Category Archives: labels

Breakfast Cereals are Highly Processed Foods

2-methylnaphtalene in your cereal

Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal is a very popular breakfast food that is actively marketed to children in cartoon television commercials.  For some time, it has been known that artificial food dyes from these colorful cereals can impair the performance of hyperactive children.[1]  Recently, Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks cereals because of chemical contamination by 2-methylnaphthalene.  2-Methylnaphthalene is a chemical derivative of naphthalene which is a primary ingredient of mothballs.

The cereals were recalled after consumers reported a strange taste and odor, and some complained of nausea and diarrhea.  Kellogg hired some experts who said that there was “no harmful material” in the products.  The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on the impact of 2-methylnaphtalene on human health, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also lacks the basic health data, even though the agency has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.

The EPA information for 2-methylnaphthalene indicates that the substance causes pulmonary alveolar proteinosis which is characterized by an accumulation of phospholipids in the alveolar lumens and white protuberant nodules in the lungs. The best guess that the EPA can make is that the oral Reference Dose (RfD) of a daily exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime is 0.004 mg/kg-day.[2]

Breakfast cereals are very convenient for busy parents, but there is a price to pay.  The dyes and the high sugar content do not provide the best nutrition for our children.  There are better alternatives to the highly processed foods, but you have to read labels carefully.

[1] Swanson JM, Kinsbourne M., Food dyes impair performance of hyperactive children on a laboratory learning test, Science. 1980 Mar 28;207(4438):1485-7.  PMID: 7361102

[2] 2-Methylnaphthalene (CASRN 91-57-6) [link]

Cherry Juice Sampler Package

CherryPharm Juice Sampler Package

Tart cherries are known to be a good source of antioxidants and phytonutrients with a multitude of health benefits.  I recently got a sampler package with three varieties of CherryPharm cherry juices: Natural Light, Natural Health, and Natural Recovery.  Unlike many products in the market, the ingredients of the CherryPharm juices are really natural.  All three varieties of these cherry juices retain the tartness of freshly picked cherries.  The taste reminded me of the sour cherries that I collected when I went to a local farm to gather blueberries.

The ingredients of Natural Light cherry juice are: tart cherry juice, water, and natural stevia extract used as a sweetener.  An 8 fl. oz. serving has 90 calories, and the product is labeled as 65% juice which is the juice of 40 cherries.

The Natural Recovery cherry juice has 160 calories per 8 fl. oz. serving and the juice of 50 cherries.  The ingredients are: Tart cherries, whey protein (8 grams), water, apple juice concentrate, and vitamins like niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin, folic acid, biotin, vitamin b12, and maltodextrin.

The Natural Health cherry juice has 130 calories per 8 fl. oz. serving and the juice of 50 cherries.  The ingredients are: whole tart cherries, water, and apple juice concentrate.  This is the label of the Natural Health cherry juice.

An 8 fl. oz. portion of cherry juice is the equivalent of two servings of fruit.  CherryPharm products can be obtained from, and at some Wegmans and Whole Foods stores.

Wrigleys Gum is not what it used to be

I am not a great gum chewer, but I do chew gum when I drive at night on the highway.  The chewing action and the taste of the gum provide sensory stimuli that keep me from falling asleep at the wheel.

I recently bought some Wrigley’s spearmint gum which has a nice refreshing taste, and looked at the ingredients.  Big surprise!  After buying a product for years, you develop brand loyalty and you keep buying the same thing because you know what it is.  Or at least, you think you know.

Wrigley’s and many other manufacturers have changed their chewing gum formulations and added artificial sweeteners like aspartame and acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K).  I looked at a whole aisle of gums, including Eclipse which is also made by Wrigley, and Stride made by Cadbury Adams USA, LLC.  I could not find a single pack of mint-flavored gum in the whole drugstore that did not have artificial sweeteners.  I do not have much objection to acesulfame K, but I would rather avoid aspartame.  Aspartame is considered safe in the small amounts needed for diet foods, but it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.

Why are these artificial sweeteners added?  Look at the ingredients of Wrigley’s spearmint gum: sugar, gum base, dextrose, and corn syrup account for 98% of the ingredients.  The sugar, dextrose, and corn syrup are all very sweet, but they dissolve very fast when the gum is chewed.  The artificial sweeteners stay around and give a long-lasting sweet sensation.  A stick of gum weighs 2.7 grams; sugars account for 2 grams (74% of the weight) and provide 10 calories.

