FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


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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.

CLICK HERE.


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Do We Need Dietary Supplements?

March is National Nutrition Month. How ironic that the news this month includes the probability that Gwyneth Paltrow is initiating a new line of vitamin and mineral supplements. In the first place, do we really need another line of diet supplements?   I would also like to know just what are her credentials to offer the consumer any nutritional advice?

According to Dr. Paul Offit, author of Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine,  clinical trials have shown no differences in the claimed beneficial effects versus placebo of the following popular supplements: Ginko biloba, St. John’s wort, garlic, saw palmetto, milk thistle, echinacea, or chondroitin sulfate.

CLICK HERE.


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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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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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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.