Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Organic Foods: A Continuing Debate

Conventional food producers often declare that organic farmers use more pesticides than most people think and that some are relatively toxic. Organic farmers deny this claim; as a result, there are obvious biases on both sides of the debate.

Organic foods do not appear to be healthier than their conventional counterparts; however they are gaining in popularity with consumers primarily due to food safety and environmental issues. In my opinion, choosing organic food is a personal choice.

Here is what we know. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, antibiotics, or growth hormones. The USDA’s National Organic Program has developed standards such as what or what not the food product contains. For  example, an organic food may not include ingredients that are treated with irradiation,  produced by genetic modification, or grown using sewage sludge. Certain natural pesticides and some manufactured agents are permitted. Farming and processing operations that produce and handle foods labeled as organic must be certified by the USDA.  Three definitions have been established:

  • 100 % organic = 100% organically produced  raw or processed ingredients
  • Organic = contains at least 95% organically produced raw or processed ingredients
  • Made with organic ingredients = contains at least 70% organically produced ingredients

The following article attempts to further clarify how pesticide use in the organic food industry is regulated.



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Have a Food Allergy? Food for Thought?

Ever since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1906, have we had so much food adulteration occurring in our food supply.  Here is the current problem:

  • Food allergies are on the rise that began about 2007. Many allergic reactions can cause a serious health crisis (i.e. anaphylaxis) which can be fatal.
  • This anomaly occurs primarily in the U.S. and is less common in most other countries in the world.
  • Despite the widely known fact that correlation does not equal causation, research suggests a causative factor may be something in the U.S. environment (food supply).
  • The food supply currently has many new ingredients that did not exist in the past; some or one of these may be triggering subtle reactions of our immune system since its primary function is to recognize foreign proteins.
  • GMO ingredients are just one of these relatively recent additions and critics suggest a connection with allergic reactions.   Another possibility is that intentional food additives have been added without proper safety testing such as emulsifiers, artificial colors or flavors, for example. One unintentional additive includes the explosive use of glyphosate on food crops, and is a widely used herbicide. The World Health Organization suggests it may be carcinogenic although this has not yet been officially established.
  • Food allergies are contributing to burgeoning health care costs as well as affecting our health, especially our children.

What can we do?  Recent surveys indicate that consumers want GMO labeling and have expressed a growing interest in fewer ingredients and more organic choices. The problem is enhanced by the fact that some of these ingredients are controversial as to their toxicity potential. More clarification is certainly needed.


FYI: A proposal to label GMO foods was on the 2012 ballot in California and designated as Prop 37. By the way, the legislation did not pass.  For a previous post, CLICK HERE.

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The Mediterranean Diet and Cancer Prevention


The Mediterranean Diet scores again – this  time with cancer prevention. In the 1980’s, cancer prevention and diet were hot topics. It was thought at the time that specific nutrients were the key to affecting cancer rates. Examples included omega-3 fatty acids  and individual nutrients, namely beta carotene, and vitamin E were the favorite “supernutrients” of the era. However, disappointing results occurred and the use of beta carotene and vitamin E supplements actually were found to promote certain cancers than protect against them.

More research has correctly centered around the use of diet scores that compare adherence to certain diet patterns like the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet and cancer prevention as well as other chronic diseases. For the latest results, CLICK HERE.


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New Diet Fad : Carnivore Dieting?

With all the talk about plant-based diets, it should be no surprise that this diet would soon follow. After all, we have had the Twinkie Diet, The Potato Diet and the The Big Mac Man who ate two Big Macs every day since 1972, a total to date of 30,000.

The debate about meat vs. vegan has been going on  for many decades. In 1928, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an Arctic explorer and anthropologist and Karsten Anderson, a Danish explorer became the subjects of a year long controlled diet of meat only to settle the long-held controversy.  Bottom Line: It was reported to be that “both men were in good physical condition at the end of the observation in 1930…. there was no subjective or objective evidence of any loss of physical or mental vigor. The researchers detected no evidence of kidney damage or diminished function, and vitamin deficiencies did not appear… nor did mineral deficiency, although the diet contained only a quarter of the calcium usually found in mixed diets.” Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease. Gary Taubes ,2007, p.324.

My opinion: I am not promoting any of these diets, although I often lean more to the plant-based. I would think that simply any of these very restrictive diets obviously become monotonous and there are no clear-cut health or environmental advantages to any of them. In longer term studies, some vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies may become apparent depending on your diet choice.  For example, if meat centered, vitamin C or some beneficial phytochemicals may be lacking; for a plant-based diet, vitamin B12 or vitamin D could be in short supply.

More recent research although observational, indicates that nutrient-dense plant-based diets have been the mainstay of cultures that have a history of good health and longevity  (The Blue Zones, e.g.).  We are primarily omnivores which not only helped us survive our early origins, and gives us culinary choices ( best of both worlds – vegan and non-vegan).  Any extreme diet is doomed for failure and questionable in terms of health and simple sustainability (i.e. long-term adherence). The best diet for you is one you can live with.



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How to Live Longer?

It’s not just diet but other lifestyle habits as well. The results of a recent study were  quite impressive in the number of years gained by adherence to five simple guidelines. Now the challenge should be how to get people to adhere to the recommendations.


For a link to the study, CLICK HERE.

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Fats, Sugar and the Liver?

All fats and carbs are not equal when it comes to their effects on the body. This is clearly reported in a new study called the “MUFFIN” study comparing saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat effects on the liver. The same goes with sugars.


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Is Hummus Healthy?


An  article from “Authority Nutrition” talks about some healthy benefits of eating hummus which is commonly made from chickpeas.  CLICK HERE.

Check out my previous post on chickpeas. HERE.

The only caution I might add is if you have IBS and are following a low FODMAP diet, chickpeas contain fructans and GOS and may need to be eaten in moderation.  It is recommended to limit them to less than 50 grams a day (about 1/4 cup) and use canned chickpeas since many of  the fibers are dissolved in the liquid and removed after draining the liquid off.

FYI: FODMAPs are a collection of short chain carbohydrates (fibers) and sugar alcohols found in foods naturally or as food additives. FODMAPs include fructose (when in excess of glucose), fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), lactose and polyols (eg. sorbitol and mannitol).