TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Non-Diet Ways to Trick Yourself into Losing Weight

mason-jar-salad
Getty Images

It's all about vegetable artistry

Convenient. Attractive. Normal. These three words (which are the basis for the even easier to remember acronym C.A.N.) may be the key to eating healthier without really trying, according to a recent paper from Cornell University. The review of 112 studies concluded that eaters make good choices when healthy foods are visible and within reach; they’re displayed enticingly; and they’re set up as the most obvious choices compared to other food options. It just makes sense: When you place gorgeous pieces of fresh fruit in a pretty bowl on your counter, you’re more likely to take one than if they’re hidden away—especially if the chips or cookies are even easier to grab. Bottom line, make it handy to eat healthfully and you’ll follow through, no “diet” or willpower required.

In addition to remembering C.A.N., there are plenty of other research-backed strategies for not dieting, and still shedding pounds. Here, four more easy tactics you can adopt.

Plate your veggies artistically

In a University of Oxford study, subjects in one group received salads arranged to resemble an artistic painting; a second group was provided with salads featuring vegetables lined up in neat rows, and salads in a third group were served in a typical piled-up fashion. While all the salads contained identical ingredients, dressing, and condiments, the artistic salad was rated the best by subjects, by a nearly 20 percent margin. In fact, people reported that they’d be willing to pay twice as much for the painting-like versions. The takeaway: We eat with our eyes as well as our stomachs, so if you’re trying to reach for healthy foods more often, put some effort into how you present them. (I think this study demonstrates one reason why Mason jar salads—and the myriad of photos of them on social media—have become so popular.)

Nosh before you shop

You’ve heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating: A 2013 study, also from Cornell University, found that skipping meals before heading to the supermarket is a surefire way to sabotage healthy shopping. Volunteers were asked to fast for five hours, then either given nothing to eat or crackers, and asked to make purchases at a simulated food market. The fasting group bought 18.6% more food—including a whopping 44.8% more calorie-packed items, like chips and ice cream—than the cracker eating crowd. In a follow-up study, researchers observed shoppers at an actual supermarket just after lunch and in the late afternoon. Compared to post-lunch shoppers, those who strolled the aisles in the late afternoon—when they were way more likely to be hungry—bought over a quarter fewer low-calorie foods like vegetables. To prevent hunger from keeping healthy food items out of your grocery cart, eat something to take the edge off pre-shopping. Stash a golf-ball sized portion of nuts or seeds in your bag, and try to finish them before you walk through the entrance of the supermarket.

Spend a little time in the morning sun

The timing, intensity, and length of your exposure to light during the day may significantly affect your weight. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Northwestern University found that compared to people who got most of their light exposure later in the day, those who enjoyed even moderately bright light in the morning had significantly lower BMIs. In fact, the later the hour of light exposure, the higher a person’s BMI, and vice versa. The numbers held true independent of an individual’s exercise regime, calorie intake, sleep timing, and age. The powerful effect, researchers say, is due to how light influences our body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate metabolism and weight regulation. To keep those rhythms in sync and your weight in check, researchers advise getting 20 to 30 minutes of bright light exposure between 8:00 a.m. and noon. And no, you don’t have to be outdoors—a room brightened by natural sun (versus a room with no windows and only artificial light) will do.

Don’t dine while distracted

Bringing your lunch to work is a smart way to control your calories. But if you surf the Web while you eat, you may consume more than you would’ve if you’d focused on your meal, both during eating and later in the day. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who played a computer game while lunching felt less full, snacked more, and had more trouble recalling what they had eaten than those who’d eaten without distractions. So while it may feel weird to sit at your desk without checking email or doing anything but eating, that’s the best lunchtime strategy for your waistline. Bonus: You’ll actually enjoy your lunch.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

TIME Diet/Nutrition

10 Surprising Ways You Are Making Your Vegetables Less Nutritious

vine-tomatoes
Getty Images

Sometimes canned veggies have an edge over fresh

Modern varieties of vegetables, the ones you see for sale in the produce section of the supermarket, are generally sweeter, starchier, and less fibrous than their wild ancestors. They are also far less nutritious: wild dandelion leaves, for example, have eight times more antioxidants than spinach and forty times more than iceberg lettuce.

So doing what you can to maximize the nutrients in the vegetables you eat is important—but it turns out that many common cooking habits are actually making vegetables less nutritious. Did you know you should wait 10 minutes before cooking chopped garlic? Or that broccoli is one of the most perishable vegetables in your crisper? Investigative journalist Jo Robinson spent 10 years combing through the latest research on nutrients in vegetables and fruits for her book, Eating on the Wild Side, and her evidence-based tips for storing and preparing vegetables will change the way you cook.

When you hear “nutrients,” you may only be thinking of vitamins, such as vitamins A and C, or minerals like calcium and iron. But vegetables are also a source of phytonutrients, the powerful antioxidants that plants produce in order to protect themselves from harmful UV light or damage from scavenging insects. “What [the scientific community] is discovering is that consuming these phytonutrients plays the same role for us, ” Robinson told me. “It protects us from external and internal threats.” Lycopene in tomatoes, resveratrol in red wine, and anthocyanins in blueberries are just a few of the phytonutrients scientists are excited about, and their names may be familiar to you.

