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Month: August 2013 (page 1 of 2)

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

An old statement that we eat with our eyes first really holds much truth. Our supermarkets are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables that look like picture perfect paintings. They are designed to attract our attention so we bring them home with us, and boy do they look fresh and healthy. The good looks can be deceiving once we actually eat the product. Apples have always been known to have a natural coating on the skin surface. The coating is a kind of wax, and this has been used on fruits and vegetables since the 1920’s. Coating of apples is done by applying a thin layer of wax either by dipping, brushing or spraying with wax. Normally this coating is considered edible, safe for human consumption. In the fast paced, money making world we live in, it is quite easy to realize that producers have become more interested in mass production and sales than taking the extra health safety measures. They also leave most of the responsibility with the consumer, leaving us to have to wash our produce thoroughly. Surely we should do this regardless, but safety shouldn’t be in question either way.

Apples have their own original coating when plucked directly from the tree. This is a whitish powder on the apple surface and is considered the fruits natural barrier, artificially waxed fruit is a thin layer not powder like, which can be scratch off as opposed to just falling off. The process of washing before being packed into cartons removes this natural coating. Apples are coated with wax for a variety of reasons, preservation, reduce loss of water, increased visual freshness and mostly to replace the natural wax, which helps protect the fruit from shriveling and weight loss. The waxes that are used are referred to as edible coating, being that they will be consumed together with the fruit. The edible waxes that are used are vegetable waxes and can be Carnauba or Shellac which are completely safe to consume not considered harmful. This wax is actually not digested, but is passed through the digestive system.

The waxes that are used to coat apples can consist of animal, vegetable or mineral and synthetic wax. Many producers have been known to use petroleum base waxes to coat apples, which is considered harmful to our health. The state is supposed to enforce the types of waxes that can be applied to fruits. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees all the waxes that are supposed to be safe. In Kenya , the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBs) is responsible. According to the FDA a federal law requires the United States produce shippers and supermarkets to label wax fruits and vegetables upon selling. Honestly, I have rarely if ever seen any signs at the grocery store reflecting this, but perhaps some locations do have this available.

The reason for waxing apples has been shown, but there is also some disadvantages to this practice. One affect is anaerobic respiration that can occur in the fruits since the wax can act as an oxygen barrier. The wax also makes a great makeup disguise for the apple. Waxed apples look glossy, sleek, shiny, firm and appealing, but inside can be a whole other story. Perhaps can be soggy and lacking crispy texture. Cleaning apples before we eat them is our safest precaution. If water isn’t enough, a drop of vinegar can be a very good cleaning aid. Never use detergents on fruits and vegetables due to their porous construction. An apple a day sure can make our day better, but a little prevention holds the key to healthy foods.

One Man’s Poison (Part VII) – Potassium Bromate

Written by : Lee Ann Rush

Potassium bromate is used in commercial baking as a “flour enhancer” that speeds the bread-making process by chemically aging milled flour much more quickly than does traditional exposure to oxygen, or oxidation.  Known in the trade simply as “bromate,” it also bleaches the dough and increases its elasticity, making bread appear whiter, softer and fluffier.   During the baking process, bromate, which is derived from the same chemicals as brominated vegetable oil (the stuff that was patented as a flame retardant) is supposed to disappear, leaving only a harmless residue of potassium bromide.  However, if a bit too much bromate is used, or if the bread is not baked long enough or at quite a hot enough temperature, there will be potassium bromate residue in the finished product.  Since the early 1980s, bromates have been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.  They have been banned for decades in Europe, Canada, China, Japan, and in parts of South America and Africa.  In 1991, the State of California passed Proposition 65, which declared bromate a carcinogen and required store-level warnings on all baked goods containing it.  Rather than worry about being perceived as cancer-purveyors, most bakers in California have switched to using bromate-free baking methods.

