Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Crazy Apples? Sanity Please!

A friend recently told me about “Crazy Apples“. It took me a little while to view their website as I can’t view flash sites on my phone and my laptop is so antiquated that I no longer have flash on it. Hopefully, you don’t have the same problems!

So… These apples are definitely crazy. They’re regular apples that have been flavoured with either bubble gum, pomegranate grape, or tropical blast. Somehow the flavour is inside the apple but they don’t inject them and they haven’t been genetically modified. It’s a “secret” as to how they get the flavour in there, and what exactly the flavour is made from (besides all natural vegetarian ingredients). I don’t know about you, but this makes me a little nervous. I like to know what’s going into my food and I don’t want an apple that’s been mysteriously flavoured to taste like something else.

Also, what’s wrong with apples anyway? There are over 8, 000 varieties of apples in the world. Surely, you can find one that your child will enjoy without it tasting like bubble gum. When did it happen that fruit wasn’t good enough just being itself? Are children that bored with regular apples that we have to serve them with caramel dips or turn them into other fruits? I think that we’re not giving kids enough credit. We’re the ones who are crazy if we start to think that foods aren’t good enough just being themselves.


What’s in your coconut milk?

I made an interesting discovery at the grocery store recently. I was buying coconut milk and in an effort to be frugal I thought that I should go with the cheapest brand. However, the cheapest brand looked a little sketchy and I decided to check the ingredient list to ensure that there was no added melamine. I was surprised at how many ingredients were in the coconut milk and decided to check-out all of the brands…

Considering the fact that I’m a dietitian and a pretty avid label checker I was both amazed at the number of ingredients in these coconut milks and ashamed that I was only just figuring this out after many years of grocery shopping. I also figured that there must be others like me who had never considered the possibility that coconut milk would consist of anything other than, well, coconut milk. I had thought that the “light” coconut milk might have some weird stuff, in reality it was a little better than some of the others (see bottom left photo) and simply had more water than coconut milk. Tip: if you want “light” coconut milk, buy the regular stuff and water it down, save yourself some money!

Exactly what are these added ingredients hiding in your coconut milk? Guar gum is a thickener made from a type of seed. It’s pretty common in foods, especially ice cream and it’s pretty harmless. Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose a synthesized thickener and stabilizer used in many foods. According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest it’s safe. However, I also found this Material Safety Data Sheet that made me rather wary. Polysorbate 60 is an emulsifier and is also supposedly safe in foods. However, use in cosmetics is restricted. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to eat something that might not be safe for me to put on my skin. Sulphites are used to prevent discolourization in foods. They can be dangerous to those with a sensitivity, and to those suffering from asthma.

While many of these additives are allegedly safe, to me that’s not the point. If I’m buying coconut milk I want coconut milk, not coconut milk and a bunch of other things to make it creamy and white. I’m perfectly capable of shaking the can before opening to emulsify it. Also, if you want to use the thick cream from the top of your coconut milk, you may be out of luck if it’s heavily emulsified and stabilized. Let this serve as a reminder to you to always read the ingredient lists on packaged foods, I know I will!

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Is your food killing you?

Sound the alarms! The Food Industry is Waging War on Your Cells With These 10 Toxic Ingredients. Talk about sensationalist headlines. Allegedly these ten common food additives are smothering your cells which leads to “cell mutation and the perfect breeding ground for cancer”. Oh dear, sounds horrific. But how much truth is there in this article? Let’s look at this top ten list of deadly food additives…

1. Sodium Benzoate. This is a type of salt frequently used to preserve packaged foods. In a few mice studies it lead to lower growth rates and weights but there was no evidence of carcinogenicity 1. Is it safe in large amounts? More than likely not. Is it safe in the amounts in which it’s present in foods? Probably. Before deciding if a food preservative is safe Health Canada has to weigh the risks and benefits. Would more people die from consuming foods with microbial contamination than would die from consuming sodium benzoate? Probably. If you’re really concerned about the presence of sodium benzoate in your food then you should be eating fewer pre-packaged foods. Verdict: not ideal but not a carcinogen. Recommendation: prepare more meals at home using fresh ingredients.

