Americans Have No Choice; A Diet of Fats, Salts, Sugars

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

‘Tis the season to be jolly.  From Thanksgiving Day to the dawn of the New Year, Americans are encouraged to eat.  He, she, you, and I are expected to fritter our fears away.  We will worry not of weight gain, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, strokes, or diabetes.  Citizens in celebration will gorge on and gulp down millions of morsels.  Americans will eat, drink, and be merry with reckless abandon.  There are some expressed concerns for food safety, especially after a year of scares; however, for the most part we will dine with delight.  

Then, come the First of January we will do as we did last year and the year before, we work to munch more wisely.  Most of us will make a conscious effort to decrease the fats, salts, and sugars in our daily diet.  Individuals throughout the country will convince themselves it is only a matter of self-control.  We can eat well if we decide to.  Citizens in the USA believe what they ingest, how, and when is a choice.  In the land of the free, and home of the brave, we boldly do, as we desire.  Here, in America, there are food choices galore, or so we are led to believe.

However, since the late twentieth century Americans have actually had a very limited selection.  They, we, are not free to dine as we might.  Our menu is extremely restricted.  We can chew on Acidulants, enriched Baking Aids and Mixes, luscious Cocoa and Chocolate, chemical Emulsifiers, Texturants, and Stabilizers, refined Flours, “organic” Nutrition Ingredients, [meager when available], processed Oils and Fats, palatable Protein Products, and “naturally” Sweeteners.  If we wish to ingest more wisely, we can; that is, if we are up to the challenge.  In the States, the Recommended Daily Allowance is wrought with ruse.  

The public professes they want no government in their lives, or more importantly, on our dinner plates.  Yet, Americans accept that administrative authorities must regulate to ensure that what we eat is truly safe.  Federal Officials are necessary and tolerated in moderation.  Indeed, Americans actually appreciate the Food and Drug Administration.

According to a survey of 30 federal agencies being released today, consumers asked about the FDA’s performance believe that food labeling is useful, clear and understandable, that consumer alerts of food safety issues are useful, and that customers trust FDA to ensure food safety in the future . . .

The survey asked about the usefulness and clarity of food labeling; customer awareness and the effectiveness of inspecting, testing, and labeling efforts; and the usefulness of consumer alerts; meats and poultry are regulated by USDA.

In addition to consumers’ positive views of the food label and FDA’s ability to ensure that food is safe, the survey also indicated that the FDA should increase public awareness of actions to ensure food safety and focus on awareness efforts during consumer alerts.

Despite the claims of contentment, for the most part Americans resent government influence in their daily lives.  Americans are independent minded mavericks.  Granted, we are grateful for the small favors the Food and Drug Administration affords us; however, we want no more assistance than we deem suitable.  Citizens in this country are selectively scrupulous.

Americans prize and advocate a free enterprise system.  We want the freedom to decide for ourselves what is best.  Where food is concerned, citizens of this civilized nation want to preserve their right to choose.  We welcome the rise of an innovative industrialist who might introduce an ingredient into the mix.  A crunchier cookie, a sweeter soda, tastier tenderloins, a savory sauce, and a flavorful fondue, all are appreciated in abundance.

Cakes, cookies, crackers, pies, bread, potato chips, corn chips, popcorn, salad dressing, breakfast cereal, margarine, and animal products all taste good to the average American..  Regardless of the warnings, that each of these manufactured or mechanically prepared foods contain trans-fatty acids, are high in sodium, and are filled with high fructose corn syrup, those in the Western World continue to consume these tidbits with fervor.

Intellectually, we may know trans-fatty acids, salts, and sugars are hazardous to our health.  We sacrifice some.  Nonetheless, we do so slightly or on occasion.  Mostly we gorge, gulp, guzzle and stuff our gullet with these gems and then die.  

Clogged arteries might cause our demise.  A heart attack could end our life.  Obesity may do us in.  Still we say, we rather eat fats and be happy.

