Truth and Wisdom in Food Labeling

Truth and Wisdom in Food Labeling – A vital issue

Consumers have a right to know the contents of the foods they buy. This was part of the reason the 1994 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was created. But even with the ramped-up requirements it mandated, deception can be found on everything from the Nutrition Facts section to the symbols, logos, pictures on labels and product names (Walker, 2017).

In her book Hype, author Dr. Nina Shapiro notes that each trip you make to a store where food is sold, you will be “encountering vague claims that will dupe you.” In her chapter about food labeling, she discussed many deceiving words and phrases on packaging but particularly illuminating were her comments about foods and fluids identified as organic. That label indicates no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers were used in growing the food and animals weren’t given hormones or antibiotics. Even that seemingly straightforward definition is subject to abuse. The phrase “made with organic ingredients” could be interpreted as 100% organic but per the FDA only 70% of those ingredients have to be organic.

There’s another pitfall you may run across with labeling. More than a few items make the serving size incredibly small and the number of servings in the package abnormally high so that the negatives don’t seem quite so bad. For example, a package of yogurt-coated dried cranberries listed a serving as only 2 tablespoons but that small handful of it contains 140 calories and 25% of the recommended saturated fat intake for the day (Liebman, 2016).

What information should be included on labels? That isn’t as easy to determine as it might seem. There are consequences to including items on labels. There have been requests for the FDA to define the term natural for regulatory purposes but they refuse because it is almost impossible to pin that down in a way that would be helpful. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) and genetically engineered labeling has also been requested by consumers. There’s been a lot of research that hasn’t uncovered anything dangerous about such foods. If the FDA mandated GMO or GE labeling, it could lead consumers to question the safety of it. After all, if the FDA required such labeling, the thinking might go, it must not be safe (Sax and Doran, 2016).

So, in the final analysis, labels on the front of packaging should be regarded with a healthy degree of skepticism and the Nutrition Facts on the back evaluated carefully. But keep in mind, processed foods are often inferior to the products you’ll find in the produce and other unprocessed food aisles. Those foods have no list of ingredients because what you see is what you get, and probably needs no spin.

References:

  1. Liebman, B. April Fools. Nutrition Action Healthletter, April, 2016.
  2. Lurie, P., M.D. Taking “Big Food” to Court. Nutrition Action Healthletter, April, 2016.
  3. Sax, J., and Doran, N. Food Labeling and Consumer Associations with Health, Safety, and Environment. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics. Winter, 2016.
  4. Shapiro, Dr. Nina. Hype. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2018
  5. Walker, M.J. Health and Nutrition claims – guidance, regulation and self-regulation. Nutrition Bulletin, 42, 2017.
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Super C –  Vitamin protector of the brain and cancer fighter

Super C –  Vitamin protector of the brain and cancer fighter

One of the most startling research findings about vitamin C is its role in brain health. The brain has the highest concentration of vitamin C and is the last organ depleted if there is a deficiency. It is needed there to offset the damage from normal glucose metabolism. Brain oxidative damage is high with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Specifically, oxidative stress (or damage) contributes to the beta amyloid production of Alzheimer’s, and prevents clearance of toxins that cause brain inflammation and nerve destruction. It also interferes with utilizing glucose for energy production. Since vitamin C is an antioxidant, it can absorb free radicals and thus prevent nerve damage.

Early in life, vitamin C is needed for nerve differentiation and maturation, as well as production of the myelin sheath that insulates many nerve fibers. The nutrient is necessary for production of several neurotransmitters, and for their release throughout life.

Other functions of vitamin C include aiding iron absorption, supporting wound healing, and the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration. It is also needed for carnitine formation and this helps the body burn fat for energy. An individual’s requirement for the vitamin is increased with high toxic exposure from air pollution, alcohol use and smoking. This information comes from H. Estroff Marano’s article C Sharp in the January/February 2018 issue of Psychology Today.

Vitamin C also helps protect from stomach, colon, lung and cervical cancer. In the article Association between vitamin C intake and the risk of cervical neoplasia:  A meta-analysis, by D. Cao, et al in the 2016 vol. 68 issue of Nutrition and Cancer, this protective effect was linked to a decrease in cervical cancer rates. This is especially good news for those living in developing countries where it is the number one cause of cancer deaths in women. Increasing vitamin C intake a mere 50 mg. a day was enough to significantly decrease risk.

