bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is Nature’s Path leading us astray?

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A friend recently sent me a link to this blog post Why I Won’t Be Buying Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise Flakes AnymoreShe thought it might be something that I would agree with, rather than the usual nutrition misinformation that she alerts me too. However, as I read I found myself disagreeing with the author.

While she’s absolutely entitled to purchase (or boycott) whatever type of cereal she chooses, and entitled to her own opinions about GMOs, I think that her conclusions are misguided. Basically, she’s decided not to purchase the aforementioned cereal anymore because Nature’s Path is staunchly anti-GMO and has tweeted support for a film that is allegedly pseudo-science and fear-mongering. She believes that we need to differentiate between types of genetic modification and can’t lump things like Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready, Bt corn, and arctic apples together. I beg to differ. I think that these GMOs can be lumped together (especially the RR and Bt corn – since they’re both supposedly engineered to be pest-resistant).

I know many intelligent people who firmly believe that GMOs are safe for us to eat. I also know many people who are vehemently opposed to these foods and believe them to be toxic. I tend to lean toward the latter category. It baffles me that a crop can be engineered to contain pesticides and yet it’s supposed to be safe for humans to consume. While I don’t necessarily think that crops that are engineered to have certain qualities (such as the arctic apples and GM salmon) are going to be toxic I think that there’s more than food safety to consider here. Yes, we are essentially the guinea pigs in this long-term study of GMO safety. There hasn’t been enough research for us to know whether or not these foods are safe to eat. But there’s more than that.

We don’t know the impact that introducing these GM crops and animals is going to have on the ecosystem. We’re already doing plenty to destroy our planet by emitting greenhouse gases, polluting the water, killing various species, and clear-cutting forests. Do we really need to add our scientifically engineered organisms to the list? There are always unanticipated unintended consequences; just look at the hypoallergenic cow. What impact will GM crops have on their current counterparts? What impact will GM crops have on essential insects and other animals who pollinate and eat them?

Despite what Monsanto and those who’ve consumed the genetically modified kool-aid would have you believe, we don’t need to genetically modify crops to feed the global population. We need to be smarter about how we grow and distribute our food.

So, I’m not going to buy Nature’s Path’s Mesa Sunrise Cereal because I don’t like it. However, I will buy their Pumpkin Raisin Crunch when it’s on sale because it’s delicious.


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Aloe vera juice: another instance where natural may not be best

Aloe vera

The CSPI recently released a statement deeming aloe vera beverages unsafe to drink. This statement was based on research by the US government. The CSPI doesn’t provide a link to the research but I believe that it was this rat study published in 2012. As you know, I’m the first to be skeptical of any mouse or rat research. After all, these species are very different from humans and results seen with them does not necessarily translate to similar results seen with humans. However, this study does give me pause to reconsider consumption of aloe vera juices.

There has been limited research on aloe vera juice to date. However, the little research that does exist seems to lend support solely to the topical application of aloe vera. I might add, that there is conflicting research as to the wound healing properties of aloe vera. It appears that in some people topical application of aloe to cuts may actually exacerbate the problem and delay healing. Oral consumption of aloe vera is also not recommended for pregnant women as it can induce contractions.

The current rat study was conducted over the course of two years. During which time the rats were given water containing either no aloe, 0.5, 1, or 1.5% aloe vera. I’m a little unclear as to whether or not the rats were provided with any beverages besides the aloe vera laced water and how much aloe vera these concentrations would translate to for human consumption. I do think that these things matter when drawing conclusions from the results as we know that excessive consumption of anything is bad for you and it may be that the higher concentrations would be far more aloe vera than anyone would realistically consume. However, it’s very interesting to note that no intestinal tumors were seen in the rats consuming the 0 or 0.5% concentrations while a significant number of rats consuming the 1 and 1.5% concentrations developed intestinal tumors. Even if these rats were especially susceptible to intestinal tumors (which as far as I can tell they aren’t, although they are susceptible to liver carcinomas) you would then expect to see intestinal tumors developing in all of the groups, not just those ingesting the higher concentrations of aloe vera.

The rats were given aloe vera whole leaf extract which might also have played a role in the negative findings. It’s possible that different results might be found for the consumption of just the inner-fillet. Regardless, until further research is done, you might want to think twice before consuming aloe vera juice on a regular basis. Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.


