Wednesday, 27 April 2011

B’org Breakfast Cereal

My mother always said that boxed cereals tasted like cardboard to her. Maybe it was because she was from Michigan and knew what they were up to in the laboratory at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. But I think it was a pretty common perception for those who grew up on real food before the proliferation of boxed cereals on the market to instinctively know that boxed cereals did not have much going for them.

So what was going on in the laboratory at Ann Arbor? In the 1960s, an experiment with rats, corn flakes and the box they come in was conducted. Although it is unfortunate that the results were never peer reviewed or published, the findings supported my mother's observation with the conclusion that boxed cereals are worse for health than cardboard! I would wonder why this was not followed up except for the fact that the makers of boxed cereals are all part of the B’org Food Chain.

At any rate, if you haven't already seen it, I would like to refer you to an interesting article called Something You've Never Been Told About Breakfast Cereals which includes details about the Ann Arbor experiment and another one. In particular, I noted that each little flake or shape of cereal product is sprayed with a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal and give it crunch (even shredded wheat). Although the rest of how boxed cereal is made is important, the finishing touches are in themselves dangerous for health, especially for people with health concerns to begin with, and these are many nowadays. The evils of sugar are notorious. However, the coating of oil may be another stroke against your health.

I found further evidence online for how boxed cereal is made here at pages 671 - 674.  The process involves heating the coating mixture up (in this reference to 325°F and the cereal dough itself from 300°F to 350°F).  If the oils used are hydrogenated or trans fats are present, as explained by Dr Campbell-McBride in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome (2010 version), this can be dangerous to health:

“To make vegetable oils solid and to increase their shelf life they are hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is a process of adding hydrogen molecules to the chemical structure of oils under high pressure at a high temperature (120-210°C or 248-410°F) in the presence of nickel, aluminium and sometimes other toxic metals. Remnants of these metals stay in the hydrogenated oils. Nickel and aluminium are both toxic metals, adding to the general toxic load which the body has to work hard to get rid of. Toxic metals have been linked to many degenerative conditions, including learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia” (p 256).

Trans fats are a side effect of hydrogenation which most people know have been implicated in such diseases as atherosclerosis, cancer, neurological and psychiatric conditions. Made from unsaturated fatty acids, the chemical structure is changed through processing at high temperatures to one that basically disables cells in the body.

As I have briefly shown, boxed cereals are highly processed and not good for you.  But, boxed cereals have developed into a major problem today (for our health, not for the food industry). All one has to do is walk into any supermarket and see the many shelves stuffed with a vast array of boxed cereal products to see how popular they are. Also, companies that make these products, such as NestlĂ©, are thriving even with the news of high raw material prices (see, for example, the Financial Times article on 15 April 2011 called NestlĂ© overcomes high raw materials prices). I think a Star Trek horror episode could be created out of this story! Unfortunately, a real life horror story is enfolding right before our eyes.

Watch out for General Mills' Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry, and the discontinued Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy (there may be a few lurking around somewhere even though discontinued)!!

I popped into my local Tesco on 27 April 2011 on the way to the library and took these photos.  The first one was at the end of the cereal aisle where shoppers were being enticed to ruin their health for half price.  All the usual really.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Baby B'org Food

As I was writing about What is Food?, a few more seemingly innocuous questions arose. First of all, What is the best food for a baby? But also, What is a baby? In other words, How old is a child when he or she is no longer a baby? Assuming that the best food for a baby is mother’s milk, then how and when should the baby be weaned? I think these are all interesting questions and was surprised to find a BBC presentation with discussion of them soon after I started this article. I recommend it here: Is Breast Best Cherry Healey Invetigates.

Nestle and others now make it clear on their websites that breastfeeding is the best option for newborns (at least in the UK and US), which is clearly supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO). But, it’s been a battle to get to this point because in the 1970s, 75% of American women were bottle feeding their newborn infants. Now the statistics have fallen quite a bit to around 25% partly because of the Nestle boycott. However, this appears to be for babies that are newborn up to the age of six months only. And in reality, when many mothers have to go back to work after three months, many start bottle feeding with baby formula not long after that.

Although some cultures breastfeed up to the age of three or four, up to the age of one or two is pretty much acceptable in western cultures. However, what with the taboo of breast feeding in public and mothers having to go back to work, this is rarely the case. Of course, mother’s can express their milk and put it in a bottle, but because of time and convenience, as with meals for the parents and older children in the family, prepared alternatives are often preferred. So I think a little discussion about these alternatives is called for because they are mostly provided for by big corporations.

Since there is an obesity pandemic, my first concern is with the amount of sugar in the mother’s milk substitutes. It has been said that "British children are the gluttons of Europe (link is to a video): From an early age UK youngsters become accustomed to an industrialised, processed, packaged diet, consuming half a kilo of sugary foods a day by age seven, says Felicity Lawrence, author of Eat Your Heart Out" (and Not On the Label).

To be honest, I have difficulty in understanding why anyone would chose to buy formulas with ingredients such as those listed below.