Scientific evidence shows that consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” levels, which increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).  According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, more than 12.5 million Americans have CHD, and more than 500,000 die each year.  That makes CHD one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

People say they might as well enjoy now.  After all, we will all pass eventually.  An additional year or two will not make a difference.  The quality of our life is what matters.  Besides, any true danger is moderated by the system.  

In this agri-industrialist nation, we trust that if a corporation wishes to make a profit, they must  and will keep the consumer in mind.  That construct alone will guarantee quality.  When it does not, then, the government will step in to preserve safety . . . well sort of.

Years ago, Josh joyfully ingested his early morning Egg McMuffin ™ in a Fifth Avenue McDonalds.  As he ate, he read the news.  An article in The New York Times, screamed for his attention.  Hold That Fat, New York Asks Its Restaurants.  He thought of how much he loves his partially hydrogenated oil filled foods.  Joshua would not wish to be deprived of the greasy flavors that warm his belly.  The young gent contemplated what might this announcement mean to him.  Then, Joshua concluded, he need not worry.  At least Gotham City officials give restaurateurs a choice.  Proprietors will cater to what the their customers crave; thus, the world will continue to turn as it has.

Months later, a content Joshua sat in his overstuffed chair and snacked on a bag of Doritios®.  He could not imagine a life more complete.  Suddenly, that tranquil sense of calm disappeared.  A radio announcer declared our democratic right to choose would be constrained.  The broadcaster bellowed,  New York City Plans Limits on Restaurants’ Use of Trans Fats.  The earlier “request” had done nothing to reduce usage of the hazardous oils.

The Board of Health vote comes a year after it conducted an unsuccessful campaign to persuade restaurants to eliminate trans fats from their recipes voluntarily.  It said yesterday that despite mass mailings about the hazards of trans fats and training programs for 7,800 restaurant operators, about half the city’s restaurants continued to serve trans fats, about the same as before the campaign.

Trans fats, derived from partially hydrogenated oils, became popular in the 1950’s as an alternative to the saturated fats in butter.  They allow fast-food restaurants to use frying oil for longer periods and make crunchier cookies and flakier piecrust.  They also have a longer shelf life than butter, olive oil, corn oil or other alternatives.

Joshua became extremely concerned.  He exclaimed aloud, “What is this a Police State?”  Eatery entrepreneurs have a right to serve what they believe is best.  Customers can digest what they think delicious, or at least they could in some municipalities.  In time, concern for the health of a crowded community increased.  Last year, during the holiday season, a peaceful Josh took in the decorations in his favorite restaurant.  He dined with delight.  After he ate, Joshua released his belt buckle.  A friend seated across from a full and sleepy Josh inquired, had he heard, New York Bans Most Trans Fats in Restaurants.

The usually quiet chap was aghast.  Now officials in this cosmopolitan metropolis had gone too far.  How and why would a municipality choose to restrict what the people consume?  Josh began to ponder how all this change might affect him personally.  He thought of the mashed potatoes and gravy, he consumed only moments ago.  Would he be deprived of such tasty fare in the future?  

Certainly, the potatoes would not taste as sumptuous if they were prepared differently.  Joshua reveled in the delicacy just as he had been for decades.  The recipe as is, is wonderful, this fit fellow thought.  Joshua belched.  Then he pondered; the dozen or so doughy delights he digested moments earlier.  These goodies would never be the same.  Joshua dreamt of the cookies, cakes, and creams he just ordered for desert.  The word “Ridiculous!” rolled trippingly off his tongue,

“No one has the right to tell me what I can consume.  It is my life, my body, and I will take care of it as I see fit.”  In a huff he continued,  “I eat a little bit of everything; it is called a well-balanced diet.”  “No matter what we gulp down or scarf up, it all turns into sugar once in our blood stream.”  “All food is natural.”  This news is preposterous.”  “Who has the authority to tell us what to eat or drink?”  The government is already too involved in our lives.  “Let them eat what they like and I will munch on what brings me pleasure.”  Does the Constitution not grant us  liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  “I want to be left alone, to be free to be me.”

