Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Children of the Quorn


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.


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.


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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The Centre for Science in the Public Interest is an advocate for health and nutrition in both Canada and the US. They produce a monthly newsletter: Nutrition Action that provides information on the latest nutrition research and food products. The newsletter is a great launching point for delving into the wonderful world of nutrition and science for both health professionals and lay-persons alike who are concerned about health and nutrition.