FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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Preventing Bacterial Contamination on Produce

A Bacterial Superbug

Food safety is a very important aspect of nutrition education that is often ignored Since most produce is not cooked and eaten raw, it has unfortunately  become a source for bacterial contamination. The article gives some practical advice on how to avoid food poisoning from produce sources.

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The Dangers of Herbal Supplements

Folk medicine has used herbs for  centuries to treat and prevent disease. Today, they appear to be more popular than ever. It is estimated that about 1 in 6 Americans use herbs to treat or prevent illnesses. Herbal supplements are relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain – no prescription necessary.  Prescription medicines are tested for safety and efficacy and side effects are clearly available from the manufacturers.

Doses are regulated and standardized and physicians and pharmacists are trained to be aware of drug interactions that may occur that can cause dangerous sometimes fatal results. Herbal preparations have none of these safeguards. Here is what you need to know:

  • Many botanical components are toxic by themselves or in combination with other herbal components.
  • The FDA has issued warnings about ingredients such as comfrey, kava, and aristolochic acid.
    • Ephedra found in many weight loss preparations was found to cause heart attacks and strokes and was removed from the market in 2004. Ephedra extracts not containing ephedrine are not banned (according to Wikipedia) and can be found on the Internet.
  • Herbal supplements are subject to contamination of pesticides, microbes, metals and other toxins.
  • Doses are not thoroughly tested for purity and concentrations.
  • Some supplements should not be taken two to three weeks prior to surgery, e.g. St. John’s wort can prolong and intensity narcotic drug effects.
  • Herbal supplements should not be taken during pregnancy.
  • Do not give herbs to children.
  • Do not use herbs for long periods of time.
  • Do not fall for false health claims made by the manufacturer.

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

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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

listeria

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.

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Pollution in the Ocean: A Disgrace

1743salmon_fillet

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

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