As consumers of the great American cornucopia, we are told that some foods are good for us like fruits and vegetables. We are under the impression that some foods are bad for us such as foods high in fat, sugar, or salt. Even these simple generalizations are dubious. America uses more pesticide per acre of fruit and vegetable production than any other nation –yes, even Mexico and Chile. The reason is economic: Pesticide is expensive and American agribusiness can afford it. So don’t eat those peach skins! (According to the US Department of Agriculture, pesticide residues on peaches consistently exceed guidelines and average about twenty times the average of imported peaches.) The impressions we have on what’s unhealthy are often equally subject to qualification. Consider fats. Fatty acids are fats and are essential nutrients. The average adult needs about two tablespoons a day, that’s six teaspoons, folks –and the average adult intake is nowhere near that minimum daily requirement. Fatty acids are important for vision, healthy skin, and neurological health. One really can’t do without them –unless one thinks of macular degeneration and dementia as normal developmental milestones.
Hopefully as a food consumer you are informed about exogenous toxins, environmental diseases, and health. You know that agribusiness produces chickens are just bubbling-over with hormones and antibiotics. You know that if left to live beyond the usual two to three weeks to maturity, more than half these develop cancer and die, so hopefully you think twice before you gobble-down that supermarket chicken. We actually bought one last week in a moment of weakness at a big-box warehouse because, well, they look like chickens –but they sure don’t taste like chickens, as we found out when we tried to eat one for dinner. Hopefully you are informed (as above) about pesticides and when you can, you purchase organic foods or shop at Farmer’s Markets where you ask the farmer, “When was the last time you sprayed?”
Clearly one should avoid exogenous toxins to avoid the nasty consequences these contaminants have on cellular processes and lifespan. But what about foods you think are good for you?
Americans are misinformed or know far too little about foods that cause chronic and acute disease, aging, and cripple and shorten life. The misinformation is sustained by ignorance, a cultural attitude that amounts to “if it tastes good, it is good”, along with agribusiness press and public relations. Some of the worse foods are touted as “good for you”.
A study reported in the prestigious journal Science identifies how the fat globules in homogenized milk are micronized. The micronized milk passes directly into the blood stream without being subject to digestion. The micronized fat aggregates on the walls of arteries, arterioles, veins, and capillaries to compromise circulation and increase the likelihood of stroke, thrombosis, and heart attack. This scenario does not occur if you drink whole milk or non-fat milk.
Prepared Cereals, French Fries, Chips, Crackers, Breads and Potatoes cooked at high oven temperatures
A twice replicated Swedish study demonstrates that acrylamide is formed when high carbohydrate grains and vegetables are subject to high temperature cooking that occurs in frying and most baking. Acrylamide causes chromosomal damage and is a direct cause of cancer. The World Health Organization has set a daily maximum exposure at one microgram. When rats are fed a diet of French fries, they die of cancer. The molecular mechanisms of action by which acrylamide disrupts cellular function has been know for more than two decades. “Foods” laden with acrylamide are dangerous to your health and should carry a warning label.
In the Swedish study, potato chips have 1, 500 times the WHO recommended maximum; Rye Crisp, 1000 times the maximum; most prepared cereals (Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran), 300 to 1000 times the maximum; French fries, 1000 times the maximum. The amount of acrylamide in baked goods depends upon temperature and length of cooking. Whole grain breads usually have higher amounts of acrylamide because they are baked longer. For example, a serving of rye bread may have 200 times the WHO recommended maximum. Steamed or boiled high carbohydrate foods are free from acrylamide –and I am hoping the same is true for “slow cooked” and low temperature baked goods, baked at 250 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
In 2002, the World Health Organization and the United Nations organized a three-day meeting with scientists from all over the world to discuss the Swedish study. The Geneva meeting was closed to the press and outside observers. The meeting was closed because dissemination of the seriousness of the Swedish results could have an impact on food production and consumption that could disrupt agribusiness throughout the world. Currently, food producers and manufacturers are scrambling to find “acrylamide-free” methods of high-carbohydrate food preparation for chips, crackers, breakfast cereals, French fries, and most bakery goods. Since the meeting, study groups have been formed and “research” is ongoing. The FDA’s best advice for acrylamide and eating is that consumers adopt a healthy eating plan, consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and limits saturated fats,trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars. Parenthetically, the FDA apparently still recommends a type of diet, relatively unchanged since the 1980s, associated with increases in population obesity.
Partially Hydrogenated Fat
After decades of misinformation three years ago (2013), the FDA finally recommended against consumption of trans fats, yet you still may believe that margarine is better for you than butter. The American Cancer Society promulgated this view in the early 1960s with a landmark study that suggested that high cholesterol foods (including butter) increase the likelihood of heart attacks. The study followed a group of 42 subjects who had experienced a recent heart attack. Half the group was placed on a low cholesterol diet that included margarine as a replacement for butter. The other half followed their usual diet. At the end of two years, two persons in the usual diet group had heart attacks. What was not reported until more than two decades later was that six people on the low cholesterol diet developed cancer during the brief duration of the study, and none in the usual diet group.
Margarine, except for Spectrum brand made from palm oil, is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and partially hydrogenated oil is not a food element in humanity’s environment of evolution. Partially hydrogenated fat is produced from unsaturated vegetable oils, such as corn or safflower oils, or non-food oils, such as cottonseed, by percolation of free hydrogen through the oils. From a nutritional point of view, the result is a hybrid oil that is neither fully saturated nor unsaturated. The cells are engineered to deal with saturated and unsaturated fats, but partially hydrogenated fats operate within cells like a kind of Frankenstein monster. These fats belong to the class of trans-fatty acids that wreak havoc on cellular machinery, causing cascades of free radicals, and otherwise damaging or immobilizing cellular processes. Cancer is one derivative of trans-fatty acid mischief.
