Food Ingredients To Avoid

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Food and Health, Nutritiion

Food Ingredients to Avoid-Part 1: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

I have been getting a lot of questions lately about food ingredient labels. That’s because in today’s internet world everyone is an “expert” wanting to be heard. Couple that with the fact that old news is boring, and we have a problem. All of these experts have to keep coming up with information that is novel and scary. It doesn’t need to be true – just novel and scary.

food ingredients to avoidThe warnings about which food ingredients to avoid are a perfect example. A few years ago it was pretty simple to know which ingredients to avoid. If you avoided foods with sugar, refined flour, trans fats and all that artificial stuff, you were OK. However, in recent years the list of additives to avoid keeps getting longer and longer.

It has reached the point where it is getting really hard to find a food or food supplement that doesn’t have any of the ingredients on the “naughty list”. You may even be wondering if there is anything besides organic fresh fruits and vegetables that you actually can eat. How did we get to this point?

The answer is obvious. All the internet “experts” needed something new to warn us about so they took molehills and turned them into mountains. They took food ingredients that might cause a few problems for a limited number of people and characterized them as ingredients that were dangerous for everyone. Their posts were picked up and repeated by other “experts” and pretty soon everyone thought they had to be true. The warnings about food ingredients became what I call “urban nutrition myths”.

It is time for a myth buster to come along and help you sort through all of the ingredient warnings so that you know which ones are true and which are myths. That’s something I enjoy doing. Let me be your guide.

Which Food Ingredients Should You Avoid?

My “research” for this article began by Googling “Food Ingredients to Avoid” to see what was on the internet. Starting from the top of the list that came up on Google, here are the articles I found:

Men’s Fitness: “The 9 Scariest Food Additives You Are Eating Right Now “ (http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/avoid-these-9-worst-food-ingredients)

Waking Times: “20 Ingredients to Memorize and Avoid In Any Food You Consume (http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/03/04/20-ingredients-to-memorize-and-avoid-in-any-food-you-consume/)

Women’s Health: “7 Ingredients Nutritionists Always Avoid” (http://www.womenshealthmag.com/nutrition/avoid-these-ingredients)

Reader’s Digest: “4 Most Harmful Ingredients In Packaged Foods” (http://www.rd.com/health/diet-weight-loss/4-most-harmful-ingredients-in-packaged-foods/)

Huffington Post: “10 Of The Worst Toxic Food Ingredients” (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/17/worst-toxic-food-ingredients_n_3101043.html)

WebMD did not even weigh in on the issue of food ingredient warnings. Reader’s Digest and the Huffington Post included mostly the ingredient warnings that we have been hearing about for years. The other three articles included some of the newcomers to the ingredient warning list. By combining all 5 of those articles, I came up with 25 of the most frequently mentioned “dangerous” food ingredients to avoid and have divided them into 3 categories. I call them “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”.

This week I will help you identify the “good ones” – those food ingredients that are on many of the internet “naughty lists”, but are actually OK for most people most of the time. Next week, I’ll be back with the bad and the ugly lists.

Food Ingredients: The Good

good food ingredientsI would be the first to admit the using the word “good” as a descriptor for food ingredients is a bit of a misnomer. The word “good” should really be reserved for organic fresh fruits and vegetables along with other whole, unprocessed foods. Of course, the problem is that most of us don’t eat enough of those foods, so we need to know which ingredients in the processed foods and food supplements we eat are OK.

The list of food ingredients that are perfectly OK for most of us would be a long one, so let me just mention a few that have inadvertently slipped onto the online “naughty lists” that you may have seen.

GMO: Let me be perfectly clear. I am no fan of GMO foods, but ingredients derived from GMO foods are a very different story. I have covered this topic in detail in my previous articles “Should GMO Labeling Be Required For All Food Ingredients?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/gmo-labeling-required-food-ingredients/) & “Will Non-GMO Foods Be Less Nutritious?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/will-non-gmo-foods-be-less-nutritious/) and my webinar “The Truth About Genetically Modified Foods” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/videos/), so let me just summarize the key points here.

