Monday, October 3, 2011

What to do about Food Chemicals Eaten in Small Amounts? @marionnestle #GardenCuizine

Chemicals in Health Foods

Sustainable > Garden > Organic > No matter how healthy you may try and eat, it’s practically impossible to avoid food chemicals. We live in a world surrounded by products and foods created by scientists and flavor chemists.
Food chemicals enhance or preserve food. Unless you grow your own, even plain and pure garden produce may be pretreated with chemicals to prevent sprouting and prolong shelf life. All food chemicals and additives are regulated. Some are considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA

GRAS list items by definition, are not considered food additives. And, not all GRAS list items are synthetic chemical flavorings or preservatives. Certain herbs, spices, seeds, essential oils and natural extracts are also listed.

Some food chemicals have become controversial to those seeking good health. Some ask, "Why doesn't the FDA ban all unhealthy chemicals?" Good question. I'd like to believe the science just doesn’t support that decision or they would. But, why did Canada declare BPA as a toxic substance last year? BPA is banned for use in baby bottles too, in both Europe and Canada. To me, this negates all the reassuring news reported by the American Chemistry Council that BPA has not been proven to be dangerous, not even to infants and children.  

This leaves it up to us to read product labels and eat foods containing chemicals of concern with discretion. The Center for Science and Public Interest recommends avoiding:
  • Sodium nitrite
  • Saccharin, Aspartame (Nutrasweet), Acesulfame-K
  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fats)
  • Potassium bromate
  • Olestra
  • Food Dyes
Not all food chemicals are bad. Among health practitioners, the general consensus is that the benefits outweigh the risks; especially, for those used as preservatives to prevent potentially dangerous microorganisms and bacteria.

Marion Nestle with a Ph.D. in molecular biology and a Masters degree in public health nutrition recently addressed this topic of food chemicals on her Food Politics blog. Rather than posting a long comment on her blog, you can read my comments here. My least favorite food chemicals include: food dyes, sodium benzoate and BPA (Bisphenol A).

Food Dyes

Food dyes have made health news with some studies that suggest an association with ADHD. My dislike for food dyes began while working as a pastry chef in a French Patisserie. Black was the worst. We would squeeze all colors together to create black when we needed it. Truly a color in frosting you want to avoid. Food dyes are added to foods you wouldn't expect too, like yogurts, salad dressings, snacks and cereals. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends avoiding food dyes, specifically ARTIFICIAL COLORINGS: BLUE 2, GREEN 3, ORANGE B, RED 3, YELLOW 5, YELLOW 6.

Sodium benzoate

Sodium benzoate (C7H5NaO2) does not occur naturally. It is made by the neutralization of benzoic acid with sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate, or sodium hydroxide. Its on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. A decade ago, even the World Health Organization admitted there was limited science supporting its safety. Sodium benzoate is added to many foods, including: soda, syrup, margarine, olives, relish, jams and jellies, liquid pectin, pie fillings, low fat salad dressings and ready-made fruit salads.

BPA (Bisphenol A)

Since the 1950's, Bisphenol A (BPA) has been used in many things, primarily as an epoxy resin on metal food cans and as an ingredient in popular polycarbonate plastics. Plastics include everything from trash bags to baby bottles, food storage containers and even Ball® brand canning lids (plastic seals) used in home canning of wholesome, pure and natural foods from the garden. 

Even though BPA has been reported not to accumulate in the body and biological metabolites are excreted within 24 hours, I think the majority of us would prefer to limit exposure to this endocrine disruptor.

Note: For those wanting BPA-free canning lids. I've seen at least one company who markets them. I did write a letter to Ball® (Jarden Home Brands) last month and have yet to get a reply addressing this public concern.

Shop Smart

The best course of action may be to consume fewer processed foods and not buy products you believe to be inferior. When people buy foods made with food chemicals of concern, it casts a “vote of support, I like it” to the makers. Without a slip in sales, companies using these questionable ingredients will never have reason to reformulate their products with healthier alternatives.
>>> Edited October 6, 2011 

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new state law October 4, 2011 banning the sale of any baby bottles or cups that contain more than 0.1 parts per billion Bisphenol A. Other states in the US have also moved to ban BPA.
Related Links:  
What to do About Food Chemicals Eaten in Tiny Amounts by Marion Nestle 
Chemical Cuisine Center for Science in the Public Interest 
Frequently Asked Questions About GRAS

Artwork: Synthesis of polycarbonate from bisphenol-A and phosgene courtesy Roland1952 Wikipedia Free Documentation License
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