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Mainely Tipping Points 39: SENOMYX’S PATENTED CHEMICAL FLAVOR ENHANCERS

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Mainely Tipping Points 39

Feb. 1, 2012

 

SENOMYX’S PATENTED CHEMICAL FLAVOR ENHANCERS

 

Lee Burdett is a food and health blogger:  http://blog.wellfedfamily.net.  Her Summer 2011 WISE TRADITIONS article, “Senomyx:  The Brave New World of Flavor BioEngineering,” follows Sally Fallon Morell’s article “The Salt of the Earth,” discussed in Tipping Points 38.  Both writers are concerned with the substitution of chemicals for real food, and both articles can be found online at the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) web site, which is linked on the right sidebar of this blog.  Morell and the WAPF are really worried about what a chemical substitution for real salt might do to the health of the general population.     

Senomyx, writes Burdett, is a ten-year old publicly traded high-tech research and development company based in San Diego.  Senomyx’s work is “closely related to the pharmaceutical industry….”  Indeed, “the majority of their corporate executives came from Pfizer, Novartis and Merck.”  And “their advisory board is populated by neurobiologists, neuropharmacologists and one Nobel prize-winning chemist.”  Synomyx “achieved an 85 percent increase in profits from 2009 to 2010.”

Why is any of this information important?  Because, explains Burdett, Synomyx is a “new player in the big food processing game.”  Synomyx has developed patented flavor enhancers by using what they call their “proprietary taste receptor-based assay systems.”  These systems allow Senomyx to test “an enormous volume of chemicals” and to determine if a particular chemical concoction is “effective or tasty.”  Once found, Synomyx patents the concoction. 

Synomyx has five flavors in various stages of completion, writes Burdett:  Savory Flavors, Sweet Taste, Salt Taste, Cooling Flavors, and Bitter Blockers.  Senomyx has already patented some savory flavor ingredients  and  some sweet flavor ingredients, including a sucralose enhancer.  The savory flavor ingredients were tested against monosodium glutamate (MSG) and inosine monophosphate (IMP)—which is “an expensive MSG enhancer.”  The sweet flavors were tested against various carbohydrate-based sugars and against artificial sweeteners.   Synomyx is working on  cooling flavors; bitter blockers, which will be used as additives in soy foods as they are “too bitter for most people to eat;” and on salty flavors. 

Synomyx, writes Burdett, has given the name SNMX-29 to “the protein they believe is the primary human salt taste receptor.  Now, they will use their “enormous flavor enhancing library to pinpoint which one stimulates SNMX-29 precisely the way sodium chloride does.”  And, “once this is achieved all that is left is for some company to buy the rights to insert that perfect salt enhancer into a food, replacing the need for much of the sodium currently used.”

Synomyx’s chemical flavors, writes Burdett, “stimulate your taste buds without them actually tasting anything.  This subterfuge fools your brain into thinking you have tasted an intensely sweet or savory (unami) flavor.  Much like MSG, these flavor enhancers operate on the neurological level to produce these reactions.  They bypass normal tasting processes and, because of their ability to react directly with the brain’s receptors, send signals directly to the location in your brain where specific flavors are registered.” 

Synomyx’s chemical flavors have not been tested for safety, explains Burdett, because very small amounts are used.  Thus, these chemicals “have not undergone the FDA’s usual safety approval process for food additives.”  But, science is discovering more and more that small amounts of chemicals are dangerous and that eating small amounts multiple times in a day does add up.    

In addition, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA)—which is an industry-funded organization—granted Senomyx’s MSG-enhancer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status in “less than eighteen months.”  So, this chemical has been patented and is “already in products on the market.”  Two sweet flavors and two Bitter Blockers have been given GRAS status by FEMA.  As these chemical flavors “are not actually ingredients but rather `enhancers,’ they are not required to be listed in a package’s ingredients except as `artificial flavors.’“  If you are buying packaged foods, likely you’re already eating them.     

The Ajinomoto Group (which mostly operates in China), Cadbury/Kraft, Campbell’s Soup, Firmenich (a Swiss perfume and flavoring company), Solae (soy-based foods), Nestlé, and PepsiCo—all of which have many trade names—are using Senomyx’s flavor enhancers.  For instance, writes Burdett, PepsiCo (which includes the Frito-Lay, Tropicana, Quaker, and Gatorade brands) “recently signed a four-year contract with Senomyx that included a thirty-million dollar up front payment from Pepsi to Senomyx to use their sweet enhancers.”