Research on phytonutrients is relatively new, which is why tips about how to make the most of them in the kitchen are not yet common knowledge. Time to change that! Here are 10 ways you may be unknowingly making your vegetables less nutritious.

1. Buying fresh tomatoes instead of canned.

Cooking tomatoes makes them more nutritious, and the longer you cook them, the better. Heat changes the lycopene into a form our bodies can more readily absorb and—surprise!—canned tomatoes are much higher in phytonutrients, thanks to the heat of the canning process. Tomato paste, being more concentrated, is even better.

2. Storing lettuce wrong.

You might think that damaging your vegetables before storing them is a mistake, but when it comes to lettuce, tearing the leaves triggers a protective blast of phytonutrients that you can take advantage of by eating the greens within a day or two. Lettuce that is torn before storing can have double the antioxidants of whole lettuce leaves.

3. Boiling spinach—or any vegetable really.

You may have heard that boiling vegetables is a no-no because water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C leach out of the food and into the cooking water, but you might not know that boiling also reduces the antioxidant content. The difference in spinach is especially dramatic: after 10 minutes of boiling, three-quarters of its phytonutrient content is in cooking water, not in the vegetable itself. (Of course, if you consume the cooking liquid, as you do when making soup, you consume all the nutrients in the water as well.)

Steaming, microwaving, sautéing, and roasting—cooking methods that don’t put vegetables in direct contact with water—result in more nutritious vegetables on the plate.

4. Eating your salad with fat-free salad dressing.

We’ve known for a few years that you absorb more of the nutrients in salad when you eat it with fat, but the type of fat can make a difference. Most commercial salad dressings use soybean oil, but extra-virgin olive oil is much more effective at making nutrients available for absorption. Unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil is even better, as it contains double the phytonutrients of filtered.

5. Cooking garlic right after chopping it.

If you mince a clove of garlic and quickly throw it in a hot pan, you consume almost no allicin, the beneficial compound that makes garlic such a health star. That’s because the enzyme that creates allicin is not activated until you rupture the cell walls of the garlic—and is quickly inactivated by heat. Just two minutes in a hot pan or 60 seconds in the microwave reduces the allicin in just-chopped garlic to almost nothing.

Letting the chopped garlic sit for 10 minutes before exposing it to heat gives the enzyme time to do its work, so your finished dish contains the maximum amount of allicin. Using a garlic press is even better than mincing, as it releases more of the compounds that combine to create allicin.

6. Throwing away the most nutritious parts of the vegetable.

Most American recipes call for only the white and light green parts of scallions, but the dark green parts have a higher concentration of phytonutrients. Instead of throwing out the nutritious tops, you can ignore the recipe instructions and toss in the green parts as well, or explore recipes from elsewhere in the world—such as Chinese scallion pancakes—which utilize the entire green onion.

Beet greens are another often-discarded vegetable part that we would be better off eating; they have more antioxidants than the beet roots, which are already high in phytonutrients. Try cooking and eating the greens alongside the roasted roots in recipes like Warm Golden Beet Salad with Greens and Almonds.

And don’t forget vegetable peels, which often contain a higher concentration of antioxidants than the rest of the vegetable. Try roasting them and eating them like chips!

7. Eating potatoes right after cooking them.

Many people avoid white potatoes because they are a high-glycemic vegetable, spiking blood sugar after eating. But chilling potatoes for about 24 hours after cooking converts the starch in the potatoes to a type that is digested more slowly, making them a low-glycemic vegetable. So potato salad chilled overnight is a low-glycemic food, as is a cooked, chilled, and reheated baked potato.

8. Cutting carrots before you cook them.

Cooking carrots whole and cutting them up after they are cooked keeps more nutrients in the vegetable. And speaking of cooking, carrots are one vegetable that is better for you cooked than raw—cooking helps break down the cell walls, making the nutrients easier to absorb.

9. Buying broccoli florets, instead of a whole head.

Broccoli looks like a hardy vegetable, but from an antioxidant standpoint, it is shockingly perishable, quickly exhausting its stores of powerful phytonutrients after harvest. “I call it one of the ‘eat me first’ vegetables,” says Robinson. One study found that after 10 days—the time it took to get the vegetable from field to supermarket produce section—broccoli lost 75 percent of its flavonoids (a type of antioxidant) and 80 percent of its glucosinolates, the compounds in cruciferous vegetables that are associated with numerous health benefits.

Cutting the broccoli into florets doubles the rate of antioxidant loss, so in addition to buying the freshest broccoli you can find and cooking it right away, you should choose whole heads rather than the bags of pre-cut florets.

10. Cooking beans from scratch and discarding the cooking liquid.

Dried beans are some of the most phytonutrient-rich foods out there, but the big surprise is this: canned have more antioxidants! If you prefer from-scratch beans, let the beans sit in the cooking liquid for about an hour after cooking to reabsorb some of the nutrients that have moved into the liquid. And try using a pressure cooker to cook beans; one study found that beans cooked in the pressure cooker had more antioxidants than those cooked with other methods.

This article originally appeared on The Kitchn.

More from The Kitchn:

TIME Diet/Nutrition

10 Greens That Are Healthier Than Kale

watercress-bowl-table
Getty Images

These green leafy cousins of kale are packed with great amount of nutrients

In the world of marketing, image is everything. If you’re James Franco or Roger Federer or Taylor Swift, your name and face can be used to sell anything from phones to watches to perfume—even if you’re not necessarily famous for the your tech-savvy, your promptness, or the way you smell.

