Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Sorting Out the Ingredient List Terms

It is well worth it to find what is really in most processed foods and the ingredient list is the key.   Generally, the longer the list, the more ultra-processed that food is.

Here are some facts to consider:

  • Ingredients are listed by weight, so if sugar is the first ingredient, it is the predominant ingredient.  Watch out for these products.
  • Look to see if the first ingredient is a whole grain.  Whole wheat, whole oats, oatmeal, rolled oats, whole-grain corn, popcorn, brown rice, whole rye, whole-grain barley, wild rice, buckwheat, triticale, bulgar, cracked wheat, millet, quinoa and sorghum are whole grains.  Wheat flour, enriched flour, or degermed cornmeal are not.
  • Terms like “multi-grain”, “seven grain” simply mean that the product contains more than one grain and they may not necessarily be whole grains.
  • “Stone ground” refers to how the grain has been processed and does not mean that the germ and the bran are left intact.  The germ and bran are where the fiber and nutrients are found in a whole grain.  The rest of the grain is primarily the endosperm which contains  starch. The bran or the germ may added, but that does not mean a whole grain.
  • Some cereals may list a whole grain as the first ingredient, but if a sugary source is the second on the list, the product is high in sugar as well.
  • For now Added Sugars are not on the Nutrition Fact Label, but maybe soon we’ll also have that information. All the sugars (added and natural) are grouped together for now. The sweeteners listed in the ingredient list are the added sugars.
  • The only sweetener listed as “sugar” on the list is sucrose. Sucrose is found in brown, powdered, granulated and raw sugar.  Other forms of sugar can be added are called invert sugar, dextrose, dextrin, glucose, maltose, lactose and fructose.
  • Corn syrup, honey, molasses, malt syrup, sugar syrup, fruit juice concentrate and high fructose corn syrup all are forms of sugars.
  • Sugar-free means less than 0.5 grams per serving. Reduced sugar means at least 25% less sugar per serving than the reference food.

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How Bad is Sugar For our Health?


If it were up to the soda industry, sugar intake can be a part of a healthy diet and poses no direct effects on our health.  Studies are beginning to accumulate that show a different story. Here is a sampling. You be the judge.


When 42, 883 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study were analyzed, it was reported that those drinking the most sugar-sweetened sodas (top quartile) had a 20% higher relative risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) than those drinking the least (bottom quartile). Diet sodas were not significantly associated with CHD.

Intake of sugar-sweetened but not artificially sweetened beverages was significantly associated with increased adverse changes in some lipids (triglycerides and HLD), inflammatory factors, and leptin. Leptin is a protein produced by fatty tissue and believed to regulate fat storage in the body.

In another study, young healthy adults were given 0, 10, 17.5, or 25% high fructose corn syrup in sweetened beverages. In two weeks, the results produced increases in blood lipid/lipoprotein risk factors (LDL and triglycerides) for coronary heart disease and uric acid.


One liter of a sweetened drink for six months given to 47 overweight people in a Danish study resulted in an accumulation of more fat in their livers. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can lead to metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver.

NASH occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol and affects 2 to 5 percent of Americans, especially people who are middle-aged and overweight or obese. It is increasing in children and adolescents, however.

People who have NASH may feel well and may not know that they have a liver disease.

People who have NASH should reduce their weight, control their sugar intake, engage in physical activity, and avoid alcohol.

Here is an interesting study on added sugar in our foods.  It is a small study and might be classified as a pilot study.  It also had only 43 participants, was of short duration (10 days) and did not use a control group.  Nevertheless, the results are intriguing and certainly more studies should corroborate its findings.


FYI: If you want this information and more from the author about the effects of processed food, CLICK HERE.  It is a  video that runs about 13 minutes.


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What is in an Energy Drink?


Since soda consumption is getting a bad review due to the sugar content, many people are turning to energy drinks with names like Red Bull,  Monster, Rockstar, Full Throttle to name a few. Energy drinks are promoted to enhance athletic performance.  But do they and what is in them?

They also promise to keep you alert to work, study or party all night.  However, it not recommended to combine alcohol and energy drinks according to the CDC. fact sheet.

The main ingredients in these drinks is sugar and caffeine.  A traditional sports drink like Gatorade contains about 28 grams of sugar while some energy drinks contain twice this amount (about 55-60 grams) in a 16 oz. drink. Providing more sugar does not necessarily give you more energy as the rate of absorption does not increase, so energy drinks don’t get any more glucose to the muscles than sports drinks do.  Unabsorbed sugar in the stomach and intestines can cause GI distress.

The caffeine content in energy drinks ranges from 50 to 505 mg per can or bottle. Caffeine has been shown to enhance endurance when consumed before or during exercise. However, too much can cause caffeine intoxication causing anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, tremors, high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat as well as gastric distress.  A number of cases of caffeine-associated cardiac arrest, seizures and death have occurred after consumption of energy drinks. Since it is a diuretic it can contribute to dehydration. The FDA limits the amount of caffeine in soft drinks to 0.02% (about 71 mg in 12 oz), but some energy drinks are considered dietary supplements, so the caffeine content in not regulated. It all depends on the labeling of the drink.

Energy drinks also can contain B vitamins, taurine, guarana, and gingseng.  B vitamins are involved in ATP energy production from the sugar, but B vitamins are in plenty of foods, so you should not count on energy drinks as a source. Taurine is an amino acid that is touted to prevent muscle damage, but not all the studies support this claim. Guarana is an herb that provides even more caffeine increasing the risk of intoxication and a couple of stimulants called theobromine and theophylline. Ginseng has not consistently been shown to enhance athletic performance.

The only advantage of energy drinks for athletic performance is to provide a caffeine boost.  However, the amount of caffeine in these drinks increases the risk of dehydration and heart problems as well as high blood pressure.  The other ingredients are found in relatively small amounts and more than likely do not  provide enough to support their claimed benefits.

To be honest, a 12 oz. Coca-Cola Classic provides more sugar (39 grams) but less caffeine (35 mg) than a 16 oz. Red Bull with 28 grams of sugar and 80 mg of caffeine.  This alone may be a safer choice than the typical energy drinks with their often high caffeine contents.






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