Joshua grappled with what seemed inevitable change in his diet.  He wondered, “What is all the fuss about trans-fatty acids?  Are there not more important issues of concern?”  Almost immediately, he received an answer.  Another blow brought Joshua to his knees.  A condiment that he was certain could cause no harm was listed as injurious to his health.

It was not an e coli spinach scare that altered his awareness.  Salt shocked his sensibilities.  What could be more safe than salt?  For goodness sake, this savory substance sits on his dinner table.

A hulk of a man, Josh knew, to spill salt is an ominous sign.  He understood, since the beginning of time, people believed if they were to waste the commodity considered as valuable as gold, certain misfortune would follow them into the future.  Still, this gent never thought there was anything to fear from the sodium substance.  Such mythical legends have lived long.  As Joshua mulled over the latest revelation, he laughed, he acted as though he believed if he were to carry salt, or throw the small white crystals over his shoulder, he would be assured the best of luck.

A jovial Josh has long assumed the want of good will was the reason we poured the crystalline element on every entrée.  Good flavor or good fortune; both together might be wondrous.  This healthy man was aware the traditional use of this prized substance is in question.  However, he never imagined, the Food and Drug Administration would contemplate a serious and severe crackdown on the zesty zinger of a spice.  Yet, as Joshua perused the paper and listened to radio and television reports he learned . . .

Putting the Pinch on Salt, Medical Groups at Odds Over Proper Solution to Sodium Problems

By Carla Williams?

ABC News Medical Unit

Nov. 29, 2007

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is holding a public hearing today to determine whether to place federal limits on the salt content of processed foods, such as canned soups and breakfast cereals.

The hearing comes at a time when medical experts are becoming increasingly concerned over the amount of salt contained in many foods on grocery store shelves, including products not normally associated with salt.

For example, said Dr. Randall Zusman, associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, a bowl of one popular cereal brand may pack more of a sodium punch than many consumers realize.

“One cup of Cheerios — frequently advertised as heart healthy — has 300 milligrams of salt,” he explained.

“No one eats only one cup, so two to three cups each morning would be nearly 50 percent of your daily allotment.  Yet, the FDA allows Cheerios to be advertised as a healthy alternative.”

But while most agree that the excess salt in the diets of many Americans poses significant health risks, experts in the medical community remain divided over what should actually be done to address the problem.

Some agree with advocacy groups and believe that the FDA should require stricter labeling for manufactured foods.  Such labeling could take the form of warnings placed prominently on the packaging of high-sodium foods.

But others think the focus on salt regulation is misdirected and say that the FDA should address more harmful elements of the American diet and lifestyle, such as obesity.

The American Dietetic Association, for one, has spoken out in favor of stricter product labeling to tackle the problem.

My goodness; Cheerios, a food that Americans such as Josh ate to protect themselves from a coronary crisis may actually place them at risk for a heart attack.  What, and whom, can we trust.  Do we do as we are told or as the specialists do?

Physicians often gobble just as regular folk do.  We have seen stout surgeons, rotund nurses, hefty dieticians, and even a lean doctor dine on junk.  Our spouse may insist we eat healthy; yet, he or she does not.  Acquaintances swig and swallow whatever they wish.  No one seems to suffer serious repercussions at less not while in our range of vision.  Thus, we conclude there is little reason to change.  People are just overly cautious.  Certainly, federal, state, and city officials are wary without cause.

A mild mannered Joshua was familiar with the cautionary tone of doctors.  He heard his wife whisper her concerns.  For years, medical professionals and his Mom expressed their angst when they discussed his fervent application of this sour, yet sharp, condiment.  Josh reduced his use; although admittedly he wondered whether there was reason to do so.  Oh, sure, Joshua saw the advice columns.  Caveats called him, or at least those who love him suggested he read the literature.

