Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Food Pharmacy – Artificial Flavors and Chemical Additives

Teensy-weensy by Emma Holister from "Chemical Poisoning: Brave New World of Zero Risk" book by Martin Walker, post by Sepp Hasslberger.

The title of this post is more appropriate than you think. Everyday there is more "pharmacy" than "food" in the processed products you eat. Now, we may be looking at yet another flavor enhancing chemical that tricks your brain into tasting what isn't there.

It's totally true what they (medical and industrial establishments) say about excess salt, but they also aren't telling you that the excess isn't coming from your salt shaker, it's part and parcel of the processed foods you eat.

Telling you to not use your salt shaker amounts to telling you not to add sugar to your soda-pop. There is already so much sodium in the processed foods you eat that hiding the salt shaker isn't going to do much for your health. You get about 75% of your daily sodium from processed foods. Eliminating the Doritos, canned soups (which tend to be especially high in sodium), or other processed food products from your diet will reduce your sodium intake to a more natural level, but no one tells you that. (What, you don't read labels?)

Someone has finally figured out how to reduce the amount of salt, and the amount of sugars, in processed foods so you don't have to read those time-consuming labels any more. In fact, they have made it really easy for you by calling the additive a "flavoring," thereby not bothering your head with all those long, chemical-compound words that no one understands anyway.

(I'm not kidding: " 'We are helping companies clean up their labels,' said Kent Snyder, chief executive of Senomyx." A great public service to be sure, but it also hides the ingredients from consumers who have a right to know what they are consuming.)

Instead, we now have a chemical additive that turns on or off the taste receptors on your tongue so that even with lower amounts of salt (and sugar) your brain is tricked into thinking it is getting a higher level of salty (and sweet) tasting foods. ("A taste receptor functions either by physically binding to a flavor ingredient in a process analogous to the way a key fits into a lock or by acting as a channel to allow ions to flow directly into a taste cell. As a result of these interactions, signals are sent to the brain where a specific taste sensation is registered." Senomyx Technology )

Is this additive tested, tried, and true? you ask, remembering some of the "safe" food additives that had to be removed from the shelves in the past. Well, sure. It was safety-tested for at least three months, but don't worry, even if it's not safe, the amount is so small that it won't hurt you. (Since the amount used is so small, they have been able to sidestep the FDA approval process, so rigorous testing is not required.)

(I emailed Senomyx earlier today and asked to see the safety studies done on their products. I'll insert an update at the end of this article if they get back to me.)

Nestle began marketing products containing at least one of these chemicals in 2007.

Coca-Cola may still be in the research phase.

Campbell soup may still be in the research phase.

See the list of manufacturers and food processors who are involved in the possible future use of this brain-fooling chemical additive. Senomyx Collaborate Partnerships

Well, enough from me. The excerpts from the articles below tell the full story. And, of course, you are welcome and encouraged to follow the link to the Senomyx website to get their take on this, too.

The excerpts are from and the UCSF student newspaper SYNAPSE.

'Secretive' Chemicals Being Hidden in Food Under 'Artificial Flavors' Label

Thursday, April 10, 2008 by: Jennifer McKinley posted on

(NaturalNews) You Thought MSG Was Bad? At least they admit that it's in there... well, mostly. Have you picked up a can of soup lately and noticed that the sodium levels are lower? Seen a label that said, "No MSG"? How about realizing that there is less sugar on the label of your favorite ice cream? Believe it or not, this is cause for concern.

A relatively young company, Senomyx, may be responsible for the sodium and sugar levels falling in your favorite grocery store item. How are they doing this without affecting the taste? The truth is, they may be putting chemicals into your food right now without you even realizing it and without telling you.

And guess what? They don't have to.

Senomyx has contracted with Kraft, Nestle, Coca Cola, Campbell Soup to put a chemical in foods that masks bitter flavors by turning off bitter flavor receptors on the tongue and enhancing salty and sweet flavors. This would allow the companies to tout claims such as "less sugar" or "lower sodium" by reducing the actual sugar and/or salt by approximately half, but the foods will retain the same level of sweetness or saltiness when they touch the tongue by fooling your brain.

