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Time to Regulate Sugar? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC   
Friday, February 03, 2012


Dr. Robert Lustig has become my nutrition hero.  A leading pediatric endocrinologist and childhood obesity specialist at the University of California, San Francisco,  School of Medicine, he has been publicly sounding the alarm on the health threat of sugar consumption since 2009.  While he is not the first professional to speak out about the dangers of sugar, he is certainly the loudest and most compelling, with mounting scientific evidence to back his claims.  Last night, he made the national news.

In a positional paper published yesterday in the journal Nature, Dr. Lustig and two other experts from UCSF proposed that sugar in all forms - especially white refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and any fructose-containing sweeteners - are as perilous to public heath as alcohol, and justify regulating them as controlled substances.
The main impetus for their proposal came from a United Nations report last September that revealed that for the first time in human history, more people worldwide are dying from chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, than from infectious diseases.  These diseases pose a greater health burden worldwide, contributing to 35 million deaths annually, and the scientific evidence is proving that sugar is a primary cause for these diseases.  Additionally, while many people think that obesity is the root cause of these diseases, up to 40% of normal weight people develop diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides, cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

"The UN announcement targets tobacco, alcohol and diet as the central risk factors in non-communicable disease," wrote the researchers. "Two of these three -- tobacco and alcohol -- are regulated by governments to protect public health, leaving one of the primary culprits behind this worldwide health crisis unchecked."

Dr. Lustig eloquently explained all of these fructose-related health issues in his popular lecture that has gone viral on YouTube, "Sugar: The Bitter Truth," which I wrote about a few months ago.  He explains that our bodies process fructose in much the same way they process alcohol and other poisons. In the paper the researchers provide a long list of deadly effects from excessive consumption of fructose that can cause many of the same health problems as alcohol consumption, including hypertension, insulin resistance, high cholesterol levels, pancreatitis, obesity, malnutrition, liver dysfunction, and addiction.

One aspect that the researchers pointed out in their paper is that sugar is nearly unavoidable in our food supply.  In recent years, sugar has been added to nearly all processed foods, limiting consumer choice.  The counter-argument made by the sugar industry that it is a matter of personal responsibility is flawed - people who want to stay away from sugar and limit their intake have a difficult time because it is so pervasive.  Dr. Lustig points out that he sees obese six-month-olds in his clinic.  How can a six-month-old possibly be responsible for their obesity?  It is not a matter of personal responsibility; he arugues,  it is a matter of too much sugar in everyday foods.

Dr. Lustig and his co-authors recommend implementing ways to reduce sugar consumption by limiting sugar access -- strategies like enacting sugar taxes, placing age limits on food purchases and limiting advertising of sugar-sweetened foods.  I am loudly cheering these researchers for bringing this issue to national attention. It is long overdue and everyone needs to know how devastating sugar consumption is for our health.  I see this step as the beginning of a wave of sugar reform worldwide, in the same way that alcohol and tobacco have been controlled.  Let those who want to willingly consume sugar do so when they are of an age that they can make that decision for themselves.  Let's keep it out of the mouths of babes and those of us who choose not to destroy our health by eating sugar.


Natural Flavorings Not So "Natural" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC   
Saturday, December 03, 2011


On November 27th, 2011, the CBS news show 60 Minutes aired a segment called "The Flavorists: Tweaking Tastes and Creating Cravings" - an investigative look into the multibillion dollar "natural" flavoring and artificial flavoring industry - an industry cloaked in secrecy.  Just the word "industry" might give you a clue that the "natural flavor" in your ice cream, soda, yogurt, or soy milk is not what it may seem.  Manufacturers adorn their packaging with images of fruits or vanilla beans, but in reality there is not a spec of anything real or natural in those flavors.  

I've been writing about processed foods and chemical additives for many years now. As a chemist myself, I found this segment fascinating, but not surprising.   But many of the people I've talked to are shocked and outraged by the blatant, and even arrogant pride of the industry scientists who create flavors that are designed to overstimulate our taste receptors and hijack our brains into addiction.

