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FDA gives consumers a bellyache.

A strange thing is happening to our food supply, as companies create new ingredients that have novel tastes, fewer calories, and purported health benefits: Some ingredients are making people sick to their stomachs.

It probably started with diabetics who wanted sweet foods without sugars. In response, food manufacturers created chewing gums, candies, and other sweets that are made with sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and other sugar alcohols. While chemically related to sugars, they're not quite as sweet, don't cause tooth decay, and are poorly absorbed into the bloodstream.

It's that poor absorption that causes trouble. As sugar alcohols wend their way through the digestive tract, they bind water and can cause severe diarrhea. The Food and Drug Administration requires foods that contain 50 grams or more of sorbitol per serving to carry a notice stating that "excess consumption [of the product] may have a laxative effect." The only problem: Clinical studies (not to mention the unfortunate experiences of many consumers) have shown that as little as 10 grams can cause severe diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.

In 1999, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (publisher of Nutrition Action Healthletter) petitioned the FDA to require foods that contain one gram or more to bear a label stating: "NOTICE: This product contains sorbitol, which may cause diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. Not suitable for consumption by children. To protect yourself, start by eating no more than one serving at a time." The FDA has yet to act on the petition.

The next additive to assault our intestines was Procter & Gamble's fat substitute olestra (which P&G recently sold to a smaller company). What makes it calorie-free (our bodies don't digest it) also means that it can cause loose stools, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Even so, the FDA approved olestra for use in Fat Free Pringles and WOW Potato Chips. Not surprisingly, the FDA has received reports of digestive problems from some 20,000 people--more than for all other food additives in history combined. The good news is that sales of olestra-containing chips have plummeted by more than 60 percent since the first sales surge five years ago, and Procter & Gamble has abandoned its plan to use the fake fat in french fries, cheese, ice cream, and other foods.

The most recent intestinal insult is Quorn, a "mycoprotein" exported from Britain. Though labels say that Quota is "mushroom in origin," mycoprotein is really made from a fungus. The processed fungus is woven into chunks that are made to look and taste like chicken or beef. Unfortunately, the fungus causes gastrointestinal reactions in a small percentage of consumers. Unlucky victims vomit ... or worse. One California woman who reported her symptoms to us (at ended up being treated in the hospital for dehydration. Others reported difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock. CSPI, which has received reports of Quorn reactions from some 300 victims, is trying to get mycoprotein out of the food supply.

The FDA's attitude seems to be: "Let consumers figure out for themselves how much of which ingredients can make them sick." It's bad enough that people have to worry about allergic reactions to peanuts, milk, and other conventional foods. It makes no sense for health authorities to cavalierly allow new unsafe ingredients into the food supply.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest
COPYRIGHT 2002 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:food additives that may cause intestinal upset
Author:Jacobson, Michael F.
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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