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Proposed health labels for algae-based foods
November 10, 2013
he FDA announced in July 2013 new label regulations for ‘‘gluten free’’ foods. The label “gluten free” essentially means mostly free of wheat, rye, barley and their derivatives. Most consumers are concerned about food attributes that go far beyond gluten.
What if the FDA proposed labels for algae-based foods? Since the FDA has been extremely slow at examining foods made from algae, it might be wise to propose a label. How might labels brand algae-based foods?
People make choices about others by how they dress. Some assess the quality of books by their cover. Food labels help people make smart food choices. Food concerns are identified and described in detail at www.Nutrition.gov. The site uses the tag line “Smart nutrition starts here.”
The National Library of Medicine manages an excellent searchable database that provides access to a wide range of consumer-friendly health information including fact sheets, journal articles, and news items. The site also includes a medical encyclopedia.
|Heart health and blood pressure. Consumers want information on how to reduce risk for heart disease, including ideas for reducing fat in the diet, lowering cholesterol, and lowering inflammation. Consumers also want food compounds that help control hypertension (high blood pressure).|
|Obesity and diabetes. The CDC reports that 68% of U.S. adults age 20 years and older are overweight or obese. Consumers want information on how to reduce risk for obesity and what food compounds may help them lose weight with a healthy diet. People want food labels that help avoid the risk of developing diabetes and for diabetics, managing the disease with a healthy diet.|
|Brain, eyes and skin. Consumers want to know what food compounds may help their ability to think and see clearly. People want food labels that promote healthy skin, since skin is the largest body organ. Ideally, the cosmeceuticals that benefit skin and hair would also minimize or soften wrinkles.|
|Food allergies and intolerances. The CDC reports that 4% to 6% of U.S. children under age 18 have food allergies. The journal JAMA Pediatrics estimates the economic cost of food allergies is $25 billion per year, or about $4,184 per child. Peanuts, wheat, milk, and eggs are some of the most common food allergies. People are concerned about food sensitivities, as well as celiac disease and lactose intolerance.|
|Digestive disorders and bone health. Consumers want to avoid a variety of diseases and problems in the digestive system including constipation, celiac disease, gallstones, heartburn, lactose intolerance, ulcers, and more. Consumers want to avoid osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and other bone and joint diseases.|
|Cancer. Consumers want to avoid cancer and conditions such as obesity that increase the risk of cancer. Consumers would like to know about foods that contain strong antioxidants, phytochemicals and omega-3 fatty acids that appear to reduce the risk of cancer.|
|Pesticide residue. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual list of the dirtiest and cleanest produce in terms of pesticide residue. Most produce has some agricultural poisons. Several recent studies report that even low levels of pesticide ingestion are associated with increased risk for organ damage, cancer, neurological and brain impairment, reproductive and child developmental effects and intrusion with the human hormone system.|
|Nutralence. Many modern foods suffer from hidden hunger. The fruit or vegetable looks good but contains empty calories. The consumer gets very few nutrients per bite, which leads to obesity. Consumers want information about nutralence – nutrients in the produce, bioavailability of nutrients and nutrient density.|
|Hunger pangs. Many high calorie and high sugar snack foods and drinks interfere with the brain’s ability to assess stomach fullness. Consequently, people get a nosh feeling and continue to eat. Consumers want information on foods that quell hunger pangs and the desire to nosh.|
|Dietary fiber. Fibers act by changing the nature of the gastrointestinal tract, which changes how other nutrients and chemicals are absorbed. Dietary fibers play an important roll in digestion, nutritional bioavailability and bowel health.|
|Non-GMO. Over 90% of corn and soy flour in the U.S. comes from genetically modified seeds. Monsanto spends millions every year fighting to prevent GMO labels on food. Consumers have a right to know not only whether a food has been genetically engineered but also what traits were changed from the natural seed. The public has a right to any related medical research on GMO health and safety to people, animals and the environment.|
|Phytonutrients. Phytochemicals are chemicals found in plants that protect plants against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They may act as antioxidants or nutrient protectors, or prevent carcinogens (cancer causing agents) from forming. Bright colored vegetables and fruits have the highest levels of phytonutrients among land-based plants.|
New food labels need to integrate considerable information. A label that covered these attributes may not fit a food product. New iPhone and android phone apps will enable consumers to read a UPC label to look up a more readable label that covers these and other food attributes.
Please note that the label attributes and thresholds have not been vetted scientifically. Most of these claims are conservative based on published research.
New algae food labels
One way to create new food labels is to compare algae-based foods with food grains such as corn, wheat, soybean, rice or barley. Assume the algae food offers the compounds described by Solazyme Roquette Nutritionals in their Almagine HL Whole Algalin Flour.
|Heart health and blood pressure.
|Obesity and diabetes.
|Brain, eyes and skin.
|Food allergies and intolerances.
|Digestive disorders and bone health.
Why these health benefits?
These substantial health benefits are a gift from nature. Land plants evolved from algae 500 million years ago and benefited from all these compounds. Land-based natural stands of grasses, fruits and vegetables supported human ancestors and wild animals for eons. Land plants lost many of their nutritional benefits in three stages.
Stage one forced land plants to survive in terrestrial settings. Land-based crops had to put energy into roots, stems, leaves, circulatory systems and elegant reproductive organs. All these features took considerable energy. These critical features for survival on land depleted the rich stores of phytonutrients, protein and lipids found in the plants’ ancestors – algae.
Algae waste no energy on those superfluous features. Algae are single-celled plants that thrive in moist or wet environments. Algae have no need for land plant features and put all their energy into storing high levels of healthy compounds.
Stage two began about 100,000 years ago when humans began early agriculture. Farmers began to save seeds based on yield, hardiness, growth speed, taste, texture, size and aroma. This spurred the evolution of more attractive foods. Many centuries later, farmers cross-fertilized plants to create hybrids that maximized the same set of dimensions. Unfortunately, both seed saving and hybridization improved yields at substantial cost to nutrition.
Stage three began in 1998 when the first GMO seeds were planted and sold as food. GMO seeds to date emphasize immunity from specific herbicides and yields but further degrade nutrition. Since nearly all processed foods containing corn or soy are GMO, these products are even less nutritious than their natural cousins.
Algae food labels
Algae are eaten by at least 100 more hungry consumers than any other food on earth. Algae lie at the bottom of the food chain and nearly every higher-level plant or animal consumes algae directly or indirectly in algae feeders. The largest animal on earth, the great blue whale eats both algae and the voracious algae feeders, krill. All the plants and animals on earth have benefited from algae’s superior nutrition and taste.
One of the most common reactions people have to algae-based foods is the “yuck factor.” People cannot imagine eating algae because they attribute negative sensory factors. Food labels do not address taste, color, aroma, texture, or mouth appeal. Those must be addressed separately. Fortunately, social media such as Yelp, Epicurious, and Gourmet sites will quickly resolve those issues.
Nutrition labels for algae-based foods predictably will go through an iterative process of claims that must be proven by scientific testing. Fortunately, much of the testing has or is being done currently for high-value animal feeds.
As algae foods enter the market, food labels will share the extraordinary health benefits that algae has offered to its many hunger consumers for eons.
New food labels need to incorporate environmental issues into the food mix. The next post examines what environmental factors may be emphasized on food labels.