roast duck restaurants” (Reuters 6/11/2002). Pastured chickens are also a great way to keep grasshoppers at bay.
Brushing in the Bush
For millennia, the Xavante tribe in Brazil lived on tapirs, deer, fish, fruits and edible roots. Although hard chewing often eroded their teeth, cavities were rare. With the advent of the white man offering gifts of tobacco, refined sugar and processed foods in exchange for mining privileges and other moneymaking activities, tooth decay appeared, causing disfigurement and suffering. The tribe recognizes that modern foods are the source of the problem: “We tried the white man’s food and we liked it. Now we have toothaches,” declares Chief Serebura. But the white man lacks Chief Serebura’s insight. Their solution: a “public service” project sponsored by Colgate to teach the Xavante how to brush their teeth! The multinational company is working with Brazilian dentist Rui Arantes who, in addition to distributing toothpaste and toothbrushes, performs a valuable service for the villagers pulling teeth and filling cavities. But Dr. Arantes puts his faith in oral hygiene “to preserve the teeth of future generations” (Wall Street Journal 8/23/2003).