Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Food, Think! Forum Table of Contents

March 2011
Re-Defining the Terms (Sustainability)
April 2011
Farmers, Fight! (Border Violence)
…Determined to Succeed! (Challenges and triumphs for the Ag industry)
Unacceptable. (Animal Abuse)
May 2011
June 2011
Vive La RĂ©sistance? (Antibiotic use in animal agriculture)
July 2011
Doubtful Dining (A critique of modern food industry critics)
Hard to Swallow (A critique of industry animal welfare)
Meat Eaters, Misguided (A critique of Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change & Health)
August 2011
Flour or Corn Tortillas? (A comparison of crops)
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
Because My Baby Likes It (Habits of American Consumers)
January 2012
Subsidize Me (Crop subsidies)
February 2012
Chipotle’s Simple Story (A facts-check of a Chipotle commercial)
March 2012
Wasted. (Food Waste)
April 2012
Beef for my heart and chili for my soul (Chili recipe and new BOLD study)
May 2012
The Real “Dirty Dozen” Deal (Evaluation of produce and pesticides)
June 2012
When it’s just not true (Falsification of GMO evidence)
July 2012
Hazards in the Household #2: Plastics
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Friday, July 13, 2012

Hazards in the Household #2: Plastics

Something else that scares me is a warm plastic water bottle that has baked all day in a summer-heated car-oven. You may have also heard from ominous emails, Care 2 Make a Difference  and HealthyChild.org that certain plastics (especially when heated) can put you and your family at risk for cancer.

I found the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide to be very informative. When plastic is heated, potentially dangerous chemicals used in plastic manufacturing called plasticizers can leak out into food. The more thin and flimsy these are (i.e., cellophane wrap), the more plasticizers they contain. Because they are soluble in fats and oils, they especially leach into foods that contain a lot of fat. 

The HMS Guide describes FDA’s “Microwave – Safe” approval process:
“For microwave approval, the agency estimates the ratio of plastic surface area to food, how long the container is likely to be in the microwave, how often a person is likely to eat from the container, and how hot the food can be expected to get during microwaving. The scientists then measure the chemicals that leach out and the extent to which they migrate to different kinds of foods. The maximum allowable amount is 100–1,000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to harm laboratory animals over a lifetime of use. Only containers that pass this test can display a microwave-safe icon, the words “microwave safe,” or words to the effect that they’re approved for use in microwave ovens.”

Here are some more great HMS pointers:
  • Most takeout containers, water bottles, and plastic tubs or jars made to hold margarine, yogurt, whipped topping, and foods such as cream cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard are not microwave-safe.
  • Microwavable takeout dinner trays are formulated for one-time use only and will say so on the package.
  • Don’t microwave plastic storage bags or plastic bags from the grocery store.
  • Before microwaving food, be sure to vent the container: Leave the lid ajar, or lift the edge of the cover.
  •  Don’t allow plastic wrap to touch food during microwaving because it may melt. Wax paper, kitchen parchment paper, or white paper towels are alternatives.
  • If you’re concerned about plastic wraps or containers in the microwave, transfer food to glass or ceramic containers labeled for microwave oven use.
Polycarbonate Plastics (i.e. Nalgene bottles)
There is an entire organization and website dedicated to BPA research and public information. It states: “Researchers from government agencies, academia, and industry worldwide have studied the potential for bisphenol A (BPA) to migrate from polycarbonate products into foods and beverages. These studies consistently show that the potential migration of BPA into food is extremely low, generally less than 5 parts per billion under conditions typical for uses of polycarbonate products. At this level, a consumer would have to ingest more than 1,300 pounds of food and beverages in contact with polycarbonate every day for an entire lifetime to exceed the safe level of BPA set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Consequently, human exposure to BPA from polycarbonate plastics is minimal and poses no known health risk.”

The Nalgene website includes further information if you are curious. 

PETE / PET (chasing arrows # 1; common for water bottles)
This review of recent findings suggest that endocrine disruptors (estrogen-like compounds suspected to trigger cancer growth) may leach into water and food contained by PET plastic bottles. Its conclusion is inconclusive … the jury is still out on this one. The hot Ozarka in my car? Still scary. I’ll pour it out for my plants. 