The segment begins by showing the "flavorists" - a group of scientists who create flavors for the processed food industry - in a citrus grove smelling and tasting mandarins and tangerines.  After all, they have to get their inspiration from somewhere.  Morley Safer, the 60 Minutes correspondent, stated "they get their inspiration from the greatest flavorist of them all: Mother Nature. The next scene shows one of scientists inserting a calibrated syringe into one of the mandarins to get a sample of its juice. When they find something they like, they extract its flavor molecules from the fruit on the tree. Seems pretty harmless, and even almost natural at this point.  But that's when the "natural" ends, and the food chemistry begins.  Back in the lab, they mimic Mother Nature's molecules with chemicals.1

From this point on is where the segment gets very disturbing. Not only do the scientists synthesize flavors from chemicals and then call them "natural flavors", they specifically create flavors that are ADDICTIVE - so much so that they even manipulate the formulas so the tastes dissipate quickly, prompting you to continue eating to get more of the flavor.  The goal is to get you to buy and consume the product over and over again.  In fact, according to the segment, the flavoring industry is the enabler of the food processing business. Natural and artificial flavors are in nearly every processed and packaged food, including fast foods and unfortunately this also includes "health foods". In one scene they showed powdered chicken flavoring that is added to "healthy" frozen dinners to make it taste just like the real thing - only they make it taste stronger and better than the real thing.

Natural flavors listed on food ingredient lists might not have ever met their natural namesake. All flavors created in the lab are combinations of chemicals - artificial flavors are largely manmade. Natural flavors derive from nature, but not necessarily from what the label implies. For example, strawberry and vanilla flavor can come from the gland in a beaver's backside.  What they do is just manipulate the molecules and create with them to give the impression of something natural, like a papaya or a strawberry.

What the segment did not cover is just what's in some of those flavorings.  And that's where I see the trouble lies.  It is why it's so difficult for people to change their diets so they can lose weight or improve their health.  They are so addicted to the flavors created in laboratories that the crunch of a carrot, the refreshingly sweet juice of a fresh mango, or the zing of fresh garlic no longer satisfies them. Natural whole foods seem boring to many people, so they opt not to eat them. 

The bigger problems lies in what those chemicals do to our bodies.  Nobody really knows.  The solution?   Re-program your taste buds by getting the fake stuff out of your life.  Do what one commenter posted on the CBS website,  - I for one am going back to the old way of eating; like my grandmother use to cook, everything from scratch. The world wouldn't be so fast paced if we the people would just slow down. Then there wouldn't be such a high demand for fast food, or convenience food either. Let's get back to living, instead of eating ourselves to death.

In other words, eat processed-free.  Real foods with real ingredients.


1 From the script of the 60 Minutes segment "The Flavorists" which aired on Nov. 27, 2011. Morley Safer is the correspondent, Ruth Streeter is the producer.

Coconut Water: The Natural Electrolyte Drink PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC   
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Coconut water is the new wave in health drinks, and a great natural alternative to sports drinks (which usually contain some type of refined sugar). The clear water inside of young coconuts has been revered as a natural source of nutrition, wellness, and hydration for more than 4,000 years.  It is full of minerals and natural electrolytes, and has long been a staple drink in the tropics, where coconuts grow, especially in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Caribbean.  Last year on my vacation to Hawaii, I went to the farmer's market, where the local coconut farmers had truckloads of young coconuts to sell especially for drinking the coconut water out of.  They would cut off the tops, insert a straw, and then you could walk around the farmer's market holding a big coconut and sipping on yummy, slightly sweet coconut water.

Throughout history, coconut water has been used to prevent and treat dehydration. The value of coconut water is due mainly to its perfect balance of electrolytes - namely  potassium, sodium,  magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus.  The balance of these electrolytes in coconut water is the same balance that we have in our human blood. What's even more amazing is that coconut water inside of undamaged coconuts is sterile, and has been used as an intravenous hydration fluid in some developing countries where medical saline was unavailable.  During the Pacific war of 1941 to 1945, both sides in the conflict regularly used coconut water in place of blood transfusions, because there was not enough donor blood available. It's the only natural substance that can be safely injected into the human blood stream.  Perhaps this is why coconut water has long been called "the fluid of life".

