Thursday, December 28, 2006

"I could eat that every night!" -- The Cloning Issue

The FDA finally released their risk assessment about cloned animals today, and if you eat animals or any of their byproducts (like milk) you might want to hear this: They've been deemed safe for eating. This really isn't news -- it's been expected that the FDA would come to this conclusion for some time now, since the components of food from clones are largely the same as those from conventionally bred animals.


No labeling. And some people just don't like the idea. Should they have a choice in the matter? Well, the FDA wants to know what you think about that and the matter in general and will be taking public comment for the next few months on the matter. You can do that here (though as of today it wasn't set up -- wait a few days perhaps). The docket number is 2003N-0573 if you want to paste that into the search on the link.

My take on it: Clones do have problems. The fetuses die more often, and genetic expression can be off, causing a higher chance for the animal to die in the first 18 months. But surviving animals are direct genetic copies (the FDA likens it to twins delivered at different times). The animal may have problems, may be more susceptible to illness -- not a lot is known. These are expensive animals to breed and they are mostly used to promote desirable characteristics for breeding programs that produce conventional animals -- but when they outlive their usefulness, they might be on your dinner table.

When you eat food, your body denatures the proteins, and for good reason. Those proteins are foreign and were only of use to the food source. Your body needs to break food proteins down and rebuild them in ways that are usable to you. Dietary proteins are uncoiled by stomach acid and your digestive enzymes go to town, breaking them apart into individual amino acids. Your DNA then directs the rebuilding of amino acids into proteins for muscle, hair, nails, other DNA, hormones, organs, etc. Proteins you ingest include DNA from the food source itself, and you will probably be unaffected by that DNA, (though some proteins do pass through the digestive system without fully breaking down, hence the probably part). This is the reasoning behind the FDA's decision that the products of that animal, the meat, milk, etc. should be safe. Of course, you will still be susceptible to any diseases the animal might carry, etc.

But because scientists haven't fully explored the effects of cloning, I am for labeling such items. If they decide against it, marketers will be savvy enough to figure out what to do anyway: lots of GMO (genetically modified organisms) products are not labeled as such, but plenty of foods are labeled GMO-free for those looking to avoid them. I'm sure a Clone-Free beef sticker will find it's way onto the cellophane and a Clone-Free carton will bear your milk if it's perceived to be a problem.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mr. Burbank, I'll take a Ranger Russet with that shake

In August I did some yapping about acrylamide, wherein I predicted that those crazy kids over at Simplot would be working hard to reduce acrylamide in its fries. Well, in the November edition of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (54 (26), 9882 -9887), those wacky scientists reported that by tweaking the DNA of the Ranger Russet potato they were able to avoid the unsightly black spots and outrageous sweetening problems that plagued the little tuber during storage. As an additional benefit, the french fries produced by these modified Rangers yielded fries containing less acrylamide (which the researchers euphemistically call an "antinutritional compound" while I like to call it a "carcinogen.") As a bonus, they are supposed to taste good.

The russet currently used for most french fries is the Burbank Russet, a 130-or-so-year-old specimen brought to you by Luther Burbank. He lived out in Santa Rosa, CA, however, and I recently found out that Burbank, CA ("the entertainment capital of the world") wasn't named after him but instead a dentist-turned-sheep rancher named David Burbank who would probably be unhappy to find that there's a Luther Burbank Middle School in his city, adding to the confusion. But I digress.

The genetic engineering used to create this rugged Ranger was not the type that makes activists twitch uncontrollably, but one that has been used for centuries, if a little more precisely of late: all native. Which means they didn't insert any fish or tomato or whatever, just messed around with DNA using other potatoes to yield a crop with more desirable traits. No foreign stuff. They aren't stupid over at Simplot. They knew some of us might get wind and start screaming.Link

Now all they have to do is nip this trans-fat problem in the bud (it's intended) and McDonald's will be doing a jig.

...and check this out: Lord of the Fries.

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Celiac? Wheat allergies? This Bud's for you.

Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser, have come out with a beer for people with Celiac Sprue and wheat sensitivity. It's made with sorghum, a gluten-free alternative to wheat. And there's no barley in the hops either (grains like barley and oats also contain gluten). You can pick some up at places like Whole Foods.

Now even people with gluten issues can get a buzz on.

If you're looking for some bakery without gluten, I'll drop these on you just in case you need a snack with your beer:

Black Sheep Bakery
Flying Apron Bakery
Sun Flour Baking (also sold on Amazon)

If you're a baking do-it-yourself-er, try millet flour in place of the wheat, but you will also need a bit of xanthan gum, guar, or arrowroot. Check out for more info there...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dietary Supplements

I get asked this question an awful lot, from people who are suspicious about whether an herb or vitamin will exert its intended effects, usually, but occasionally from people who are ready to give camera-worthy testimonials:

Are supplements safe?

Well. I don't know.

While one could argue that the FDA doesn't necessarily keep us all safe regarding food and drugs, products passing through the agency do so on a 3-foot pedestal of paperwork citing scientific research detailing safety and efficacy (e.g. that the product does what it's supposed to do). BUT, the FDA doesn't regulate supplements. They only oversee them after they've hit the market, and pull them if they can prove that they're unsafe. The manufacturer must prove safety and efficacy, but that rule is really little more than a legal disclaimer by the FDA because no one oversees the manufacturer's claims. Here's the FDA link on supplements. Be sure to go to the bottom where they answer all the important questions about them.

My opinion: herbs are strong stuff, with real chemical effects (many beneficial), but not a lot has been proven scientifically. The importance here would be with the amount you should take and the amount in the bottle (is it the same as what the manufacturer claims?) . And since they have potent effects, how about their interactions with foods/each other?