All of the companies, although admitting the exclusive contracting rights, decline to identify which foods and beverages the chemical additives have been or will be added to.

These chemical compounds are not required to be listed separately on food labels. On the contrary, they will be lobbed under the umbrella of "artificial flavors" which is already found on most food labels.

The foods that seem to be most in jeopardy of an insurrection of these new chemicals: soups, juices (fruit and vegetable), ice cream, and sauces.

"We are helping companies clean up their labels," said Kent Snyder, chief executive of Senomyx.

Mark Zoller, Senomyx's chief scientist, says that his company has used the human genome sequence and identified hundreds of taste receptors. Senomyx's chemical compounds enhance those receptors to heighten the taste of salt or sugar. Under this premise, they go on to claim that their newly added chemicals are completely safe because they will be used in tiny quantities of less than one part per million whereas artificial sweeteners are used in 200-500 parts per million. This fact alone allows them to forgo the rigorous FDA approval process when introducing new food additives into the marketplace.

A Salt With a Deadly Weapon

By Stephanie Chang, first-year medical student.

Contributing Writer (SYNAPSE, The UCSF Student Newspaper)

Many dangers in life that can kill me in a delayed or indirect fashion find themselves shoved into the back of my brain. Some of these slower-acting menaces include secondhand smoke, global warming, UV rays and the lethal parking lot elevator between Irving Street and Parnassus that seduces me from hours of physical exertion.

Excess salt in the average American’s diet has always been a problem, but not one contemplated heavily by me until Melanie Warner raised the issue in a recent New York Times article, “The War Over Salt” (September 13, 2006).

For the past 20 years, health experts have known that “excessive sodium consumptions leads to various health problems” and that “salt-induced high blood pressure, or hypertension, is a significant contributor to heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death in the United States. (Cancer ranks second).”

And here is the obligatory factoid: Americans eat way more salt than they should. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average American consumes more than 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day. In contrast, the government’s recommended guidelines are 2,300 milligrams for young adults and 1,500 milligrams for those with high blood pressure and any person middle-aged or older. The Department of Agriculture has found that three-quarters of the salt consumed by Americans derives from processed food.

Elevated levels of sodium consumption in the United States became a public health concern earlier this year after the American Medical Association (AMA) recommended that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “revoke salt’s long-time status as a substance that is ‘generally recognized as safe’” in favor of its regulation as a food additive.

In response, the FDA has promised to consider organizing a hearing or workshop on the dangers of salt, but few believe that these nascent efforts will result in any decisive action due to lack of government funding for the FDA’s division on food regulation, an increasing number of other priorities and “an unwillingness among top agency officials to take on the food industry.”

No one can blame those FDA officials. The salt market in the United States is worth $340 million dollars, and manufacturers find that “salt is an easy and cheap way to give processed foods an appealing taste.” Unlike the steps behind tasting sweetness, the biological mechanism for how humans taste saltiness remains unclear, and so there has never been a satisfactory salt substitute.

Interestingly, in an earlier New York Times article by Melanie Warner entitled “Food Companies Test Flavorings That Can Mimic Sugar, Salt, or MSG” (April 6, 2005), a company called Senomyx in San Diego has developed chemical compounds that could replace or enhance the above-mentioned ingredients in the future. Most of these new chemicals are flavorless by themselves, but activate or block taste receptors to “amplify” existing amounts of sodium in the food product.

Warner reports that “Senomyx’s chemical compounds will not be listed separately on ingredient labels. Instead, they will be lumped into a board category — ‘artificial flavors’ — already found on most packaged food labels.” Also, “since Senomyx’s flavor compounds will be used in small proportions (less than one part per million), the company is able to bypass the lengthy FDA approval process required to get food additives on the market. Getting the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association status of generally recognized as safe, or GRAS, took Senomyx less than 18 months, including a three-month safety study using rats. In contrast, the maker of the artificial sweetener sucralose spent 11 years winning FDA approval and is required to list the ingredient on food labels.”

