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Formulator’s Corner: Assessing Quality of Food Ingredients

Tigger Montague

We consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and savvy about reading labels, yet we are now faced with figuring out the actual quality of food and food ingredients.

Labels: Where Do The Ingredients Come From?
Packaged foods like feeds do not require country of origin for each ingredient on the label; single bagged ingredients like oats, flax, chia do require country of origin.

Country of origin is becoming more and more important: some of the highest levels of arsenic in rice bran are from the US (specifically the states Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas). In fact, rice from China has lower arsenic levels than rice grown in the southern US. The lowest levels of arsenic in the US comes from rice grown in California.

But without country of origin or state of origin for rice bran or any other ingredient in supplements and feeds, there is no way for consumers to know without contacting the company.

For many of us, finding time to contact a company and question an ingredient is hard to fit into our over-demanding schedules.

The China Connection:
Because country of origin is not required, food ingredients in equine, human, and canine supplements and feed can be manufactured and made in China without the consumer being aware. Typical examples are vitamin C, which China now dominates with 90% of the market, and amino acids, which China also dominates with 99% of the market. Among the B vitamins: B-1, for which China has 80% of the market; B-2, at 60% of the market; B-5, 50% of the market; B-6, 85% of the market; folic acid, 80% of the market; B-12, 90% of the market. Others include: Vitamin D-3, for which China claims 60% of the market; DL-Tocopherol (synthetic vitamin E) at 60% of the market; and Biotin for a whopping 90% of the market.

China is getting very ambitious with fish oil capsules. Currently China has 20% of the fish oil capsule market in the US. According to reports from the 2015 Natural Products Expo held in Orange County, California, the raw materials and food ingredients supplier section was dominated by Chinese companies.

And it’s not just vitamins….China is the only bulk source of USDA certified organic pumpkin seeds sold to health food stores around the country including Whole Foods. China has also come on strong with algae like Spirulina and Chlorella.

The Glyphosate Connection:
When it comes to common feed ingredients like wheat middlings, soy, oats, flax, canola, alfalfa, beet pulp, field peas, barley, and dried distillers grains (which are made from GMO corn) the common denominator is Glyphosate/Round Up. In 2010 Monsanto International published a paper touting the application of Glyphosate right before harvest. And not just in North America and Canada…according to the EU, “glyphosate can be appled before crop harvest for weed control, to enhance ripening to reduce crop losses and to help manage determinate crops in wet seasons.” What Monsanto is telling farmers is that they can apply Glyphosate both before planting and pre-harvest. Some farmers are actually using Glyphosate as a dessicant (although it was not originally designated for that use); Glyphosate, according to the EU: “can be used to ripen the stem and green leaves.”

A study published June 15, 2014 in the journal Food Chemistry tested 31 batches of soybeans from Iowa. The samples were divided into 3 categories: GMO-glyphosate tolerant soy/ GMO free (aka “conventional”) soy grown with conventional herbicides including glyphosate/ organic soy. The result: Glyphosate tolerant GMO soybeans contained high residues of glyphosate, which the Non GMO and Organic varieties did not. The researchers warned that other pesticides could be present, but were not tested.

The organic soybeans differed in nutrient composition compared to conventional and GMO soy: higher protein in organic soy, including higher amounts of IAAs (indispensable amino acids), lower content of saturated fat in organic soybeans, and zinc was significantly higher in the organic soy samples compared to GMO soy and conventional soy.

Organic and Certified GMO Free:
The term Organic is not a marketing term for higher priced food; it is in fact a way of farming where glyphosate and genetically modified organisms are forbidden. Organic costs more because it receives no federal subsidies. Organic at its most fundamental level: is the real cost of authentic food. If commodities like wheat, corn, soy were not subsidized, the cost of a loaf of bread at the supermarket would be double what we pay now. The US Government makes sure that food is cheap. Unfortunately it does not ensure that food is healthy, or that the soil is nurtured.

GMO Free and Non-GMO are terms that gets tossed around with claims that can lack substantiation. The only way to ascertain the truth of these claims is certification through the EU (for foods grown in Europe) or through the Non-GMO Project in the US. Certification requires food ingredients traced from farm to table; it also requires yearly inspections of companies who produce GMO-free supplements.   However, GMO Free does not mean Glyphosate Free: only certified organic guarantees that no Round Up was used to grow the food.

Beyond the Label:
When I am reading a label I go through a checklist: is this ingredient a food? Or is it a food by-product? How was it grown (ie organic or conventional)? How was the by-product extracted/produced? Is this ingredient a chemical, an additive, or a preservative?

I always ask myself: is this product or ingredient helping the earth or hurting the earth?

If an ingredient is oil, and doesn’t say Cold Pressed, or Virgin then I know it was solvent extracted, most likely with hexane. If it is a soy, corn, vegetable, canola or rice bran oil that has no designation as to Cold Pressed or Virgin it has been processed with high heat, virtually destroying the nutrients and leaving nothing but the fat.

DL in front of an amino acid, for instance Methionine, is 100% synthetic. The good news is that it is an inexpensive ingredient for companies; the bad news is that it has very low bioavailability.

Probiotic formulas containing any members of the Lactobacillus family can have as much as 30% maltodextrin, most often derived from corn in the US. Labels will not indicate the levels of maltodextrin since it is not required.

Yeast probiotics can be from genetically modified yeasts so it is important to check with the company to verify if it is non -GMO.

Beyond Price:
Price can be an indication of quality depending on the food ingredients. Genetically modified is generally less expensive than organic or GMO-free. Wheat middlings are far cheaper than wheat kernels; dried distillers grains, which are made from corn are much cheaper than organic whole corn.  The danger lies in the fact that some companies price their low-cost ingredients at a very high price to the consumer, giving the illusion that based on price, the ingredients are high quality.

The Math:
We see this not only in feeds but in supplements as well. Take for instance L-Threonine, an ingredient that is being used more and more for ulcer supplements. Current prices: a metric ton from China (which is 2,204.62 pounds) costs .77 cents a pound. If the formula called for 1 gram per serving (there are approximately 453.59 grams in a pound) the cost per serving would be: $0.0017. If a company didn’t want to purchase that much, they could buy a slightly more expensive kilogram (2.2lbs) for $10.00 and then the price per gram would be: $0.01.   If we were to use organic pumpkin seeds as a source of L-Threonine: we would need 1 cup to give us 1 gram of Threonine. Current wholesale prices are $3.53/pound of organic pumpkin seeds. Since 1lb of pumpkin seeds gives us 1.9 cups the cost per cup would be: $1.765.

Sometimes when I look at the ingredient list of a supplement and then the price I really have to shake my head. I have great respect for supplement companies who price their products based on the quality of the ingredients, not what the market will bear.

Assessing the quality of ingredients goes beyond marketing. Real, authentic whole food is going to cost more in the short run, and heap tremendous health savings in the long run.

For more details on BioStar’s assessment and maintenance of quality food ingredients, what we will and will not use in our products, read HERE.

Addendum: Other Whole Food and Organic Sources:

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