A typical serving of coconut water has 569 mg of potassium - 15 times more than most sports drinks - and more potassium than a large banana. Coconut water is sold mainly in natural food markets, and is packaged in cans, tetra paks, or bottles. But the best coconut water is fresh from the young coconut.

Young coconuts are not the hard, brown, furry coconuts most people are familiar with.  Those are mature coconuts, that have a little bit of water inside and the coconut "meat" is somewhat hard as well.  Young coconuts are green on the outside, and have a good amount of water inside.  The "meat" or "flesh" inside is soft, almost like pudding.  They are usually sold in natural food markets or Asian markets.  You might not recognize them, as the outer green husk has been ground down with a flat spot on the bottom and a point on the top.  They are usually wrapped in plastic.  You can cut them open at the top with a meat cleaver (three or four chops to make a circle).  You can then insert a straw to drink the water, or just pour it into a glass.

The Skinny on Cholesterol PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC   
Tuesday, November 01, 2011



In the minds of most people, cholesterol means only one thing - blocked arteries and heart attacks.  Few people know the vital and integral role cholesterol plays in keeping our bodies healthy.  Cholesterol is a waxy fatty substance that is needed to give our cell membranes a certain amount of required stiffness.  Vitamin D is made from cholesterol and the action of sunlight on the skin,  and the glands of the endocrine system use cholesterol as the raw material for making hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. Cholesterol is also necessary for the formation of bile in the liver.  Bile contains bile salts, which are powerful soap-like substances that break down fat globules into smaller particles so that they can become more water-soluble.  This allows fats to be used by the cells more easily and prevents them from being stored in the liver.  Cholesterol, therefore, is a good thing.

Cholesterol is only found in foods from animal sources such as eggs, meat, dairy products, fish and shellfish.  Plant foods do not contain cholesterol.  Your body requires about 1,000 milligrams (1 gram) of cholesterol each day, but it does not depend upon cholesterol from foods.  On average, only about fifteen percent of the cholesterol in your body comes from dietary sources, your body (mainly your liver) makes the other eighty five-percent. In other words, even if you reduce your intake of dietary cholesterol to zero, your liver will make a little more cholesterol to make sure have enough. It's that necessary for life.Conversely, if you eat more cholesterol than normal, your liver will make less of it, so that you don't exceed the 1,000 milligram requirement.  Of those 1,000 milligrams, about 800 of them are turned into bile salts.  The other 200 milligrams are used for the other body functions mentioned previously.

Since cholesterol is fatty and blood is watery, the two don't mix; they are like oil and water. In order to travel in the bloodstream, cholesterol needs to be transported by carrier molecules that are produced by the liver called lipoproteins.  Lipoproteins are like little bubbles that the cholesterol is enveloped in as it is being transported through the blood to the places in the body where it is needed. Since the body uses cholesterol in different ways, the liver makes different types of lipoproteins.  These are categorized as low density lipoproteins (LDL), very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), and high density lipoproteins(HDLs).   All of the cholesterol that is being carried is identical; it is the lipoproteins that are different.

VLDL and LDL are responsible for transporting cholesterol from the liver to be used by the body's cells.  HDL is responsible for  "scouring" the walls of the blood vessels and collecting any unused cholesterol and carrying it back to the liver.  The liver then recycles the cholesterol or uses it to make bile salts.  This is an amazing mechanism in the body. Under normal healthy circumstances, cholesterol levels are tightly regulated, and all cholesterol is good cholesterol!

