The food industry helped get us where we are today. Now it’s profiteering on the results.

It’s something we’ve all heard before: Those at the highest risk of a severe reaction or death from a COVID-19 infection have an “underlying condition.”

And the top “condition,” as it turns out, is obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released results from a study last month that examined those who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in 99 counties across 14 states, and the results are staggering. Close to 60 percent in the 18-49 group involved those who were obese. For people 50-64, obesity was the underlying condition for nearly 50 percent who were hit hard, along with 41 percent of patients 65 and over.

While it’s hardly news that obesity, especially in America, is so widespread it’s now referred to as an “epidemic,” many experts seem to have just realized that the food industry has been working for a very long time to make its ultra-processed foods considered normal eating options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Some, such as UK cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, are going so far as to say that if health authorities don’t warn citizens to change the way they eat, it would constitute “negligence and ignorance.” 

Professor Tim Spector, an expert in genetic epidemiology at King’s College in London remarked that “Obesity and poor diet is emerging as one of the biggest risk factors for a severe response to COVID-19 infection that can no longer be ignored.”

And Professor Robert Listig, from the University of California commented on the CDC report by saying that “ultra-processed food sets you up for inflammation,” which is something COVID-19 is “happy to exploit.”

But as they say, talk is cheap. What isn’t, however, is how much money Big Food spends to make sure that these stockpiles of processed products that have undermined our health so much keep on selling. And despite what that CDC report revealed, ultra-processed, obesity-spawning foods are flying off the shelves faster than ever before.

A distressing comfort

At one time, comfort foods used to constitute mom’s mac and cheese, homemade mashed potatoes or a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies fresh out of the oven. Now it appears that our eating habits have deteriorated to the point where many of the hundreds of New York Times readers commenting on an article titled “‘I Just Need the Comfort’: Processed Foods Make a Pandemic Comeback,” are arguing the vital need to consume unlimited amounts of Velveeta, canned pasta and “cheese” that comes from a can.

For Big Food, it’s likely a sales dream come true.

General Mills reported that sales are up “across-the-board” during the last month, including packaged dinner mixes such as Hamburger Helper, described by a spokesman as a “simple and delicious meal.”

Conagra Brands saw a 50 percent increase for products such as Slim Jim and Chef Boyardee canned pastas during March. Kraft/Heinz now needs to keep some factories working three shifts just to keep cranking out enough boxed macaroni and cheese, with Campbell’s soup sales jumping almost 60 percent from where they were a year ago.

And Impossible Foods, which makes the additive filled, ultra-processed fake meat called the “Impossible Burger,” has been able to use this pandemic to get its products into 777 more grocery stores in the U.S.

If, as many experts are saying, the threat posed by COVID-19 will be with us for quite a while — even gaining tragic traction in the fall — now is the time to make sure you’re in fighting shape. And judging from the CDC’s research, it appears that can best be started right in your kitchen.

Linda Bonvie

Linda Bonvie is journalist, blogger and co-author of “A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives: How to avoid synthetic sweeteners, MSG, artificial colors, and more,” Skyhorse Publishing, March 2020.

Will a pandemic encourage a return of the kitchen pantry?

How our lack of cooking skills and reliance on processed food is biting back

One of the realizations hitting many households hard in these days of self-isolation is how little we actually cook the food we eat from basic, real-food ingredients. That, and our dependence on frequent supermarket runs means there’s no need to think too much about what we’re going to serve up for mealtime down the road.

But not very long ago a pantry (also called a “larder” in earlier days when it was typically a cool room that could store perishable items) was an essential part of any well-run household. More than mere cupboards, a pantry is a dedicated space with shelving and drawers containing the basics needed to make a wide assortment of meals, such as a variety of canned and dried beans, all types of root veggies, garlic, dried herbs, oils, flour, pasta, oats, cornmeal, rice, nuts, sugar, honey, condiments, canned fish, and on and on. And no, a well-stocked pantry is not a sign of a hoarder.

Baked goods, especially breads, often had a dedicated pantry drawer.

It seems, however, that as kitchens grew into the high-tech appliance realm they now occupy, we downsized the space needed to store food and have the ingredients necessary to make authentic meals.

Even a huge refrigerator and your typical cupboards can’t take the place of a pantry when it comes to being prepared for when you can’t – or don’t want to – go shopping for prolonged periods of time.

Perhaps not surprisingly the demise of the pantry appears to have paralleled the rise of ultra-processed foods filled with risky additives. This includes items from frozen meals (even organic ones) to “protein” drinks to fake meats — such as the Impossible Burger.

But aside from self-quarantined consumers feeling the pinch of running short on their Stouffer dinners or Marie Calendar’s frozen pot pies (and stores having trouble keeping such items on the shelves), eating this way has many other pitfalls.