In the food world, the biggest celebrity of all might be kale—the Shakira of salads, the Lady Gaga of leafy greens. It’s universally recognized that kale anything—kale chips, kale pesto, kale face cream—instantly implants a health halo not seen since the days of C. Everett Koop. Even 7-Eleven is making over its image by offering kale smoothies to help with your weight loss efforts. And yes, kale has plenty of benefits—including high levels of folate and more calcium, gram for gram, than a cup of milk.

But kale’s actually not the healthiest green on the block. In fact, in a recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control that ranked 47 “powerhouse fruits and vegetables,” kale only placed 15th (with 49.07 points out of 100 for nutrient density)! Here’s a roundup of the 10 leafy green cousins that researchers say pack a greater nutritional wallop, from Eat This, Not That!. Read em, eat em, and reap the benefits.

10. Collard Greens

Nutrition Score: 62.49

A staple vegetable of Southern U.S. cuisine, collard greens also boast incredible cholesterol-lowering benefits — especially when steamed. A recent study published in the journal Nutrition Research compared the effectiveness of the prescription drug Cholestyramine to steamed collards. Incredibly, the collards improved the body’s cholesterol-blocking process by 13 percent more than the drug! Of course, that won’t do you any good if you insist on serving them with ham hocks.

9. Romaine Lettuce

Nutrition Score: 63.48

Even more so than its cousin kale, the humble Romaine lettuce packs high levels of folic acid, a water-soluble form of Vitamin B that’s proven to boost male fertility. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found supplemental folic acid to significantly increase sperm counts. Get the man in your life to start craving Caesar salads, and you may soon have a baby Julius on board. (Ladies, this green packs health benefits for you, too! Folate also plays a role in battling depression, so change out your kale for Romaine.

8. Parsley

Nutrition Score: 65.59

Yes, that leafy garnish that sits on the side of your plate—the one they throw away after you eat the rest of your meal—is a quiet superfood, so packed with nutrients that even that one sprig can go a long way toward meeting your daily requirement for vitamin K. Moreover, research suggests the summer-y aroma and flavor of chopped parsley may help control your appetite. A study in the journal Flavour found participants ate significantly less of a dish that smelled strongly of spice than a mildly scented version of the same food. Adding herbs, like parsley, creates the sensory illusion that you’re indulging in something rich—without adding any fat or calories to your plate.

7. Leaf Lettuce

Nutrition Score: 70.73

The nutritional Clark Kent of the salad bar, this common and unsuspecting leafy green is ready to take its place among the superfoods. Two generous cups of lettuce provides 100 percent of your daily vitamin K requirement for strong, healthy bones. A report from the Nurses’ Health Study suggests that women who eat a serving of lettuce every day cut the risk of hip fracture by 30 percent than when compared with eating just one serving a week.

6. Chicory

Nutrition Score: 73.36

Chicory is a family of bitter greens, but its most well-known member is radicchio, the small red or purple leaf that comes in a head about the size of a softball. It’s one of the best dietary sources of polyphenols—powerful micronutrients that serve a role in preventing disease. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who consume 650 mg a day of polyphenols have a 30 percent chance at living longer than those who consume less than that. A cup of chicory leaves clocks in at about 235 mg (double that of spinach!), so consider adding a little leafy red into your leafy greens.

5. Spinach

Nutrition Score: 86.43

Spinach is to kale what Michael Jordan is to LeBron James—the once unrivaled king now overshadowed by the hot new thing. But like MJ, spinach has a few more championship rings than its more current rival—primarily its position as a top source of biceps-building iron. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a 180 gram serving of boiled spinach provides 6.43 mg of the muscle mineral—that’s more than a 6 oz hamburger patty! Recent research also suggest compounds in the leaf membranes called thylakoids may serve as a powerful appetite suppressant. A recently published long-term study at Lund University in Sweden found that having a drink containing thylakoids before breakfast could significantly reduce cravings and promote weight loss. On average, the women who took the spinach extract lost 5.5 pounds more than the placebo group over the course of three months.

4. Beet Greens

Nutrition Score: 87.08

Yes, the stuff they cut off and throw in the garbage before charging you an arm and a leg for “beet salad.” A scant cup of the bitter green serves up nearly 5 grams of fiber—that’s more than you’ll find in a bowl of Quaker oats! Researchers at the University of Leeds found that risk of cardiovascular disease was significantly lower for every 7 grams of fiber consumed. Try them in stir frys and eat to your heart’s content!

3. Chard

Nutrition Score: 89.27

Chard. Sounds like “burnt.” It’s not as fun a name to drop as, say, “broccolini,” but it might be your best defense against diabetes. Recent research has shown that these powerhouse leaves contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants, including anthocyanins–anti-inflammatory compounds that could offer protection from type 2 diabetes. Researchers from the University of East Anglia analyzed questionnaires and blood samples of about 2,000 people and found that those with the highest dietary intakes of anthocyanins had lower insulin resistance and better blood glucose regulation.

2. Chinese Cabbage

Nutrition Score: 91.99

Taking the silver medal in the powerfood Olympics is Chinese cabbage, also called Napa or celery cabbage. Rich sources of highly-available calcium and iron, cruciferous vegetables like the cabbage have the powerful ability to “turn off” inflammation markers thought to promote heart disease. In a study of more than 1,000 Chinese women, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables (about 1.5 cups per day) had 13 percent less inflammation than those who ate the least.