Men need 90 mg. a day of this vitamin daily and women 75 mg. As usual, food sources such as oranges, red peppers and broccoli are best. Taking too much of a vitamin C supplement increases the risk of diarrhea and, over time, kidney stones.

Vitamin C and Infection fighting

Vitamin C:  Could it help with Ulcer Treatment, Colds, and Exercise Endurance?

Vitamin C has long been credited with helping to prevent colds or at least shorten their duration. It has been found to do that, albeit only shorting it by about a day, as well as decreasing the severity (Rondanelli, 2018). But that is minor in comparison with findings of recent research. Recent studies on vitamin C quickly turned this article into two articles.

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is an essential nutrient for humans. It is needed to make collagen and this protein is key for healthy cartilage, muscles, skin and blood vessels. Long before scurvy develops, a deficiency of it can cause bruising, nose and gum bleeding, fatigue, weakness, and increased infections. This explains why bleeding and bruising would be more common with a deficiency. Not surprising, a shortfall of it can interfere with wound healing. About one-third of Americans are low on it. (Colbert, 2009).

As an antioxidant, vitamin C interacts with oxygen free radicals. The latter are damaging unstable particles that are produced with normal energy production as well as from air pollution chemicals and other harmful substances. When antioxidants neutralize free radicals they prevent injury to DNA and other cellular structures, thus preventing many diseases. Decreasing oxidative stress is another way to describe this valuable function. Vitamin C also helps with energy production, and those deficient in it can improve their exercise performance by correcting the shortfall (Paschalis, 2016).

The immune system needs vitamin C for proper functioning. The most dramatic display of ascorbic acid’s infection-fighting role is in the treatment of sepsis. Giving intravenous vitamin C along with thiamine and corticosteroids more that triples survival rates. Two large studies to further analyze this are in progress (AACN Bold Voices, 2018).

Another amazing piece of research found that adding vitamin C to the usual medications used to treat ulcers caused by the bacteria H. pylori increased the chances of eliminating those microbes. About two-thirds of those with ulcers are infected with H. pylori and because of antibiotic resistance, cure rates with the usual combination of antibiotics and acid reducers are usually no higher than 80%. Since H. pylori infection is been known to cause ulcers as well as B cell lymphoma of the stomach, this is an important finding (Sezikli, 2012).

In the next article on vitamin C, research findings on the role of vitamin C in brain function and dementia inhibition, as well as cervical cancer prevention will be covered.

 

References:

Preliminary research using intravenous vitamin C, thiamine and corticosteroids has uncovered a significant increase in survival from shock secondary to severe infection. AACN Bold Voices, September, 2018.

 

Colbert, Dr. Don. Eat This and Live! Lake Mary, Florida:  Siloam. 2009.

 

Paschalis, V., et al. Low vitamin C values are linked with decreased physical performance and increased oxidative stress:  reversal by vitamin C supplementation. European Journal of Nutrition (2016) 55:45-53.

 

Rondanelli, M., et al. Self-Care for Common Colds:  The Pivotal Role of vitamin D, vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea… Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 4/29/2018.

 

Sezikli, M., M.D., et al. Supplementing vitamin C and E to standard triple therapy for the eradication of Helicobacter pylori. Journal of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 2012, 37.

 

 

Making sense out of Food Labels

Making sense out of Food Labels

Anyone that cares about their health and the health of those they care for, count on package information to make good decisions. The 1994 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act has done a lot to help consumers obtain the information they need to make healthy choices. But even with the ramped-up requirements, deception can be found on everything from the Nutrition Facts section to the symbols, logos, pictures on labels and product names (Walker, 2017). Hopefully with the definitions of terms and information on this blog, it’ll be easier to make an informed decision.

The key to finding the truth about a product is to focus on the Nutrition Facts on a food package (Anding, 2009). Regulations about a food center on this crucial data. The other items on a label are often designed to snag buyers, not inform them. Although the section on a product Nutrition Facts gives the most accurate information, you need to be skeptical as you read this as well. Fat content and sodium are other key numbers to note (Anding, 2009).