Critics have argued that the new chemicals require more testing, but Senomyx contends that the compounds are safe by virtue of their use in trace amounts. This is a dubious argument, since these trace amounts appear to be enough to cut the sodium content of a can of soup in half without diminishing the product’s tasty saltiness.

Unsurprisingly, Senomyx’s claims have prompted companies such as Kraft, Nestle, Coca-Cola and Campbell’s Soup to negotiate exclusive contracts to use these chemicals. Filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission reveal that these major food companies have already paid Senomyx a total of $30 million dollars for research and development, and that the stock price of Senomyx “has nearly doubled since it went public” in June 2004.

[Senomyx is collaborating with seven of the world's leading food, beverage, and ingredient supply companies to develop and commercialize our flavor ingredients. We currently have exclusive or co-exclusive product discovery and development collaborations with Ajinomoto Co. Inc., Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Firmenich SA, Nestlé SA, and Solae, LLC. ]

Why have food companies become fixated on reducing sodium content while preserving the original salty flavor of their products? High stakes economics have trapped food companies between pressure from health experts to reduce salt content and a historically dismal consumer response to reduced-sodium foods. Americans enjoy the taste of salt. Both of Warner’s articles on sodium have both appeared in the business section of the New York Times, indicating that excess sodium is a widely accepted health concern that has become less of a health issue than a business issue.

In this salty (rather than sticky) situation, it becomes hard for me to isolate the factors that may be killing me first. Is it the excess sodium in my bag of Doritos or the unlisted Senomyx chemicals grouped under “artificial flavors?” Is it the food companies that refuse to change the salty taste of their products or the FDA for its refusal to regulate sodium content? Ironically, the battle over salt in our food is leading to the development of strange artificial substitutes that may prove to be equally dangerous. Another worry has become shelved in the back of my brain.

Michelle here again……I'm certainly not going to let this new chemical additive go to the back of my brain, are you?


Geraldine said...

A very enlightening post M, the problem is worse than I actually realised. Makes you want to make or grow everything 'from scratch' so to speak, whenever that's possible. Thanks for the update on this important topic.

PS: I had a spirited discussion re: noise pollution with my co-workers at my part-time job today. Apparently, there are specific herbs that are useful in treating this particular type of stress, which is often overlooked. Any comments on this?

Michelle said...

Hi G,

It is exactly things like this that are being snuck into our food supply without our knowledge that prompted me to get the little greenhouse.

I will be growing as much as I can, and doing it organically. After reading that one book on organic gardening - The New Organic Grower (see the end of the post on "Fatal Harvest" from Feb. 15, 2008)

- I think I can actually grow enough for my family for the year.

The author says you can grow enough veggies on one acre to feed 40 people for a year. I only need to feed two....should be doable in a greenhouse.

As far as the herbs and noise pollution, I don't know anything about that one. The only thing that strikes me is that a lot of noise can cause anxiety and therefore stress, so any herbs that help relieve anxiety might help.

I'd be interested in knowing what herbs your coworkers were recommending!

Geraldine said...

Ill check into this further, I have some printed material to check out too. Thanks for stopping by today!

Will said...

I often say quite loudly that we have an absolute right, and need to make it a legal right, to know what is in our food. Nothing should be hidden and certainly not because some "study" has shown it to be safe.

As you and I have said many times, Michelle, the companies are doing this as a defensive tactic against the increasing educated choices of consumers. They know that if the true ingredients are shown on the label, more and more people will choose to buy products from a better source.

Just like we need to beware of the al encompassing "fragrance" label on health and beauty aids, we now need to stay away from food that has something like "flavoring" on the label.

Michelle said...

Hi Will,

I agree.

The only way to make the companies be forthcoming about the ingredients is to stop buying the products.

Unfortunately, the corporations at this time have more power and clout than the consumers. If we stop consuming, I think that will change, and the ball will come back into our court.