1. Watercress

Nutrition Score: 100

The top dog, the unrivaled champion, the chairman of the cutting board, watercress may also be the closest thing yet to a true anti-aging food. Gram for gram this mild-tasting and flowery-looking green contains four times more beta carotene than an apple, and a whopping 238 percent of your daily recommended dose of vitamin K per 100 grams—two compounds that keep skin dewy and youthful. The beauty food is also the richest dietary source of PEITC (phenylethyl isothiocyanate), which research suggests can fight cancer. Results from an eight-week trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest daily supplementation of 85 grams of raw watercress (that’s about two cups) could reduce DMA damage linked to cancer by 17 percent. Exposure to heat may inactivate PEITC, so it’s best to enjoy watercress raw in salads, cold-pressed juices, and sandwiches.

This article originally appeared on Eat This, Not That!

More from Eat This, Not That!:

TIME Food

Kellogg Wants to Make a Netflix for Snacks

Kellogg's Earnings Beats Expectations
Tim Boyle—Getty Images Boxes of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes cereal are seen displayed inside a Wal-Mart store July 28, 2003 in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

It's for healthier fare

Subscription snack services — which deliver customized snack boxes to people at home or work weekly or monthly — have boomed in recent years as start-ups offer a whole range of options. There’s Mouth, which sends subscribers what it calls “indie food,” Nature Box, which offers snacks free of artificial ingredients, and even the sports nutrition-focused Jacked Pack.

But there’s a new company entering the market, and its not a hip start-up. It’s Kellogg, the company you probably know for its Pop-Tarts and Eggos. According to Bloomberg, the food company, which has suffered from lagging sales across its cereal brands, will be starting its own snack subscription service to appeal to customers seeking healthier food.

Kellogg’s move comes on the heels of its competitor, General Mills, trying its own snack subscription service called Nibblr. After a year and a half, General Mills closed the experiment, telling Bloomberg that the project “provided great learning.” Nibblr sent subscribers weekly portion-controlled snacks, choosing the varieties by having customers give feedback on the products — a model much like Pandora or Netflix.

Even though General Mills has exited the space, there’s certainly no lack of competition or opportunity awaiting Kellogg. According to a report by market research firm Mintel, the snack subscription provider Graze, for example, enrolls a new batch of 1,000 customers every day. One thing we can probably bet on? The snack subscription won’t be featuring any Pop-Tarts.

TIME Food

Here’s How Campbell’s Is Moving Beyond Soup

Campbell Soup Co. Posts Higher Earnings After Highest Soup Sales In 5 Years
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Cans of Campbell's tomato soup are displayed on a shelf at Santa Venetia Market on May 20, 2013 in San Rafael, California.

Soup and hummus go together, right?

Campbell’s Soup Co. is looking to expand beyond its reputation for soup as sales of its namesake product lag.

Campbell’s announced Tuesday that it would be acquiring Garden Fresh Gourmet, a Michigan-based brand that produces refrigerated salsa, hummus, dip and chips, for $231 million. The upscale brand, which grew out of a restaurant near Detroit, will boost Campbell’s offerings in trendier, fresher foods as sales of its soup products plummeted 10% in the last three months alone.

Garden Fresh Gourmet will join a new category of the packaged food company called the Campbell’s Fresh division, which so far offers carrots, salad dressings, and cold-pressed organic juices. According to Campbell, packaged fresh food sales increased 4.9% across the country in the past year to represent an opportunity worth more than $19 billion in total.

Meanwhile, sales of packaged and processed foods across the industry have continued to fall. Kraft Foods, which sells products like Oscar-Meyer and Jell-O, saw a 62% drop in profits last year. This March, General Mills — purveyor of Betty Crocker and Cocoa Puffs, among other brands — reported a sales drop for the sixth straight quarter.

Campbell’s may be leading its rivals in a swift pivot toward fresh foods: the Garden Fresh Gourmet acquisition follows on the heels of its acquisition of the organic baby food company Plum, Bolthouse Farms (which offers baby carrots and juice smoothies) and the Kelsen biscuit brand.

TIME health

Meet the Secret Group That Decides Which Flavors Are ‘Natural’

Ingredients created by food companies flavor what Americans eat each day—everything from juice drinks and potato chips to ice cream and canned soups. They give Cheetos their addictive cheesy taste and help distinguish Jolly Ranchers from other fruit-flavored candies.

But the organization responsible for the safety of most “natural” and “artificial” flavors that end up in foods and beverages isn’t part of the U.S. government. Rather, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association—a secretive food industry trade group that has no in-house employees, no office of its own and a minuscule budget—serves as the de-facto regulator of the nation’s flavor additives.

The trade association, which operates with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s blessing, says that it makes research on the safety of various flavors available for public inspection.

“Oh, garbage,” said Susan Schiffman, an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who studies sweeteners. “It’s not transparent.”

In late 2012, Schiffman and a colleague from the National Institutes of Health were months away from publishing a paper examining the biological effects of the popular artificial sweetener sucralose.

But first they needed to contact the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association.

The trade group, Schiffman learned, had recently approved the safety of a chemical compound that amplifies sweetness. She says she contacted the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association in December 2012 to learn the chemical’s name and identification number so that she could research its safety.

