bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Children of the Quorn

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I found this post by CSPI (the Centre for Science in the Public Interest) calling for the ban of Quorn products in the US a little puzzling.

For those wondering, apparently Quorn is a “vat grown fungus” used in vegetarian meat product substitutes. Yes, I know, it sounds revolting to us omnivores. Personally, I think that plants (and I suppose fungi) should be proud to be themselves and not masquerade as meat. Putting that aside, apparently it’s quite popular. It’s not available in Canada because the CFIA has not tested, and therefore, not approved it for sale, as far as I can tell.

The FDA has approved the sale of Quorn products in the US but, based on reports of allergic reactions, the CSPI is calling for retailers to stop selling Quorn and for people who have experienced allergic reactions to report them to CSPI. If Quorn is toxic then, yes, it should not be sold. However, I can’t quite comprehend limiting the sale of a food simply because some people are allergic to it. Why not call for grocery stores to stop carrying peanut butter, soy, scallops, or any other common allergen?

Consumers should be aware that consuming Quorn may cause them to have an adverse reaction. They can make their own decisions from there. Unless there is more reason than this to believe that Quorn poses a significant risk, I say let the vegetarians eat their Quorn.


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Monsanto, GMOs, and a dose of condescention

I bit my tongue the other day when I was reading a deluge of tweets insulting people who were participating in the March Against Monsanto. I found the tweets offensive because they presumed that only farmers have the right to decide if genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are worthy of entry into the food supply. They also presumed that people who were marching against Monsanto were only concerned about GMOs and were ignorant of science. Someone actually said that, as long as you have enough to eat, you have no right to complain about or question the food system. Seriously? I think that we should question everything. As long as I’m putting food into my body I would like to feel confident that it’s safe, nutrient rich, and delicious. Of course, GMO is not the only concern when it comes to safety, the centralization of our food supply and the diminished capacity of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are probably more concerning to me. As is the declining number of farms and farmers across the country.

To be honest, I take exception to both extremes. My concern with Monsanto is that they force farmers to become reliant on them for seeds. Patenting seeds is terrifying to me. We should not be allowing one company to have so much control over our food supply. My concern with GMOs is that we don’t know what the long-term impact of their introduction to the ecosystem will be. We don’t know what effect these new plants and animals (so far just salmon has been applied for approval in Canada but we’ve seen other experimental animals around the world) will have on the other plants and animals. There could be serious implications for biodiversity. We also don’t know what the long-term implications of consuming these GMOs will be. Sorry if short-term mouse studies don’t convince me of the safety of these new foods for human consumption throughout our lives.

Okay, now for the other extreme. We have research conducted on tumour-prone mice intended to demonstrate that GMOs will give us cancer. Lots of photos like this:

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And this:

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No, that one’s no GMO, but the extreme anti-GMO camp tends toward chemophobia and seems to lack an understanding of the fact that everything is comprised of chemicals. So what that ants aren’t into the artificially sweetened candy. That must mean that it’s toxic. Except, there are many foods, including lots of vegetables, that ants would not recognize as food.

While I am clearly wary of GMOs, I don’t see attacking each other and dismissing arguments out of hand as beneficial to either side. It’s making me want to tune out both camps and start my own subsistence farm in a very isolated location.


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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

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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

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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.