Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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The Complexities of Food Sensitivities

Most people when confronted with a negative reaction to certain foods simply say “I’m allergic to” (fill in the blank). Self-diagnoses and treatments are common and result in the development of unnecessary restrictive diets and disordered eating.

The following article aptly attempts to wade through  the confusion and complexities of food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities in order to increase some understanding of what to do about these poorly defined and understood afflictions. Even many physicians fail to differentiate the confusion surrounding the problems.  We now have food labels that support a long list of “NO’s) – gluten, wheat, lactose, soy, nuts, high fructose corn syrup, antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, etc. etc.  No wonder people are challenged even when going to the supermarket.

Food allergies can be life-threatening, so it is important to identify which food(s) are the culprits. Keeping a food and symptom diary or beginning an elimination diet with oral challenges should not be attempted without professional help like your physician, physician assistant, or registered dietitan/nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in food intolerances.

The article is a long read, but if you think you may have any food sensitivity, it may be worth the time spent before any self diagnosis or treatment is undertaken. Search this blogsite for information on food alleriges, intolerances, FODMAPs and gluten or wheat intolerance disorders.


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Processed Foods and Health


When discussing healthy diets, the advice is often to stay away from processed foods. Actually, this is almost impossible since most foods undergo some form of processing to ensure food safety of perishable foods. I think that a better message would be that we should attempt to avoid ultra-processed foods, many of which have high levels of sodium, fat or sugar. At a glance, these foods are easily identified by their extremely long ingredient lists. A recent report from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) found that more than 60% of the food purchased annually in the U.S. is highly processed, This trend will continue as long as consumers buy these boxed and bagged products that fill our landfills and detract from environmental responsibility.

The highly processed foods are those found in the center aisles of the supermarket and include frozen and ready-made meals, cereals, snacks, cheese spreads, and other packaged items. These foods are commonly filled with additives or preservatives to improve flavor, texture and extend shelf life.

What effects can these foods have on our health and why?

Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disea  

Obesity has been associated with our excessive intake of sugar and linked to a plethora of adverse health issues that include metabolic syndrome, diabetes type 2, and cardiovascular disease. If you look at the ingredient lists, you may find on some products sugar listed by many names. Sugar means sucrose but is contained in brown sugar, granulated, raw or powdered sugars. However, your sugar vocabulary should include high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, dextrose, glucose, maltose, lactose and fructose. There is also corn syrup, honey, molasses, malt syrup, sugar syrup, and fruit juice concentrate. Some research suggests that sugar triggers the same sense of pleasure and cravings within the brain that also triggers drug addiction.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease encompasses two major diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The blame may go to additives called emulsifiers. They are found in many processed foods like breads, peanut butter, cake mixes, salad dressings, sauces, yogurt, pudding, processed cheese, and ice cream. Emulsifiers function to keep water and oil mixed in food products that contain ingredients that would normally separate.

Emulsifiers used in processed foods function in the same way as those found in household soaps or detergents.  When mice were fed diets high in common food emulsifiers, they developed diseases similar to ones already discussed (obesity and metabolic syndrome, as well as IBD. The conclusions of the authors were that bacteria in the microbiome  affected the mucus protective layer that separates them from the intestinal wall, similarly to how a detergent works to remove dirt in industrial applications. It is thought by some that this process causes an inflammatory reaction that may contribute to the incidence of these diseases.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases are characterized by when the body attacks its own cells. At last count, there are about 100 of these diseases and the more common ones include; diabetes type 1, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

The intestine is lined with epithelial cells that function to serve as a protective membrane to prevent  toxins, harmful bacteria, or other substances called antigens that could cross this barrier and cause an immune reaction in the body.  Intestinal permeability is a term describing the control of material passing from inside the gastrointestinal tract through the cells lining the gut wall, into the rest of the body. (Wikipedia). The media refers to intestinal permeability  as “leaky gut syndrome,” but is debunked by many in the medical profession, due to a lack of quality research to support it. Nevertheless, the possibility of emulsifiers and other processed food additives conceivably could damage or affect intestinal permeability leading to an autoimmune disease. Other additives that could affect this permeability in addition to emulsifiers are glucose, salt, organic solvents, and gluten and all are used in processed food products.  (WebMD, Digestive disorders/leaky gut syndrome).

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer has been associated with processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, deli meats or any other meat product chemically treated with preservatives. This also can include red meat consumed daily. The chemicals used have been linked to have carcinogenic properties.

The link between sodium nitrites and cancer may be the culprit. Processed meats are manufactured using sodium nitrite. During the process of cooking certain meats, sodium nitrites combine with naturally present amines in the meat to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds.

Eating a diet of primarily whole foods rather than reliance on highly processed foods may help prevent some of the common diseases of our culture from food intolerance to cancer prevention. Processed foods may have subtle effects on our bodies that are difficult to assess or determine. Listen to your brain-gut reactions that may help you identify some of the effects that some unknown additive may have on your health. Digestive distress can be an indication that your body is sensitive to a certain ingredient and can be simply alleviated by consuming fewer ultra processed foods.


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The recent gluten-free food fad has some nutritionists concerned. When people eat gluten-free foods, they may be missing some important nutrients. It is generally recommended that if you do not have celiac disease, you do not need to avoid gluten. However, some people have given up wheat and other grains due to a real or perceived benefit. Many report that their digestive symptoms improve or “they just feel better.” Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance has been suggested but as yet there is no definitive test for its diagnosis.

Research has shown that avoiding FODMAPS can help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Wheat and other grains (rye, barley) (containing gluten) are sources of fructans that aggravate symptoms of IBS. So it is advised to eliminate these grains for a time from the diet to see if symptoms improve. See a previous post HERE.