2. Canola oil. This is not identical to rapeseed oil (although it comes from the same plant) and does not have the same health risks as rapeseed oil. In fact, canola oil actually has a pretty decent mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acid profile 2. If genetic modification is a concern for you (I know that it is to me) organic varieties are available at most grocery stores. Verdict: not a carcinogen and not necessarily bad for you – of course it’s a fat so it’s high in calories. Recommendation: choose healthy oils and fats based on your cooking needs.

3. Monosodium Glutamate. Can I just skip this one? Evidence is inconsistent. Some people have reported adverse, allergy-like, reactions to consuming MSG but studies continue to show that it is safe for consumption 3. The purpose of MSG is to enhance the flavour of food. To me, that seems completely unnecessary. Verdict: Not necessary to avoid MSG if you are not sensitive to it. Recommendation: As it is an unnecessary ingredient do what you will with this information.

4. Sodium Nitrates. Okay, this one really is bad for you. I’ve written about it before… Verdict: Carcinogen. Recommendation: Avoid consumption whenever possible.

5. Margarine. Most margarines these days no longer contain trans-fat. This means that they’re not nearly as bad as they used to be. Personally, I prefer butter over margarine any day. Try to buy butter from grass-fed cows for the healthiest choice. Verdict: If you’re consuming a hard margarine with trans-fat then it’s a deadly choice (although not carcinogenic, just more likely to increase your risk of heart disease 4). If you’re consuming a soft-tub margarine without trans-fat then it’s not so bad. Recommendation: Go with your preference (non-hydrogenated margarine or butter) but remember that a little goes a long way.

6. Anti-foaming Agents (e.g. Dimethylpolysiloxalane). To be honest, I didn’t know anything about this one until I started reading this article. It’s a type of silicone which, according to the World Health Organization, is safe for consumption 5. What’s it used for? To prevent foaming when cooking foods like chicken nuggets in oil. I can’t find anything that says it’s bad for you but it really doesn’t sound all that fabulous. Verdict: Allegedly safe for consumption. Recommendation: Don’t eat chicken nuggets anyway! If you want chicken nuggets try making your own, baked in the oven without added dimethylpolysiloxalane.

7. Anti-caking Agents. These are used to help prevent powdered substances from clumping together. This is another one that I don’t know all that much about. According to the FDA, sodium aluminosilicate (one of these anti-caking agents) was approved as there was no reason to believe it would be any less safe than similar compounds which had been tested in mice 6. Looking into all this stuff is making me realise all the weird things that actually go into our food and how sketchy the approval system for these additives actually is. Verdict: I can’t find anything to say it’s a carcinogen but… Recommendation: Be cognizant of what’s in your food. Ask questions. Be a skeptic. Make most of your meals at home using fresh ingredients.

8. Artificial Colourings. Another contentious one. They may be safe, they may not be 7. They are being reviewed for their effect on behaviour problems in children. Verdict: The jury’s still out. Recommendation: Limit your consumption, especially limit consumption by your children.

9. Emulsifiers. These are used to stabilize foods, particularly fluids so fat will remain in suspension in say milk rather than separating out. Some of these may be okay, some of them may not. I’m not sure that any of them are actually carcinogenic though and to be perfectly honest, this post has taken up far more time than I had anticipated and I can’t be bothered to look all of them up. I did find an interesting article on carrageenan that presents both sides of the story. Verdict: Probably not carcinogenic but not necessarily great for you either. Recommendation: Look into additives you’re seeing on your labels. If you’re not confident in their safety try to choose another product that does not contain them.

10.  Artificial Sweeteners. Oh good, I’ve written about this one before too. Verdict: So far so good but I’m not 100% confident in their safety. Recommendation: You need to decide what’s most important to you: calorie reduction or flavour or confidence in safety. If calorie reduction is your goal try to forego sweeteners altogether.