Deceptions in the Food Industry:”All Natural”

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In the first post in this series, Deceptions in the Food Industry: Low-Fat Foods, I talked about the pervasiveness of processed, low-fat foods in our food supply, misconceptions about how low-fat foods are healthy, and the dishonesty of labeling about these foods.

Today I’ll discuss the “all natural” label on processed, packaged foods and how it can harm your health. As with most things from the food industry, information on the labels or web sites is filled with half-truths, misleading statements, outright lies, or information is left out altogether.

You might see “all natural” on a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream carton or even a package of 10-year-old chips or crisps. This terminology is not regulated by the FDA. Never mind that you can’t pronounce the ingredients and don’t really know what they are. A great deal of non-certified organic foods on the market claiming “natural” on their product labels are those performing the most unnatural activities to create them.

Here are just a few examples of how unnatural “all natural” really is:

Wendy’s french fries

When Wendy’s fast-food chain announced their new “natural cut fries with sea salt”, suddenly everyone started buying them. This doesn’t say anything about product ingredients. The potatoes used by Wendy’s most other fast-food chains  to make fries undergo at least three unnatural treatments. One is spraying with a chemical called sodium acid pyrophosphate. This keeps the potatoes from turning brown during not one, but two deep-frying sessions – once in the factory, and then again at the restaurant.

Then, dextrose, a corn-derived (think GMO) coating of sugar is used on the fries to help retain color. Finally, to stabilize the frying oil, dimethylpolysiloxane is added. This is a silicone-based chemical food additive which prevents the oil from becoming foamy after  repeated fries.

Agave nectar

With strong opposition from sustainable food communities about toxic sweeteners in our food supply like high-fructose corn syrup, agave has hit the store shelves by storm in the last few years, and is heralded as a “natural” sweetener. One of the biggest problems with other sweeteners coming in to take the place of harmful ones like HFCS is that in many cases, the alternatives are just as hazardous as the ones they replace.

Agave nectar is not a traditional sweetener. Its origins come from the large, spiky plant referred to sometimes as Blue Agave in the Mexican region, but like high-fructose corn syrup, the end product is a highly-refined sweetener which is concentrated in…fructose. But wait, isn’t fructose natural and doesn’t it come from fruit? Fructose in fruit doesn’t exist in an isolated form as it does in agave nectar or HFCS.

Research shows that fructose increases blood sugar levels as much as glucose, another substance that has been shown to cause insulin-resistance. Unlike glucose, processing fructose in the cells is not possible. So the liver takes up most of this burden, causing  weight gain and increase in appetite. Metabolism of fructose can also cause increase in triglyceride production, which raises the potential not only for insulin-resistance but also obesity, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease. Since the liver expends so much energy metabolizing fructose, this limits its ability to metabolize excess blood glucose, again leading to an increase of blood sugar levels and the need for insulin.

Here’s what the experts have to say about fructose:

Ramiel Nagel writes: “…a major concern is the high level of free fructose in agave syrups – much higher than honey and maple syrup. Given what we now now about the deleterious effects of fructose compared to sucrose, honey and maple syrup would seem to be better choices than agave for home cooking.”

Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation says the following about fructose: “We need foods that are whole, not skeletonized and denatured. Sugar, especially sucrose and fructose has been shown to shorten life in numerous animal experiments. Excessive use of sugar is associated with a rise in blood cholesterol, rise in triglycerides, increase in adhesiveness of the blood platelets, increase in blood insulin levels, etc. Numerous studies have positively correlated sugar consumption with heart disease. These results are far more positive than any of the studies linking heart disease and saturated fats.”

Dean Foods/Horizon

In 2009, Dean Foods, the nation’s largest organic dairy producer began to produce a line of yogurts labeled “natural”. The intent was to offer products to consumers that were cheaper than organic. The natural line was launched by its organic brand, Horizon. Communication’s manager, Sara Loveday, stated that Horizon had in effect created its own definition of “natural” for its products and that, “To us, it means it’s produced without added hormones, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup. ”

Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit watchdog group for organic standards commented that this was a good start, “But Dean Foods will not be able to [say] the products are produced without pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and other drugs or genetically modified feed crops, or that the cows are required to graze in pastures rather than confined to factory farm feedlots,” he said.

Autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed proteins

You’ll find many indecipherable ingredients on product labels. One is autolyzed yeast extract and the other is hydrolyzed protein (sometimes appearing as “vegetable”, sometimes “soy”). Both of these contain MSG. In fact, there are dozens and dozens of other ingredients in foods that don’t bear the name monosodium glutamate, but which are in fact, MSG all the same.

If you read the research of Dr. Russell Blaylock, M.D. on substances like MSG in processed foods, you’ll find that they are not naturally-occurring as in nature. Sure, they are extracted from plants like seaweed or tomatoes which contain free glutamic acid, but in very concentrated amounts. Then, they are engineered in a laboratory to have an even more potent (and toxic) effect in the food. It’s sole reason for existence is not nutrition, but a chemical taste enhancer.

What products contain autolyzed yeast extract?

  • Meats
  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Cereals
  • Crackers
  • Many foods sold at fast-food and other restaurants
  • Many products made from soy such as fake meats, tofu, veggie burgers, etc.