Following are some important food label definitions:

  • “Good source” has 10% to 19% of the value for the item noted
  • “Light” products have 50% or less fat than the regular form by that company
  • “Low fat” foods have less than 3 grams of saturated fat per serving
  • “Fat free” means there is < 0.5 grams fat per serving and without added fat or oil
  • “Low calorie” products have less than 40 calories in a serving
  • “Light” in reference to calories means there are 1/3 fewer calories in a serving
  • “Calorie free” means one serving has less than 5 calories
  • “Low sodium” foods have a maximum of 140 mg. sodium per serving
  • “Sodium free” products may have some salt but its less than 5 mg or less/serving
  • “High fiber” products contain a minimum of 5 grams of fiber in a serving

A few other caveats are necessary. When the word light is used with the word oil, it denotes the color and not the calories. All the following indicate there is a form of sugar in the product: maltose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup (AKA HFCS), corn syrup, honey, fruit juice concentrate, and maple syrup (Anding, 2009). The next issue for this blog will contain more information on food labeling issues.

 

References:

Anding, R. Nutrition Made Clear. Chantilly, VA:  The Great Courses, 2009.

Walker, M.J. Health and Nutrition claims – guidance, regulation and self-regulation. Nutrition Bulletin, 42, 2017.

Fish – a real Lifesaver

Fish – A real Lifesaver

Fats are a necessary component of a healthy diet and the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are among most beneficial. Certain fish are the best sources of these fats. The major types of marine fatty acids are EPA and DHA. Plant omega-3 fatty acids are in the form of ALA but it must be converted in the body to DHA and EPA.

All cells have membranes and if the person consumes far more polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s, as do more than 95% of those living in developed countries, these membranes are weaker and more likely involved in inflammation. This may well be the reason a regular adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is effective in preventing cardiovascular, psychiatric and neurological diseases. A large amount of DHA Omega-3s are incorporated into fetal brain tissue and used for many structures. The amount is lower in the elderly especially those with Alzheimer’s Disease. Signs of a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids include dry skin, fatigue, brittle nails and hair, depression, frequent respiratory tract infections, and joint pain.

What are some of the possible and likely health benefits from Omega-3 fatty acids?

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent the cognitive decline from Alzheimer’s if started early.
  • Adequate Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with less anxiety and depression
  • Improvement in eczema, dry skin and psoriasis
  • Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease triglycerides and increase HDL (good) cholesterol, keep arteries more elastic and thus lower blood pressure, help prevent arrhythmias and decrease blood clotting. All these decrease the chance of arteriosclerosis, the main cause of heart attacks and strokes
  • The beneficial effects on blood fats may explain the correlation between these fatty acids and decreased risk of fatty liver disease
  • They support healthy retina function and help relieve dry eye
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can decrease chronic back pain and headache

The best source of omega-3 fatty acids are these fatty fish: salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and albacore tuna. 95% of our fish consumption is from 10 species and 60% from just three:  salmon, shrimp and tuna. Many other species which are available would make an excellent food source but they are discarded. Hopefully that will change soon and decrease the waste and lower the price of fish. But even with the high cost, eating more fish is a wise move (barring any advice from your doctor to the contrary). Many people would experience improved health if they decreased their intake of beef, full fat dairy and processed foods, replacing these with fish.

If you absolutely hate fish, try fish oil capsules. The Johnson article recommends pharmaceutical grade, molecularly distilled and triglyceride fish oil capsules. Keep them in a dark bottle. Also, those with vitamin E added maintain their quality longer. Still, fish oil capsules are far inferior to eating fish. It is also possible to get too much of the fish oil supplements and have health problems from that.

As with many supplements, the different nutrients in whole foods work together to produce greater benefits that when the nutrients are consumed individually. Some of the other nutrients in salmon, for example, include B vitamins, selenium, potassium, protein and vitamin D. This may be why consuming any type of fish on a regular basis is correlated with greater health benefits than taking fish oil capsules instead.

References:

Johnson, V. Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Pain Management:  In Depth. Nutritional Perspectives, Vol. 41, #2, April,2018.