  • GMO foods and proteins derived from GMO foods can be a problem because of food sensitivities to the modified proteins. That risk is real, but is difficult to quantify.
  • All other food ingredients derived from genetically modified foods contain no genetic information or proteins. They are chemically & biologically indistinguishable from the same ingredients derived from non-GMO foods. Consequently, there are no health risks associated with these food ingredients.
  • I am aware of the recent internet chatter about the WHO declaring that Roundup can cause cancer. What is missed in these discussions is that Roundup is also approved for use just prior to harvest for non-GMO foods such as wheat and beans. That means that some non-GMO foods are more likely to be contaminated with Roundup residues than are GMO foods.
  • That just leaves the environmental issue. Roundup does break down relatively quickly in the environment, but I do have concerns about spraying tons of the stuff on our crops every year. However, I must acknowledge that many of my scientific colleagues do not share this concern, and they are not all in bed with Monstanto.

Soy: This is another topic I have covered extensively in my previous articles such as “Soy and Breast Cancer Recurrence” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/soy-and-breast-cancer-recurrence/) & “Soy and Breast Cancer” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/soy-breast-cancer/) and my video “The Truth About Soy” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/videos/). Once again, I will just give a brief summary.

  • The myths that soy consumption causes breast cancer or any other cancer, lowers testosterone levels in men and interferes with thyroid metabolism have been disproven by multiple clinical studies.
  • The idea that soy has to be fermented to be healthy is also a myth. Most soy products are processed in such a manner that the toxins in the soy bean are removed.
  • For ingredients made from soy such as soy lecithin, there are no health risks associated with sourcing them from GMO soy (see above). If you are consuming a soy protein product, however, I do recommend that you choose non-GMO soy.

CarrageenanCarrageenan: Carrageenan comes from seaweed and red algae. It has been used in foods for thousands of years because of its gelling properties. In the supplement world it is used to improve consistency and the disintegration of tablets.

There is a lot to like about carrageenan. It is natural, organic and non-GMO. Why then has it become an internet villain in the food ingredient world? The problem is that most of the internet “experts” who are vilifying carrageenan are not distinguishing between carrageenan and its breakdown product poligeenan. Here are the facts:

  • In some animal studies poligeenan at very high doses has been shown to cause diarrhea, hemorrhaging & ulcerations of the colon and even colon cancer. Not all animal studies agree, but this does raise the possibility that high doses of poligeenan might cause the same effects in humans.
  • Food grade carrageenan contains <5% poligeenan and does not raise the same concerns.
  • Food grade carrageenan does not cause gastrointestinal problems in most animal studies. Nor has it been shown to cause cancer in any animal study.
  • The FDA, USDA and WHO have reviewed all available studies and have concluded that food grade carrageenan is safe.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that carrageenan does not cause cancer.

Caramel Color: I won’t go into detail here, but the argument is similar to carrageenan. It is a minor impurity of caramel coloring that is the concern. However, caramel coloring itself should not be a concern for products made by any reputable manufacturer that employs rigorous quality control tests on their ingredients.

Canola Oil: Canola oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, especially the beneficial omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. In supplements it is primarily used as a source of healthy fats and to improve taste, aroma or texture. There are some legitimate concerns with canola oil, but they have been considerably overhyped. This is a perfect example of a molehill being turned into a mountain. Let’s look at the myths that are simply untrue and the facts that have been overhyped.

  • Myth #1: Canola oil contains the same toxins as the original rapeseed oil. Fact: The toxins found in rapeseed oil has been removed through conventional plant breeding. Canola oil is toxin free.
  • Myth #2: Canola oil is toxic in animal studies. Fact: When you look at those studies carefully they were either done with rapeseed oil or were done under conditions where almost any vegetable oil would have been problematic.
  • Fact #1: Canola oil is highly processed. That’s true, but so are most other vegetable oils. If you want a less processed oil, choose virgin olive oil. (Unfortunately, it is not found in many processed foods or food supplements – probably because of cost). Some experts recommend palm oil or coconut oil, but they have their own problems because of their high saturated fat content.
  • Fact #2: Most canola oil comes from GMO plants. That is true, but canola oil is a highly purified food ingredient. As described above, that means there are no health concerns from eating GMO canola oil, only a possible environmental concern.

