Cooking For Health

Bar Wars: The Un-Sugarcoated Truth About the Clif vs KIND Controversy

By Ellen Kanner, Contributing Writer

On March 6, New York Times subscribers came upon a full-page open letter—in print and online-- from the popular snack food company Clif Bar, challenging competing brand, KIND, to live up to its name and go completely organic. Was this an earnest plea for corporate responsibility or a shrewd marketing ploy? Either way, the ensuing "bar fight" underscores both the massive size of the "healthy" snack market, and the rapid growth of consumer demand for healthy and eco-friendly foods. 

Functional Formularies Offers Organic, Plant-Based Options for Tube-Feeding

By Ellen Kanner, Contributing Writer

A small independent company based in Ohio launched a feeding tube formula called Liquid Hope, comprised entirely of organic whole foods like chickpeas, sprouted quinoa, almond butter, turmeric, kale, sweet potato, and other high-energy, anti-inflammatory ingredients. Unlike most conventional enteral nutrition formulas, Liquid Hope is free from sugar, corn syrup, omega-6 laden oils, and dairy ingredients. It is making a profound difference in the lives of many patients. 

FDA Revamps It's Field Guide to Food Additives

By Kristen Schepker, Assistant Editor

Food ingredient list There are well over 10,000 chemical additives--flavorings, colorings, preservatives--that the federal government permits for use in food products sold in the US. While a few occasionally grab headlines--think monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrite, high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame--the vast majority garner very little public attention.

Equally under the radar is an underutilized but quite informative database maintained by the Food and Drug Administration, and formerly known as "Everything Added to Foods in the United States" (EAFUS). Late last year, the FDA relaunched the site under  a new title: the Substances Added to Food inventory.

In addition to its name change, the revamped index boasts several updated features, including novel search functions and links to relevant regulatory information.

Think of it as a field guide to those commonly-used chemicals that add lots of polysyllabic Latin and Greek to the ordinary average ingredient label.

EAFUS 2.0

The FDA's Office of Food Additive Safety (OFAS), which maintains the Substances Added to Food inventory, announced the launch of its upgraded ingredients catalog in June 2018. Earlier versions of the EAFUS database have existed online since 1999, providing information on various types of food ingredients, additives, and packaging substances. 

The revamped inventory includes approximately 4,000 different ingredients--less than half of the total in current use by the food industry (Neltner TG, et al. Reproductive Toxicology. 2013; 42: 85-94). But it does cover the most common food and color additives, flavoring substances, Generally Recognized as Safe ("GRAS") substances, and other chemicals approved for specific uses in foods.

Items appear in the inventory according to ingredient names as recognized by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. When available, the site offers direct links to any applicable regulations for a particular food substance, as well as additional information like other commercial or brand names and common uses for specific ingredients.

Individual food ingredients that are federally regulated appear alongside official regulation or identification numbers and include links to details about the specific approved uses for those food substances.

In addition to chemicals the FDA considers safe to eat, the database also includes information on substances that were formerly Food additives health risksImmunomodulatory properties of common food additives (From Dar H, et al. Intl J Immunother Ca Res. 2017).permitted but are now prohibited, as well as delisted color additives, and food ingredients "no longer FEMA GRAS."

FEMA (no, not that FEMA, but the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association), was established in 1959 to independently assess the safety and GRAS status of food ingredients in accordance with the 1958 Food Additives Amendments to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). This regulation governs flavorings and other food additives.

Database users can also access a new search feature to simultaneously pull up ingredient information from multiple other related food ingredient and packaging inventories, including GRAS and environmental safety notices.

That feature comes in very handy, because there are some serious gaps in the Substances Added to Food database.

For instance, a basic search for "glyphosate"––the most widely used agricultural weed and pest killer implicated in numerous human and environmental health challenges––returns zero results from Substances Added to Food, despite evidence that residues of the pesticide wind up in many food and beverage products. But a search across additional datasets reveals nearly 40 hits for glyphosate, mostly pertaining to the development of genetically modified, herbicide tolerant food crops intended for human use. 

