Triclosan in your personal care products?

Increased public fear of harmful germs has led to widespread use of consumer products advertised as “antibacterial.” One of  the most common antibacterial compounds is Triclosan — added to soaps, hand washes, and even toys and toothpaste, to slow the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mildew.

Unknown Triclosan is a synthetic organic chemical, specifically a chlorinated aromatic compound, 5-Chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorphenoxy)phenol. Triclosan was originally developed for hospital use, as a bactericidal surgical scrub for medical professionals. It was registered as a pesticide back in 1969. A similar compound, Triclocarban, is also used as an antimicrobial agent, particularly in bar soaps.

For the last thirty years, triclosan has been widely added to personal care products such as deodorant, antibacterial soap, hand soap, body wash, facial cleanser, toothpaste, mouthwash, acne cream, shaving gel, skin lotion, and some cosmetics, including foundation, bronzer and lipstick.  Triclosan is also added to home care products as diverse as cutting boards, mops, air filters, carpets and blankets. It is embedded in fabric, used in items of clothing such as socks and shoes. It is also added to plastic, where it can be found in toothbrushes, computer mouse pads, and even toys.

Dial_HandSoap_gold_lgFor example, Dial Gold Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap, shown to the left, lists Triclosan as the active ingredient — in order to achieve “the gold standard for antibacterial protection.” Note that other hand sanitizers do not contain triclosan, rather listing alcohol as the active ingredient.

For a more extensive list of individual products, see Products that Contain Triclosan. Read the labels of the products you purchase; triclosan should be listed as an active ingredient.

Controversy over Health Effects

Is Triclosan harmful? The health effects of triclosan are in dispute, but there’s little doubt that you have been exposed to triclosan in everyday products. In a 2004 study, CDC scientists detected triclosan in the urine of 75 % of of the 2,500 individuals tested. Other tests have found triclosan in blood and breast milk. 

triclosan-fact-sheetThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that, “Triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans.” But there are concerns that triclsan may be a endocrine disruptor — affecting hormonal levels of testosterone and estrogen, and it is suspected that it may affect thyroid function. Human studies are difficult; most of these studies have been undertaken on laboratory animals. For rats, long-term exposure to triclosan resulted in a decrease in thyroid hormones.

Researchers found that exposure to triclosan resulted in tadpoles with lower body weight and deformed limbs. In addition, triclosan may contribute to the antibody-resistant bacteria. It may also be associated with a weakening of the immune system, and may be linked to cancer cell growth, and decreased fertility. See the EPA Risk Assessment data sheet and Triclosan: What the Research Shows.

Residues of triclosan have been found in indoor dust samples. The compound is also washed down household drains to enter our sewage systems and waterways — where it can be spread throughout the environment, and enter the food chain. Triclosan has been shown to be toxic to phytoplankton and shrimp. Sediment samples from freshwater lakes across Minnesota tested positive for triclosan, as well as toxic chlorinated triclosan compounds — formed when triclosan undergoes a chemical reaction in wastewater treatment plants. Canada has declared triclosan toxic to the environment.

Due to increasing public pressure, some manufacturers are voluntarily eliminating triclosan from their products.  Companies such as Johnson and Johnson  and Proctor and Gamble have committed to reformulating their products to phase out triclosan. Minnesota recently issued a ban on personal care products containing triclosan — due to go into effect in 2017.

triclosan-regulationThe Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has long been involved in efforts to remove triclosan from the marketplace; in 2010 the NRDC sued the FDA to force it to take action. In fact the FDA originally proposed removing triclosan from certain consumer products back in 1978. Note that the chemical’s use in food and cosmetics is regulated by the FDA, while the EPA oversees its use in fabrics and sealants. The European Union banned the chemical from food and all products that come into contact with food.

Indeed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is revisiting the issue of triclosan’s safety, and under a new rule released in December 2013 the FDA will require manufacturers to provide evidence that the compounds triclosan and triclocarban are effective and not harmful to consumers.