Burdett notes these sweet chemical flavors can replace 75 percent of sucralose and 50 percent of table sugar.  And, she notes that Synomyx CEO Kent Snyder has cited the need for Synomyx’s salt enhancement program “because salt reduction is such a high priority for food companies and the medical community `due to the association of high salt intake with cardiovascular disease.’ “ 

Yet, we know from Sally Fallon Morell’s article, “The Salt of the Earth,” that salt is “vital to health” and “there is no substitute for salt.”  We know that adequate sodium chloride “must be obtained from salt.”  We know that a 2010 government-funded study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” found that “even modest reductions in salt intake are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death” and that “lower sodium is associated with higher mortality.”

As with all of these food issues, there is a history.  The salt wars, writes Morell, “began in 1972 when the National High Blood Pressure Education Program, a coalition of thirty-six medical organizations and six federal agencies essentially declared that salt was an unnecessary evil.”  Industry was, of course, involved in this erroneous view.  Morell cites the example of Kristin McNutt, who had been hired by the MSG Foundation .  (Decreasing salt increases consumption of artificial flavorings, like MSG.)  McNutt testified before the McGovern Committee hearings that resulted in the demonization of saturated fats and the promotion of highly processed, dangerous vegetable oils.  McNutt said the following in a lecture before the Society for Nutrition Education in the early 1980s:  “ `It’s just like what we did before the McGovern Committee hearings.  In order to get media attention, we said that salt causes high blood pressure.  We knew it wasn’t true but we had to get their attention.” 

Now, low-salt is part of an elaborate belief system supported by misguided groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and many of our government organizations, like the FDA and the USDA, whose 2010 guidelines lower salt intake, writes Morell, to below the “absolute requirement for salt.”  Industry, including the medical industry, will be the only beneficiary of these unscientific decisions.  And, the food industry stands to make even more money if it does not have to pay for actual sugar and salt.

Chemical flavors are pharmaceuticals and as such should be safety tested.  Certainly they should be properly listed on food labels.  Why aren’t they?  Michael Pollan in IN DEFENSE OF FOOD explains that in 1973, the FDA “simply repealed the 1938 rule concerning imitation foods.”  This action opened the regulatory door to all manner of faked food ingredients.  “All it would take now,” writes Pollan, “was a push from the McGovern’s Dietary Goals for hundreds of `traditional foods that everyone know’ to begin their long retreat from the supermarket shelves and for our eating to become more `scientific’ “(34-36). 

So, don’t be afraid of consuming real, Celtic-type salt.  Avoid packaged, processed foods, especially those with a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce.  Cook, eat, and enjoy meals made from organic, locally grown, nutrient dense foods.  Buy a copy of NOURISHING TRADITIONS if you need help.  An hour making a soup or stew or roasting a chicken yields several nights of meals.  In addition to protecting and nourishing your health, your food will be delicious and fully satisfying.

 

Mainely Tipping Points 13: The Failure of the Low-Fat, High-Carbohydrate American Diet

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(Oops!  Read TP 12 first; it’s part of a series in the essays) 

Tipping Points 13

The Failure of the Low-Fat, High-Carbohydrate American Diet

 

 When Luise Light and her team of experts attempted to scientifically formulate the 1980 USDA Food Guide, they accepted two current dietary ideas as truth:  fat should be no more than 30 percent of the diet, and since the end of World War II, and especially in the 1960s, Americans had been experiencing “rising rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes” (13, Luise Light, WHAT TO EAT:  THE TEN THINGS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW TO EAT WELL AND BE HEALTHY).

Current historians show us that the low-fat premise that has governed the American diet for the past fifty years sprang from belief, not science, and became part of American cultural and economic practices when the stars aligned around a constellation that included the political power of a congressional committee, media acceptance of its recommendations, and the firmly-held beliefs of a handful of people.