Miller, J. 15 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Positive health, October, 2017.

Pratt, Dr. S., and Matthews, K. Fourteen Foods that will change your life SuperFoods (HarperCollins, 2004).

Seaver, B. Save our Seafood. Nutrition Action Healthletter, July and August, 2013.

Thomas, J., et al. Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Early Prevention of Inflammatory Neurodegenerative Disease:  A focus on Alzheimer’s Disease. BioMed Research International, 2015.

Dietary fats – the good, bad, very good and very bad

Dietary Fats – The Good, Bad, Very Good and Very Bad

Not too long ago, all fats were considered horrible, and reputed to be the cause of everything from the obesity epidemic to the surge in cardiovascular disease. Some fats are linked to the start and progression of disease. Other types of fats are nutritional gold mines.

Fats are macronutrients, that is, they are important for good health and needed in larger amounts that things like iodine or magnesium, the so-called micronutrients. The basic types of fats are:  saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, trans fats, and two kinds of polyunsaturated fats. The two polyunsaturated fats are both essential to get in the diet because the body can’t make them and they are needed for various structures and functions. One of those polyunsaturated fats are Omega-6 fatty acids and the other Omega-3 fatty acids.

Saturated fats are found primarily in red meat and full-fat dairy products. Like all fats, they are a concentrated source of calories. These fats are needed in small amounts and getting too much of them can raise the LDL (low density lipoproteins) cholesterol. This is the type of cholesterol that is incorporated into sites of artery plaque if that disease is present.

Trans fats can be found in animal food sources but most of what people consume has been manufactured and added to food to extend the shelf life. When it first was developed, our understanding of the effect of various fats wasn’t sufficient to help us appreciate how deadly this fat was. It moves into arterial plaque very easily and narrows arteries so that less blood gets to the tissue. Trans fats are found primarily in baked goods and other processed foods. This is one of several reasons why factory-made foods cause so many chronic health problems.

Polyunsaturated fats are essential for good health but there’s a catch. The amount of omega-6’s should not exceed the amount of omega-3s. If it does, it can promote inflammation. Most people do get far too many omega-6s and too few omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. The regular intake of excess omega-6s can cause chronic inflammation and is a good set up for many chronic diseases.

Omega-3s, however, inhibit inflammation and that prevents many diseases. One of the ways they lessen inflammation is when they are incorporated into cell membranes. If this structure is made from healthy omega-3s, is keeps the cell healthy and less easily damaged. This helps arteries stay elastic, lowers the blood pressure, and keep nerves working well. This anti-inflammatory effect lessens prostaglandin formation and that lessens pain. Some of the research on omega-3 fatty acids shows a correlation with its use and a decrease back pain, headache and arthritis pain.

Omega-6s (good to avoid) are found primarily in peanut, sesame, safflower, corn, and soybean oils. These fatty acids are used extensively in processed foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. There are two types, EPA and DHA. ALA is another source as it is converted to omega-3s in the body. ALA is found in walnuts, flax seed, lentils, kidney beans, leafy green vegetables like spinach, mustard seed, canola and flax seed oil.

 

References

Horowitz, S. Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Disease Prevention and Treatment. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, August, 2014.

Johnson, V. Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Pain Management:  In Depth. Nutritional Perspectives, April, 2018.

Miller, J. 15 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Positive Health, October, 2017.

Pratt, Dr. S., and Matthews, K. Fourteen Foods that will change your life SuperFoods (HarperCollins, 2004).

Cholesterol-lowering Statins: Beneficial or Harmful?

Cholesterol-lowering Statins:  Beneficial or Harmful?

Statins are the top-selling drug in most of the developing countries of the world. They have been credited with preventing millions of heart attacks and strokes, but are they really responsible for turning the tide on this major killer? Are there any important side effects? And if they aren’t so great, is there something better and, best possible scenario, not a drug?

Many studies have found that statins such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor) can prevent heart attack and strokes, but that effect is not seen in those with high cholesterol who do not have arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and 75% of those on statins are in that category. So those individuals have a risk of side effects but perhaps no benefit. Individuals with arteriosclerosis, such as those who have had a non-hemorrhagic stroke (they didn’t have a stroke from a blood vessel breaking) or who have had a heart attack or angina, probably do benefit from these drugs. Statins do decrease production of cholesterol by the liver, they do make the arterial plaque less likely to rupture and cause a stroke or heart attack, and do keep that plaque from getting bigger.