Everything changes with time.  Nothing is the way it used to be, and it is unlikely that things will go back to the way they were.  I suppose that is progress, but I miss the gum with no artificial sweeteners.  Maybe I will switch to carrots and celery sticks.

Learn how to read food labels

FDA warns Cheerios about cholesterol claims

Cheerios cholesterol claim

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a notice to General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, saying that the claims that the cereal lowers cholesterol and treats heart disease are inappropriate.  The FDA allows food labels to highlight some health benefits, but the language of those statements is highly regulated.

One of the missions of the FDA is to protect the public from snake oil salesmen who want to make a buck selling fake elixirs for health and longevity.  The FDA is heavily lobbied by the pharmaceutical industry, and the agency often rules against claims for natural products that would divert profits away from drug manufacturers.  The claim from General Mills that Cheerios can “lower cholesterol 4 percent in 6 weeks” is objectionable to the FDA because companies are not allowed to quantify the benefit of foods.

We never hear the whole story.  The level of cholesterol in the body is regulated by the balance of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet.  The level is also affected by the cholesterol in animal products that we eat, by hydrogenated fats, and by the amount of soluble fiber in our diet.  Oats are a good source of soluble fiber, and it is an ingredient of Cheerios.  (Learn more about controlling cholesterol)

Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine

The FDA tries to protect consumers from false claims, but it does a very poor job. The rules for food labeling have so many loopholes, that PAM cooking spray, which is basically 100% fat, can claim that it can be used for “Fat Free Cooking” by specifying an unrealistically small serving size. Also, Promise Fat Free Nonfat Margarine can claim that a serving has 0 grams of fat by hiding all the fatty acids as mono- and diglycerides.

In 2003, I wrote a letter to the FDA asking for changes to the labeling rules to prevent these abuses, but my request was denied.  You can read about it in the web pages about Food Labels.

Diet Coke Plus is not a healthy drink

Diet Coke Plus

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the Coca-Cola company to revise the label of the Diet Coke Plus beverage with Vitamins and Minerals that was introduced in March 2007.[1]  The FDA says that the product is misbranded because it bears the nutrient content claim “plus” but does not comply with the regulations governing the use of this claim.

The term “plus” may be used on the label to describe the level of nutrients when the food contains at least 10 percent more of the Reference Daily Intake or Daily Reference Value for the nutrient than an appropriate comparable food.  The FDA does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages.

The Coca-Cola company will respond to the FDA early in January, but it has no plans to change the label.  Scott Williamson, a spokesman for the Coca-Cola company, said:

“We believe the label on Diet Coke Plus complies with FDA’s policies and regulations.”

Adding vitamins and minerals to soft drinks seems designed to make consumers feel less guilty about consuming junk food, but even though diet soft drinks may not contain sugars that cause dental decay, they may still contain acids that erode tooth enamel.

[1] The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Warning Letter to the Coca-Cola Company

Watered down milk in the dairy section

watered down milk  watered down milk ingredients

Last weekend I visited a friend who had unwittingly bought a carton of what he thought was 2% Reduced Fat Milk.  When I poured some of the product on my cereal, I noticed that the liquid did not have the smooth texture of milk.  It appeared to have small lumps like milk that is starting to curdle from spoilage.  Since he had just bought it, I looked at the label more closely.  It was not milk.  It was a “dairy beverage”.

The first ingredient in the Ingredient List of the label was water, followed by ultrafiltered fat free milk, cream, inorganic calcium and phosphorus salts, and emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides), thickeners (carrageenan, locust bean gum), and artificial sweeteners (sucralose and acesulfame potassium).  Food labels are required to list the ingredients in decreasing order of concentration.  Since water is listed before the fat free milk, this means that the product contains more water than milk.

What scared me about this product was that the label said that a one-cup serving had 8 grams of protein — the same as skim milk.  If the product is half water and half skim milk, I would expect it to have half the protein.  Where is the extra protein coming from?  The ingredient list did not say.  This made me think about the recent scandal in China where watered down milk was adulterated with melamine to fool the standard tests for protein.

The discrepancy between the ingredient list and the nutrition facts indicates that something is wrong with this product.  Unfortunately, the FDA does not have enough resources to track down all labeling violations.