Science writer Gary Taubes, in his myth-exploding article “The Soft Science of Dietary Fat,” published in “Science” magazine in March 2001, questioned the idea that there ever was an epidemic of heart disease after World War II (http://www.nasw.org/awards/2001/The%20soft%20science.pdf).  When Taubes interviewed Harry Rosenberg, Director of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Rosenberg said a heart disease epidemic never existed.  First, in 1949 the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) added arteriosclerotic heart disease as a new category under the general category of heart diseases.  Between 1948-1949, the new category appeared to raise coronary disease death rates about 20 percent for males and 35 percent for females. 

Again, In 1965, the ICD added a category for coronary heart disease, which added more deaths to the statistical data as physicians began using the new categories.  Furthermore, Rosenberg explained, by the 1950s, Americans were healthier, so more were living to be 50-year-olds who would go on to die of chronic diseases like heart disease, which physicians were now listing on death certificates under the new categories.  Taubes reports that Rosenberg said that, in actuality, risk rates of dying from a heart attack remained unchanged.

Taubes also discussed the fact that between 1989 and 1992, three independent research groups (Harvard Medical School; The University of California, San Francisco, funded by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office; and McGill University, Montreal) used computer models to work out added life expectancy for a person eating a low-fat diet that controlled saturated fats.  All three models agreed, but their conclusions have been ignored by media. 

The Harvard study showed that if a person’s total fat consumption was less than 30 percent of their daily total calories and if their saturated fat consumption was 10 percent of that 30 percent, a healthy nonsmoker might add from 3 days to 3 months of life.  The latter two studies showed net increase of life expectancy would be from three to four months.  Taubes noted that the U.S. Surgeon General’s office tried to prevent the University of California study from being published in “The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), but JAMA published it in June 1991.

The Lipid Hypothesis is the “scientific” paradigm calling for a low-fat diet.  The Lipid Hypothesis is the premise that ingested fat, especially saturated fat, raises blood cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol levels cause chronic heart disease (CHD).  Yet, many, many scientists now have argued that these cause-and-effect links have never been proven and, in fact, cannot be proven.  More recently than Taubes, Michael Pollan, in IN DEFENSE OF FOOD (2008), traces this history and current thinking on dietary fats in a section entitled “The Melting of the Lipid Hypothesis” (40-50). 

So how did the Lipid Hypothesis and the low-fat paradigm get installed with scant scientific data to support it?  Biochemist Ancel Keys is a key player.  In the mid 1950s, Keys (University of Minnesota) claimed that his epidemiological Seven Countries Study showed a correlation between the consumption of dietary fat and heart disease.  But, an epidemiological study cannot control or eliminate variables, and correlation is not proved causation.  Furthermore, many now, among them Taubes and Uffe Ravnskov, claim that Keys eliminated countries whose statistics did not fit his hypotheses, like France, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and West Germany, where national populations ate 30 to 40 percent of their calories as fat and whose death rates from CHD were half that of the United States.  Nevertheless, in 1961, the American Heart Association began advocating low-fat diets for men with high cholesterol levels.

Also in the 1950s, Nathan Pritkin, was diagnosed with heart disease.  Though he had no college degree and no scientific training, Pritkin created and published a low-fat, aerobic exercise regime that sold millions of copies.  Pritkin also suffered from leukemia, and it began causing complications and pain in the early 1980s.  Pritkin committed suicide in 1985.        

In 1977, the Congressional Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by Senator George McGovern, promoted the low-fat hypothesis—despite objections by scientists expert in the field.  Taubes determines that “a handful of McGovern staffers…almost single-handedly changed nutritional policy in this country” by initiating “the process of turning the dietary fat hypothesis into dogma” (4).

In 1976, Taubes reports, after two days of testimony, this committee turned “the task of researching and writing the first `Dietary Goals for the United States’” over to Nick Mottern, a labor reporter with “no experience writing about science, nutrition, or health” (5).  Mottern relied on Harvard School of Public Health nutritionist Mark Hegsted’s low-fat beliefs.  Hegsted, unlike E. H. Ahrens, whose laboratory at the Rockefeller University in New York City was doing seminal research on fat and cholesterol metabolism, saw no risks associated with such a major change to the American diet.  Ahrens, as early as 1969, was concerned that eating less fat or changing the proportions of saturated to unsaturated fats could have profound and harmful effects on the body (3-6).  Nevertheless, the Select Committee published Mottern’s dietary guidelines. 

