Food avoidance heaven

Food avoidance heaven

I’m holding in my hands a package of chips that carries the following information on it: “Certified Organic, Certified Gluten-Free, Peanut Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegan, Non-GMO, No Synthetic Pesticides or Chemical Fertilizers, No Trans Fats or High Fructose Corn Syrup, No Artificial Flavors, Colors or Preservatives.”

I’m in food avoidance heaven.

The product is from the gourmet snack foods section of my supermarket. I’m guessing your supermarket has a similar section. Of course, if you don’t shop in a supermarket but only in a Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s or your local natural foods store, then rather than a section you have an entire store filled with such products.

Besides snack foods, the gourmet section has soups, candies, prepared foods, seasonings, etc. Some of the products are distinguished by having a special ingredient, sea salt, for example, rather than rock salt. But many are notable, like the product mentioned above, for what they don’t have.

Of course, you don’t have to go to the gourmet section to find products distinguished by what they are free from. For example, the regular snack aisle is filled with products proclaiming they are free of trans fats. You can but apple sauce with or without added sugar and peanut butter with or without added salt. Dairy cases have products that are lactose free and even non-dairy, such as soy milk or almond milk.

The gourmet foods section in my supermarket is right next to the gluten-free section of the store. This is a section devoted to the three million consumers in the U.S. who have celiac disease and cannot eat gluten without having a severe reaction. Of course, not all of these three million shop in my supermarket. In fact, on average there are about 80 shoppers with celiac disease for every supermarket in the U.S. It may seem strange that a supermarket will have a special section just for 80 shoppers. But the creation of gluten free sections were really developed for the masses of non-celiac consumers who, taking their lead from nutrition websites and blogs, decided that gluten was detrimental to their health.

At present there are two areas of food avoidance that are at the top of the food news chain: GMO and wheat. Will we see food avoidance heaven expanded to include GMO- and wheat-free sections along with the gluten-free section any time in the near future? The answer is, “not likely.” GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. In the U.S. most products that are made using corn or soy include ingredients from genetically modified versions of these plants. Organic products are always the exception and some natural products are too. But many products labeled natural do contain GMO ingredients as the FDA has rejected all calls for it to regard GMO crops as not natural. People who want to avoid GMO ingredients must purchase organic products or look for a “non-GMO certified” label that many natural food marketers have voluntarily placed on their packaging. Advocacy groups for the anti-GMO position, point to surveys that show 90% of American consumers want GMO labeling on their food product but the food manufacturing industry has successful fought off all attempts to require such labeling, insisting it should be strictly a voluntary gesture or, if there is to be a requirement, it be that non-GMO products be labeled as such, after appropriate certification has taken place.

Despite that 90% support for GMO labeling, it seems clear that GMO avoidance has not reached the same tipping point as gluten avoidance so it is not likely we will see a dedicated non-GMO section in our supermarkets any time soon. Of course, many stores have sections for organic products, which in effect are non-GMO sections. (Others have the organic and non-organic products of all types shelved shoulder to shoulder so you can compare prices and decide how much it is worth to you to eat “natural.”) Organic products are not confined to the packaged foods aisles. Most supermarkets these days offer organic produce along with those grown under the protection of various chemicals. The GMO avoider can more or less assume that every product not labeled organic and not carrying a “Non-GMO Certified” label is made with GMO ingredients, a fairly reasonable resolution.

Of course it is possible that actions by leading manufacturers such as General Mills and Post Foods, which have introduced non-GMO versions of the Cheerios and Grape Nuts, may drive a new non-GMO movement that could lead to that special non-GMO section. But for the time being, we can expect to see these products on the regular cereal shelf.

Wheat avoidance is the hottest avoidance trend at present, having gained momentum in 2011 with the publication of the best-selling book Wheat Belly by cardiologist Dr. William R. Davis whose argument is that modern wheat is not only different from the wheat first harvested by humans at the dawn of the agricultural revolution, it is radically different from the wheat used to make bread and other foods a mere fifty years ago. Dr. Davis claims that the wheat available to consumers today has been altered to the point that it is actually toxic to the human system. He points out that there are several components in wheat, including gluten, amylopectin A, a complex carbohydrate unique to wheat, and over 1000 other proteins that contribute to the development of inflammatory and/or autoimmune diseases. His book stirred a wheat-free diet trend that, according to a survey of more than 500 Registered Dietitians conducted by the nutrition trade magazine, Today’s Dietitian, will continue as a top consumer trend in 2014.

But the popularity of the wheat avoidance movement has not led to a “wheat-free” labeling movement among manufacturers or the creation of wheat-free supermarket sections. This is largely due to the fact that most products are already labeled as containing wheat if it anywhere present in the ingredients used. This is because of wheat being among the eight major food allergens that, according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004, are required to be cited on food packaging if they are present. Therefore, consumers avoiding wheat, either by choice because they have accepted the wheat belly theory or out of necessity because of their allergies, should be able to readily identify the products to be shunned.

This blog is based on research featured in Packaged Facts’Food Formulation Trends: Ingredients Consumers Avoid, published in February 2014.  Add this report to your own intelligence library and receive a 5% discount during our promotional period effective through April 1, 2014. Use codePFFoodAllergy.