FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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Food Additives-Are Emulsifiers Safe?

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Emulsifiers are food additives commonly used to keep processed foods stable on the shelf. They are added to blend oily and water-based ingredients in processing of foods to keep them consistently mixed so they do not separate. Scan the ingredients on almost any processed food in the grocery store and you’re likely to find emulsifiers: ingredients such as polysorbate 80, lecithin, carrageenan, polyglycerols, and xanthan and other “gums. On the label they are also listed as soy lecithin, mono-and-diglycerides,  sorbitan monostearate and found in salad dressings, peanut butter, chocolate, margarine, frozen desserts. They are also used to improve the texture and shelf-life of many foods found in supermarkets, from ice cream and baked goods, and even veggie burgers, non-dairy milks, and hamburger patties.

Food additives are supposed to be thoroughly tested before they enter the food supply but recently the FDA has been letting down the regulations for some reason. A 2013 study found that almost 80 percent of the chemicals the agency allows in foods lack testing information. In the case of emulsifiers, the FDA should reconsider its testing for safety since it is now in so many different foods and many people may be consuming far more than original estimates. Originally emulsifiers were among the food additives placed on the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list. These additives are not subject to FDA review unless there is some reason to do so. However, recent research suggests that there is reason to do so.

An earlier study from Georgia State University showed that emulsifiers changed the good bacteria in the guts of mice and may play a role in the development of colon cancer. In a follow-up study mice were fed two emulsifiers in their water and the results showed high levels of inflammation in the gut microbes that favored tumor growth.

Another study published in the journal Nature suggests that these ingredients may contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease possibly due to gut microbe activity. This study also fed mice emulsifiers in water in levels approved for use in food and/or levels that emulated the amount that would be consumed if a lot of processed foods are used. The emulsifiers tested were polysorbate 80 (common in ice cream) and carboxymethylcellulose. Many of these emulsifiers are used in gluten-free products and some reduced-fat dairy products. In this study, mice with normal immune systems developed mild intestinal symptoms, ate more and became obese, hyperglycemic and insulin resistant. Mice with abnormal immune systems developed chronic colitis.

These studies offer some doubt about the safety of some food additives exemplified by the ubiquitous use of artificial emulsifiers in processed foods.   Maybe it is time the GRAS list is reviewed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Recalls and More Recalls

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This has been the month of recalls, many for possible Listeria contamination which we seem to be seeing more and more of.

Listeria species can grow at room and refrigerator temperatures. Many types of food  items  can also contain Listeria bacteria and the latest appears to be deli cheeses.  People at high risk for listeriosis (elderly, pregnant women, people with suppressed immune systems, and infants) and those who prepare meals can take steps to lower risk. Healthy adults experience few symptoms and the illness does not appear to be transmissible from person  to person.

  • Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before eating.  Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting them.
  • Heat hot dogs, deli meats and cold cuts until they are steaming hot just before serving.
  • Do not drink raw milk (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat fresh soft cheeses that have unpasteurized milk in them, especially Mexican soft cheeses like queso fresco. Organic and non-organic products both can be contaminated.
  • Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands before and after handling any food.

What is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is caused by species of Listeria bacteria called monocytogenes and it is estimated that there are 2500 cases in the U.S. every year.  Twenty percent of these cases result in death. The incubation period can be prolonged, anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. In  these cases, the illness can cause symptoms of fever, malaise, arthritis, and jaundice. It can occur as meningoencephalitis with headaches, stiff neck and coma. Or another form is septicemia, a blood disease with high numbers of infected white blood cells called monocytes, thus its name. There is a third form that infects the uterus with vague flu-like symptoms and if contracted during pregnancy  may result in miscarriage or mental damage to the newborn.

A notable outbreak of listeriosis occurred in late 1998 and early 1999. Close to 100 illnesses were reported in 22 states that were all linked to hot dogs and deli meats. Fourteen adults died during this outbreak, and six pregnancies resulted in miscarriages.

CLICK HERE.


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The Claims of Coconut Oil?

coconut-oilDoes coconut oil confer any health benefits or is is just an old fad brought back for another go-around? The following article offers some sound advice. There are a lot of  conflicting facts about any beneficial effects on heart disease risk and conventional wisdom tends to be quite skeptical.

CLICK HERE.


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Pollution in the Ocean: A Disgrace

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Based on the following criteria of high omega 3’s, low mercury levels and sustainability, the following are the best choices for fish consumption:

Salmon, sardines, mussels, rainbow trout, Atlantic mackeral

It is best to avoid :

Swordfish and orange roughy

Source: Environmental Working Group

CLICK HERE.


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Is “Big” Food Partially Responsible for the Obesity Problem?

blogger-image-1519876556There have been many reasons proposed on how did our obesity problem in the U.S occur? Was it due to Big Soda with its high sugar content, was it fast food? Did we suddenly become lazy and gluttonous as some say, or maybe even as some suggested, it was a virus?

It is hard to ignore the statistics about our expanding waistlines. Based on current data, in the United States, 68.6% of adults are overweight and 34.9% are obese. Compared to 1960, the average American is more than 24 pounds heavier. It was not until the 1980’s that the trouble really became a national epidemic. Back then we only had an obesity rate of 13.4%. How did the food supply change? Fast food has taken its share of the blame; however, another change that comes to mind is the rapid expansion in the food industry of processed foods.