Most important, statins can cause some serious side effects. About 3% develop liver injury from them. This is detected by a blood test that measures enzymes released from damaged liver cells. This effect is most likely to develop the first several weeks after it is started (X. Liang, 2018). A group of scientists noted that melatonin, with its high antioxidant activity, can protect the liver from many toxic agents. They did research on the use of melatonin to prevent liver damage from statins and found that it could offer this protection. They used regular doses in higher amounts and given more frequently than is used to treat insomnia since melatonin does not last long. That same article mentioned the use of melatonin for other disorders (Chojnocki, et al, 2017).

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as upset stomach, flatulence, constipation and abdominal pain can also occur with statins but those usually decrease with time. A few studies found an increase in type 2 diabetes, cataracts and Parkinson’s disease with use of statins but this may require further research. Other studies have found an association between statin use and worsening cognitive (thinking) abilities, especially memory (Neel, 2011). Other research has uncovered a correlation between low cholesterol levels and depression (note that statin use is not necessarily implicated).

Muscle injury is a common effect of statins and as many as 10% of those taking these drugs develop it. Symptoms of this include muscle aches, weakness, and/or muscle tenderness. It can be localized to a group of muscles or affect the whole body. Occasionally it progresses to muscles inflammation, and rarely, to muscle breakdown and kidney injury. The risk of muscle damage increases with age, small body size, frailty, chronic systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and kidney disease, low levels of vitamin D, and coenzyme Q deficiency.

Some statins are metabolized (broken down) by an enzyme that is used by the liver to eliminate many drugs. Those other drugs can keep the level of the statin in the blood too high and that increases the chance of side effects. Some of those drugs include fibrates (also called fibric acid agents used to treat high triglycerides), a few calcium channel blockers (used to treat heart arrhythmias and high blood pressure), azole antifungal agents, macrolide antibiotics like clarithromycin, certain antivirals used to treat HIV infection, amiodarone (for arrhythmias), and cyclosporine (used to prevent organ transplant rejection). Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can also decrease the breakdown and elimination of statins and that effect can last for three days or more after it was last consumed.

Are there other things that can lower the cholesterol level? Yes, and it is a long list that you should discuss with your health care provider. Omega-3 fatty acids can help manage the cholesterol level and have other heart-protecting effects. Folic acid and vitamin B12 can lower a harmful substance that advances hardening of the arteries. Those over 45 should consider a sublingual vitamin B12 to increase absorption. Coenzyme Q10 is a nutrient that statins lower and should be considered as it helps with muscle function. Lycopene, found in high amounts in cooked tomatoes and watermelon, may lower cholesterol. Other possibilities include curcumin, resveratrol, and citrus bergamot (Bowden, J. et al, 2015). Regular exercise increases HDL cholesterol, the type that pulls cholesterol out of tissues, and that effect can help prevent hardening of the arteries. Exercise has other benefits as well.

Statins are beneficial for those with hardening of the arteries. But still, they are drugs and the side effects they can cause are not trivial. And again, those without coronary artery disease or arterial plaque deposits in other arteries are not as likely to benefit. Everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and, if possible, regular exercise.

References:

Bowden, J., Sinatra, D., and Sinatra S., M.D. A Statin for all Diabetics? Not so fast. Alternative Therapies, September/October 2015, Volume 21, #5

Chojnocki, C., et al.. The Effects of Melatonin on Elevated Liver Enzymes during Statin Treatment. BioMed Research, 2017 Edition.

Rosenthal, L., and Burchum, J. (2016). Lehne’s Pharmacology for nursing care, 9th edition. St. Louis, MO:  Elsevier.

Liang, X., et al. Effect of Statins on LDL Reduction and Liver Safety:  A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Biomed Research International. March 5, 2018.

Neel, Dr. A., with Hogan,B. Are Your Prescriptions Killing You? NY,NY:  Atria Books, 2012.