If you choose gluten-free foods, you should definitely read the Nutrition Facts Panel as well as the ingredient lists.


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Sourdough Bread?

If you are avoiding wheat due to real or perceived intolerance to gluten, you may give sourdough bread a try. It is not recommended if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, since it still contains gluten.

Avoid commercial sourdough since most will not be authentic. Try local bakeries and ask for a list of ingredients. Or you can make your own (with some patience and time) from a recipe found HERE.


For more information on sourdough click HERE.

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Is Gluten-Free Merely a Fad?


Going gluten-free is becoming more mainstream.  There appears to be more people avoiding gluten without having a celiac disease diagnosis. Gluten-free is appearing on restaurant menus and on food labels in supermarket products. Why is this occurring? The following article addresses this issue and gives us the facts.


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Food Trends 2016


Recently, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics held their annual meeting called the 2016 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston, MA.

I did not attend, but some former colleagues and friends did attend and gathered information for new trends in foods coming soon to your local supermarket or on the Internet. Here are some of the highlights they passed on to me.

Snacks Rule at the Expo

My first thought was “Do we need any more snack foods?”  Some foods even though processed can be nutritious and beneficial to our health. Many of the new food trends fortunately are tending to lean in that direction.

The trend of Ultra-processed foods as defined as “food products containing several ingredients that are not traditionally used in cooking” were predominant. They are used to imitate sensory qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods”  appeared to be in abundance at the conference. “Natural” and organic are still a big draw with many food companies committing themselves to sustainability and responsible attention to the environment.


Digestive issues and the gastrointestinal tract have arrived and it’s about time. Food intolerances have been ignored in the medical field and treated as minor nuisances, in my opinion. The “Healthy Gut” is now displayed as having a “healthy microbiome” Check out my previous post on the microbiome HERE,

Check out my previous post on the FODMAP diet HERE. As I suspected, the low FODMAP diet may become the next gluten-free fad. I have already discovered one marinara sauce with the label showing its absence of onions and garlic with the title description from their website:

“For people who are sensitive to the flavor or the effects of onions or garlic, Rao’s developed Sensitive Formula Marinara Sauce which achieves full-bodied taste without the use of onions or garlic.

  • Formulated without onions or garlic.
  • Great for all ages! Children through Seniors
  • Lower Sodium than Rao’s Marinara sauce.
  • No added sugar

Rao’s Sensitive Formula Marinara is made with Italian tomatoes, Italian olive oil, fresh carrots, fresh celery, salt, fresh basil.”


Sounds like a good product, have tried it and it is very good!

The conference featured many new digestive  products from salsa and pasta sauce to protein bars and drinks. I would imagine they will be appearing in supermarkets soon with a certified FODMAP stamp created at Monash University in Australia. next to their certified GlutenFree stamp.

Fermented Foods

By definition, fermented foods are:

“foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. Examples of fermented foods are sauerkraut, pickles, miso, kefir, and kimchi. Probiotics have also in the news for a while now and many companies are now crashing this market that previously was only limited to dietary supplements.

Food companies are beginning to promote these foods as “healthy” and offer them in various flavors. The problem with probiotics in foods is the same as with probiotic supplements: do the “helpful” bacteria survive the harsh acids in the digestion process to confer the claimed benefits? No one can truly be sure.

Plant-based meals

I think it has been fairly well established by observational studies that plant foods are more apt to keep us free from chronic diseases and increase our longevity. Many disagree, but the trend leans against meat-heavy diets.

One company under the auspices of the Mushroom Council has combined ground beef with mushrooms to cut down on saturated fat and calories. Nice idea to help meat lovers still enjoy their burgers.

The new kale fad appears to be have been replaced but not forgotten with emphasis on pulses (beans, peas, lentils). We haven’t heard that the term pulses in years.

Whole Grains

There they are again but this time with some unfamiliar names. One is sorghum. Historical records trace the sorghum plant back to Africa and Benjamin Franklin was said to have introduced it to the U.S. in the late 1700’s. Since it has many uses, it is often referred to one of the “‘4F” plants as it can used for fuel, food, forage, and feed. It is an important cereal due to its drought resistance in many developing countries in Africa and Asia.

As a food, it is gluten-free and can be used to make healthy, whole-grain breads. It is hard to find but except for some “health” food stores.

Fake pasta

Due to the recent trend of spiralized noodles from vegetables, consumers found ways to cut back on refined grains. So some companies have developed pastas and rice substitutes from lentils, chickpeas, and beans all marketed as gluten-free, high in protein and fiber.


How about beet chips, more smoothies filled with fruits and vegetables, and veggie fries from sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, chickpeas? Can french fries ever be replaced? The food companies are banking on that to occur.

There will be more salad kits with varied combinations – not just leafy greens. They may include Brussels sprouts, beet greens, chard and sliced broccoli stems – not a bad idea to try to increase our vegetable intake.


Remember our ancestors began gathering seeds and nuts but the nuts won out. Now the seeds are taking the spotlight.  There are new seed bars – pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds. There will be Mediterranean inspired seed and nut bars as well as seed butters made from watermelon, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Move over, kale chips.

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What’s the Problem with Wheat?


What is the problem with wheat?  The question is growing with few answers.  Best selling books by two physicians have brought the problems to light; a search on PubMed has revealed  more questions; and now there’s a  documentary on the issue.  What is going on? People have been eating wheat for centuries, so what has changed?  It does not appear that gluten is the whole story. Now other issues are emerging.

Wheat flour is everywhere and is abundantly used in processed foods indicated in the list of ingredients. If you find that cutting down on wheat helps your digestive or other health problems,  please don’t self-diagnose but seek the advice of your doctor,  a registered dietitian or other health professional trained in digestive health.