A look at one product

colagate-total-triclosanLet’s zero in on one particular product: Colgate Total toothpaste contains 0.3% triclosan, which the company claims is helpful in fighting germs that can lead to plaque and gingivitis. Colgate’s international website advertises that its unique formula uses a copolymer to bind triclosan to the dental surface: “The Gantez copolymer enables Triclosan to continue working in the mouth for up to 12 hours. Without the copolymer, Triclosan would be rapidly lost form teeth and gums, reducing its clinical effect.” The Colgate-Palmolive Co stands by its product: “The safety of Colgate Total has been reviewed by the U.S. FDA and regulatory agencies in Europe, Canada and Australia, all of which have approved triclosan as a safe ingredient in Colgate Total.”

Most other toothpastes, such as Crest and Aqufresh are free of triclosan.

Colgate cited 80 clinical studies involving thousands of people, and at one time called Total “the most significant advancement in home dental care since the introduction of fluoride.” Triclosan was approved for use in Colgate Total back in 1997. Its 35 page application listed toxicology reports, only recently released by the FDA.  And yet, the FDA’s approval relied largely on company-funded research to demonstrate that the compound was safe for human use. Even so, the application showed images of fetal bone malformations in laboratory animals.

triclosanSee a timeline of this regulatory process and the article — Colgate Total Ingredient Linked to Hormones, Cancer Spotlights FDA Process — from Bloomberg News.

What can you do? 

Read ingredient lists, and try to purchase products that don’t contain triclosan or triclocarban. Avoid antimicrobial and antibacterial products, wherever possible.  Note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finds no evidence that antibacterial washes help stop the spread of germs, as compared to washing with soap and warm water. But note that you need to wash and scrub your hands for 24 seconds to reliably remove microbes from the surface.

Follow-up:

EPA Triclosan Facts

Triclosan: What the Research Shows

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From Apples to Skittles: Wax on your food

What about food waxes?

apple-waxSome fruit such as apples and plums produce their own natural waxy coating, called the cuticle, to help retain moisture and to form a barrier to prevent microorganisms from entering the fruit. About half of this natural wax is removed when produce is washed and scrubbed to remove dirt and chemical residues. Prior to packaging, food processors often apply wax to the surface of produce.

These commercial waxes are routinely applied to many fruits and vegetables to help preserve and protect them during shipping and storage. These waxes help prevent moisture loss, limit bruising and spoilage, improve appearance, inhibit mold growth, and extend shelf life. Aesthetics matter in the marketplace; consumers are drawn to shinier, glossier produce. Dyes may also be added to improve appearance.

Foods commonly waxed include: apples, oranges, tangerines, lemons, peaches, bananas, melons, avocados, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, turnips, cassava and potatoes. Waxes are typically applied by dipping, brushing or spraying the produce. The amount of wax applied is small, perhaps a drop or two per item.

cuties 1These waxes are edible; they must meet U.S. Food and Drug (FDA) regulations for food additives, and have been declared safe for human consumption. Produce that has been so treated must be labeled. Signs may read: “Coated with food-grade vegetable, beeswax, or lac-based wax or resin to maintain freshness.”

These waxes are typically esters of fatty acids combined with long-chain alcohols. Some of these coatings are synthetic (petroleum-based), while others are natural. These include: vegetable (from sugar cane or soy), as well as carnauba (from carnauba palm leaves), or bayberry wax (from bayberry fruit). Others originate from insects: beeswax and shellac (from the female lac beetle). Organic produce will not be coated with synthetic waxes, but may include shellac or carnauba wax.  These are the waxes most commonly applied to apples. The waxy coating is typically not visible, but may turn white if the produce has been subjected to excessive heat and/or moisture. 

Note that these waxes are not digestible by humans. We lack the ability to break down or absorb these waxy compounds.