Inclusion Doesn't Guarantee Safety

The inclusion of a specific chemical in the FDA inventory does not guarantee that a food additive is safe to eat, nor does it mean that the compound is dangerous. But the site is useful in that it provides a central clearninghouse for basic information on the astonishing range of chemicals that can end up in our processed, packaged, and pre-made foods.

"It is important to note that the Substances Added to Food inventory is only a partial list of food ingredients," the FDA itself indicates, adding that "inclusion in this inventory of information from non-FDA entities does not indicate an FDA approval or evaluation of this use."

In cases where the Substances Added to Food inventory contains information provided by non-FDA entities––like the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance––FDA approval, or even evaluation of a substance's permissible uses, cannot be presumed.

Anyone using the food inventory should be aware that inclusion is not necessarily a marker of FDA acceptance or even comprehensive safety testing of a particular substance. The database contains not only evaluated and approved food ingredients––but also additives that might still be under safety review.

For practitioners or patients seeking specific safety or health risk details about particular food-related colorings, flavorings, preservatives, or pesticides, this FDA database is undoubtedly a useful health information tool. Though it is not likely to be the final word on the safety (or lack thereof) of particular food additives, it does provide a solid starting point.

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The Cult and Culture of Vegan Cheese

By Ellen Kanner, Contributing Writer

We're witnessing a vegan cheese explosion these days. US sales of these plant-based, non-dairy cheeses jumped by 43% in 2018 , according to the Plant-Based Food Association, and are forecast to hit the $4 billion mark by 2024. Venture capital firms are all over it, and the market is thriving. These products have evolved a long way in the last decade. How healthy are they, and for whom? 

In "How to Change Your Mind," Michael Pollan Explores Resurgence of Psychedelic Medicine

By Ellen Kanner, Contributing Writer

After decades on the margins of both polite society and medical research, psychotropic compounds such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and the like, are once again the focus of serious clinical investigation as potential therapies for a host of psychological and neurological conditions. In his newest book, How to Change Your Mind, popular author explores the resurgence of psychedelic medicine without bias, agenda, or pretense.

Innovative Med Schools Put Future Doctors in the Kitchen

By Ellen Kanner, Contributing Writer

The connection between food choices and wellness goes back at least as far as ancient Greece. Yet it’s taken two millennia for Western medical schools to make food part of medical training. Innovative medical schools around the country are beginning to introduce Culinary Medicine into their curricula.

Challenged by MS, the "Spice-Trekkers" Discover Their Own Culinary Medicine

By Ellen Kanner, Contributing Writer

Philippe and  Ethné de Vienne an explorer by nature. He and his wife Ethné travel the world, sourcing organic spices and herbs where they’re grown. That’s their job as the owners of the Montreal-based spice company, Épices de Cru. But five years ago, when Philippe was suddenly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, their search took a very different turn--one that led to important discoveries about how to use foods and spices to alter the course of serious autoimmune diseases.

With Sioux Chef, Native Americans Rediscover Indigenous Foodways

By Ana Maria Puente, Contributing Writer

With a restaurant and catering company called Sioux Chef, an Oglala Lakota chef named Sean Sherman is helping Native American communities--and many other non-Natives--to discover the original indigenous foods of North America. Many native foods--things like cattail shoots, prairie turnips, choke cherries, prickly pears, rabbit and bison--are extremely healthy.

Wholesome Rx: Prescribe Produce, Not Pills

By By Ellen Kanner, Contributing Writer

“Eat more fresh produce.” It’s an easy bit of medical advice to give. Yet it’s advice millions of Americans aren’t able to follow, even if they want to. A non-profit group called Wholesome Wave is working to make it a little bit easier for both practitioners and patients, by creating a system that allows doctors to literally prescribe produce for patients and their families in underserved communities.