Plastics and the Microwave
The Plastics board produces this informative website and states: “There are many different types of plastics. The best bet on plastic packaging is if it is labeled “Microwave Safe”, then it will not leach unsafe chemicals into your food when microwaved or heated. Although it might be helpful to know a little about different plastics, PET plastic is one that can be either appropriate or inappropriate for the microwave depending on how it was manufactured. Plastic is not heated at all by microwaves, but rather by the hot food it comes in contact with. As long as a plastic cover or wrapping is not touching the food being heated, your food will be safe.” 

It also looks like the creepy Johns Hopkins email about dioxins in plastic containers is baloney. Here’s an excerpt from the FAQs: 

I got an e-mail from Johns Hopkins alleging that microwaving food in plastic containers releases dioxin. Is this true?
No. This is an e-mail hoax that has been circulating the Internet for years. Dioxins are a group of compounds that can be produced by combustion at very high temperatures. The vast majority of plastics used in food wraps and packaging do not contain the chemical constituents needed to form dioxins. And dioxins form at very high temperatures, typically above 700 degrees Fahrenheit — much higher than the temperatures that would be generated by microwave cooking. You also may hear claims that using plastic containers in the freezer can “release” dioxins — which is also untrue. According to the FDA, which regulates food packaging, “With regard to dioxins, we have seen no evidence that plastic containers or films contain dioxins and know of no reason why they would.”
The e-mail and its alleged ties to Johns Hopkins University or Walter Reed Army Medical Center (depending on which version you receive) are part of the hoax, and both organizations have publicly disavowed the claims.”

A final quick update on foodborne carcinogens I found…to get more facts on overcooked meat and potential carcinogens, read the Addendum at the end of the post “Red Meat and Cancer: Not Guilty”.

I probably won't heat any plastics unless they're labeled "Microwave Safe." What do you Think?

Hazards in the Household #1: Cleaners

I’ll be honest, my kitchen sink cabinet scares me (rubber gloves help me conquer those fears). Besides dishwashing soaps, I keep Clorox Green Works all-purpose spray (not scary – “natural”, slight eye/skin irritant), Pine Sol (not scary – “natural” again), Lysol 4 in 1 all-purpose cleaner (scary…but my husband insists on it for his medical work), OFF! Bugspray (scary), and Windex (very scary) down there. Heard of BabyGanics? They are not required to list their ingredients, but from what I've been able to find it's the same stuff as Clorox Green Works (surfactants made of palm kernel, coconut, and corn). Ironically, Clorox took all the chlorine out of its product line, but I use their creepy blue toilet bowl wands. Anti-perspirant and baking powder, both aluminum-containing products, lurk around my home as well. I’m just glad I don’t have a pool so I don’t have to mess with any chlorine. 

The facts are that the FDA prohibits household cleaners from carrying known carcinogens. However, their substances are still known to potentially damage the body. FYI, here is a comprehensive listing of known and probable human carcinogens from the American Cancer Society in case you ever want to explore the ingredients list on any of your cleaning products.
My mom used to ban things like cereal with food coloring because she knew some dyes can be carcinogenic. Today (and maybe then) dyes that are carcinogenic have been banned from textile and food use. These include Acid Red 26, Direct Blue 6, Direct Black 38 and Direct Red 28 with negative ionization mode, Basic Red 9, Basic Violet 14, Disperse Blue 1, Disperse Orange 11 and Disperse Yellow 3. 

We’ll take a look now at all of our culprits. I found the U.S.D.H.S.S.Household Products Database to be very helpful. 
Windex Original
Windex packaging comes with warnings about breathing, ingestion, eye, and skin contact.