Vitamins are strong stuff. They can be overdone, with deleterious results. When it doubt, look at the nutrition label. If there's 3,567% of the RDA, you're overdoing it, know what I mean?

Antioxidants are strong stuff. They can be pro-oxidants in large quantities. What is a large quantity? Dunno. There's no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for them. I would not take an antioxidant supplement, and that includes high doses of vitamin C. Eat your vegetables and a busload of fruits too -- you couldn't eat enough of them to do yourself any harm (as far as pro-oxidation), and you'll get plenty of good antioxidants. Don't drink a gallon of juices -- too much sugar, too much everything. Think of how many fruits or vegetables it takes to make them and ask yourself if you could really eat all that whole.

Use the head your mother tried to fill up with common sense, now, y'hear?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Space food for urbanites

Wanna eat like the astronauts do? Got my hands on some Easy 4 Busy fruit purees, initially because of the odd packaging. It really was developed for NASA according to the web site. And it feels like it too: Gushy aseptic-type packaging with a weird screw top reminiscent of an IV bag.

I've only tasted the Blueberry/Raspberry/Banana one so far*, and it's like a smoothie that needs a bit of ice (and this was straight out of the fridge). It's very thick, a tastes a bit like cooked fruit, but sweet. If you're looking to get 3 servings of fruit this would be a very convenient way to get it. I would have been happier with 2 servings in a package, since it's supposed to be easy and if I'm busy I'm not going to refrigerate the rest. It's a lot to inhale.

These are supposed to be available in New York, but for the rest of us...
The web site offers free shipping, and for December only you can buy one case ($29.99 for 10) and get another case free. Given the price of fruit, that's quite a good deal.

So if you're fruit deprived/extremely busy, here ya go. The fruit is pasteurized, which is a good idea I think. Keep those suckers on ice in the car though, and leave warm fruit puree to the real spacemen.

*Tasted the pear/caramel which was oddly good (the caramel flavor really works), and the kiwi/passionfruit was good -- tropical. They both have a bit too much of the applesauce/banana thing happening but still, for fruit on the go they're all right.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New York's trans-fat tsunami...

Nation's Restaurant News is reporting that Denny's, Loew's hotel chains, and Darden restaurants, owners of Red Lobster and Olive Garden are all switching away from trans fats in response to the New York ruling. Loew's will eliminate trans fat from room service to mini-bar selections.

Never one to miss a beat (or a sale), Lamb Weston has new fries processed in 100% canola oil, with less fat absorption. Less fat for you, and the frying oil will last longer. I wonder what the kids at Simplot are up to? (At last glance, they were still the supplier for McDonald's and about many, many others).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

New Yorkers ban the trans-fat

Wow. This is a big deal. On December 5th, New York's Board of Health decided that by two deadlines in 2007 and 2008 added trans fats will be phased out of restaurant foods. The second deadline will be the most difficult and may line some wise food technologist's pockets: finding a (profitable, tasty) way to make those fries without using partially hydrogenated oil (the source of trans fat). Without it, oil becomes rancid more quickly and must be tossed (hopefully the way of someone using biodiesel). So far that's probably what will happen -- oil will have to be turned over more frequently. If someone can work out a way to extend the oil's useful lifespan without hydrogenation, well, there could be some bucks in it. Rancidity is caused by oxidation, and vitamin E is already added to oils like Canola to extend their life.

Taco Bell's been working on this issue for some time and will be switching to canola oil (from hydrogenated soybean oil) by April 2007. Wendy's and KFC have already switched, the latter to non-hydrogenated soybean oil). McDonald's has been pacing that fence, worried about the signature taste of their fries perhaps. I'll bet they figure it out now.

In terms of baked goods, odds are they'll be reformulated to contain butter, which is only a slight improvement (saturated fats, like those in butter, cause increases in LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, whereas trans fats do that and decrease the levels of HDL, or "good cholesterol"). That's if they didn't contain butter already, and they probably did. Hydrogenation in baked goods is common when soybean oil, etc. are used to extend shelf life. But restaurants generally use butter because they aren't holding onto your cake that long...

For those of you worried about not being allowed the freedom to get your trans fat, they will still be naturally occurring in meat and dairy foods, and on grocery shelves, since this only applies to restaurants. Trans fats are indicated on nutrition labels -- starting just this year.

Way to go New York. The L.A. Daily News is reporting that rumblings around L.A.'s city council suggest we'll be following suit. The National Restaurant Association is not pleased. But you should be.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

That's Krafty.

It has very little avocado, but that didn't stop Kraft from making guacamole (ahuaca-mulli to the Aztecs) dip using starch and oils and food coloring to simulate the deliciousness of the avocado, officially known around this house as 'nature's mayonnaise'. Now mayonnaise is a whole other story, having been assigned a standard of identity by the FDA (if you click the link, type in mayonnaise, or even peanut butter to find out what manufacturers are required to include to call the food by it's proper name). But not so with guacamole. So was Kraft breaking the rules? Errrr...not technically. It doesn't SAY there's avocado in there. It does say what's really in there. On the back. If you read it.

So there's a lawsuit. And Kraft is reformulating their packaging to make it more obvious.

It does seem deceptive, but it means that the FDA might want to add the Aztecan melange to the list. Worthy of a lawsuit? Nah. Take the crap back and get a refund. And next time, when you're buying something for the first time, read the label!!!

(Has anyone but me noticed that among my something like 13 non-prolific posts, I've ended up yakking about Kraft's adherence to the definition of a food item twice? They make American cheese, for heaven's sake: let that be a clue.)