Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Fda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


HAVE YOU EVER READ THE WHOLE INGREDIENT LIST ON A FOOD PRODUCT? Not a fun thing to do, is it? What are all these ingredients and what do they do for us? Why are they used?


  • Many are used to impart or maintain a desired consistency, for example, alginates, carrageenen, mono-and diglycerides, methyl cellulose, pectin
  • Some improve/maintain nutritive value such as vitamin C, calcium carbonate, folic acid, B vitamins, iron, vitamins A and D, and zinc oxide.
  • Others maintain palatability and wholesomeness. Examples include BHA, BHT, citric acid, propionic acid, sodium nitrite and vitamin E to help
    prevent rancidity.
  • Some produce light textures and control acidity/alkalinity such as citric acid, fumaric acid, lactic acid, phosphoric acid, sodium bicarbonate, tartrates and yeast.
  • Others enhance flavor or provide desired color such as aspartame, caramel, cloves, FD&C red No 40, FD&C blue No. 1, fructose, ginger, limonene, MSG, tumeric.


The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 gave the FDA authority to regulate food and food ingredients. The 1958 Food Additives Amendment further mandated that manufacturers provide documentation that the food additive is safe and to obtain prior approval for its use in a food.


In 1958, all food additives used in the U.S. and considered safe at that time were put on a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list. These additives either had a long history of being safe to consume or had documented research verifying its safety, These additives included salt, sugar, spices, vitamins among others. Since that time, some substances have been reviewed and removed from the list such as cyclamate and red dye #3 due to their link to cancer. Many of the GRAS chemicals have not yet been rigorously tested primarily due to cost.


Most nutrition sources proclaim the use of food additives is strictly regulated by the FDA. This does not seem to be the case.   Safety requires testing on at least two animal species and scientists determine the highest dose of the additive that produces no observable effects in the animals. Many of the GRAS chemicals have not yet been rigorously tested primarily due to cost. Recently a new paper discussed how lax this regulation is and that some companies are using additive quietly on a “self-determined” GRAS list with any testing or approval from the FDA




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Nutrition in the Medical Profession

English: Nutrition and Health Kiddie Class

English: Nutrition and Health Kiddie Class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The lack of nutrition knowledge in physicians’  education  has long been troublesome for those us interested in the relationship between food and health.  Many people report improvements in their health with some diet changes, e.g. gluten intolerances, migraine headaches and other food sensitivities.   A previous post also address this problem as well as provides other articles on this topic. Please support the new legislation called the Education and Training (EAT) for Health Act and the Expanding Nutrition’s Role in Curriculum and Healthcare (ENRICH) Act.


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Vegetarians vs. Meat Eaters – Who is Healtheir?

vegan food pyramid adapted from recommendation...

vegan food pyramid adapted from recommendations made in “A new food guide for North American vegetarians” (2003) from the American Dietetic Association (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



This new study from Austria has been presented on the news with headlines stating, “Vegetarians are less healthy than meat-eaters”. This title alone goes against the many studies that say the opposite such as those from data from the Seventh Day Adventists’ populations. This study is very controversial and the study design has been highly criticized. There appears to be a multitude of limitations.

The term vegetarian has a fairly loose definition. What exactly does it mean? Within this group we have vegans, fruitarians, lactovegetarians, lactoovovegetarians and even at times includes people who say they are vegetarians who are classified as “almost vegetarians” who allow some dairy and fish intake into their diets. Other people simply say they are vegetarians because they exclude red meat in their diet. We call these people “sometimes vegetarians”.

True vegans have some problems with their diets that requires some creative planning to provide high-quality protein using legumes and whole grains. These proteins must provide all amino acids needed for protein synthesis. The essential amino acid deficient from one food protein are supplied by those of another protein in the same meal or in the next. For example, many legumes do not provide enough methionine, and cereals are limited in lysine. When combined, the body is supplied with adequate amounts of both amino acids, so cereals and legumes complement each other.

The true vegan diet an also pose a risk for adequate iron, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. So inclusion of some fortified foods, such as whole-grain, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal or a balanced vitamin and mineral supplement is advised


Here are limitations of the study by the authors

“Potential limitations of our results are due to the fact that the survey was based on cross-sectional data. Therefore, no statements can be made whether the poorer health in vegetarians in our study is caused by their dietary habit or if they consume this form of diet due to their poorer health status. We cannot state whether a causal relationship exists, but describe ascertained associations. Moreover, we cannot give any information regarding the long-term consequences of consuming a special diet nor concerning mortality rates. Thus, further longitudinal studies will be required to substantiate our results. Further limitations include the measurement of dietary habits as a self-reported variable and the fact that subjects were asked how they would describe their eating behavior, without giving them a clear definition of the various dietary habit groups. However, a significant association between the dietary habit of individuals and their weight and drinking behavior is indicative for the validity of the variable. Another limitation concerns the lack of detailed information regarding nutritional components (e.g. the amount of carbohydrates, cholesterol, or fatty acids consumed). Therefore, more in-depth studies about nutritional habits and their effects on health are required among Austrian adults. Further studies should e.g. investigate the influence of the various dietary habits on the incidence of different cancer types. To our knowledge this is the first study ever in Austria to analyze differences in terms of dietary habits and their impact on health. We admit that the large number of participants made it necessary to keep the questions simple, in order to cover the large sample. Overall, we feel that our results are of specific interest and contribute to extant scientific knowledge, notwithstanding some limitations regarding causes and effects.”