It contains:   
  •  Cocamidopropyl betaine (a surfactant derived from cononut oil, may cause allergies )
  • Ammonium hydroxide. A healthy liver manages ammonia exposure by converting it into harmless compounds like urea (excreted in urine) and helpful compounds like amino acids (for building bodily proteins). However, people with liver damage such as cirrhosis do this less effectively, and ammonia can cause Hepatic Encephalopathy, or as my major professor used to say, “fry the brain.” The brain cells, or astrocytes, when exposed to ammonia can behave like an Alzheimer’s patient’s brain cells: they become swollen and dysfunctional, their genetic material can become corrupt, and finally fluid can enter and accumulate in the brain to further impair it. Ammonia exposure can occur both from the external and internal environments: external, from using ammoniated products, and internal, from consuming a high-protein diet without adequate fiber. (See "Eat Your Vegetables!"). This should only be a concern if you have a liver that does not function normally...in fact, you can probably get just as much ammonia exposure by changing diapers.
  •  Monoethanolamine (MEA). Inhaling MEA can cause respiratory allergic reactions, skin irritation, and even liver damage (Christian M, ed; J American College of Toxicology 2 (7): 183-226 (1983)and Gillner M et al; Nord 29: 49-73 (1993)).  

OFF! Deep Woods 
  •  OFF! is shockingly flammable! The four other ingredients besides DEET are Ethanol, Isobutane, Butane, Propane, all liquid fuels. DEET, or N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, can inhibit an important central nervous system enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. This enzyme controls neuron transmissions that in turn control muscles. DEET exposure, therefore, has been shown in laboratory studies to lead to paralysis and suffocation. DEET is so effective because it paralyzes olfactory (smelling) nerves in insects so they are “blind” to you and don’t bite (Corbel et al., 2009).  

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease
Research findings in the 1960s allegedly linked aluminum exposure to Alzheimer’s patients, but the findings have never been replicated. This connection is now largely refuted within the medical/scientific communities. See Aluminum reports from UK Alzheimer’s Society and

Lysol 4 in  1 All-Purpose Cleaner 
According to the labeled warnings, this product will likely burn eyes if and may cause an upset stomach if ingested. It contains:
  • Alchohol Ethyloxylate (an alchohol)
  • Benzalkonium Chloride. While not listed as carcinogenic, this biocide and surfactant is toxic to fish and slightly toxic to wildlife and humans. In small doses it irritates skin and gastrointestinal linings ... possibly by killing these cells, being a nondiscriminant biocide.  
  • Yellow Dye
Clorox Disinfecting Toilet Wand Refills contain:

Chlorine-containing bleaches and pool treatments have:
  • Chlorate
  • Sodium hypochlorite
Chlorine can form Hydrochloric acid (HCl) when it is inhaled or touched. This can cause anywhere from mild irritation to burns on the skin and can permanently damage lungs. It disinfects by oxidizing (stripping electrons from) bacterial cell membranes and killing them, and also by forming hypochlorous acid (OHCl). It bleaches by oxidizing pigments. 

I think I can live at ease with all my products except Lysol, Windex, and OFF! I can do without the ammonia, environmental toxins, and DEET since there are other cleaning and insect repellent alternatives (unless I travel to a malaria zone). 

What do you Think?

Monday, June 18, 2012

When it's just not true

The article I read yesterday in the Washington Post featured a widespread rumor and exposed falsehood about the EPA spying with predator drones. 

We are always shocked at hearing that lies have entered mainstream media and conversation, although it happens frightfully easily. When we even take the time to think critically and ask questions of what information we’re soaking in, we rarely find an expert or witness that can give us answers. I faced a similar situation recently, but fortunately I found some experts. A friend of mine, a nurse actually, told me about a doctor that writes public nutrition reports and runs a business selling herbal supplements. His name is Dr. Mercola, and you may have heard of him. 

Dr. Mercola wrote an article called “Eating this Common Food CouldDamage Your Kidneys” about GMO corn. He attempted to reveal potential damaging effects of Bt which is the bio-pesticide the plants carry. He defends his thesis with a Journal of Applied Toxicology article Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidaltoxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide that demonstrates human kidney cells in a vial dying off as they are exposed to Bt. Additionally, Dr. Mercola describes the rapid evolution of Bt-resistant pests as prompted by genetically modified corn. Having great respect for my friend who showed me this article and wanting to answer questions we both produced, I took Dr. Mercola’s article to the U. S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Food Dialogues training session. I was hoping to find an expert in the area of genetically engineered (GE) crops, as I am not one!