University of Maryland Medical Center, expert on hypertension, Dr. Stephen Havas, states, high-salt diets cause 150,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. Heart attacks, coronary artery disease, and strokes are the frequently result from obesity, high blood pressure, and the perilous pre-hypertension.  Each of these afflictions can be traced to the intake of salt.  Havas declared there is an imperative need for the Federal Health authorities to reduce sodium consumption.  

However, contrary to what this and other physicians think wise, most persons in this civilized country retain the attitudes of their ancestors.  Americans are as the rugged individualists, or at least, Joshua was and is.  Our countrymen can take whatever is dished out.  Salty, sweet, or saturated in oils, citizens of this wild and western nation have the stomach for it.

Americans are independent and we like it that way.  No government agency, guy, or gal in a white lab coat will tell US what to eat.  They certainly will not dictate to Joshua what he eats.  In truth, the Food and Drug Administration does not tell us what is best to consume.  Nor do they closely monitor corporate claims; although they would wish us to believe they do.  Joshua trusted that his food was safe with thanks to this industry watchdog.

Fake Food Fight

by Paula Kurtzweil

“It is true that you may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

–Abraham Lincoln

When it comes to fraudulent food in the marketplace, Lincoln’s sage observation has certainly rung true. In the Food and Drug Administration’s experience, when hucksters try to cheat Americans out of millions of dollars of genuine foods, their schemes are ultimately exposed by a sharp-eyed consumer, a competitive industry, or FDA itself.

Known as economic adulteration of food, this practice involves using inferior, cheaper ingredients to cheat consumers and undercut the competition.  And even though the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act specifically bans it, economic adulteration persists, challenging FDA’s resourcefulness to remain vigilant against it.

In recent years, FDA has sought and won convictions against companies and individuals engaged in making and selling bogus orange juice, apple juice, maple syrup, honey, cream, olive oil, and seafood.

According to Martin Stutsman, a consumer safety officer in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA relies heavily on industry and consumers to help identify instances of economic fraud.

What businesses will not do for money.  Artificial adulterants put much dough in many a breadbox.  The Food and Drug Administration discovered some producers sold, what they said was pure orange juice; however, the beverage was loaded with corn syrup or beet sugar.  Dairy cream was, in fact, corn oil.   Corn syrup passed for honey.  Bottles of horseradish were actually containers of potato starch.  Salt mixed into water was advertised as milk.  Scallops, an expensive delicacy on occasion was found to be water worked into sodium tripolyphosphate (STP).

The fake foods, [mixtures of trans fatty acids, salts, and sugars] may yield temporary financial benefits.  However, what qualifies for natural, and approved, fodder feeds fills more pockets than the illegal imitations ever did.  Corn syrup found in a product labeled pure orange juice is considered an adulterant.  However, when the same sweetener is listed on a can of orange flavored juice the Food and Drug administration thinks that fine.  

There is a delicate balance between healthy and harmful sustenance.  Equilibrium is difficult to maintain when the scales are tipped in favor of corporate influences.  For many in the Food and Drug Administration dough is more flavorful than moral fiber might be.

Former FDA Investigator Exposes Aspartame As Deadly Neurotoxin That Never Should Have Been Approved

Can Republish, Namaste, Vol 6, Issue 1,UK

Many policies, I found out, were not made to protect the public health, but rather, to provide leverage at appropriation time before Congress, and to protect the industry and their political government.  This is especially true when they were paid for their ‘services’ by the pharmaceutical or chemical industries.  This is what I call ‘social cancer’.

Many systems for protecting the public health are (were) less than effective . . . making very little difference on public health issues.  Much of it was for ‘show’ and for funding.  It was the folks in Rockville and Washington who made the final decisions on how to play most of these issues out.  Unfortunately for us, it was not to favor the public health processes.  The entire process reeks of political and corporate influence.

If Americans had the time or energy to do more than eat what is easily available they might notice how ubiquitous industry is in our diets.  Advertisers have captured our attention.  

