You Might Be Eating Genetically Modified Foods Without Knowing It!
Lecture by Dr. Mark Hyman
Dr. Mark Hyman: Should we buy food with health claims on the label? Hi. This is Doctor Mark Hyman. Welcome back to my blog. These days we’re seeing more and more health claims that go beyond the old low fat claims such as trans fat free foods, gluten free foods, heart healthy foods, foods spiked with vitamins, such as my new favorite Diet Coke Plus, a great new way to get your vitamins and minerals. We see whole grain Poptarts, Tyson chicken with misleading labels such as chicken raised without antibiotics that cause antibiotic resistance in humans, whatever that means. We see natural sweeteners called SweetFiber; we see whole grain Cheerios that are still full of sugar.
Why not eat sugary cereals called Live Active for you digestive health with ingredients that provide extra food for your healthy bacteria in your guts such as inulin? Now you can get health food at McDonalds, such as salads, but with salad dressings that make them have more calories than a Big Mac. And we also see antioxidant spiked junk food like ginkgo spiked energy drinks. So what should we make of all these marketing claims, and do they provide any benefit? Well in Michael Pollan’s new book In Defense of Food, he rails against the notion of nutritionism, which is the idea that we can single out nutrients from whole foods, add them back to processed food, or take them as supplements to achieve health benefits. I think his point is very well taken. We must be very careful to avoid the marketing ploys of the food industry. It wants us to eat more junk food by putting it in friendlier packaging. But make no mistake, these foods are still wolves in sheep’s clothing and we need to be very wary about any food that comes in a package, box, or can. That’s not to say that there are not some good whole foods that are available in packages, boxes, or cans, however most of what is available on the marketplace is simply not real food.
Now a recent patient of mine who works for a large food industry is a food scientist. His job is to invent and create new foods in the laboratory for mass consumption by mixing foods and chemicals to create certain tastes and flavors that mimic real food or those that stimulate appetite and satisfy our need for various tastes. Think of these as Frankenfoods, like Frankenstein. He became quite sick, actually, from handling these compounds and chemicals every day, and I’ve been work hard to get him to not only eating the processed food but all to stop playing with it. He actually wore a funny t-shirt to my office which showed the top ten reasons to major in food science, which is a scientific discipline which actually teaches people how to invent foods for the food industry.
So here are the top reasons you can become a food scientist. One, eat ice cream for breakfast and get credit for it. Two, we’re in it for the dough, d-o-u-g-h. Three, grocery shopping is research instead of a chore. Four, we get to eat the results of our research project. Because hairnets are a fashion statement. Because we know what’s really in your hotdogs. Not only do we know how to drink beer, but we can make it. Cheese, yogurt, and buttermilk, who says we’re not cultured? As long as you’re eating, we’ll be working. And lastly, we have not stopped playing with our food, and now we’re playing with yours. In fact, he gave me an industry trade journal called Food Business News which I found very enlightening, actually. I was shocked to read the very careful and deliberate marketing ploys to gain a foothold in our increasingly health conscious market. The advice to the food industry was clear.
Modify packaging and ingredients in food just slightly to give the impression of health while continuing to provide poor quality, nutrient poor, calorie dense foods. For example, there was an ad for Food quote “Ingredient Solutions,” a company that provides new types of food coloring. This allows manufacturers to color junk food with natural pigments which can replace artificial coloring using tablets, coating, pan confections, rubs, sauces, and more. So who were they fooling? Tyson foods cleverly labeled their chicken to be produced without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans, meaning they used antibiotics, just not ones that cause problems in humans. Well, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s kind of a funny way around things. ConAgra, which is losing money, is actually creating a food line called Healthy Choice Steamers, which is still pretty much junky food. Another article documented a rating called Fitch Ratings that said that innovation in the food industry will continue in areas of perceived health, not actual health, perceived health and wellness and convenience and ethic products. Perceived health, not actual health, right? As long as you make people think that they’re getting something healthy, that’s good enough, even if it’s the same old junk food. Now other junk foods include allergy free junk foods, energy drinks- there’s also an article about Lean Pockets which now has whole grain pocket sandwiches, which are still full of chemicals and processed food, but now have a few more flakes of fiber, giving the illusion of a health food. There’s something- there’s even an ad for something called Veggie Pure, which is actually a compound designed for cholesterol reduction that puts plant phytosterols in sugary junk food.
The bottom line, as I’ve always said, if it has a label don’t eat it. Or, as Michael Pollan says, eat food, meaning eat real whole food, not too much, mostly plants. So I think we have to be very cautious as consumers against label claim for health benefits on processed food, which sprinkle non-therapeutic amounts of helpful ingredients into otherwise poor quality, high calorie, nutrient poor foods, giving us the illusion that we are doing something good for ourselves. Therefore I encourage you to eat food that comes from a farmer’s field and not a food chemist laboratory, and you won’t have to worry about all these functional food claims. So here’s what to eat, very simple. Eat real whole food, right? Vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean animal protein such as wild fish that are small, poultry, whole omega-3 eggs, you can have small amounts of grass fed antibiotic and hormone-free beef and lamb.
That’s it! Food scientists tend to make us think that we need all these special ingredients in foods to stay healthy, however they’re just extracting them from real whole foods. So why not start with whole foods in the first place?