“They said, ‘We’ll call you back.’ No call back. So I called again. No call back,” Schiffman remembered. “So then I wrote a letter. Nothing happened.”

While her persistent requests went unanswered, Schiffman says she eventually received the information she needed from a flavor expert unaffiliated with the trade association. But Schiffman still had a problem: She couldn’t find safety data on the chemical anywhere.

When a scientist from the trade association finally called her back, Schiffman says she asked him for data supporting the safety of the sweetness-enhancing compound. But she says he refused to give it to her.

“‘There’s something in the food supply, and I can’t find out the toxicity of it?’” Schiffman recalled asking the flavor group scientist who declined her request. “They would not give me the safety data. … It was absolutely astounding.”

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association disputes Schiffman’s version of events.

John Cox, the trade group’s executive director, wrote in an emailed statement to the Center for Public Integrity that Schiffman requested only information on the safety status of the flavor, which was “promptly provided” to her. But he said she never asked for the data supporting the determination.

“If Dr. Schiffman had requested the safety data,” Cox wrote, “we would have provided it to her.”

Public interest groups, however, share Schiffman’s frustration with the trade association. They, too, report getting stonewalled by the flavor group when requesting information about the industry’s safety determinations.

A ‘black box’

The largely industry-run system for evaluating flavors is “fundamentally problematic because it’s so opaque,” said Erik Olson, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s senior strategic director for health and food. “It’s a black box.”

Yet the system factors into food products found in nearly every consumer’s grocery cart.

In recent years, activist groups and social media campaigns have been demanding that food companies become more accountable to consumers and transparent about what they are adding to their products.

But most Americans know as little about the decidedly low-profile Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association and its safety assessments as they do about the more than 2,700 flavoring chemicals it has declared safe during the past five decades.

Moreover, public interest groups say the FDA’s recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request suggests that even the government may be blind to the science behind many of those flavors.

Much is at stake: The flavor industry’s system of self-policing helps it avoid government oversight, potentially saving companies significant amounts of time and money. In Europe, by contrast, companies must have their flavors and other ingredients reviewed for safety by an independent agency funded by the European Union.

The flavor industry makes its safety evaluations “behind closed doors” and then asks consumers to trust them, said Caroline Cox, research director for the Center for Environmental Health. “We just have enough experience with all kinds of toxic chemicals to know not to want to trust an evaluation if someone says, ‘Trust us, it’s all OK.’”

“There is some real need for reform here,” Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who serves on a subcommittee that oversees the FDA, said in an emailed statement. “We can do better than just letting the flavor industry decide for themselves which chemicals they can put in food without any oversight.”

Industry officials say flavors used in food sold in the United States are safe, pointing out that they pose very little health risk because they are used in such small doses. But identifying health concerns would seem to be difficult with so little scientific information publicly available behind some of the trade group’s safety decisions.

A Center for Public Integrity review of documents provided by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association found that four of the group’s most recent safety assessments depended largely on studies that were not published in scientific literature. Public interest groups say that is problematic because it doesn’t allow the scientific community to vouch for the industry’s safety decisions.

The Center for Public Integrity contacted two dozen flavor companies to discuss their ingredients and the process by which they evaluate their safety. Most of them either declined to comment or ignored interview requests.

Two company officials who responded in writing both stressed that flavor companies are very guarded about discussing such information.

“Given the competitive landscape in our industry, many companies, including ours, regard our flavor formulations as valuable proprietary business information,” Donald Wilkes, president and chief executive officer of California-based Blue Pacific Flavors, emailed in response to questions. “We typically do not share this information unless required to do so for legal reasons.”

Nevertheless, the public should be assured food flavor safety standards are high, said Kevin Renskers, president-elect of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association and vice president for corporate safety and regulatory affairs at Takasago International Corp.

“FEMA operates the premier global program to assure the safety of flavor materials,” he responded in an email.

Lucrative business

The companies that make up the flavor industry—including international manufacturers such as Givaudan, Firmenich and Sensient—are not household names. But they make their money by selling flavors to big food companies such as Kellogg, Kraft and Nestlé.

Last year, Switzerland-based Givaudan reported 4.4 billion Swiss francs (roughly $4.8 billion) in sales of flavor ingredients. The company leads the industry with about 25 percent of the global market share in flavors and fragrances.

“The modern processed food industry could not flourish without the flavor industry,” said Kantha Shelke, a food scientist and spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists, a society of food science professionals.

Today, Shelke said, the flavor industry is “big, it’s complicated and it’s sophisticated”—to the point where companies can create a product that tastes like guacamole without even using avocado as an ingredient. The goal, one industry scientist told CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2011, is to develop addictive flavors that consumers “want to go back for again and again.

Shelke says flavor companies don’t like to discuss their flavor compounds, partly because they are worried about scaring “chemophobic” consumers who might be frightened by long, unfriendly-sounding chemical names.

Consumers’ growing unease with chemicals in food has recently led companies to remove some controversial ingredients from their products. Fast food chain Subway, for example, announced last year that it was removing azodicarbonamide from its bread after a popular food blogger revealed that the chemical, used as a dough conditioner, was also used in making yoga mats.

Within the last month, Subway, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut each announced plans to remove artificial colors and flavorings from their products.