If you read the labels on what you buy at the food market, you might be led to believe that partially hydrogenated fat is a necessary nutrient. You find it in baked goods, candies and chocolates, and almost food products where fat might enhance flavor or taste. Do your body a favor and eat fully hydrogenated fats, like butter, or better yet, stick to monounsaturated or saturated vegetable oils, such as virgin olive and coconut oils.
Soy Protein, Soy Milk, and Soy Products
Soy is touted as a miracle protein beloved by health gurus and agribusiness alike. A great deal of misinformation exists about soy because soy is big business. About half of the US crop is genetically engineered, and so Monsanto, the chemical company, and Arthur Daniels Midland, the agribusiness cartel, have an enormous interest in conversion of soy from cow feed to human nutrient, to offset European rejection of GM food (Got to keep those profits on the rise, and the profit from soy as a protein food is enormous). These companies, and other interests, create non-profit “Institutes” that churn out pro-soy literature. Like other health gurus, I bought into the hype. I cringe when I think of all the soy burgers and tofu I consumed (I was a lacto-ovo-vegetarian for fifteen years, a lacto-ovo- fish-is-ok vegetarian for another five years, and predominantly Paleo non-vegetarian for the last year). At one time, I even adulterated my café late with soymilk.
My wakeup call about the effects of soy on health came from an epidemiological study completed at the University of Hawaii that followed the diets of several thousand men from midlife into old age. Early in the study, the effects of soy on mental function were evident. As few as two servings a week of tofu were associated with significant declines in memory and executive functions. Among this group, autopsies were performed on more than 250 subjects that showed significant loss of brain tissue: Their brains had actually shrunk (I can see the industry spin: Soy replaces psychotherapy!).
The pathways by which soy and soy products negatively impact on human health are multiple. Phytic acid binds with calcium, zinc, selenium, and other necessary minerals and renders them insoluble. Soy consumption is associated with mineral deficiency. Soy contains trypsin inhibitors that interfere with protein digestion and metabolism. Soy’s plentiful phytoestrogens impact upon the body’s hormonal balance with multiple negative effects noted in clinical studies on children, men, and women, such as growth inhibition, breast enlargement, and testicular shrinkage.
Whenever I voice concern about soy products, my friends always respond, “That’s not what my nutritionist says”, and since the corporate public relations campaign has been so effective, and the literature on soy’s negative effects constrained to specialized journals, at the conclusion of this post, I provide an abstract of one of the University of Hawaii papers.
Continuum of Health Effects
Maybe I ruined your day by relating to you this information. I know when I found out about soy and acrylamide, I felt miserable. I thought about the damage I’ve done (In my past life as a vegetarian I ate more than my share of rye crisp). Too late for that now, one must look to the future. Soy and partially hydrogenated fats I can live without, but crackers, I love crackers. But better I ruin your day than these foods ruin your life.
Some years ago I came across an invaluable concept in health and medicine. This is Pasamanik’s idea of a “continuum of reproductive effects”. I mention him because I really am borrowing his concept. There’s also a “continuum of health effects” from these harmful substances. Acrylamide doesn’t just cause cancer. Cancer is an end point on a continuum. In between are a myriad of non-specific effects that range from immune disorders to arthritis. The end point is only the end. Get the point?
Appendix: Abstract of Longitudinal Study of Aging and Soy Consumption
White L, Petrovich H, Ross GW, Masaki K. Association of mid-life consumption of tofu with late life cognitive impairment and dementia: The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study. Fifth International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, #487, 27 July 1996, Osaka, Japan.
“Tofu and other soybean foods contain isoflavones – three ringed molecules bearing structural resemblance to steroidal hormones and having significant estrogen agonistic or antagonistic activities apparently related to their interactions with estrogen receptors and/or with enzymes involved in estrogen metabolism.
There is evidence suggesting that estrogens modulate neural and synaptic plasticity during aging. Male neurons have both estrogen and androgen receptors. Further, an enzyme (aromatase) that converts androgens to estrogens has been demonstrated in the medial forebrain, limbic system, hippocampus, and hypothalamus.
It was hypothesized that men had consistently high dietary intakes of tofu during middle life would experience different patterns of cognitive decline and dementia in late life, compared with men reporting little or no tofu consumption.
The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study is a longitudinal study of aging and dementia conducted in Japanese-American men who are members of the Honolulu Heart Program cohort. Mid-life patterns of consumption of tofu and several other foods were defined on the basis of food frequency interviews conducted in 1965 and 1972. The Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument was administered to more than three thousand surviving participants aged 71-93 years during the 1991-93 examination cycle. DSM-HI-R, NINCDS-ADRDA, and California criteria were use for the diagnosis of dementia (all cause), AD and VsD.
We found an association of consistently high levels of tofu consumption in mid-life with low cognitive test scores (p=0.02) and (independently) with Alzheimer’s disease in late life, controlling for all other relevant variables. The odds ratio for AD in persons who reported eating tofu at least twice weekly was 2.4 (95% CI 1.14-5.09), compared with persons reporting tofu consumption rarely or never.”
The author, Leland van den Daele, is a teacher, psychologist, and psychoanalyst.