Letters to the editor, May 2018
This article was originally published in May 2018
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The February edition of the Sound Consumer blew me away by being 100 percent applicable to the things I’m working on. I read it bits at a time over the course of many days and each time I read a page or two I found something relevant.
Fighting medication-induced hypertension, I was happy to find the related article on the back cover. I promptly purchased some flax meal and made an acupuncture appointment.
Several days ago, I was looking for new local food-related charities to support financially and found your blurb on Aurora Commons — close enough to home! The next day, after revving up my indoor garden and planning this year’s food/yard waste composting, I found your article on food waste and the reference to WISErg Corp.
Just this morning, I wrote on a long-term planning to-do list “volunteer activities aside from food bank.” Within half an hour, I opened your paper directly to the Farms for Life partnership blurb. It’s as though you’re reading my mind.
Thank you, PCC, for being a resource on so many levels. Now, off to read this issue’s letters to the editor.
— Sharon R.
Vegan protein powder
I’ve been a frequent consumer of your PCC-labeled Vegan Protein Powder for a few years. I recently came across this article on protein powder and heavy metals/toxins, yahoo.com/news/popular-protein-powders-found-contain-113500169.html. Can you share your comments on these concerns as they pertain to your own label?
— Bryan P.
PCC Nutrition Educator Nick Rose replies: Thank you for asking about the recent report from the Clean Label Project. It found many popular protein supplements, especially plant-based protein powders, contain pesticides, heavy metals, bisphenols and other contaminants. When proteins are packaged in plastic, they are more likely to contain bisphenol-A (BPA) in packaging, as this study reported. Our manufacturer, Vitamer, tests for heavy metals, pesticides and melamine to ensure safety. All PCC protein supplements are packed in BPA-free containers to avoid BPA contamination. All our products comply with California’s Prop 65, the strictest regulations for contaminants.
Most plants are known to contain some arsenic, cadmium and lead, as these are natural elements in the water and soil. So it’s not surprising to find them in plant protein supplements. It is surprising that the Clean Label Project didn’t disclose the quantity of contaminants in its report. This makes it impossible to comment on the level of concern for products that didn’t earn a good score.
We reached out to two brands that were called out as “worst offenders”: Garden of Life and Vega. Garden of Life assured us its products comply with Prop 65 standards for lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic — and it even shared the results of these tests with us at PCC. Vega sent a briefer response confirming its testing and quality control standards.
Personally, I wouldn’t change my diet based on this one report. Even though it generated a lot of media attention, it doesn’t “prove” these products are less safe than other plant foods. Also, I agree with Consumer Reports that the majority of Americans don’t really need a protein supplement. For details, see Heavy Metals in Protein Supplements.
I was wondering if you know whether chicken and turkey have the same amount of omega-6s?
My understanding is that omega-6s are inflammatory. Thanks!
— Jules Gilman
PCC Nutrition Educator Nick Rose replies: The fatty acid composition of poultry varies, based on a number of factors: the type of meat (chicken versus turkey), the specific breed of poultry, the animal’s diet and exposure to pasture, and the cut of meat (breast vs thigh, for example).
In general, turkey is a little leaner than chicken, with slightly less total fat. One might assume lower fat would translate to lower levels of omega-6 fats in turkey but, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food composition database, ground turkey contains 1.9g of omega-6 fatty acids (per 100g) while ground chicken provides 1.3g omega-6 (per 100g).
When considering the impact of these omega-6s on inflammation, it’s essential to consider the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Turkey contains more omega-6s but turkey also contains more omega-3s, which have anti-inflammatory effects. The ratio of omega 6:3 fatty acids in chicken is 32:1, and in turkey is 19:1 so, overall, with regards to inflammation, turkey would be a better choice than chicken, despite its higher omega-6 content.
This data reflects conventional poultry, not taking into consideration any nutritional differences from raising poultry with healthier practices. A 2013 report by the National Center for Appropriate Technology found pasture-raised poultry has higher omega-3 levels as well as higher levels of vitamin E. Pasture-based systems shift the fatty acid composition of the meat toward a much healthier profile.
Regarding meat alternatives, I am a big fan of the Gardein brand. It is tasty and very appreciated by vegans. Gardein also is used in restaurants, such as Veggie Grill and Plum Bistro, where people often think these are homemade dishes.
Unfortunately, Gardein appears to use hexane extraction. I wrote Gardein asking for more information on its product ingredients and did not receive a response, so I wrote to a well-known and well-regarded vegan dietician.
What I received is important and little-known information: “In some cases, soy protein isolates and concentrates used in burgers, veggie meats, and energy bars are extracted using a solvent called hexane. Hexane is a petrochemical solvent — it is a known neurotoxin. Although levels left in these foods may be minimal, the long-term health consequences of these trace amounts are unknown. When consumers have a choice, it seems reasonable to choose products that are free of hexane residues. Certified organic products are hexane-free. The Cornucopia Institute has a list of hexane-free products on its website, helpful for those wishing to avoid it, at cornucopia.org/hexane-guides/hexane_guide_meat_alternatives.html.”
The dietician suggested moderate use of this product is still okay but that I also begin to experiment with organic brands, to find some that I enjoy. Can you comment on this? Thanks,
— Jo Ann Herbert
PCC replies: Thank you for writing and voicing this concern. You are correct that soy protein isolates often are used to make non-organic, veggie “meat” or “cheese” analogs. These soy isolates are highly processed and often extracted with hexane or another solvent. We have discussed this issue in the Sound Consumer over the years, as well as in our “Choosing healthy soy foods” brochure (now online), advising consumers that these highly processed soy foods, such as burgers and products with isolated soy protein or soy flour, are best viewed as “occasional treats.” We agree with the dietician that “moderate use” is okay but organic brands are better choices.
Thank you, PCC, for your consistent quality and your concern for the environment. I am so grateful for your wonderful store.
Like many, I am concerned about the abundant use of plastic. According to Frans Timmermans, VP of the European Commission, “If we don’t do something about this, 50 years down the road, we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans.”
As you mentioned in your March Newsbites, a British supermarket chain called Iceland has committed to eliminate plastic packaging for its own products with recyclable paper, trays and bags within five years.
Even in PCC’s produce section, the use of plastic seems to be increasing. Some vegetables are now sold in plastic netting, which seems unnecessary. The clamshell salad packaging now has an additional sheet of plastic. I try to buy only in bulk, reusing bags for as long as I can, but it’s not always possible to avoid additional plastic.
It is a difficult problem, but the health of oceans and the planet (as well as human health, considering the noxious effects of plastic) is at stake. Are there any plans at PCC to follow the example of the Iceland chain?
— Julie Gaskil
PCC replies: Thank you for voicingconcern about plastic in our supply chain. While our specific strategies are ongoing and still in progress, we can say PCC is in the vanguard of pushing for more sustainable packaging choices.
In 2017 we adopted one of the most progressive packaging standards in the country and we’re working on implementing it now. The standards consider not only the impact of plastic on the environment, but also the impact from additives on public health.
Our standards prioritize compostability over recycling to reduce the waste stream going to landfills and we already have transitioned a fair amount of deli packaging to entirely compostable options. Our packaging standards also seek to avoid toxic additives in plastics and papers — such as phthalates, bisphenols, perfluorinated compounds, and lead — that get into water, soil, the food chain, and consumers’ bodies.
After we get PCC’s packaging choices in order, we can begin pushing our concerns up the supply chain, urging vendors to adopt these principles, too. Consumer education is an ongoing component of our efforts. Thank you again for raising this issue.