Next, Taube relates, Carol Tucker Foreman, a political appointee at USDA who later forms a public relations and lobbying firm whose clients have included Phillip Morris, Monsanto (bovine growth hormone), and Procter and Gamble (fake fat Olestra), hired Hegsted to produce “Using the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” which supported the McGovern Committee Report.  Foreman hired Hegsted despite the fact that Philip Handler, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) President and an expert on metabolism, had told her that Mottern’s Dietary Goals were “`nonsense’ “ (6).

When NAS released its own dietary guidelines a few months later (watch your weight and everything else will be all right), the media criticized the NAS for having industry connections.  Hegsted later returned to Harvard where his research was funded by Frito-Lay.

So, a consensus was achieved, oneTaube says is “continuously reinforced by physicians, nutritionists, journalists, health organizations, and consumer advocacy groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest” (1).  And, science was “left to catch up” (7).

 Only, science never has.  And, what has emerged is that all calories are not equal and substituting carbohydrates for fat has caused weight gain and diabetes.  And, according to lipid biochemist Mary Enig, substituting highly-processed fats for time-honored, traditional fats is causing chronic heart disease.   

Pollan notes that in a 2001 review of the relevant research and report by “prominent nutrition scientists” at the Harvard School of Public Health, “just about every strut supporting the theory that dietary fat causes heart disease” was removed, except for consuming trans fats and consuming fats that alter ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids (41-42).  Pollan notes the Harvard scientists stated the following in their report’s second paragraph:  “`It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences’ “ (43).    

Pollan assesses that the low-fat ideology of nutritionism has been nutrition’s “supreme test and, as now is coming clear, its most abject failure” (41).

Tipping Points 3: When Did This Happen?

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

Tipping Points 3

April 3, 2010

When Did This Happen?

 I began reading food labels after passing out at my neighbors’ dinner table from a food reaction.  For  two decades I had been shopping the outside aisles of the supermarket where whole foods supposedly lived.  But, I had not questioned the sanctity of dairy products beyond ice cream—which often now included more than the five basic ingredients many food writers recommend as the watershed between real and fake foods.  Whip cream, I thought, for the cobbler I was planning. 

 The text on the front of the package of the All Purpose Whipping Cream read “super fresh” and “ultra-pasteurized, ” which meant raw milk had been preheated to just below 200 degrees Fahrenheit and then thermally processed to a temperature at or above 280 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two seconds.  Ultrapasteurization, which is suddenly more common, cooks milk.  This product lasts longer on the shelves–six months in an unrefrigerated aseptic (airtight, sterilized) container and up to 50 days in a refrigerated plastic milk container. 

The ingredient label read exactly as follows:  “cream, carrageenan (helps hold the whipped cream peaks), mono and diglycerides (made with vegetable oil, helps put air into the cream as it is whipping), and polysorbate 80 (made from corn oil, helps create stiff peaks).”  Wow, I thought, whipping raw heavy cream makes glorious peaks that last for days.  And, they’re not only killing the nutrients in the cream by cooking them, they’re cutting back on the cream and substituting seaweed and cheap highly processed vegetable oils.   

According to Dr. Mary Enig, a biochemist who is an internationally recognized authority on fats (Know Your Fats), the intensive processing of these vegetable oils breaks down their chemical structures into parts that act like razor blades in human veins and tissues.  These broken structures are the free radicals that cause heart disease.  

Enig is a scientist who since the 1970s has tried to tell the public how dangerous trans fats are, how untrue the lipid hypothesis used to demonize the animal fats people have eaten for centuries is, and how unhealthy the vegetable oils used to substitute for animal fats are.  When Enig tried to expose the scientific flaws in the lipid hypothesis, her work was successfully suppressed, and she never again got any funding.  She is associated with The Weston A. Price Foundation.  And, together with Sally Fallon, she wrote Nourishing Traditions and Eat Fat, Lose Fat (about healing diets).  Her lecture, The Oiling of America, delivered by Sally Fallon, is available on DVD.        