At the USFRA meeting, I found Lisa Lunz of the Nebraska Soybean Board who answered a few of my questions. We generated more questions together which she would relay to a specialist. Just as promised, I received several documents in the mail composed by scientist teams that spoke (and cited an overwhelming heap of evidence) contrary to Dr. Mercola’s inferences. 

Dr. Tom Hunt was the entomologist Lisa recruited to provide an expert’s perspective on the Mercola matter. First, he explained that the Bt resistance developed by the corn rootworm is not a pandemic as Dr. Mercola describes. In fact, Bt resistant corn rootworms have developed in plots of corn only where a specific protein type of Bt (Cry3Bb1) corn is grown. Not just any GMO corn, but a specific kind, was planted over and over for more than 3 years. The majority of farmers, being educated career people, know not to do this. The farmers that follow recommendations for pest control can also reduce their risk from any of their neighbors’ mistakes because they rotate crops and vary their GMO corn variety. The second sentence in Dr. Mercola’s article is false: “Twenty-two of the top experts on corn pests are urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to take action to halt the use of such GE crops.” Dr. Hunt explained that the letter did not ask to halt their use, but to the contrary made recommendations as to the responsible continuation of GE crops. 

Dr. Hunt believes that the study Dr. Mercola references was pretty weak because of the extremely high dosage and also the exposure method in the lab. The dosage was equal to what a human diet of pure corn leaves would be, but even if a desperate vegetarian became lost and hungry in an earless cornfield, that dosage of Bt would never reach the kidneys. Dr. Hunt questioned why the response of kidney cells and not intestinal cells was observed. In vivo, human kidneys are unlikely to come into contact with Bt proteins. This was discussed in the last post “The Real ‘Dirty Dozen’ Deal”, but again, humans do not have Bt receptors in their gut, simply because humans are not insects. I hope you have attained enlightening by that one fact alone. 

To continue on, glyphosate (the main component of RoundUp herbicide) has never produced any temporarily or longitudinally (over a lifetime) problems in humans that have ingested it. The glyphosate allegations in Mesnage et al. (2011) were based on a mathematical model, not a real time observation. Many farmers joke about being able to drink it and be fine. The thing is, scientists think they’re right.   

Finally, here are two online sources that speak of Dr. Mercola’s many conflicts of interest: “FDA Orders Dr. Joseph Mercola to StopIllegal Claims” and “9 Reasons to Completely Ignore Joseph Mercola”.  His claims span from discouraging vaccinations in young children, to denouncing mammograms, all the way to curing or totally preventing cancer with his herbal products. 

What do you Think?   

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Real "Dirty Dozen" Deal

My friend is expecting a baby! Being understandably protective of her unborn child, she asked me about what foods I buy organic. I said, "Well, I pretty much don't pay attention unless it affects the taste or quality of the product! For example, I love buying Horizon DHA fortified milk because it has more Omega-3s, but not because it is organic." If all the rules are followed, there should not be unsafe pesticide residues in our food. I understand people make mistakes and not every apple I take home has gotten tested, but I'm going to wash all my produce well and eat it anyway. HOWEVER, putting myself in my friend's shoes...if I were pregnant, I want to pretty much eliminate the normal risks I'm willing to take. I figure changing what I eat just for nine months to reduce or eliminate risks is well worth it!

You've heard of the Dirty Dozen put out by the Environmental Working Group? I'm choosing not to follow it perfectly, and I'll explain why. From the FDA Pesticide Monitoring Reports Summary, these are the only two factors that would determine how I shop for my food if I wanted to reduce my already low pesticide ingestion risks:

1) Avoid buying imported produce. Imported produce has four times the FDA residue violations that domestic produce does...not that the violative produce ever enters the grocery store; it gets destroyed, but not 100% gets tested either. I'm thankful for the checks-and-balances philosophy of accountability our forefathers grafted in to our regulatory system. I can't say the same for other countries, though.

