I found the most interesting webpage today – BeFoodSmart.com. This free website -- created by Jonas Dalidd, who wanted to learn about the ingredients found in processed foods, and his sister, Dina Clapinski – provides valuable information on additives and preservatives.
“The free site allows users to search for some of the most commonly used additives and preservatives for a quick look at potential health risks, countries that have banned the ingredient or require warning labels, and a list of references,” Courtney Perkes of The Orange County Register reported. “The site explains how ingredients are most commonly used. For instance, polysorbate 80 is a thickener found in cake mix and salad dressing, and butylated hydroxyanisole is a preservative found in instant mashed potatoes and cereal.”
Dalidd is responsible for the programming, while Clapinski researches, writes about and grades each ingredient. Perkes noted that Dalidd had designed the search function so that it is able to overcome the misspellings that are so easily made with these names.
According to BeFoodSmart.com, the grading scale (which uses a variety of resources to determine the grade) is:
- A (passing grade) – “There are positive health benefits to consuming this ingredient. No major controversy surrounding safety of the product.”
- B (passing grade) – “There may be some positive health benefits to consuming this ingredient. Minimal negative health effects. No major controversy surrounding safety of the ingredient.”
- C (passing grade) – “Consumption of the ingredient does not generally result in major positive or negative effects. A somewhat benign ingredient that doesn't add much to your diet. No major controversy surrounding safety of the ingredient. In general, okay to consume for most people.”
- D (failing grade) – “Some possible negative health effects and/or animal studies showing negative effects. Some controversy surrounding the safety of the additive. Best avoided.”
- F (failing grade) – “Safety of the additive is highly controversial. Many animal and/or human studies showing negative health effects. May be categorized by U.S. FDA as ‘possibly cancer causing in humans.’ May be banned in some countries. Hazardous, avoid completely.”
- G (passing grade) - GRAS, which “is an acronym for the phrase Generally Recognized As Safe by the US Food & Drug Administration. An additive given GRAS approval is "adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use." Be Food Smart has not evaluated this specific ingredient for a grade.”
- ? (undermined) – The research into this ingredient has not been completed. A grade is still to be determined.
This logical system can yield some interesting surprises and lots of education. For instance, BeFoodSmart.com has developed a flow chart on how to choose a sweetener. Going through the line items really makes you think about your choices. And then going through the grades for each sweetener ups the ante even more.
For instance, Agave Nectar, which is a sweetener produced by a few species of agave plants and is about three times as sweet as table sugar, gets a grade of C. “Agave is mostly made up of fructose and has the same number of calories as sugar but still seems to have a low glycemic index. Fructose levels largely depend on how the agave is processed. Vegans can use agave in place of honey since it is not derived from an animal source,” the website states, adding that there are possible health effects. “Some species of agave plants contain natural steroids which can possibly have negative health effects for pregnant women.”
So what about Splenda? This artificial sweetener, which is made from sucrose (sugar) and chlorine molecules and mixed with maltodextrin or dextrose, is more than 500 times sweeter than sugar and does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels. In the BeFoodSmart.com ratings, Splenda earns a grade of D. There haven’t been any studies focused on the long-term effects of sucralose, but a Duke University study (that was funded by the Sugar Association, so it may have a conflict of interest), found that consumption of Splenda in rats during a 12-week period caused reduction of beneficial bacteria in intestines, increased the intestine’s pH levels, and increased body weight.
The best grade for a sweetener is for honey, which gets an A. “Humans have been collecting honey for at least 10,000 years and it is used in many cultures across the planet. It has a very low water content and therefore is often used as a natural anti-bacterial and preservative,” the website noted, adding that researchers have found that honey can help reduce weight gain and control diabetes in animal studies. However, honey shouldn’t be given to infants since it has bacterial spores that are dangerous to their immature digestive tracts.
BeFoodSmart.com is one website that I’ve bookmarked and shared with friends because I think it's so valuable. I bet it’s one that you’ll want to return to again and again in order to learn how to make better choices concerning what you eat.
Published On: August 09, 2011