Maltodextrin: Maltodextrin is a natural food ingredient made from enzymatically digesting starch. It is used as a stabilizer and thickener in foods. It is also combined with glucose and fructose in sports drinks to provide sustained energy.

  • Myth #1: The internet is filled with claims that maltodextrin causes gastrointestinal problems or that it is unsafe. There is very little evidence to back that up, and we need to consider those claims in light of the fact that we produce lots of maltodextrin in our intestines every day as we digest the starches in our diet.
  • Myth #2: “Maltodextrin is just another sugar. It is just another way for food manufacturers to hide the total amount of sugar in their products.” Maltodextrin is actually less sweet than most sugars. As described above, it is primarily added to foods for reasons other than to impart sweetness.
  • Fact: Most of the maltodextrin in the US does come from GMO corn. Once again, it is a highly purified food ingredient. As with canola oil that means there are no health concerns, only possible environmental concerns.

Just because these ingredients are on my “good list” doesn’t mean that they won’t cause problems for some people. Lots of people have food allergies. My dad, for example, was allergic to chocolate, which has to be one of the cruelest food allergies that someone could have. Sometimes food allergies can be quite severe. Just ask someone with severe peanut allergies what life can be like if they even come near a peanut.

My point is that any natural food or food ingredient can cause allergic reactions in some people. That doesn’t make them bad. It is just part of normal living.

Next week I will be back with “the bad and the ugly” food ingredients. Stay tuned.

 

The Bottom Line

If you were to believe everything you read on the internet about food ingredients that you should avoid, you could end up spending most of your day reading food labels and still find very few foods that you could eat. Some of those warnings are true, some are partially true, and some are mostly myths.

To help you sort through this confusing information I have identified the top 25 food ingredient warnings and have divided them into the good, the bad and the ugly. This week I covered the “good ones”.

The “good” are those food ingredients that are perfectly OK for most people, most of the time. Here are some examples (see the article above for a full explanation).

  • Soy: The supposed dangers of soy have been disproven by numerous clinical studies, but the myths persist. I do recommend that you choose non-GMO soy protein.
  • GMO: GMO foods and proteins are a concern, but purified food ingredients obtained from GMO foods pose no health risks. There are, however, possible environmental concerns due to the overuse of Roundup when those GMO foods were grown.
  • Carrageenan and Caramel Color: In this case it is contaminants rather than the food ingredients themselves that are the problem. As long as you choose a manufacturer who performs rigorous quality control tests on their ingredients, you need not be concerned about these ingredients.
  • Canola Oil, Maltodextrin and Soy lecithin: The supposed dangers of these food ingredients are myths. They are not backed up by credible clinical studies. However, they are generally derived from GMO foods, so there is a possible environmental concern.
  • Just because these food ingredients made my good list doesn’t mean they are OK for everyone. People can be allergic to certain food ingredients, just as they can be allergic to certain foods so for some, these can still be food ingredients to avoid.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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What Is The Planetary Diet?

Posted May 21, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is Your Diet Destroying The Planet?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Earth Day has come and gone, but you are still committed to saving the planet. You save energy. You recycle. You drive an electric car. But is your diet destroying the planet?

This is not a new question, but a recent commission of international scientists has conducted a comprehensive study into our diet and its effect on our health and our environment. Their report (W. Willet et al, The Lancet, 393, issue 10170, 447-492, 2019 ) serves as a dire warning of what will happen if we don’t change our ways. I touched on this report briefly in a previous issue of “Health Tips From The Professor,” What Is The Flexitarian Diet , but this topic is important enough that it deserves an issue all its own.

The commission carefully evaluated diet and food production methods and asked three questions:

  • Are they good for us?
  • Are they good for the planet?
  • Are they sustainable? Will they be able to meet the needs of the projected population of 10 billion people in 2050 without degrading our environment.

The commission described the typical American diet as a “lose-lose diet.” It is bad for our health. It is bad for the planet. And it is not sustainable.

In its place they carefully designed their version of a primarily plant-based diet they called a “win-win diet.”  It is good for our health. It is good for the planet. And, it is sustainable.

In their publication they refer to their diet as the “universal healthy reference diet” (What else would you expect from a committee?). However, it has become popularly known as the “Planetary Diet.”