When Cholesterol Turns Bad

As mentioned earlier, your body is programmed to make a certain amount of cholesterol each day.  It sends out this cholesterol in VLDLs and LDLs, assuming that all of it will be used.  For instance, your body assumes that you need a certain amount of cholesterol for making your daily requirement of vitamin D and other hormones.  But if you never go out into the sun, or if when you do go out into the sun you lather up with sunblock, the cholesterol doesn't get used.  Not only do you become deficient in vitamin D and hormones, but you also now have a bunch of unused VLDL and LDL cholesterol floating around in your blood. This "free" cholesterol has two fates: It can be protected by antioxidants until HDL can come and "rescue" it and return it to the liver undamaged.  Once it reaches the liver, it can be pumped via the bile into the large intestine, where dietary fiber can latch on to the cholesterol and eliminate it from the body through the bowel movement.  This is why HDL is called "the good cholesterol". This would be the ideal fate.

The other fate is more grim, and unfortunately the one that occurs in most people.  The "free" cholesterol gets attacked by free radicals and become oxidized because there aren't enough antioxidants present in the body to protect it.  The damaged cholesterol makes its way into plaques on the inner lining of the arteries, clogging them and leading to heart disease. Since this type of damaged cholesterol is transported in VLDLs and LDLs, it is called "the bad cholesterol"Typically in this scenario, there isn't enough HDL scavenging around in the blood to rescue all of the damaged cholesterol.

High cholesterol occurs when you're not eliminating enough of your unused cholesterol.  Even in fate number one, if your rescued cholesterol makes it all the way to your intestine, but there isn't enough fiber in your diet, most of that cholesterol will be recycled back to your liver and will be sent back out into the bloodstream in addition to all the new cholesterol that is being made. Also, if your liver is not generating enough HDL, then your cholesterol begins to build up by way of fate number two.

Consumption of refined cooking oils such as soybean oil and corn oil, as well as too much sugar and refined carbohydrates, can also raise cholesterol levels.  The liver makes cholesterol from protein, sugar, and starch, so you can end up with high cholesterol levels just by eating too many of these types of foods, even if they don't contain cholesterol.

Restoring Healthy Cholesterol Levels           

The main source of high cholesterol is interference with cholesterol utilization.  The best way to manage cholesterol levels is to get enough sunshine on your skin.  Twenty minutes of unprotected exposure to the sun is enough, after that you can cover up.  Secondly, you need to eat an abundance of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains).  This way you will have an abundance of antioxidants in your bloodstream to protect cholesterol from being oxidized, and fiber in your intestines to remove cholesterol from your body.  You can also help your liver generate more HDLs by getting 20 to 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking; consuming enough omega-3's from fish and supplements; eating monounsaturated fat from avocadoes; and cutting out trans-fats.

Center Submits Arguments Against Artificial Food Coloring PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael McCaffrey   
Monday, March 21, 2011

The Center for Processed-Free Living today submitted arguments against artificial food coloring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  On March 30th and 31st, 2011, the FDA Food Advisory Committee will be discussing a link between children's consumption of synthetic color additives in food and adverse effects on behavior. The letter and accompanying arguments can be found here.

In addition to submitting their scientific arguments against artificial food coloring, the Center submitted 987 names of people who signed the Center's petition against these colorings and other artificial additives.

Studies in 2004 and 2007 conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton concluded that specific mixtures of artificial colors increase hyperactivity in certain children. Based on these findings, the United Kindgom's Food Standards Agency (FSA) determined there was enough evidence to recommend a ban on six food dyes, calling for their removal from all food and drink products in the United Kingdom by the end of 2009. Since the ban was enacted, the food industry has responded positively, replacing banned colors with natural pigments in products.

However, many of these same products are still sold in the United States using the original artificial food colors. The USFDA still claims they are safe, but consumer advocate groups disagree. In 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the FDA to remove eight artificial colors from the nation's food supply: Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3 and Yellow 6. The CSPI maintains that all artificial colors should be avoided and that eliminating them from the food supply is the most effective public health approach.

"These artificial food colorings are not even necessary and are harmful particularly for our children," said organic chemist and Center founder Dee McCaffrey, CDC. She adds, "there are several ways to create food coloring naturally, and if the industry can't self-police itself to not poison our citizens, the FDA needs to step in."

The public can submit their arguments to this Committee until March 23rd, 2011 or can request to make a presentation on March 30th and 31st. Information about how to participate is found here. To sign the Center's petition against these and other harmful additives, click here.

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