By law, flavor ingredients only have to be listed on food labels as “natural” or “artificial”—and rarely do labels volunteer additional information. Natural flavors are derived from plants and animals, while artificial flavors are synthetic chemicals. Both are produced in labs by scientists.

When it comes to questions about safety, flavor companies typically defer to the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association. The group is managed by Verto Solutions—a Washington, D.C., firm that provides scientific consulting, communications and government relations services to the flavor group, as well as other similar trade associations, including the International Association of Color Manufacturers, the International Organization of the Flavor Industry and Pickle Packers International.

While the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association reports no lobbying, it understands Congress’ power to regulate the food industry. The group is hosting its second annual congressional “fly-in” event on June 16-17 to “increase its visibility” and meet with representatives “to ensure that they are aware of the U.S. flavor manufacturing industry and its importance to the economy,” according to its website.

‘The highest standards for transparency’

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association’s program for evaluating the safety of flavors has won praise from some corners of government, namely the FDA and the Government Accountability Office.

Its flavor safety program launched in 1960—two years after Congress passed the first law regulating ingredients added to food.

The law allows food companies to bypass a lengthy government-led safety review if they can establish that their ingredients are “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, for their intended use.

In other words, companies using the so-called GRAS process must demonstrate that there is a consensus among scientific experts that their ingredients are safe.

Companies have the option of involving the FDA in the process, but most ingredient manufacturers choose to make safety determinations without government oversight.

In Europe, the industry doesn’t have the option to police itself.

The European Union requires companies to have their new flavors and other additives reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority, an independent agency funded by the European Union.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association’s member companies—which produce 95 percent of all flavors on the market in the United States—typically forgo FDA review and instead choose to submit their flavors to the trade association for a safety review.

A standing panel of six to eight scientific experts oversees the trade group’s safety program and determines whether ingredients are generally understood to be safe by the scientific community. These experts, who are paid by the trade association, review published and unpublished data before making a conclusion on the safety of an ingredient’s use.

“From Takasago’s perspective, to have GRAS approval by the FEMA Expert Panel provides us with a high level of confidence that our material can be used safely,” said Renskers, the company official and Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association president-elect.

Industry officials stress that flavor ingredients generally pose very little safety risk because they are used in such small amounts in food. The trade group used this argument to support its conclusion that methyl eugenol is safe, despite studies finding that it causes cancer in animals.

The naturally occurring flavor, which the FDA has approved as a food additive, is used in foods including jellies, baked goods and chewing gum. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association first determined methyl eugenol to be GRAS in 1965, but the group revisited that decision in 2001 after studies by the National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence of carcinogenic activity” of the substance in male and female rats and mice.

But the trade group still concluded that methyl eugenol “does not pose a significant cancer risk” to humans because it is used in food at such low levels.

After the trade group reconfirmed that it was safe, the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that methyl eugenol is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association notes that many of the flavors it has reviewed over the years have also been evaluated for safety by other scientific bodies, including the European Food Safety Authority.

The Government Accountability Office praised the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association’s program in a 2010 report about the FDA’s limited oversight of food additives, specifically highlighting its procedures to prevent conflicts of interest and its practice of voluntarily informing the FDA about each of its safety determinations.

Scientists who serve on the flavor group’s expert panel are forbidden from having financial ties to companies submitting flavors for review. To that end, panelists’ stipends come from the trade association, rather than from companies directly. Panelists also review the safety of ingredients without knowing which company submitted them.

For these reasons and more, the trade group bills its GRAS program as “fully objective” and “not subject to bias.”

The Government Accountability Office report further applauded the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association for informing the FDA of flavor names, properties and reasons for the expert panel’s conclusion when notifying the agency of new safety determinations.

But if the FDA has such information, it can’t find it, according to the agency’s response to a recent Freedom of Information Act request.

Last October, the Center for Science in the Public Interest requested “all information that the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) has supplied to FDA since 1960 as support for its determinations that flavors it has evaluated are generally recognized as safe, or GRAS.”

The FDA’s May 21 response: “We have searched our files and find no responsive information.”

Laura MacCleery, the attorney for the public interest group who filed the records request, said she was “shocked” that the FDA’s response appears to contradict the flavor trade group’s public statements about sharing information with the FDA.

“We were worried about how we would handle the volume of documents,” MacCleery said. “I guess that’s not a concern.”

In an email, FDA spokeswoman Lauren Sucher said that the trade group “provides information about its GRAS lists to the FDA,” but she did not explain why this information was not produced in response to the public records request.

In addition, she said that a separate organization, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, which is affiliated with the World Health Organization, “has evaluated nearly 2,000 FEMA flavoring agents.” Those evaluations are based on information provided to them by the trade group, according to the FDA. Since the mid-1990s, FDA staff has participated in the evaluations conducted by the international organization, Sucher added.

The GAO said that it based its 2010 report on interviews with the trade group and the FDA. Steve Morris, GAO’s director for food safety and agriculture, said in an email that he was not sure why the FDA could not produce the documents requested by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Overall, the FDA praises the trade group’s safety program.

“In the FDA’s experience,” Sucher wrote in an email, “FEMA makes scientifically rigorous, credible determinations that have stood up to the scrutiny of the scientific community of qualified experts.”

For its part, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association says it has long provided the FDA “with the basis for [each] FEMA GRAS determination … including all of the safety data.” Providing the Center for Science in the Public Interest “with all of the information that FEMA has provided to FDA since 1960 would likely fill five hundred boxes,” the trade group’s Cox said in a written response.