 Googling the ingredients on the AP cream carton shows that carrageenan is a gel-like thickening and stabilizing agent made from seaweed.  Polysorbate 80 is a surfactant (aids the blending of two liquids, like fats and water) and an emulsifier (helps the surfactant to blend).  Mayonnaise, for instance, is an oil-in-water emulsion made possible with the lecithin emulsifier in egg yolks.  Polysorbate 80 substitutes for egg yolks.  And, mono- and diglycerides are fats made, usually, from highly-processed soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, or palm oil.  They, too, act as emulsifiers.  And, they keep most baked products from getting stale.  In other processed foods, such as ice cream, margarine, instant potatoes, and chewing gum, they serve as stabilizers and give body and improved consistency. 

 Dr. Enig writes mono- and diglycerides are not just made from oils–they are the waste by-products of oil industry processing.  They are modern, cheap substitutes for lard and butter and, apparently, for egg yolks.  And, while they can be trans fats and do have some caloric value, industry is not required to list either condition on a label (WAPF web site).  

So, AP ultrapasteurized whipping cream is not a “super fresh” food—an oxymoron of stunning proportions.  It is a fake food.   

When did this happen?

Ann Vileisis, in Kitchen Literacy, describes how food additives have long been a problem in America.  As more people relocated to cities in the early 1900s, the food industry turned to preservatives to cut spoilage and reduce costs.  They used solutions of formaldehyde, salicylic acid, borax, and boracic acid, all of which “mask the natural signs of decomposition that had traditionally signified danger to cooks and eaters.”  The Pure Food and Drug Act, which required labels listing ingredients, was passed in 1906 after some of the largest manufacturers recognized that under the act, which would supercede state and local regulations, they could develop national markets that could and did squeeze out local and regional markets (126-134). 

Almost immediately, the distinction between man-made ingredients and “natural” ingredients became a political football.  Eventually, the act allowed the use of “artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives as ordinary parts of the American diet.”  The average shoppers of that era could not evaluate easily the additives on labels, so they came to rely on the government to protect them.  And, they use brand names as a marker of quality (126-134).

 But, The Pure Food and Drug Act did not prohibit the “inclusion of toxic ingredients in medicines,” and in 1937, a company used the untested drug sulfanilamide to treat streptococcal infections.  Sulfanilamide killed “more than a hundred people, mostly children,” which led to the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which required drug manufacturers to test toxicity and report findings to the FDA before a drug could be sold.  The act did not include provisions for toxicity testing for pesticides or food additives (177-178).  But,  Michael Pollan writes in In Defense of Food, and this is very important, it did require that the word “imitation” be listed with regard to “any food product that was, well, an imitation” (34-36). 

World War II shortages jumpstarted the creation of processed foods, which grew from about 1,000 products prewar to 4,000 or 5,000 new products postwar.  By 1950, one in four women worked outside the home, so there was both a loss of time and energy to cook and more money to buy processed food products (Vileisis 187).

The key shift to fake foods occurred in 1973 when industry succeeded in overturning the imitation label requirement.  Pollan writes that the change was not made by Congress, but by the FDA, which simply repealed the imitation labeling requirement within the depths of “a set of new, seemingly consumer-friendly rules about nutrient labeling.” The document stated that “as long as an imitation product was not `nutritionally inferior’ to the natural food it sought to impersonate,” it “could be marketed without using the dreaded `I’ word.”  The “regulatory door,” writes Pollen, “was thrown open to all manner of faked low-fat products:  Fats in things like sour cream and yogurt could now be replaced with hydrogenated oils or guar gum or carrageenan, bacon bits could be replaced with soy protein, the cream in `whipped cream’ and `coffee creamer’ could be replaced with corn starch, and the yolks of liquefied eggs could be replaced with, well, whatever the food scientists could dream up, because the sky was now the limit” (34-36). 

This process of nutritional equivalency—an equivalency decided by industry in collusion with the government, birthed the fake foods that now fill our supermarkets.  And, in turn, this process created a huge experiment that utilizes human subjects eating fake foods.  Look around you:  the experiment is not going well.

What we can do is eat the nutrient dense, whole, organic, local foods available in local markets, farmers’ markets, and our Community Shared Agriculture (CSAs) programs.  Support these markets, support local farmers, support eating foods in their natural seasons, and healthy food will return.  These foods may cost more, but you can make different decisions about what is really important in your life and give up something else in order to buy good food that nourishes your body.  Cheap foods are, in the end, enormously costly in so many ways, not the least of which is your own health and well being.