If you eat whole, natural food like seaweed or tomatoes, that’s not an issue. The problem is when you take MSG out of these foods – like so many food manufacturers – and synthesize MSG to put it into a highly concentrated form. It then behaves as neurotoxin. Dr. Blaylock’s book,  Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills gives a scientifically-based account about the hazards of glutamates in processed foods.

Many “natural” products originate from GMO sources

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), GMOs are “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in such a way that does not occur naturally.” Many products in our food marketplace come from foods created with genetically-modified organisms, and there are currently no labeling laws in the U.S. to alert consumers about genetically-modified substances.

Can you imagine what would happen if there were labels? You’d walk into a store, and the majority of what’s there would bear these labels. Would you willingly buy these products? Some people might, but many would avoid them. In fact, unless a product has the Non-GMO label, the chance of genetically-modified organisms being in that product is very high.

From the Institute for Responsible Technology,  a world leader in educating policy makers and the public about genetically modified (GM) foods and crops, commercialized GM crops in the United States include:

  • Soy, 91%
  • Cotton, 88%
  • Canola, 88%
  • Corn, 85%
  • Sugar beets, 90%
  • Hawaiian papaya, more than 50%
  • Zucchini and yellow squash (small amount) and Tobacco (Quest® brand)

According to the Institute for Responsible Technology, the following health issues can arise as a result of consuming GMO foods:

  • Infertility
  • Immune system problems
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Accelerated aging
  • Faulty insulin regulation
  • Development of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract
  • Changes in other major organs

Does this mean you have to spend hours in the grocery store reading labels to avoid these products? The best solution for your health and your wallet is to take an interest in making foods from scratch at home, and throw out all your boxes of boullion, cans of soup stock, and other packages of pre-made foods. Avoid processed foods altogether and buy real, whole foods that are sustainably produced from local farmers you trust.

For more information on harmful additives in processed foods:

MSG Truth

Six Thousand Hidden Dangers of Processed Food (And What to Choose Instead) Body Ecology

More information on real, sustainable food:

What Are Traditional Foods?

Sustainable Farming – Is It Practical and Can It Feed Us All?

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series  where I will talk about the misconceptions of “lean meats”

10 Comments

  • June 28, 2011 - 11:47 AM | Permalink

    Great post! The more you know about standard food items on the grocery store shelves (and in restaurants), the more you want to avoid most of them. I sure hope my garden comes to life soon and the weather cooperates in time to get a decent harvest. We’ll be picking local strawberries soon (one spray, during blossom time, no other chemicals – I asked).

  • June 28, 2011 - 2:05 PM | Permalink

    I’ve sent this article to my mom. She is SO confused about the “all natural” thing and I don’t blame her. She trusts ‘natural’ more than ‘organic’, even with the organic seal! Aargh!!

    • June 28, 2011 - 4:40 PM | Permalink

      Peggy – I am glad you are able to pass this along to your mom, and I hope she considers the hazards of eating processed foods. It is confusing if you try to follow food labels, which are mostly designed to sell products to consumers and have no regard for health, people, or the environment. That’s why buying real, local foods from sustainable producers is the best way to avoid all this mess and stay as healthy as possible.

  • June 28, 2011 - 4:38 PM | Permalink

    Laurie – thanks for your comments! Yes, being educated about the dangers of processed foods is so important. It’s even more dangerous than it was when we were kids, and back then, processed foods were probably safer (if that’s possible). It’s always good to ask as many questions as possible about what’s being purchased, and with farmers you can do that and usually be assured a truthful answer. The same cannot be said about the commodity-based food industry. Never before in history have so few food companies had so much wealth and controlled so much of the food industry. Anyone who says those people deserve all the money they get because they work hard for it obviously doesn’t understand the repeated breach of ethics, laws, and morals going on in that industry.

  • Pavil, the Uber Noob
    June 29, 2011 - 6:22 AM | Permalink

    I think we are trying to solve the wrong problem. Real Food cannot be mass produced. Almost every processed food is a knockoff of its original version. Nobody should be eating knockoff foods – regardless of the integrity of the labeling. Convenience is a poor substitute for dignity and health. There are only a very small selection of processed foods that are genuine – only some of which can be found at the local grocery store. The rest is garbage, that if consumed, will eventually require medical attention (to Western governments that is good for the economy). Sources for packaged Real Foods can be found on any one of these Real Food blogs.

    Government health agencies, their corporate sugar daddies, and the grocery and pharmacy stores are not our friends. Traditional societies didn’t have either of these and they were the better for it. For the most part they were locavores and traded for the few items that they may have lacked, such as fish eggs. They held sustainable farming and its fruits, and the wisdom to know how to cooperate with Nature in high esteem.

    If we want the best out of life, we need to start in the kitchen and learn the ancient wisdom of culturing our own beverages and foods. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to join a local food club to acquire local foods. If we have trustworthy sources, we really don’t need exhaustive content labeling.

    We need to learn to farm bacteria in our kitchens. The fermentation of beverages is something that happens around the clock and it requires very little attention – just let Nature do the work. Nature is a wonderful and generous gift from our Creator.

    Ciao, Pavil

    • June 29, 2011 - 12:05 PM | Permalink

      Pavil – I agree that real food cannot be mass produced, and that is precisely why I mention that supporting local farmers at the end of this post is the only viable answer. I do think that in some instances, healthier options can be made available than the complete and utter crap that’s available. Thanks for your comments, keep up the good work!

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