As revealed in a just-out book I co-authored, A Consumer’s Guide to Toxic Food Additives, regularly consuming foods containing harmful, chemically derived ingredients are known causes of today’s most prevalent health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s. And Big Food is working round the clock to convince consumers that whatever laboratory creation of ooze and garbage they put on the market is not only fit for human consumption, but good for you as well.

For example, take the latest “health” trend – “plant based” meats.

These products are “ultra-processed” in every sense of the word. The Impossible Burger contains six ingredients (one being soy protein concentrate) that contain manufactured free glutamate, the same toxic component found in MSG. Beyond Burger patties are formulated from pea protein isolate, along with several other sources of free glutamate.

My favorite, however, on the fake food list would have to be JUST EGG – a urine-colored liquid made from mung bean protein isolate (more free glutamate) and transglutaminase, a.k.a. meat glue – another additive covered in A Consumer’s Guide.

While putting thought into a pantry might seem like an irrelevant issue right now, feeding your troops well with meals comprised of genuine food might just be the turning point in helping us through these strange and frightening times.

Linda Bonvie

Ultra-processed foods: Little nourishment, lots of toxic amino acids

Although the typical U.S. supermarket contains a wide variety of packaged foods, that assortment emanates from 10 giant conglomerates.

These multinationals, such as Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mondelez, have their imprints on practically everything you eat. And more and more of these products are “ultra-processed.”

It used to be that food technologists designed processed foods.  Those would be whole foods that were canned, freeze-dried, or fermented, for example.  But in the 1980s ultra-processed food — products manufactured with substances extracted from foods or synthesized in laboratories — started to line supermarket shelves.

Ultra-processed foods are fractionated-recombined foods consisting of an extensive number of additives and ingredients, but little actual whole food.  They can be identified by the remarkably long list of ingredients – including many unpronounceable ones — found on their labels. According to a recent study, Canadians are taking in practically half of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods.

Not mentioned in any study of ultra-processed foods, however, are the toxic ingredients added for color, flavor, shelf life (preservatives), and protein, along with low-calorie sweeteners. Manufactured free glutamate (MfG), the toxic component of monosodium glutamate, and all of the ingredients in the following list are found in both flavor enhancers and protein enhancers. And some say because they mask the taste of old or rancid food, MfGs are used as preservatives as well. 

Names of ingredients that always contain MfG:

  • Glutamic acid (E 620)
  • Glutamate (E 620)
  • Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
  • Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
  • Calcium glutamate (E 623)
  • Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
  • Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
  • Natrium glutamate
  • Anything “hydrolyzed”
  • Any “hydrolyzed protein”
  • Calcium caseinate, Sodium caseinate
  • Yeast extract, Torula yeast
  • Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Gelatin
  • Textured protein
  • Whey protein
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Soy protein
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Anything “protein”
  • Anything “protein fortified”
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy sauce extract
  • Protease
  • Anything “enzyme modified”
  • Anything containing “enzymes”
  • Anything “fermented”
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto
  • Umami
  • Zinc proteninate

Names of ingredients that often contain or produce MfG during processing:

  • Carrageenan (E 407)
  • Bouillon and broth
  • Stock
  • Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
  • Natural flavor
  • Maltodextrin
  • Oligodextrin
  • Citric acid, Citrate (E 330)
  • Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
  • Barley malt
  • Malted barley
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Pectin (E 440)
  • Malt extract
  • Seasonings

The following are ingredients suspected of containing or creating sufficient processed free glutamic acid to serve as MfG-reaction triggers in HIGHLY SENSITIVE people:

  • Corn starch
  • Corn syrup
  • Modified food starch
  • Lipolyzed butter fat
  • Dextrose
  • Rice syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Milk powder
  • Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
  • most things “low fat” or “no fat”
  • anything “enriched”
  • anything “vitamin enriched”
  • anything “pasteurized”
  • Annatto
  • Vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • certain amino acid chelates (Citrate, aspartate, and glutamate are used as chelating agents with mineral supplements.)

Convenient, relatively inexpensive and heavily advertised, the future of ultra-processed foods seems to be assured (1).  And why not?  The FDA lets the people who manufacture ultra-processed foods declare that they are GRAS (generally recognized as safe), and the general public seems unaware that the fox is guarding the hen house.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, and we’ll put them up on Facebook. Or you can reach us at questionsaboutmsg@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling.

Reference

1. Open PR Worldwide Public Relations.  Press release. 7/3/2019. “What’s driving the Flavor Enhancers Market Growth?  Cargill, Synergy Flavors, Tate & Lyle, Associated British Foods pic, Corbion …”  https://www.openpr.com/news/1794737/what-s-driving-the-flavor-enhancers-market-growth-cargill.  Accessed 7/31/2019.