Ingredients of Similac Advance baby formula with iron:

D Nonfat Milk, Lactose, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Soy Oil, Coconut Oil, Whey Protein Concentrate, Less than 2% of: C. Cohnii Oil, M. Alpina Oil, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Potassium Chloride, Choline Bitartrate, Magnesium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Ferrous Sulfate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Taurine, M-Inositol, Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, L-Carnitine, Mixed Tocopherols, Sodium Chloride, Zinc Sulfate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Cupric Sulfate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Beta-Carotene, Folic Acid, Manganese Sulfate, Phylloquinone, Biotin, Sodium Selenate, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin and Nucleotides (Adenosine5 -Monophosphate, Cytidine 5-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine 5-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine 5-Monophosphate).

I won’t go into a long discussion about what the ingredients actually are. However, even the milk I'd question because who knows where it came from or how it was processed. But I will comment on the second ingredient, lactose, which is sugar from milk. Not only is there lactose in the first ingredient, non-fat milk (2-8%), but more is added, enough to make it the second most prevalent ingredient. It is hard to understand how this chemical ridden sweetened re-formulated milk has been approved as a substitute for mother’s milk. Although this is in the US, there are plenty of other similar products available around the world.

I found some misleading Baby Care Advice online which claimed that infant formula contains a similar amount of lactose to human breast milk. Human breast milk contains around 7% lactose, but on average, infant formulas contain much more or substitute the lactose with other sweeteners.

For babies with fussiness or gas Enfamil Gentlease LIPIL - Infant Formula, Powder Enfamil Gentlease Lipil is recommended by Mead Johnson with a whole slew of claims about why this formula is superior over others. Then I looked at the ingredients list and the primary ingredient is corn syrup solids! No matter what else is in the product, it cannot compensate for the fact that the primary ingredient is basically sugar.  This is a con.

Other Baby Formulas fare no better in composition, including Nestle Good Start Supreme DHA/ARA and Bright Beginnings with DHA/ARA.

Another issue is that baby formulas often come in powders which need to be re-constituted with water. If tap water is used in a fluoridated area, the issues associated with fluoride surface. Fluoride is a known neuro-toxin. Babies that do not have any teeth are certainly not deriving any benefit from the fluoride. As a by the way, in case you live in Peterborough like me, you may have an unacceptable level of pesticide in your drinking water called Metaldehyde which is not due to be resolved until 2015. 

As if on cue, the Chinese are coming to the rescue of those mothers who either can’t or won’t breastfeed their babies but agree that formulas are not a good solution. How about genetically modified cows producing ‘human’ milk instead? All I will say is that we managed for millennia without baby formulas and genetically modified products, and if we were smart, we would return to managing without them.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Book Review - Not on the Label

Not on the Label, What Really Goes Into the Food on Your Plate (2004) by Felicity Lawrence, London: Penguin Books

This is an interesting and highly recommended book for just about everyone. Felicity Lawrence has an enjoyable journalistic style which makes it fun to read and hard to put down. Well researched, she presents the topic in an original and comprehensive manner.

As Lawrence explains, one big issue with our food today is the chemicals that are in them, either intentionally or as residues from production or environmental pollution. She mentions work carried out by Dr Vyvyan Howard, a leading taxicopatholigist, and others in this area. I was shocked to learn that most of us in industrialised countries have between 300 and 500 chemicals in our bodies that are likely to be endocrine disrupting substances and these are often transferred from pregnant women to developing foetuses where the most damage is likely to occur.

Another issue Lawrence tackles is our dependence on oil for packaging and transportation of our food. An interesting statistic she sites is that the food industry is the UK’s third largest industrial energy user (Transport 2000) and it contributes to 12 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions (see page 93).

She refers to an article in the New York Times magazine in 2002 called “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?” which leads into her discussion about fats and carbohydrates in the diet, shedding further light on the ongoing debate about the cause of obesity and related diseases. Pointing out that the supermarkets are at the forefront of the race to the bottom in the quality of food, she expands on the white bread phenomena. As she explains, the market has been distorted in favour of the cheapest and unhealthiest products (p 121).

Corn is widely used in ready meals in one form or another and Lawrence covers this with a note of witticism. She is right when she says that modified starch is altered on the molecular level and is banned in organic production. I know this because I wrote in 2009 to the Soil Association about it being in Duchy Originals organic lemon posset and was told that it was an error on the label because the posset actually contained maize starch/corn flour. This is something Lawrence did not cover, in fact, that labels may not be correct!! However, she does allude to the overwhelming sensation that we will never keep up with technology in the food industry!

Corn, sugar, soya, palm and rapeseed are attributed to being the most heavily subsidized crops in the world (p 198). This goes a long way in explaining why processed foods have developed to what they were in 2004 when this book was published and the trend has not changed in the last seven years. Another favoured ingredient of course is salt used along with 4,500 different flavouring compounds to provide flavour (p 200).

All kinds of other aspects of what goes into providing food for us are explored such as seasonal worker conditions, supermarket domination, various food scams and food scares. Everything you need to know about your food that’s not put on the label! (That is, if you're still shopping in supermarkets and eating 'fast foods' despite my previous articles here on my blog!)