“Shouldn’t your baby be a Gerber baby?” “Trix are for kids.” “Keebler. Uncommonly Made, Uncommonly Good.” “Mmm Mmm good. That’s what Campbell’s Soup is; Mmm good.”  “Subway. Eat fresh.”  “Taco Bell. Think Outside the Bun.”  “McDonalds.  I’m lovin’ it,” and you do, we do.  We are trained to eat prepared foods from birth.  At Burger King, we can have it our way.  At Kentucky Fried Chicken, we can trust it is finger lickin’ good.  At Subway, we can “Eat fresh.”  If only we knew what that was.

Manufacturers and marketers choose what we consume.  High fructose corn syrup is an ingredient is most  American food.  Many Americans, sadly, a vast majority, do not even know what unprocessed fruits and vegetables truly taste like.  Apples?  That is the crisp, wet fare under the caramel.  Tomatoes top pizza.  Strawberries and cherries await your bite when you sink your teeth into that piece of bittersweet chocolate.  Squash and pumpkins grace the doorstep during the Fall holidays.  Spinach is for cartoon characters.  Potatoes, yum-yum.  This starchy crop, when deep-fried is absolutely ambrosia.  

Even when we think we are ingesting only wholesome fare, surprise, we discover, there is more to the meal than meets the eye.  The local bakery still creates healthy doughy fare.  The smell of fresh baked flour and yeast reminds us that quality food does exist.  Have you read the ingredients on baked goods?  Let us consider the plainest of plain preparations, a bagel.  The elements that go into this not so enticing ring of dough are numerous. Unbleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour), water, dough conditioner (sugar, salt, malted barley flour, molasses, mono & diglycerides, ascorbic acid, L-cysteine, azodicarbonamide, enzyme, ammonium chloride, DATEM, potassium iodate, brown sugar, yeast.

As we study the marketplace we realize, what satisfies our senses is not so sensible.

In the 1980s, manufacturing methods improved, prompting a boost in production of high-fructose corn syrup and a drop in price to just pennies below that of refined sugar. “While that may not sound like much to the average consumer, when you consider how many pounds [the soft drink industry buys], it was millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions of dollars in savings,” says Drew Davis, NSDA’s vice president for federal affairs.

The switch made economic sense and, as Davis notes, “back then, there was no suggestion that high-fructose corn syrup was metabolized differently” than other sugars. More recent research suggests, however, that there may be some unexpected nutritional consequences of using the syrup. “Fructose is absorbed differently” than other sugars, says Bray. “It doesn’t register in the body metabolically the same way that glucose does.”

For example, consumption of glucose kicks off a cascade of biochemical reactions. It increases production of insulin by the pancreas, which enables sugar in the blood to be transported into cells, where it can be used for energy. It increases production of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate appetite and fat storage, and it suppresses production of another hormone made by the stomach, ghrelin, that helps regulate food intake. It has been theorized that when ghrelin levels drop, as they do after eating carbohydrates composed of glucose, hunger declines.

Fructose is a different story. It “appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation,” explains Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. “Fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion. It doesn’t increase leptin production or suppress production of ghrelin. That suggests that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain.” Whether it actually does do this is not known “because the studies have not been conducted,” said Havel.

Another concern is the action of fructose in the liver, where it is converted into the chemical backbone of trigylcerides more efficiently than glucose. Like low-density lipoprotein — the most damaging form of cholesterol — elevated levels of trigylcerides are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. A University of Minnesota study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000 found that in men, but not in women, fructose “produced significantly higher [blood] levels” than did glucose. The researchers, led by J.P Bantle, concluded that “diets high in added fructose may be undesirable, particularly for men.”

Other recent research suggests that fructose may alter the magnesium balance in the body. That could, in turn, accelerate bone loss, according to a USDA study published in 2000 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

We can thank the Food and Drug Administration for our fodder, and we can express our gratitude to Archers Daniel Midland, the mother or father of invention.  A financial crisis in the parent company led the this corporation to merge and grow beyond their wildest dreams and ours.