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Where is the Sugar?


This is a bowl of white sugar.

This is a bowl of white sugar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following article is a very comprehensive and informative review of the sugar content of our diets.   Bottom line:  It is recommended that we consume no more than 13 teaspoons of sugar a day.  It would help a lot if the much needed revised nutrition fact labels would  include added sugars.  For now, the labels have grams of sugar  as total sugars in one serving.  Divide that number by four to determine how many teaspoons of sugar that product contains.

Most of the studies on sugars and health  has concentrated on diabetes and obesity.   Check out this previous post on the seldom mentioned effects of carbohydrates  on cancer risk.  These studies for obvious reasons are cell or animal studies, but it is nevertheless interesting.


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Body Mass Index and the Elderly

Body mass index (BMI) values

Body mass index (BMI) values (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weight management means maintaining a healthy weight in order to reduce your risk of specific health problems. Being either obese or underweight can be unhealthy.

As with any screening tool, the body mass index (BMI) may not be accurate for everyone. The BMI is not a direct measure of your percentage of body fat. It doesn’t assess if your body weight is predominately muscle or fat nor does it take into account where your body fat is concentrated – in other words, whether you’re an apple (central obesity) or pear (weight in hips and thighs). Also athletes can have a high BMI due a high percentage of muscle mass but their muscular weight doesn’t increase their health risks. Individuals who are very short (under 5 feet) may have a high BMI but similarly to athletes may not be unhealthy.

One of the easiest ways to access if your are at a healthy weight is to measure your BMI.  The BMI is a calculation of your weight in relationship to your height. It is calculated using the following formula:
BMI =    weight (pounds) X 703 divided by height (inches) squared
The height is without shoes and the weight is without clothing.

This is an interesting article about the interpretation of the BMI and mortality. Its message has some surprises, especially for the elderly population. Most developed world countries have accepted the chronological age of 65 years as a definition of ‘elderly’ or older person. While this definition is somewhat arbitrary, it is many times associated with the age at which one can begin to receive pension benefits. At the moment, there is no United Nations standard numerical criterion, but the UN agreed cutoff is 60+ years to refer to the older population.




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28 Percent of Americans Can’t Cook

A cook sautees onions and peppers.

Image via Wikipedia

This is not surprising in this era of fast foods, take-out foods, and convenience processed foods.  A new survey finds that eating at home is one of the surest ways to help you eat healthier.  But in the same survey of 1087 people, 28% of Americans said they don’t know how to cook.  What are their reasons?

  • More than half of them said a spouse or partner does the cooking.
  • 25% said they hate cleaning up the kitchen afterward.
  • 21% say they don’t have the time.
  • 65% say that going to the supermarket was too time consuming.

What does this say about our society?  We watch cooking shows by the hours and we have become cooking-watchers, not participators. We are food-obsessed but are not in control of our food choices.  How did this happen?  Have we lost our cooking gene?

We have known for quite a while that food preparation and purchasing skills have been stripped from school curricula – what ever happened to home economics?  But is this enough?  Children need to learn proper cooking skills starting in elementary schools and learning where our food comes from.  Generations of adults have already left education without learning to cook at school or at home and now think that all food come in a package.  It’s no wonder that we’re unhealthy and a lot of us are overweight.

If you are cooking challenged:

  • Start simple- buy a cookbook that uses only 3-5 ingredients.
  • Read magazines such as Real Simple that usually promote simple meals.
  • Shop with a list to cut down supermarket time.
  • Cook one-pot meals to cut down kitchen cleanup.
  • Attend cooking demonstrations – they’re fun and you get to sample real foods.

Bon appétit!!!

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Food Supermarket 4

Food Supermarket 4 (Photo credit: eltpics)

OH MY!!!  If the USA could only have these guidelines instead of the current ones.  They make so much sense, don’t they?  I have my doubts that will happen here due to the food industry lobbies and the emphasis on profit and often misleading advertising about the foods we eat.  If consumers would be more involved in decisions about the food supply, maybe things could change in a couple of years.  Consumers have made differences before and the food industry listens (sometimes).   You can file comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines here.

For  the Brazilian guidelines:


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