2) Of domestic produce, avoid (or buy organic) the following products that were found in violation: Bean Sprouts, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Kale, Leaf Lettuce, Spinach, Carrots, Onions/leeks/scallions. NO conventional fruits came into violation with FDA safe residue limits, yay!

I'm state-certified for pesticide application so I know that there are very strict laws against applying pesticides the wrong way and to the wrong types of produce - many do pose a hazard in large doses (i.e., concentrated in their packaging) so the most dangerous part to humans is mixing and preparing the pesticide for use. Once they are sprayed out, they begin to react with air and sunlight, and as time goes by, they decompose into inert (safe) substances. This is why if you ever buy pesticide for a garden, it will say something like "do not apply within 5 days of harvest"... this means the FDA found it takes less than 5 days to break down into something harmless to eat. The FDA has determined a set of standards for hundreds of produce items and all possible pesticide residues that will only allow food to enter the supply chain IF the concentrations are within what is found to be "safe" -- i.e. breaks down into inert substances on its own (unstable & has a half-life) or what your liver will cause you to you eliminate.

Many pesticides are naturally derived from plants, such as nicotine, or from bacteria, such as Bt toxins and Ryanoids. Humans have nicotine receptors, but not Bt or Ryanoid receptors, so pesticides besides nicotine are not absorbed by the human body, and are harmlessly eliminated. Pyrethroids are the pesticides that are in household roach, wasp, ant, etc. killers. These are harmful to humans in high doses, but not in extremely low doses. People with poor immune systems or problematic liver function should avoid these. These chemicals react with sunlight and oxygen and break down within a certain amount of time, and these will have a withdrawal order (i.e. DO NOT APPLY within # days before harvest). However, they can avoid breaking down by entering bodies of water, and for this reason they are toxic to fish and aquatic species. Sadly, BPO, an additive in household pesticides, has been linked to complications in the mental development of children (I'd rather practice my aim with my tennis shoe / rolled up magazine against roaches than use Raid anyway).  Others are insect hormones that interfere with a bug's ability to grow...humans are insensitive to insect hormones...if you worry about Insect Growth Regulators, I will worry about you. Other insecticides form a protective covering over plants, making it difficult for bugs to eat them. This is not toxic to any organism, it's just a barrier method.

This is what the FDA's Residue Monitoring Reports look like for Fruits and Vegetables. Less than 10 U.S. produce items are found to be violative. So, why does the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publish findings on "The Dirty Dozen" (foods with highest pesticide residues) and "The Clean Fifteen" (foods with lowest pesticide residues) based on 51,000 FDA tests from 2000 - 2009? Sure, these "Dirty Dozen" may have had the highest residues, but these are STILL at safe concentrations!

With the exception of Bean Sprouts, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Kale, Leaf Lettuce, Spinach, Carrots, Onions/leeks/scallions as mentioned earlier, I would argue eating the following conventional "Dirty Dozen" products would be fine: Apples, Celery, Strawberries, Peaches, Domestic Nectarines, Domestic Grapes, Bell Peppers, Potatoes, and blueberries.

The EWG argues that NO residue level is a safe level. The FDA and EPA argue that a teeny tiny reside level is a safe level, and it would be best to avoid imported produce and conventional Bean Sprouts, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Kale, Leaf Lettuce, Spinach, Carrots, Onions/leeks/scallions. Pick your side and stand with the EWG or the FDA, but, no matter what, ALWAYS wash your produce well (organic has higher bacterial contamination from manure) and keep eating your fruit and veggies!

(See also Organic or Not?)