What about the rest of the United States?  Are you wondering what action the FDA has taken to eliminate this recognized carcinogen from our commercially prepared domestic baked goods?   Have you read any of the earlier articles in this series?  If so, you probably already know the answer.  The FDA, long known for protecting big business at the expense of the American public, has once again stuck its proverbial head in the sand and declined to ban potassium bromate. Why?  Because, they claim, the level of bromates remaining in bread and other baked goods after the baking process is completed should be negligible.  Under ideal circumstances, yes, but why take the chance when bromates are entirely unnecessary in the first place?  Errors are made all this time in the real world, and considering how many the FDA has made, one would think they’d have more of a clue.  Are they clueless or just corrupt?  Make your own decision.

Meanwhile, the good news for consumers is that it’s relatively easy to avoid bromates   if you just take the time to read the lists of ingredients before you buy. Many commercial bakeries and small bakers have voluntarily eliminated bromates from their operations, and many more had never used them in the first place. Stay away from anything that lists ”bromated flour” or “potassium bromate,”  and be aware that some fast food chains are still using buns baked with bromates – Arby’s, Burger King and Wendy’s to name a few prominent ones.   What you don’t know definitely can hurt you, so be proactive and read those labels.

One Man’s Poison (Part VI) – Olestra

Author: Lee Ann Rush

Created in the laboratory by our friends at Procter & Gamble, the sixth culprit  in our Eight Men Out series is olestra (a/k/a Olean), a substitute for cooking oil that was once thought to be the next “big thing” in salty snack foods because, unlike its fatty counterpart, it contains no fat, no calories, and no cholesterol. Interestingly, when the FDA originally approved olestra as a food additive in 1996, it was completely aware that the product had a history of causing adverse side effects during P&G’s product testing. Olestra was responsible for causing gastrointestinal distress, and also preventing those who consumed it from absorbing essential vitamins.  Therefore, the FDA actually demanded that products containing olestra carry the following warning label:  “This Product Contains Olestra.  Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients.  Vitamins A, D, E and K have been added.”   Why anyone reading that label would want to eat food   containing olestra is hard to imagine, but suffice it to say that many people did just that.

Warning labels or not, Frito-Lay embraced olestra and, in 1998, launched its WOW! brand potato chip line of fat-free snacks.  Fast forward to August, 2003, when, even though it had logged 20,000 complaints about Olestra (more than the total number of complaints for all other food additives combined!), the ever-spineless FDA rescinded the labeling requirement, contending that the, “label statement could be misleading and cause consumers of olestra to attribute serious problems to olestra when this is unlikely to be the case.”  Oh, really?  Not according to the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who called the FDA’s action “just another in a string of setbacks for the public’s health, engineered by an FDA that seems all too eager to do the bidding of big food companies.”  Fortunately, CSPI went on to say, “since consumers don’t seem to like the taste, texture or side-effects of olestra, the market share for olestra-containing chips has diminished.  [Still] without … adequate warning … [they] may inadvertently find their way into shopping carts … of even those consumers who are trying to avoid olestra.”  Those mistakes won’t be happening in Canada or the European Union, where olestra has been banned.

In May, 2010, Time magazine “honored” olestra by naming it one of “The 50 Worst Inventions” in the world.  Even though its negative side effects are well-documented, the FDA still lists olestra on its roster of legal food additives. To this day, olestra can be found in Lay’s Light Chips and Pringles Light potato chips, which are made by Kellogg’s.   Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

One Man’s Poison (Part V) – Brominated Vegetable Oil

By:  Lee Ann Rush

Our fifth installment of “Eight Men Out” – eight food additives that have been banned in many foreign countries but are still found in foods produced in the United States, highlights brominated vegetable oil (BVO).  BVO is vegetable oil to which atoms of bromine are bonded.  It has been used by the soft drink industry since the 1930s as an emulsifier that keeps citrus-flavored chemicals from rising to the top of drinks such as Mountain Dew, Squirt, Fanta and some flavors of Fresca and Powerade.  Even though BVO has been banned as a food additive throughout the European Union as well as in Japan and India, and our own FDA even removed it from its GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list 43 years ago (supposedly for further study which, not surprisingly, has never been undertaken), it is still found in approximately 10 percent of American soft drinks. Until January of 2013, BVO was also used in Gatorade, but an online petition calling for its removal caused such a huge outcry among parents that PepsiCo succumbed to the pressure and wisely removed BVO from its Gatorade drinks, issuing the following statement:  “While our products are safe, we are making this change because we know that some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade.” PepsiCo, however, continues to use BVO in Mountain Dew.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention:  BVO was originally patented as a flame retardant.

