Special Report: What’s Coming in 2009

What’s coming in the new year? Plenty of changes, most of which were put into motion in 2008. A new U.S. president is the most obvious change, but there will also be changes in foods and drinks on supermarket store shelves, finance-driven modifications in eating and lifestyle habits, and research and news about health topics that used to be so underground that they were only covered on blogs on the Internet such as this one!

The first change has already started: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared stevia, a natural, no-calorie sweetener that it long fought to keep out of the marketplace, safe for use in foods and beverages. The stunning reversal in the FDA’s stance on stevia was prompted because big U.S. soft drink companies recently became interested in using stevia in its drinks because of a decline in U.S. soft drink sales. The change in status on stevia just this month is expected to start a wave of stevia-sweetened products on supermarket shelves.

Another startling development: Last week an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) panel concluded that the toxic effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals need to be studied in combination with other chemicals to assess the true impact on human health. The natural health community, including myself, has spoken out about the load of chemicals in our foods that haven’t been tested together. As I wrote in Going Against the Grain:

Perhaps the most compelling reason to be concerned is that there more than three thousand approved food additives, but nobody has ever tested them in combination with each other. Most packaged, refined-grain products contain a variety of additives, not just one. By combining several different food additives, the harmful effects are likely magnified.

The companies that make chemical-laden food additives, pesticides, plastics, cosmetics and other products likely will protest this new ruling and the EPA will be under pressure to limit its testing to only a few chemicals. However, the fact that the EPA panel came out with this decision is change in a very big way.

Another topic that has not been addressed by the mainstream media but will be covered more in 2009 is gluten sensitivity, a topic I brought to light in my Going Against the Grain book in 2002 and have covered a lot on this blog. The first sign of more mainstream coverage of this topic came when Newsweek magazine ran a “web exclusive” story about gluten entitled “A New Diet Villain” at the beginning of this month (December 2008). The article mentioned people who do not have celiac disease but avoid gluten because they feel better on a gluten-free diet. It also noted that some 15 to 30 million Americans are buying gluten-free products, a market much bigger than the celiac population. (Unfortunately, the article didn’t mention any of the research done on gluten sensitivity in 2008, research I have covered on this blog.)

“Gluten-free” has been a hot category in natural food stores for several years, but it’s going to get hotter in more supermarkets as big-business food makers get into the act after the FDA makes a final ruling on “gluten-free” labeling probably sometime in 2009.

Besides a growing movement toward gluten-free eating, more changes in Americans’ food habits are coming in 2009 because of the economic crisis and tougher financial times. Those modifications have already started: 48 percent of Americans in a November 2008 PARADE survey said they are eating out less often and 35 percent are preparing more meals from scratch. Another trend likely to grow are people growing their own food: 21 percent of those surveyed are planting their own vegetable gardens.

Selected References:

“Coke to Sell Drinks Made with Stevia.” Associated Press/Boston Globe:
http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2008/12/16/coke_to_sell_drinks_made_with_stevia/

McKay, Betsy. “FDA Clears Use of Herb as Sweetener.” Online Wall Street Journal: http://sbk.online.wsj.com/article/SB122955049250715515.html

Schnurnberger, Lynn. “What American Really Eats.” PARADE, November 16, 2008, pg. 6-7.
http://www.parade.com/food/2008/11/what-america-really-eats.html

Springen, Karen. “A New Diet Villain.” Newsweek web story: http://www.newsweek.com/id/171953.

Melissa’s Comments:

Change occurs every year to a certain extent but the changes we’ll see in 2009 are bigger than usual. The good news is for the first time in a long time, most of the changes coming in 2009 are very positive for people interested in health (even if the changes weren’t originally made for that reason!).

Stevia, an herb that doesn’t spike blood sugar and insulin levels, will now be used as a sweetener in foods and drinks. Given that the sweeteners most often used in foods and drinks are refined white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, two extremely harmful sweeteners for people with diabetes or other forms of insulin resistance, having the option of drinks or desserts sweetened with stevia is a major step forward. But stevia wasn’t approved by the FDA because it was healthier than other sweeteners. It was approved because powerful drink corporations such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi put pressure on the FDA to allow stevia in drinks. People had finally started to figure out that typical high-fructose-corn-syrup-sweetened soft drinks weren’t healthy and a growing number of people were concerned about the safety of artificially-sweetened soft drinks sweetened with aspartame or sucralose, so sales of soft drinks declined. Coke and Pepsi became interested in stevia as a way to boost their sagging sales figures and got the FDA to do an about-face on its stance on stevia. (That shows that consumers do have the power to influence products in the marketplace for the better. When we make healthier choices, we can and do influence the foods and drinks companies make and put on our supermarket shelves!) If you’d like to read more about the behind-the-scenes circumstances that led to stevia being allowed in foods and drinks, check out the NaturalNews story, FDA Approves Stevia, Ends the Era of Oppression of Herbal Sweetener – Update 1.

Regardless of why it came about, the move toward stevia-sweetened drinks is a definite boon to consumers. But it comes with a caveat: Think before you buy. Most people have a tendency to gravitate to things that are new and different, but people shouldn’t blindly grab stevia-sweetened drinks without thought. For example, Coke is planning to introduce some Odwalla juice drinks sweetened with stevia. Juice is plenty sweet on its own – in fact, it is too sweet and can contribute to weight problems and health problems when gulped down in excess. There is no reason to add sweetener to fruit juice, even to thinned-out fruit juice. Also, if you’ve broken yourself of the habit of drinking soft drinks and other sweet drinks, there is no reason to start regularly drinking stevia-sweetened drinks. The idea is that all of us should wean ourselves away from sweetened foods and drinks so our taste for sweetness lessens.

With the new changes, if more people become aware of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, that will be positive for the health of many people who have symptoms that they don’t yet know are gluten-related. More gluten-free products available in supermarkets and restaurants will give people more options, but as I’ve mentioned before, not all foods labeled “gluten-free” are health-promoting. Consumers have to be vigilant in choosing the good gluten-free foods from the bad ones. To learn more, read my post, Focus on Real Food Instead of Trendy Imitation Food Products – and for consumer news that goes against the grain all throughout the year, join my online Going Against the Grain Group. For a limited time, you can join the Group and get a free Healthier Holidays Going Against the Grain E-book, which has information that is helpful all through the colder months of the year.

The new year just might be a breakthrough year for the health-conscious. But with many new products, more options, and also tighter financial constraints for most people, it’s more important than ever to be a smart consumer, to not be swayed by food companies’ marketing hype, and to choose the foods and drinks you consume wisely to enjoy a healthy 2009.

© Copyright 2008 by Melissa Diane Smith

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