What do you Think?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Beef for my heart and chili for my soul

I made chili last night, and it was great-tasting and so very good for me. You may have heard of a recent study publication, “Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD) study: effects on lipids, lipoproteins, and apolipids." I'll explain that study after a quick cooking lesson.
First, it is my pleasure to introduce you to the “Julia Child” of authentic Mexican fare, Diana Kennedy. Her book is a culinary tour of Mexico, and it’s fabulous. 
I based my meal on her “Carne en Chile Colorado” recipe and put together the following ingredients:
  • ·         14 – 16 Dried Mexican chile peppers, caps removed…I play around with combinations of New Mexico, Cascabel, Arbol, Ancho peppers. Here are the little spicy Arbol peppers next to the larger, milder Cascabel peppers.
  • ·         1 tsp cumin
  • ·         1 tsp oregano
  • ·         2 cloves of garlic
  • ·         3 lbs lean ground beef
  • ·         1/8 cup (2 TB) canola oil
  • ·         2 tsp salt (not pictured)
I threw all the ingredients except for the salt, oil, and beef into a pot. I poured in water until all the ingredients were covered.
I let this simmer for 10 minutes and then blended the hot mixture, water and all, into a fine pasty liquid. (Don’t fill more than 1/3 of the blender at a time! Note the splatter. I hope you do as I say, not as I do!).
Pour the oil, salt, and meat into the pot which contained the pepper mixture. Completely brown the meat over medium heat.
When meat is browned, mix in the chile pepper liquid. This can all simmer together for another 20 minutes, or until liquids have reduced down to a proper-looking chili. 
Back to the study that makes this chili legit: Four diets were assigned to 36 people with high cholesterol problems who consumed them for 5 weeks at a time, with a normalization period of one week between diet changes. Across the four diets, total calories were kept constant. The three diets containing beef had similar total fat, saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and cholesterol to one another. The other diet, (Healthy American Diet, or HAD) only contained white meat and was higher in the following: total fat, saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and also cholesterol. The HAD diet also had lower fiber than the beef-containing diets.

The diet makeup was as follows:
1.       Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Included low-fat or non-fat dairy products, less oil and butter, high fruits and vegetables (3 – 4 servings of each) and more whole grains than the HAD diet. It also replaced 28 g of the protein with 95% lean beef/day. Total cholesterol and LDL concentrations decreased by 49 and 37%, respectively.
2.       Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD) Same diet as above except it replaced the protein with 113 g beef/d. Total cholesterol and LDL concentrations decreased by 48 and 35%, respectively.
3.       Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD +) Same diet as above, with 113 g beef replacing other protein sources, plus additional protein to replace carbohydrates (40 g).  Total cholesterol and LDL concentrations decreased by 49 and 35%, respectively.
4.       Healthy American Diet (HAD) Contained full-fat cheese and dairy products, more oil and butter, refined grains, rich in fruit, vegetables (3 servings of each), and lean WHITE meats. This diet reduced total cholesterol and LDL concentrations by 22% and 14%, respectively.

Here is the nutritive makeup of each diet:

These are the food components of each diet:

The article points out a consistent factor with a previous study conducted by Beauchesen-Rondeau et al (2003, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) that when lean beef (containing less saturated fat) is substituted for white meat (containing more saturated fat), LDL decreases. Confirming a factor (reduced saturated fat) that decreases bad cholesterol is a triumph here!

As much as I am a beef enthusiast, I take care to note that this study highlights the reduction of saturated fat, not the addition of beef, as an agent to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Lean beef just plays a significant role in this because it is lower in saturated fat than many white meats. This study proves that lean beef IS an alternative low saturated fat protein source that will lower cholesterol. Lean beef is equal to fish, lean pork, and lean chicken for its cholesterol-lowering effects...how awesome is that, since the American Heart Association used to say avoid red meat to lower cholesterol! 

Additionally, the potential cholesterol-lowering increase of fiber in the beef-containing diets deserves attention, as none was given in the Discussion portion. Refer back to “Eat your Vegetables!” for more information on how fiber can lower cholesterol.

Remember also that dairy fat is mostly saturated! When I lived in in Spain, I ate a lot of amazing cheeses, fatty sausages, chocolate, churros, fresh butter and cream…my total cholesterol ended up being over 200 when I got back to the U.S…yikes! Lowering dairy fat in your diet can decrease cholesterol. 

What do you Think?