We have also increased our caloric intake to about 530 calories a day over the past 35 years. This theoretically could result in a weight gain of 53 additional pounds to every person every year. In the past few decades, we have increased our portion sizes so that the old portions seemed small. However, there has been an increase by the food industry to provide what is now called ultra-processed foods that now have become the cornerstone of the food industry.

By definition, ultra-processed foods are products that contain several manufactured ingredients used to often imitate the taste, texture or other qualities of natural foods or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product.. The food industry knows them as chemicals, preservatives, sweeteners, coloring, flavoring, and emulsifiers used to make fake foods taste real. Some of these ingredients are necessary for the final product; many may not be. Generally, the longer the ingredient list, the more ultra-processed the food is.

To get a reality check stand in the middle of your supermarket and look around you. Ultra–processed foods dominate the landscape from the freezer cases to the shelves beyond. Stand in the middle of the snack aisles (and there are more than one now) and you will find a majority of foods that fit the characteristics of ultra-processing.

Ultra-processed foods are designed to appeal to our senses, and many can be eaten mindlessly with the result of eating them in abundance without really realizing it. Many studies have hinted that they can be addictive. One animal study in 2013 foundn  that sugar actually may be more addictive than drugs. Rats preferred the high from sugar to that of cocaine.

A study was done that analyzed dietary intake of more than 9,000 children, adolescents, and adults. from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). It was found that ultra-processed foods comprised almost 60% of the total calories eaten and 80% of the calorie intake of added sugars.

What to do?

  • Avoid Ultra-processed foods like frozen dinners, frozen pizza, all sodas, store bought cakes and cookies, boxed cake mixes. Look out for added sugars soon to be displayed on the Nutrition Facts Panel. Until then look at ingredient lists for the many types of sugars that have been added.
  • Cut down on other processed foods: jarred pasta sauce, sausage, store-bought salad dressings,  Make your own when possible from simple recipes.
  • Buy more minimally processed foods: extra virgin olive oil, plain yogurt, nut butters, frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Choose snacks carefully. Say no to artificially flavored and colored, deep-fried chips, for example. Do not make snacks a major source of your daily calories.
  • Keep in mind: Studies show that people who consumed more than 21 percent of the calories from added sugar doubled their risk of death of heart disease as those who consumed less than 10% of their calories as added sugars.
  • Ultra-processed foods should be a minor component of your diet; try to limit them to no more than three to four times a week and less than that would be even better.
  • Cook more at home instead of “eating out.”  Use whole foods and simple recipes. Avoid recipes with a long list of ingredients to save money.

We may eventually discover that obesity is caused by “a bunch of little things” and not just some dramatic cause or single factor. One could say it is an overload of just about everything, fat, sugar, salt, as well as over-processing. When people are asked what they have eaten in the past few days, many forget about how many bags of 100-calorie snacks they consumed.

Can we solve the obesity problem soon? It is doubtful- we need to change lifestyle and cultural habits and get the food industry involved. Hopefully concentrating on a lot of “small” changes, we may be able to curb the obesity problem as soon as possible.

For a related article about “junk” food, click HERE. There is a great info graph from Cornell University at the end of the article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Super Fortified : “Foods” or Supplements?

Should You Get your Nutrients from Super-fortified Foods?

The label on the orange juice container says “calcium added”. The water bottle label says “fortified with vitamin C”; the energy drink s is “fortified with 23 added vitamins and minerals.” Do you need all these extra nutrients ?

These foods may actually act like dietary supplements. If you eat nutritious unprocessed whole foods, you probably do not need fortified foods and even may go over the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL).

The UL is a set of values that are well above the needs of everyone in the population and represents the highest amount of the nutrient that will not cause toxicity symptoms in the majority of healthy people. As intake rises above the UL so does the risk of adverse health effects.

To establish a UL, a specific adverse effect is considered. For example, for niacin, the ill effect is flushing, and for vitamin D it is calcium deposits in soft tissue or kidney damage. For vitamin C it is digestive disturbances. For some nutrients, these values represent intake from supplements alone; for some, intake from supplements and fortified foods, and for others, total intake from foods, fortified food, water and nonfood sources and supplements. For some nutrients, data are insufficient to establish a UL.

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“In traditional foods, the amounts of nutrients are small and the way they are combined limits absorption, making the risk of consuming a toxic amount of a nutrient almost nonexistent. On the other hand, this risk rises from eating an excess of a supplement or excessive servings of super-fortified foods.”

Young children may be particularly at risk for toxicity. “A new report says that “millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts” of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, with fortified breakfast cereals the leading source of the excessive intake because all three nutrients are added in amounts calculated for adults.”

“Outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing by food manufacturers who use high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious fuel this potential risk, according to the report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based health research and advocacy organization.”

For example, if you drank the recommended two to three liters of fluids as water fortified with vitamin C, niacin, vitamin E and vitamins B6 and B12, you would exceed the UL for these vitamins. Then add two cups of fortified breakfast cereal and two protein bars during the day, your risk of toxicity increases even more. In many of these products, you also could be getting a not so healthy dose of sugar. Should we be consuming super-fortified foods without a thought? I think not. For a previous post, click HERE.

Source: Lori A. Smolin, Mary B. Grosvenor, Nutrition: Science and Applications. Third Edition.

Source:  USA Today, Michele Healy, June 24, 2014.