It started with the news about fake Parmesan cheese in early 2016.
Then I saw the 60 Minutes show about fake olive oil.
Both reflected how consumer products are mislabeled. Fake food that we put into our bodies.
Back to the cheese.
The Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) inspected Castle Cheese Inc. in 2012 after receiving a tip that the company was adulterating their 100% Parmesan Cheese product sold to major food chain stores in the U.S. The inspection showed that Castle Cheese was adding cellulose and cheaper cheeses. According to the FDA, the company had been selling cheese as branded “100% Parmesan cheese” that contained no Parmesan cheese for 30 years.
Then, a number of companies were named in a lawsuit for using cellulose filler in their “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” products. Plant fiber is legal in the U.S. and is an FDA approved anti-clumping ingredient for pre-grated cheese. FDA recognizes cellulose as “safe additive,” and it can be used at levels from 2 percent to 4 percent. Used throughout the food industry, cellulose gives foods like ice cream a creamier mouthfeel, and it’s used in good quality grated cheeses, as well as not-so-great quality cheeses.
Bloomberg Business did a research study on Parmesan cheeses sold. Some brands promising 100 percent purity contained no Parmesan at all. And some had a higher percentage of cellulose in some cheeses than indicated on the products’ labels — and a higher percentage of cellulose than allowed by the government.
I checked my Parmesan Cheese container. The label says 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese. The back label lists the ingredients: Parmesan cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), cellulose powder to prevent caking, potassium sorbate to protect flavor.
It turns out that Parmesan is a generic name for Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. And Parmesan may be applied to various simulations of this cheese. Except in the European Economic Area under law.
So I bought the real deal, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese without additives.
Yes, real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese does clump. But it breaks up nicely because it is a hard, dry cheese. It is also more expensive. But it does not take as much because the real deal has much more flavor.
So how many more lies have we been told? How many food myths have we been led to believe?
Top 10 Lies That Make Us Fat
There are so many lies and myths about food. I decided that these were my top 10, which are not in any particular order.
Diet Soda Is Better Than Regular Soda – The truth is diet soda helps make us fat because it increases sugar cravings. Studies indicate that artificial sweeteners disrupt gut bacteria just like real sugar. Worse yet, artificially sweetened beverages have been shown to increase Type 2 Diabetes.
Low or No Fat Food is Good for You – Low or no fat foods are made by adding carbohydrates to replace the calories lost from fat. Fat is more satiating than protein or carbs. So fats will turn on the body’s “I am full” switch sooner. These fats activate appetite-suppressing hormones and slow stomach emptying (so you feel fuller longer).
Sugar free – Many sugar free products actually contain sugar. Because of federal guidelines for product labeling allows latitude in listing ingredients, companies use other terms for sugar. Common ones found on food labels include brown rice syrup, barley malt, caramel, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, and anything involving corn syrup.
Zero calorie drinks will let you lose weight – Unless the drink is water, zero calorie drinks (and food) will not let you lose weight. Additives (artificial sweeteners as an example) may irritate gut bacteria and cause body inflammation which leads to weight gain. Inflammation causes the “fat” genes to turn on and add belly fat.
Trans Fat has not been added – Food products may be labeled as containing 0 trans fats. However, they may contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat. There are two types of trans fat, naturally-occurring and artificial trans fats. Artificial trans fats are industrially made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil.
Natural or All Natural – A food product labeled natural or all natural is meaningless. It is whatever the marketer wants it to be. Because the FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. The FDA is currently looking at defining the use of the term “natural” in food labeling. The public comments period ended May 10, 2016.
Carbs are bad for you – While carbs like pasta and potatoes can result in weight gain, when eaten in moderation they provide fuel for the body. The whole-wheat variety is a good source of fiber (white pasta still has some) and pasta is an excellent source of selenium – which has antioxidant qualities – and manganese, which regulates blood sugar.
Dark bread is better than white bread – Depends. Some dark bread is white bread with coloring added! Read the labels.
Baby carrots – Labels that say “baby carrots” appear on packages of very young carrots that are harvested while the vegetables are still quite tiny. But here is the fact about baby carrots. They have been genetically modified or grown to be smaller AND SWEETER. Consumers prefer to give baby carrots to children as a healthy snack alternative. Children learn to crave to eat sweet foods. The alternative is find “baby-cut” carrots. Labels that proclaim “baby-cut carrots” appear on packages of petite carrots made by chopping down and polishing much larger versions of the vegetable.
Made with whole grains – This is an almost meaningless label. It indicates that there are some whole grains somewhere in the product with typical white flour. This is confusingly called “enriched wheat flour”and is listed as the main ingredient. Whole wheat is made from the whole grain. Whole Meal/grain – spelt, oats, barley etc uses whole grain. But multigrain – does not use the whole grain and therefore not totally nutritious. According to the FDA, you can call a grain product “whole grain” if at least 51% of its grains are whole. It is important to read the ingredient list to see what is listed first.
Where do we go from here in finding food truth?
Read the food labels.
Focus on eating healthier.
You cannot necessarily believe what the front of the food product package is telling or showing you. A picture or cartoon of a “happy cow in a pasture” may not be the reality of food production process or even the source of the product you may be consuming.
So many food labels are marketing terms to persuade consumers to buy a product. Terms that have no legal or regulatory meanings. And the FDA priorities are on the most hazardous, dangerous products.