Are You Doing Enough for Health?

As the recent IFT Show proved, there are plenty of healthful ingredient solutions out there.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Both the recent IFT Show and my local supermarket back in Chicago have aisles of food, but that's about where the similarities end. I know they're not supposed to be similar, but the differences between the two recently struck me as shocking.

Anyone who attended the annual Institute of Food Technologists meeting back in July had to be overwhelmed by the sense of urgency over America's health. It seemed 90 percent of the new ingredients at the show were targeted at improving the nutritional profiles of foods. Every booth had several such ingredients in the spotlight, and one-third of the technical sessions were about health.

From "Natural antioxidants in herbs and spices" to "The opportunities and limitations of food science and technology in implementing nutrition recommendations through food-based solutions" (wow, what a title!), healthy eating was very much on everyone's mind at the show (even though, ironically, the rich New Orleans restaurant fare countered all the healthy eating during the show).

And from ADM's NovaLipid trans fat replacer to Cargill's organic erythritol sweetener to National Starch's Hi-maize 5-in-1 Fiber, ingredient suppliers offered up novel solutions for more healthful product formulations.

A week later I was back at my suburban Chicago Jewel food store and here's what I saw:
  • Famous company A's pre-cooked macaroni and cheese with wieners, a children's product, made microwavable so the kids can heat it themselves: With 16 g of fat, half of that in saturated fat, 930 mg of sodium and 300 calories in this relatively small portion, this is no solution to obesity among children.

  • Famous company B's fruit drinks: At 180 calories in just 12 oz., that's 50 percent more calories than soda.

  • Breads made of white, refined flour: Sure, there was array of loaves made of whole grains of all kinds, even the new Sara Lee wholegrain white, but at $2.50 a loaf or more. The consumers who need healthful nutrition most can only afford the two-for-a-dollar loaves of plain white bread.

  • A leading brand of peanut butter: The regular version has 16 g of fat per serving, but the reduced-fat one has 12 g. Is that the best they could do?
Probably every one of these food processors can point proudly to product developments that have lowered fat and calories, removed trans fat and other harmful ingredients and added nutrients. But it's obvious that same degree of attention has not been paid across all their product lines.

None of the above could be described as a decadent treat. These are everyday staples, and they seem to hit kids even more than they do adults. I've said in this space before that pinning the blame on the food industry for obesity is misplaced criticism; now I'm not so sure.

That clamor is not dying down. [Click here] and you'll read about the American Beverage Assn. promising that its members will stock only water and 100 percent juice in elementary school vending machines and similarly healthy beverages — no full-calorie soft drinks or juice drinks — in middle schools. Even at the high school level, no more than half of the vending selections will be soft drinks. In the two previous months, we reported on the donnybrook at a "workshop" on food advertising aimed at children.

So the pressure is not going away. And, as the recent IFT show proved, there are plenty of solutions out there. Are you doing enough to make your foods healthier?

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