Letters to the editor, February 2017

This article was originally published in February 2017

What should “healthy” mean?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now is taking comments on what the definition of “healthy” should be for food labels. We’re asking PCC shoppers to weigh in on what the definition should be at healthy@pccmarkets.com. We’ll include your input in our remarks to the FDA. You also may send your comments directly to the FDA.

Below is a sample of what you’ve told us in letters and Facebook comments.

Why not eliminate any definition and instead emphasize in the store and other places that the label has no useful meaning without context. Any definition will be quickly “played” and marketers will find end-runs. An encompassing definition will be too complicated to be useful in selecting goods off the store shelf or any usual consumer outlet. “Healthy” is a concept much larger than a single food item.

— M.G.

How in the world can “added sugar” be healthy?

— L.R.

I don’t want fructose or refined sugars or any other additives such as coloring or fats or other sugars or gum, or the million other things you see on food labels.

— C.V.

How can anything be labeled “healthy”? Peanuts are healthy for some and deadly for others. Is a fine wine healthy? For some. Not for an alcoholic. One could go on and on with these types of examples.

— J.W.

It’s not definable. Everyone has different needs and the studies on what’s good for us are vast and often conflicting. Are we going to say things are healthy only if they’re low-carb, no sugar added, no unnatural ingredients or GMOs, organic, high in vitamins and minerals, cholesterol and trans fat-free, etc.?

— J.M.

No dyes or artificial colors. No artificial sweeteners. No MSG or inflammatory substances. Minimal processing. Carbon footprint to make food is minimal.

— G.M.

How about a measure of the nutritional value of the calories in the item? Range of nutrients per calorie would be from empty to dense.

— K.M.

“Healthy” tends to be as vague and misleading as “Natural.”

— A.U.

Carbonated water

My trainer told me that drinking carbonated water has a negative effect on my bones. He said it leaches calcium from them. I’ve done a search on the internet and do not find any indication that bubbly water is bad for a person, in any way.

Can you tell me what you know about the effects of drinking carbonated water?

I love PCC. It’s my market of choice. The reason — besides the quality food — is the quality service and extensive knowledge of the products from employees.

— Anonymous

PCC’s nutrition team replies: It’s a common misunderstanding that all carbonated drinks are bad for bone health, teeth and calcium status.

The myth seems to have originated from nutrition research showing negative effects of consuming “carbonated beverages” on calcium status and bone health. Most of the “carbonated beverages” in these studies were sodas, not carbonated water. Soda contains sugar, caffeine, phosphoric acid and caramel color, which each potentially can have negative impacts on health.

Now we know that the negative health impacts attributed to carbonated beverages are not from the carbonation itself, but from those other ingredients commonly found in carbonated beverages.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation states there is no connection between the carbonation in beverages and bone loss. As for teeth, “There is no scientific evidence that sparkling waters are any more dangerous or damaging to the teeth than regular water,” says Dr. Matthew Messina, a dentist and spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Glyphosate and grains

Nick Rose’s article “Are whole grains the secret to living longer?” mentions nonorganic popular grains sprayed with glyphosate. Doesn’t a grain have to be genetically engineered (GE) to be able to be sprayed with the herbicide Roundup? If so, I was unaware that there are GE wheat and oats out there. Can you clarify?

— Name withheld upon request

PCC replies: Glyphosate (aka Roundup) is sprayed on “Roundup Ready” crop fields of corn and soybeans, that are genetically engineered to be tolerant to absorbing the herbicide.

Some farmers also spray glyphosate on non-organic wheat, oats and barley just before harvest because it causes wilting that makes it easier for harvesting machinery to take up the crop. So, glyphosate is being used on some non-organic grains even though they’re not genetically engineered with the glyphosate-tolerant gene.

In 2016 the FDA started testing for glyphosate residues in foods, following the World Health Organization’s declaration in 2015 of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. The FDA stopped testing suddenly, after an independent study with an FDA-accredited lab found high levels of residues on popular foods, such as Cheerios, Oreos and Kashi cookies.