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Whole vs ground flax seed

Flax

I was recently told that flax seed goes rancid pretty much immediately after grinding. This took me a bit by surprise and also made me question my consistent advice to people to buy ground flax as we can’t obtain the nutritional benefits (i.e. healthy fats and both soluble and insoluble fibre) from whole flax seed. I did a little googling and the consensus is that ground flax will stay fresh for up to four months in an airtight container in either the fridge or the freezer.

Okay, so four months isn’t exactly instantaneous but, when you think about it that store-bought ground flax would have been stored in at least one warehouse before making its way to the grocery store shelf and then it would be sitting on the shelf for x amount of time before you bought it and brought it home. Provided it’s in a vacuum-sealed opaque package it will stay fresh for a couple of months but not knowing how long it’s been since it was processed, and not being one to use-up an entire package of ground flax immediately upon purchase, I’m not sure that I will be buying ground flax seed any longer.

Whole flax seed, on the other hand, will stay fresh for several years at room temperature. This means that my new and improved advice is to purchase whole flax seed and grind it yourself. You can use a food processor or a coffee grinder or one of those hi-tech blenders. Grind only as much as you need at a time or, if you grind extra, ensure that you store it in the fridge or freezer in an opaque, airtight container for no more than four months.


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Lead in rice

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The latest worry in the food supply: lead in imported rice. Recent findings by Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi and colleagues at Monmouth University found levels ranging from 6-12 mg/kg in rice imported to the US from Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India, Thailand, with Taiwan and China containing the highest levels of lead.

The Codex Alimentarius from the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends no more than 0.025 mg/kg of body weight (this is based on weekly intake). These limits are especially important for infants (and babies in utero) as they are most susceptible to obvious negative effects from consumption of lead. Even very low levels of lead exposure can be detrimental to intellectual development, growth, behaviour, and hearing.

These findings provide increased incentive for mothers introducing solids to provide other sources of iron-rich foods (such as eggs, meat, legumes, and tofu) than iron-fortified rice cereal if the source of the rice is unknown. They also provide additional support for the message that us dietitians are always pushing: variety is an essential component of a healthy diet. As many people turn to a gluten-free diet they are likely to be consuming increased quantities of rice and rice-based products. Excess lead or not, excessive reliance on one type of grain is not a good foundation for a healthy diet.


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Will there be KD in the nanny state?

I have mixed feelings about the petition by a couple of food bloggers in the US for Kraft to remove the food dyes (yellow #5 and yellow #6) from their ubiquitous Kraft Dinner.

Initially, I was going to write a post about how frivolous I think the petition is. How removing food dyes from KD is not going to make it any less nutritionally void. You know, play devil’s advocate, ruffle a few feathers, because that’s what I like to do. While I do believe this to be true, and a part of me thinks that advocacy efforts could be put to much better use, I do also see some merit in their efforts. Realistically, people are not going to stop eating Kraft Dinner, or feeding it to their children. And you know, as an occasional treat that shouldn’t be a big deal.

Why does Kraft Dinner in the UK (and some other European countries) use natural food colourings rather than the artificial yellows used in Canada and the US? This is because their governments have decided to err on the side of caution. Where there is indication that a small number of individuals suffer allergic reactions from exposure to these colourings, and there is insufficient research to determine whether or not these dyes may have harmful long-term effects (such as being carcinogens) instead of allowing the population to unwittingly assume the risks they have taken steps to protect their citizens by banning these dyes. I’m all for that sort of initiative on the part of government. Oh sure, some of you might say that it’s a nanny state, we should be allowed to have our unnaturally brilliantly coloured nutritionally void food if we want to. You know me though, I like a good old nanny state if it’s going to be looking out for my better interests.

Sadly, our governments (in Canada and the US) are far more concerned with pandas and drones than the safety of our food supply. And that’s where efforts such as those by the bloggers become worthwhile. Yes, we should continue to put pressure on our governments to better regulate food additives, in the meantime if we can convince food manufactures to voluntarily remove these dyes from the foods they make then that’s a positive step in the right direction. So, while KD would not necessarily have been my first choice of food to target, if the formulation of this product is changed then hopefully the formulation of others will follow suit.

For more information on food dyes check out the report: Food Dyes a Rainbow of Risks by CSPI.

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