I have spoken before about the importance of a primarily plant-based diet for our health. In that context it is a personal choice. It is optional.

However, this report is a wake-up call. It puts a primarily plant-based diet in an entirely different context. It is essential for the survival of our planet. It is no longer optional.

If you care about global warming…If you care about saving our planet, there is no other choice.

How Was The Study Done?

The study (W. Willet et al, The Lancet, 393, issue 10170, 447-492, 2019 ) was the report of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems. This Commission convened 30 of the top experts from across the globe to prepare a science-based evaluation of the effect of diet on both health and sustainable food production through the year 2050. The Commission included world class experts on healthy diets, agricultural methods, climate change, and earth sciences. The Commission reviewed 356 published studies in preparing their report.

 

Is Your Diet Destroying The Planet?

When they looked at the effect of food production on the environment, the Commission concluded:

  • “Strong evidence indicates that food production is among the largest drivers of global environmental change.” Specifically, the commission reported:
  • Agriculture occupies 40% of global land (58% of that is for pasture use).
  • Food production is responsible for 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of freshwater use.
  • Conversion of natural ecosystems to croplands and pastures is the largest factor causing species to be threatened with extinction. Specifically, 80% of extinction threats to mammals and bird species are due to agricultural practices.
  • Overuse and misuse of nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizers causes eutrophication. In case you are wondering, eutrophication is defined as the process by which a body of water becomes enriched in dissolved nutrients (such as phosphates from commercial fertilizer) that stimulate the growth of algae and other aquatic plant life, usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen. This creates dead zones in lakes and coastal regions where fish and other marine organisms cannot survive.
  • About 60% of world fish stocks are fully fished and more than 30% are overfished. Because of this, catch by global marine fisheries has been declining since 1996.
  • “Reaching the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming…is not possible by only decarbonizing the global energy systems. Transformation to healthy diets from sustainable food systems is essential to achieving the Paris Agreement.”
  • The world’s population is expected to increase to 10 billion by 2050. The current system of food production is unsustainable.

When they looked at the effect of the foods we eat on the environment, the Commission concluded:

  • Beef and lamb are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and land use.
  • The concern about land use is obvious because of the large amount of pasture land required to raise cattle and sheep.
  • The concern about greenhouse gas emissions is because cattle and sheep are ruminants. They not only breathe out CO2, but they also release methane into the atmosphere from fermentation in their rumens of the food they eat. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and it persists in the atmosphere 25 times longer than CO2. The single most important thing we can do as individuals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to eat less beef and lamb. [Note: grass fed cattle produce more greenhouse gas emissions than cattle raised on corn because they require 3 years to bring to market rather than 2 years.]
  • In terms of energy use beef, lamb, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs all require much more energy to produce than any of the plant foods.
  • In terms of eutrophication, beef, lamb, and pork, all cause much more eutrophication than any plant food. Dairy and eggs cause more eutrophication than any plant food except fruits.
  • In contrast, plant crops reduce greenhouse gas emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

 

What Is The Planetary Diet?

In the words of the Commission: “[The Planetary Diet] largely consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unsaturated oils. It includes a low to moderate amount of seafood, poultry, and eggs. It includes no or a very low amount of red meat, processed meat, sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables.”

When described in that fashion it sounds very much like other healthy diets such as semi-vegetarian, Mediterranean, DASH, and Flexitarian. However, what truly distinguishes it from the other diets is the restrictions placed on the non-plant portion of the diet to make it both environmentally friendly and sustainable. Here is a more detailed description of the diet:

  • It starts with a vegetarian diet. Vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, soy foods, and whole grains are the foundation of the diet.
  • It allows the option of adding one serving of dairy a day (It turns out that cows produce much less greenhouse emissions per serving of dairy than per serving of beef. That’s because cows take several years to mature before they can be converted to meat, and they are emitting greenhouse gases the entire time).
  • It allows the option of adding one 3 oz serving of fish or poultry or one egg per day.
  • It allows the option of swapping seafood, poultry, or egg for a 3 oz serving of red meat no more than once a week. If you want a 12 oz steak, that would be no more than once a month.