The trade association periodically announces its determinations in a food industry trade magazine, but those announcements do not include the data supporting the safety assessments.

However, the trade group, which boasts that its GRAS program “meets the highest standards for transparency,” says it will share safety data with any member of the public for only a copying fee.

Safety process questioned

Schiffman isn’t the only scientist who has recently cried foul on the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association.

Last September, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other public interest groups argued in a letter to the FDA that the trade group’s flavor safety program “does not comply with FDA policies.”

Their chief complaint: that the flavor trade association bases its safety decisions for new flavor chemicals on unpublished safety data.

To establish ingredients as “generally recognized as safe,” determinations typically rely on published studies to show that qualified scientists generally agree that the ingredients won’t harm consumers. This process allows companies to avoid subjecting their ingredients to an extensive FDA-led safety review.

The consumer groups’ letter points to comments Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, made to The Washington Post last August: “The [GRAS] assessments need to be based on publicly available information where there is agreement among scientists,” the Post quoted Taylor as saying. “It has got to be more than three employees in a room looking at information that is only available to them.”

But the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, the public interest groups charge, doesn’t always follow such guidance.

In their letter to the FDA, they said they could find “no relevant published safety data” establishing the safety of a handful of flavors declared safe by the trade group last July.

“We asked FEMA for the published data on the four substances and it said there was none,” the letter stated, adding that the trade group offered to make 7,000 pages of unpublished data available for a $1,000 processing fee. “This practice is contrary to FDA guidance … and a common sense definition of general recognition.”

The Center for Public Integrity sent the FDA a detailed list of questions about the trade group’s flavor safety program. The list included inquiries about the advocacy groups’ complaints, the agency’s interpretation of regulations regarding the use of published data and the extent to which the agency reviews each of the trade association’s safety determinations.

After nearly two weeks, FDA spokeswoman Sucher emailed that “there are so many questions that we do not currently have the resources available to provide individual responses.”

Olson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said FDA officials met with representatives of the public interest groups late last year to discuss their concerns about the trade association’s flavor safety program.

While agency officials listened to their complaints, he said they made no commitment to requiring the trade group to change how it runs its program.

Officials from the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association’s management firm would only answer questions in writing. The expert panelists paid by the trade group to assess the safety of flavors either declined to comment or did not respond to interview requests.

The trade association’s expert panel “reviews all available information relevant to its GRAS assessment to assure the safety of the candidate flavoring substance under its conditions of intended use whether the data are published or unpublished,” Cox wrote in response to questions.

He cited a section of the regulations governing GRAS assessments that notes that they “shall ordinarily” be based upon published studies.

In his response, however, Cox didn’t clearly answer a question about whether the trade group used only unpublished data to conclude that those four approved ingredients were generally recognized as safe. The Center for Public Integrity asked the trade group in an email to clarify how exactly those four safety determinations were made. Two days later, late on a Friday afternoon, two boxes of documents arrived at its newsroom.

Inside: 9,000 pages—75 pounds—of published and unpublished safety data supporting four of the most recently approved flavors, including what the trade association described as a fruity flavor, a savory flavor and a minty, cooling flavor.

The trade association declined a request to review the documents with reporters.

A ‘daisy chain of inference’

A Center for Public Integrity review of the documents revealed that the four safety determinations were based mostly on unpublished studies, many of which redacted the name of the chemical being studied to comply with the trade group’s conflict of interest procedures.

The published reports used as safety evidence for three of the four chemicals evaluated not the specific chemical at hand, but a component of it or a structurally related substance. After reviewing the documents at the Center for Public Integrity’s request, researchers who have authored several reports on the GRAS system for the Natural Resources Defense Council were skeptical.

“It’s a daisy chain of inference,” Tom Neltner, an attorney and chemical engineer, said as he looked over the documents.

Without published studies assessing the safety of the specific chemical in question, “It’s hard to say it’s ‘generally recognized as safe,’” added Olson.

As he leafed through documents, Olson said that the four flavors in question should have instead been submitted to the FDA for a thorough evaluation.

But the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association contends that it is operating according to government policies. In a written response to questions, Cox pointed out that safety assessments can involve “data on structurally related substances.”

FDA guidance states that such information can be used to support a safety determination, “depending on the circumstances.”

The FDA, however, did not respond to specific questions asking if the agency agreed that the trade association was following the rules on published data.

“When you have an industry like this making safety decisions, we are dependent on this trade association getting it right in order to protect public health,” Neltner said. “But the system is so opaque.”

Little is known about many of these chemicals outside the trade association, said Maricel Maffini, a scientist who has co-authored several Natural Resources Defense Council reports on food additives.

“You have to basically trust their judgment.”

This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization as part of their Misinformation Industry series. For more of their investigations, follow @publici on Twitter.

TIME India

Indian Authorities File For Damages After Maggi Noodles Food Scare

The case against global food group Nestlé is reportedly the first of its kind

Authorities in India have filed for damages from global food group Nestlé after claims of excessive lead in Maggi Noodles culminated in a nationwide recall of the product, Reuters reports. Officials told the news agency that the action against the company is the first instance of the Indian government seeking damages from a multinational.

The semi-judicial National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) will preside over the case against Nestlé, which insists that its cheap and ubiquitous noodles—seen by many Indians as a “third staple” after rice and lentils—are safe.