Whole grain rice

Re: “Are whole grains the secret to living longer?” (December), I’d like to understand better what qualifies as whole grain rice. I’ve heard that even the brown rice we get is still partly polished and when I read labels it does not seem meaningfully different than white.

— Shaula Massena

PCC replies: The Whole Grains Council defines whole grain rice this way: “After rice is harvested, its inedible hull is removed, resulting in a whole grain (often brown) rice kernel, ready to cook. If the rice is milled further, the bran and germ are removed, resulting in white rice with lower levels of nutrients.”

So yes, there’s an outer, inedible layer that’s removed from the rice after harvest — but this is different from removing the bran and germ to make white rice.

Generally white rice has more carbohydrates/starch and less fiber than brown rice. Brown rice is higher in trace minerals, B vitamins and phytonutrients, but they aren’t required on nutrition labels. One of our favorite brands, Lotus Foods, produces heirloom rices and does choose to report trace minerals, even though it’s not required.

Canola oil

My research regards canola oil as having a negative effect on the body. Have your nutritionists researched it and why is it used in the PCC deli?

— John Y.

PCC replies: One concern about canola is that it’s made from genetically engineered (GE) canola. It’s true that 90 percent of canola grown in North America is GE, but PCC only carries organic and/or Non-GMO Project Verified canola oil.

Another concern is that canola oil is extracted with toxic solvents and heat, and is then deodorized. This is true for most canola and also for many other “vegetable” oils, including corn, soy, sunflower and safflower. That’s why PCC only sells expeller pressed oils, which are pressed into oil with a mechanical press rather than chemical solvents.

Canola contains a type of fat called erucic acid that some people claim is “toxic.” Canola oil contains very low levels of erucic acid (less than 2 percent), a naturally occurring fatty acid that is found in a number of other foods including mustard, kale, seafood and quinoa.

We believe that organic, expeller pressed canola is safe to consume. However, if you choose to avoid canola, the majority of our deli foods are made with other oils.

We have a lot of information about canola (and other cooking oils) on our website. See our article, “Questioning canola?” and our guide to cooking oils.

Anti-nutrients in grains

Nick Rose’s article promotes the idea that whole grains may be the secret to living longer. But have you seen the information on anti-nutrients, such as lectins, saponins and phytates that says the opposite?

— Marc

PCC replies: Yes, we’re familiar with the literature on anti-nutrients in whole grains and realize that many shoppers are choosing to avoid grains (and beans, nuts and seeds) for this reason.

We addressed anti-nutrients in another article earlier this year (“Avoiding Carbs? A look at the low-carb craze”). It summarized the concerns about lectins, phytic acid, oxalates and tannins, including the fact that they’re known to reduce mineral absorption.

We noted that anti-nutrients can be reduced partly with soaking, sprouting, fermenting and cooking. We also presented information about the potential health benefits of some of these compounds, including that they function as antioxidants and that the anti-nutrient impact of these compounds is just one piece of a large puzzle in understanding nutrition.

Small store benefits

I have shopped in several of your stores and want to thank you for keeping the smaller ones, such as Green Lake Aurora and View Ridge. They have a more personal, neighborly feel. When rushed, I love being able to go through the whole store in only a few minutes.

The best part of shopping at the smaller stores is that the managers have simplified my choices. I appreciate not having to decide among 20 different varieties of one food item.

I trust the culling they have done and this saves me time. Amazingly, the smaller stores still have a great selection — I’ve always found what I need.

Thank you.

— Julie Scandora

Also in this issue

Your co-op community, February 2017

Mister Rogers' Sweater Drive; Be Mine, Valentine craft events at PCC; Love 'em or Leave 'em Valentine's Day Dash; and more

Food dollar math

Farmers earn 3.5¢ of every dollar spent eating out, and 16¢ of every dollar spent on food eaten at home.

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Organic Valley is transitioning to carrageenan-free foods, Oregon's Coho salmon are facing threats, and President Obama prohibited future oil and gas development in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans before leaving office. Hear all the details, plus more current food and agriculture reports.