In 1971 [Archer Daniels Midland] purchased Corn Sweeteners, Inc., producer of high-fructose syrups, glutens, oil, and caramel color. Corn Sweeteners brought good returns for Archer Daniels Midland and increased the company’s finished-food capabilities.

Currently we can find Archer Daniels in most every “finished-food” option.  Bread and brews are loaded with high fructose corn syrup.  Cereals, before the flakes are frosted, are filled with the fluid.  Spaghetti sauce is supplemented.  The sugary additive makes up a substantial portion of this tomato-based product.  Sodas are essentially high fructose corn syrup, as is . . . [name your food of choice.]  While high fructose corn syrup is good for earnings, it endangers human health.

Loading high fructose corn syrup into increasingly larger portions of soda and processed food has packed more calories into us and more money into food processing companies, say nutritionists and food activists. But some health experts argue that the issue is bigger than mere calories. The theory goes like this: The body processes the fructose in high fructose corn syrup differently than it does old-fashioned cane or beet sugar, which in turn alters the way metabolic-regulating hormones function.  It also forces the liver to kick more fat out into the bloodstream.

The end result is that our bodies are essentially tricked into wanting to eat more and at the same time, we are storing more fat.

Sheer will power must be our guide, for certainly the Food and Drug Administration does not point us in the direction of good health.  Nor do the conglomerates have our best interests at heart.  Most Americans believe given a choice, people buy what they sense their body craves.  Unfortunately, few acknowledge that certain foods create a chemical reaction that fools the physiology and the psyche.

No mysterious ingredient. The Cadbury’s secret is out. Chocolate is drug-like in its effect. Artificial taste explodes in the mouth with crunchy, smooth, sweet flavors, supplying intense pleasure. Every texture and nuance of taste contrived to stimulate your 9,000 taste buds into sending pleasure signals to the brain.  The intensified pleasure effect is addictive.  We don’t care about the additives or empty calories.  Chocolate junkies crave a fix, driven by the desire for that chocolate pleasure.  Pleasure for which we will pay any price, even our health.

Chocolate bars are loaded with salt, sugar, caffeine and fat, up to 300 calories per bar.  Like a body demanding heroin for its balance, the body will crave sugar, salt and fat.  Take candy from a sugar junkie, and look out! Quitting causes withdrawals.  Remove sugar, processed fat or salt from your diet, and you will crave them.  You will go through the discomfort of facing withdrawal similar to the withdrawal from drugs.

Humans hunger for sweets.  We are extremely fond of fats.  Salt is savory.  Eons ago, our bodies learned to love what would help us survive in the wild.  We needed the weight and the energy.  The habits of our ancient ancestors now seem innate.  Food and chemical industry leaders know this.  They exploit our obsession for the flavors that excites the palette and satisfy the electrical impulses within our gray matter; thus, expanding their profits.

Physiologically we cannot resist.  Psychologically, we are easily swayed.  Financially, we turn our fate over, and fortunes are made.  Most of us forget what we once knew before our brains and bellies were filled with trans-fats, salts, and sugars.

The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and – ahem – journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts.

Humans deciding what to eat without expert help – something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees – is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, distinctly risky if you’re a nutritionist and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or journalist.  (Or, for that matter, an eater.  Who wants to hear, yet again, “Eat more fruits and vegetables”?)  And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition – much to the advantage of everybody involved.  Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters.

Hence, dear Josh, if you do not wish to be controlled by the government or the corporate kings and queens, if you wish to eat well, remember, to look beyond what seems to be your freedom to choose.  Do not travel to the eateries that serve only what they know will leave you yearning for more.  Do not frequent food pantries that prefer you be fat.  Venture not into the aisles of processed ambrosia.  If you wish to be free from the thought police and those that place temptation on the plate, carefully consider foods that are not fake. You can enjoy real foods, unprocessed provisions, and your health if you truly peruse the labels, make meals from scratch, and ask for more than just the menu when you dine out.

Bon appetite Josh.  A happy and healthy holiday, every day to all, and to all a good night.

Satiated, Satisfied, and Sources . . .