Yes, that’s right, BVO is a flame retardant.  You know, like the stuff they put in fire extinguishers.  Now, I’d been aware that Mountain Dew is an especially problematic soda because it’s marketed primarily to children and teenagers yet contains large amounts of both sugar and caffeine, but I’d had no idea these ingredients are being bolstered by a flame retardant!  Brett Israel noted in his article entitled “Brominated Battle:  Soda Chemical Has Cloudy Health History” that brominated flame retardants used in products such as upholstered furniture have caused concern because “research has shown that they are building up in people’s bodies, including breast milk … (and also has) found links to impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones.”  Scientific American, December, 2011.  Remember, these studies were conducted on BVO when used as a flame retardant, not when consumed in soft drinks!   One shouldn’t have to ponder too hard to imagine what drinking BVO may do to you!

Interestingly, big soft drink companies -- namely Coca Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group -- could replace BVOs with natural hydrocolloids, products that have served as emulsifiers in many European-made sodas for years.  Apparently they aren’t anxious to make the switch, though, claiming that the two products are not interchangeable.  Critics suspect the true reason is cost. Small wonder, considering that the FDA itself has stated that it has no plans to study BVO further because, “it’s costly and not a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration.”   Obviously, the well-being of American citizens isn’t such a high priority for the FDA either.

Eight Men Out: One Man’s Poison (Part IV)

Author: Lee Ann Rush

It’s time to continue through the alphabet soup of suspicious substances that the FDA allows into the American food supply.  You’ve no doubt seen the following phrase in small print on countless food items that you’ve purchased:  “BHT added to packaging for freshness.”  What you may not know is that BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and its counterpart BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are petroleum and coal tar-based fat-soluble chemical compounds that have antioxidant properties. They are useful to food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical manufacturers as preservatives that prolong shelf-life by preventing the oils in their products from turning rancid.  BHA and BHT are added to a myriad of items including, but not limited to: boxed potato products, cakes, cheese spreads, chewing gum, cookies, cosmetics, ice cream, margarine, medicinal drugs, packaged nuts, potato chips, shortenings and sodas.

Why, then, were BHA and BHT banned in Japan, England, and other European countries?   Research on the effects of these substances, conducted in laboratories and on research animals, indicates that BHT has been linked to increased cancer risk, and that low doses of BHA can be toxic to cells.  Accepting that the available information is sketchy but not favorable, many countries have wisely chosen to avoid gambling with the health of their citizens by removing BHA and BHT from the food supply.   Not so the United States, where the FDA uses yet another of its acronyms to categorize them:  GRAS (generally recognized as safe).  To translate, BHT and BHA are considered “safe for their intended use in specified amounts,” although, according to Report No. 55 of the FDA’s own Select Committee on GRAS Substances Reviews, “studies on the tissue levels of BHA attained in man by chronic ingestion … should be assessed…. While no evidence in the available information on butylated hydroxyanisole demonstrates a hazard to the public … uncertaintied [sic] exist requiring that additional studies be conducted.”

In other words, we’re not sure what this stuff is really doing to people, so status quo is the answer.  Why rock the boat and tick off the chemical companies and food processors?  Well, maybe because the Center for Science in the Public Interest has listed BHA as an additive to avoid and placed BHT in its “caution” category, while the National Toxicology Program has found BHA to be “reasonably anticipated as a human carcinogen,” and determined that BHT is linked to an increase in cancer among animals.  It’s not as though either of these substances are at all essential; other preservatives such as vitamin E are readily available, although they probably cost a bit more and thus aren’t as widely used in food processing.  Bottom line:  it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s healthier to eat foods that don’t contain any artificial preservatives!

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