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CNN Sunday Morning

Don't Trust Food Labels; Interview with Susan Foerster

Aired April 28, 2002 - 07:45   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you probably know this but we are going to remind you once again. It may sound comforting or inviting, but beware, don't take the labels on food products at face value. Bruce Burkehart explains.


BRUCE BURKEHART, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So many labels, so many claims, so many questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He only eats organic food. Right, buddy?

BURKEHART: Well, it depends on what your definition of organic is. Environmental labels are everywhere, claiming products are organic or hypo-allergenic, labels we use to try and make the right choice for our health, for the environment. But do these labels always tell the truth?

URVASHI RANGAN, CONSUMERS UNION: We have come across a number of labels that have very few, if any, standards behind them.

BURKEHART: Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, helps shoppers sort out the wheat from the chaff in their website,

RANGAN: With that growing number of labels comes a growing amount of concern on the part of consumers. It's hard for consumers to tell exactly what the label means. And this site takes consumers behind the label and explains to them which labels actually mean something and which ones are just marketing hype.

BURKEHART: With the site, consumers can compare products and print a report card to take along when they go shopping. Eco labels has done the research to see which claims are real.

RANGAN: Consumers can be assured that when they do see the organic label, especially after October 2002 when the U.S.D.A. program will be fully implemented, organic will mean the same thing from product to product. And consumers can trust that label.

BURKEHART: But as eco labels tells you, don't trust everything you read.

RANGAN: Hypo-allergenic is a claim that is used on several cosmetic products, which basically has very little meaning. Hypo- allergenic can mean anything that a manufacturer wants it to mean.

BURKEHART: A watchdog like eco labels helps, but in the end, making sure that product claims are responsible is up to the consumer, an educated consumer.

Bruce Burkehart, CNN, Atlanta.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, your mother always told you to eat your vegetables. Well, the eat a five day program is making that official. Susan Foerster is a registered dietitian with the California Department of Health Services. She's in our Washington bureau, attending National Eat 5 a Day Partnership Meeting.

Good to see you, Susan.


PHILLIPS: All right. Well, we were talking about the labels and all of that, but as we know, fruits and vegetables, very important. Tell me what this program is being relaunched right now?

FOERSTER: The National 5 A Day program began in 1991 as a partnership between the National Cancer Institute, the Produce for Better Health Foundation, representing the fruit and vegetable industry and state health departments. A couple of years ago, it was evaluated by the National Cancer Institute outside scientific panel and found that while it was effective, we weren't making as much progress as we needed to with getting Americans to eat five fruits and vegetables every day, and that it needed to be reinvorgated with more government partners, non-profit, and industry partners helping out.

PHILLIPS: Now let's talk about why it's so important. I mean, just to name a few diseases, I know cancer is one that a lot of doctors push for you to eat more fruits and vegetables to fight cancer. What else?

FOERSTER: Well, heart disease was the next one up, both heart disease and stroke. And it was found that by eating a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, more in the area of nine or 10 servings, and drinking low fat milk, that there was as much benefit to heart disease and stroke risk as there was with medication. And then this third thing has been the obesity epidemic in the United States. And what we've been seeing is that adults are now -- two-thirds of us are overweight or already obese. And with teenagers and children, we have rates that are double to triple what they were only 15 years ago.

And following on that, we are seeing epidemic rates of diabetes, including the -- what used to be called adult onset diabetes occurring in children as young as 10 and 11 years of age. And why that's important is because chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes take about 20 years before the symptoms become manifest. But if you have a teenager with Type II diabetes, then their chances of having diabetes outcomes, such as blindness by the time they're 35 or 40 are much, much higher. And of course, that's something that nobody wants to see happening in our country.

PHILLIPS: Now you make a good point about the diabetes. One of my best friends, she didn't realize it until almost about 20 years later. You know, and it nearly took her life.

All right, let's get really specific here. Let's talk about the green, orange, red, blue, white. Let's start with green. OK, first thing you think of course, broccoli, peas. Tell us about the fido (ph) nutrients?

FOERSTER: There are two main fido (ph) nutrients in the green group. Those are ludien (ph) and indols (ph). And there's a lot of other sub fido (ph) nutrients that go along with that, but they help to maintain good vision. You've always heard about Vitamin A in your eyes. Well, that's part of it. But they also help to reduce cataracts and degenerative diseases of sensitive tissues. So they're also important for preventing some of the symptoms and signs of aging.

PHILLIPS: And also, I know it reduces the risk of tumor growth. That's something that I've studied. That hit close to home.

All right, let's go to orange and talk about the fido (ph) nutrients and benefits.

FOERSTER: Beta carotene is another one that we've heard about for many years. But along with that, our bioflavinoids. And bioflavinoids work along with Vitamin C to reduce the risk of heart attacks. And I was mentioning before that heart attacks and stroke are reduced by eating more fruits and vegetables.

PHILLIPS: And we won't forget maintaining strong bones and teeth and healthy skin. All right, what about red? Let's talk about red.

FOERSTER: Well, red is licopene (ph), is one of the main ones that we've heard about. And it's made a lot of press related to prostrate cancer. And this would be in tomatoes and particularly processed tomato products and watermelon. In addition, our ansophines (ph), which are found in many of the berries and in the fruits. So these are totally delicious.

PHILLIPS: And this also helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer's too, right?

FOERSTER: Well, I think there's some early research that's very suggestive.

PHILLIPS: Excellent. OK, blue and purple?

FOERSTER: Blue and purple, that would be the anthdcyanines and the phenolics. And what we have here, again, all of these you've noticed, do help reduce the risk of cancer, but here we have antioxidants. And these are -- the blue, purple is probably the smallest of the groups, but if you can look at dried plums that we used to call them prunes, raisins are very convenient and very available all year around.

PHILLIPS: Yes, and this is good for memory loss also, and also effects of aging. We've got to make that plug.

FOERSTER: That's right.

PHILLIPS: All right, let's move on to white, Susan.

FOERSTER: Well, the white is really the garlic and onion family that we've heard about for so many years, which is helpful in reducing blood pressure and in heart disease. And also again, we have boosting immunity. We have reducing blood cholesterol and helping to control blood pressure. So again, these are flavorful fruits and vegetables from a Mediterranean type cuisine that we know has the lowest rates of most of the chronic disease of any area in the world.

PHILLIPS: Got to have that garlic. Susan Foerster. The website is I know you've got a lot of recipes on there. Also various programs to talk about how folks can get involved and find out how to do this. Thank you so much, Susan.

FOERSTER: And thank you so much.

PHILLIPS: All right, good luck with attending the Washington conference today.

FOERSTER: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: I'm sure it'll be successful.