This is obviously very different from the way most Americans currently eat. According to the Commission:

  • “This would require greater than 50% reduction in consumption of unhealthy foods, such as red meat and sugar, and greater than 100% increase in the consumption of healthy foods, such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.”
  • “In addition to the benefits for the environment, “dietary changes from current diets to healthy diets are likely to substantially benefit human health, averting about 10.8-11.6 million deaths per year globally.”

What Else Did The Commission Recommend?

In addition to changes in our diets, the Commission also recommended several changes in the way food is produced. Here are a few of them.

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the fuel used to transport food to market.
  • Reduce food losses and waste by at least 50%.
  • Make radical improvements in the efficiency of fertilizer and water use. In terms of fertilizer, the change would be two-fold:
    • In developed countries, reduce fertilizer use and put in place systems to capture runoff and recycle the phosphorous.
    • In third world countries, make fertilizer more available so that crop yields can be increased, something the Commission refer to as eliminating the “yield gap” between third world and developed countries.
  • Stop the expansion of new agricultural land use into natural ecosystems and put in place policies aimed at restoring and re-foresting degraded land.
  • Manage the world’s oceans effectively to ensure that fish stocks are used responsibly and global aquaculture (fish farm) production is expanded sustainability.

What we can do: While most of these are government level policies, we can contribute to the first three by reducing personal food waste and purchasing organic produce locally whenever possible.

What Does This Mean For You?

If you are a vegan, you are probably asking why the Commission did not recommend a completely plant-based diet. The answer is that a vegan diet is perfect for the health of our planet. However, the Commission wanted to make a diet that was as consumer-friendly as possible and still meet their goals of a healthy, environmentally friendly, and sustainable diet.

If you are eating a typical American diet or one of the fad diets that encourage meat consumption, you are probably wondering how you can ever make such drastic changes to your diet. The answer is “one step at a time.”  If you have read my books “Slaying The Food Myths” or “Slaying the Supplement Myths,”  you know that my wife and I did not change our diet overnight. Our diet evolved to something very close to the Planetary Diet over a period of years.

The Commission also purposely designed the Planetary Diet so that you “never have to say never” to your favorite foods. Three ounces of red meat a week does not sound like much, but it allows you a juicy steak once a month.

Sometimes you just need to develop a new mindset. As I shared in my books, my father prided himself on grilling the perfect steak. I love steaks, but I decided to set a few parameters. I don’t waste my red meat calories on anything besides filet mignon at a fine restaurant. It must be a special occasion, and someone else must be buying. That limits it to 2-3 times a year. I still get to enjoy good steak, and I stay well within the parameters of the Planetary diet.

Develop your strategy for enjoying some of your favorite foods within the parameters of the Planetary Diet and have fun with it.

The Bottom Line

 

Is your diet destroying the planet? This is not a new question, but a recent commission of international scientists has conducted a comprehensive study into our diet and its effect on our health and our environment. Their report serves as a dire warning of what will happen to us and our planet if we don’t change our ways.

The Commission carefully evaluated diet and food production methods and asked three questions:

  • Are they good for us?
  • Are they good for the planet?
  • Are they sustainable? Will they be able to meet the needs of the projected population of 10 billion people in 2050 without degrading our environment.

The Commission described the typical American diet as a “lose-lose diet.”  It is bad for our health. It is bad for the planet. And it is not sustainable.

In its place they carefully designed their version of a primarily plant-based diet they called a “win-win diet.”  It is good for our health. It is good for the planet. And, it is sustainable.

In their publication they refer to their diet as the “universal healthy reference diet” (What else would you expect from a committee?). However, it has become popularly known as the “Planetary Diet.”

The Planetary Diet is similar to other healthy diets such as semi-vegetarian, Mediterranean, DASH, and Flexitarian. However, what truly distinguishes it from the other diets is the restrictions placed on the non-plant portion of the diet to make it both environmentally friendly and sustainable (for details, read the article above).

I have spoken before about the importance of a primarily plant-based diet for our health. In that context it is a personal choice. It is optional.

However, this report is a wake-up call. It puts a primarily plant-based diet in an entirely different context. It is essential for the survival of our planet. It is no longer optional.

If you care about global warming…If you care about saving our planet, there is no other choice.

For more details read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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