Although fallout from the food scare is expected to affect the Nestlé brand in India, the country only accounts for one percent of Nestlé’s annual sales.

The case against the company is expected to be heard next week. Meanwhile, authorities have asked regional regulators to check samples of other instant noodle brands in the country.

TIME food industry

This Potato Chip Shows Us the Crazy Future of Food

PepsiCo Products Ahead Of Earnings Data
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Back to the future

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has heavily increased her company’s budget for research and development. In fact, she’s doubled it during her tenure. One product to come out of that effort: a 3D-printed potato chip.

Fortune’s Jennifer Reingold wrote about the new technology in a profile of Nooyi for the new Fortune 500 issue. Reingold details the testing of new products from the Pepsi R&D department, including Deep Ridged, which she calls a “thick, super-crunchy potato chip developed first on a 3-D printer.”

Dr. Mehmood Khan, Pepsi’s chief scientific officer, told her. “We have patents on the design, the cutter, the mouth experience. This is multiple layers of IP.”

Among the other products being developed include a Gatorade pod to help athletes get the nutrients they need quickly, a Naked Juice Kale Blazer for juicing fans and a low-calorie Mountain Dew.

Click here to read the full story.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Why You Shouldn’t Eat Delicious Charred Foods

healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, whole wheat bread, grains, toast, breakfast
Photograph by Danny Kim for TIME; Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME

Acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, worries European officials

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced on Thursday that it has concluded that acrylamide in food—a chemical that can develop during high temperature cooking—potentially raises the risk of cancer.

The agency first released its opinion in July 2014, and allowed the public to respond. It has now published it’s official scientific opinion on the matter, saying acrylamide “potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups.”

Acrylamide is a chemical that forms in starchy foods—like fries and potato chips—when foods are cooked at high temperatures like during baking, frying or roasting. According to the agency, animal studies have shown that acrylamide can damage DNA and cause cancer, but studies about the effect in humans are inconclusive. The agency says it continues to believe the chemical might be harmful to the public.

The process of acrylamide creation typically happens when foods are browned. “Generally, since it is practically impossible to eliminate acrylamide entirely from the diet, most public advice for the consumer aims at more selective home cooking habits and more variety in the diet,” the agency writes.

EFSA also says that consumers can abide by the advice, “don’t burn it, lightly brown it,” as a gauge on how to cook foods with lower levels. Other cooking methods like boiling, steaming and sautéing can be used too.

In Europe, national decision makers will use the EFSA guidance to determine ways to reduce consumer exposure. In the U.S., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends Americans maintain a diet that’s higher in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

4 Things Nutritionists Would Order at Taco Bell

A Taco Bell restaurant in San Francisco on March 13, 2013.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images A Taco Bell restaurant in San Francisco on March 13, 2013.

The breakfast taco gets the green light

You’ve heard the news that Taco Bell is phasing artificial flavors and colors out of its food. Good news, right? Don’t celebrate with a Crunchwrap so fast: You could still OD on calories, saturated fat, and sodium if you decide to head south of the border. If the Bell is your only dining option—or you’re really craving those southwestern flavors—go with these better-for-you choices suggested by registered dietitian Molly Kimball.

Cantina Power Bowl

The typical Cantina Power Bowl with grilled chicken, which on top of the meat includes black beans, rice, cheddar, pico de gallo, guacamole, reduced-fat sour cream, romaine, and avocado ranch sauce, has 490 calories, 1,270 milligrams of sodium, 8 grams of fiber, and 29 grams of protein. “That’s not bad,” Kimball says, “but it can be better with a few simple tweaks: Order it without the white rice, which shaves off 160 calories and 27 grams of carbs, not to mention 340 milligrams of sodium.” This upgraded bowl is still protein- and fiber-rich, without the refined starch.

Chicken or Steak Burrito Supreme

At 390 (chicken) to 400 calories (steak), with 21 grams of protein, either burrito is a solid bet. The only problem, just like the with the Cantina Power Bowl: the sodium (1,090 milligrams), Kimball says. “But that’s one of the natural drawbacks of most fast-food joints. And a significant amount of the sodium, 450 milligrams, is from the wrap itself.” To eliminate some of the salt factor, “have just half of the burrito, then use your fork to scoop the protein and veggies out of the other half of the wrap,” Kimball suggests. Bonus: You’ll at least save about 100 calories and 16 grams of carbs that way, too.

A.M. Grilled Egg & Cheese Taco

“It’s one of few fast food breakfasts that aren’t on carb-overload, packing in as much protein as carbs,” Kimball says of the breakfast taco, which packs 220 calories, 540 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrate, and 7 grams of protein. Add steak to up the protein content to 16 grams for a breakfast that really satisfies. “For fast food, this isn’t a bad option.”

Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla

“If you have a late-night [quesadilla] craving or you’re hitting the drive-through after a night out with friends, this is certainly respectable, with just 180 calories, 15 grams of carbs, and 12 grams of protein,” Kimball says. “The 540 mg sodium isn’t too terrible.”

About those condiments…

Doctoring up your Taco Bell meal is half the fun, but some of the add-on options are better choices than others. Kimball’s picks:

Pico de gallo adds flavor with 10 calories and just 110 milligrams sodium.

Guacamole adds decadence for only 100 calories—plus it’s full of healthy fats.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com