The FDA does not recommend using detergent to remove wax. “FDA recommends washing fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. FDA does not recommend the use of soap, detergent, or commercial produce washes” — according to the FDA’s website. However, you can use a 50-50 mixture of vinegar and water to remove the wax. Of course, the surest way to remove wax is to peel the fruit.

SkittlesSome snack foods and candies, such as M&Ms, Skittles, Gobstoppers, Fruit Chews, Tic Tacs and Good ‘n Plenty are also coated with carnauba wax — which gives them a glossy finish.

Carnauba Wax

Called the “Queen of Waxes,” as well as Brazil wax and palm wax, carnauba wax comes from the leaves of the tropical palm, Copernicia prunifera (copernica cerifera), native to Brazil. It is a complex mixture of aliphatic (waxy) esters, hydroxyl esters and cinnamic aliphatic diesters, along with free acids, free alcohols, hydrocarbons and resins.

It is also used in shoe polishes, furniture polish, automobile wax, and a coating for dental floss. Carnauba wax is widely used in the pharmaceutical industry to coats pills, and make tablets easier for patients to swallow. The coating adheres because the wax is insoluble in water. It is also the hardest of the commercial vegetable waxes.

Carnauba wax is used in the cosmetic industry in mascara and eye liner. It imparts the gloss to lip gloss and lipstick. Making Cosmetics labels it a “Non-gelling thickener, viscosity and consistency enhancer (provides good texture and stability due to high melting point), emollient and moisturizer, good skin protectant properties.” Its high melting point allows lipstick to resist melting, particularly if left in your purse in a hot car.

carnauba-wax-cosmeticsFor those who make their own cosmetics, carnauba wax is even available on Amazon, where it is advertised: “Natural thickener with softening effect.”

Safety Issues

The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) reaffirmed the safety of carnauba wax at current usage levels, with its toxicity within the margins generally classified as No Observed Adverse Effect Levels (NOAELs). Their Scientific Opinion states: “The panel considered that carnauba wax would be predicted to not be significantly absorbed from the diet and that if hydrolyzed its main constituents could be absorbed and incorporated into normal cellular metabolic pathways. Based on the available data nd the lack of structural alerts on carnauba wax it was concluded that there is no concern for genotoxicity for carnauba wax. Subchronic and reproductive and developmental toxicity studies did not show adverse effects related to carnauba wax intake. No chronic toxicity or carcinogenicity studies were available on carnauba wax.” No data was obtained with respect to allergenicity, hypersensitivity, or intolerance. The ESFA concluded, “Overall the Panel concluded that long-term toxicity data on carnauba wax were lacking and therefore did not establish and ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake).”

carnauba-wax-safetyAnd yet, the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for carnauba wax lists the product as “Very hazardous in case of ingestion”. No doubt this was determined for lab rats who ingested substantial quantities of carnauba wax. But note that data for carcinogenic effects, mutagenic effects, teratogenic effects and developmental toxicity are listed in Section 3 as “Not available.”

What exactly is an Acceptable Daily Intake? How much carnauba wax might a person ingest in a year? There seems to be little data on long-term toxicity for carnauba wax.

 Best ways to wash produce

Wax can be removed from fruits and vegetables by washing in warm water and scrubbing with a brush. A study by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station indicated that friction was more important than water temperature in removing residues.  Produce with nooks and crannies such as broccoli or cauliflower or lettuce should be soaked in clean cold water for several minutes. For more about washing produce, see Food Safety Facts.

There are commercial washes such as Fit Fruit & Vegetable Wash — which claims to be 100% Natural and able to “remove 98% more pesticides, waxes, people-handling residues and other contaminants vs. washing with water alone.” The ingredients include Purified Water, Oleic Acid, Glycerol, Ethyl Alcohol, Potassium Hydroxide, Baking Soda, Citric Acid, and Distilled Grapefruit Oil. Fit is available as a spray bottle and soaking solution. Instructions call for the consumer to spray the solution to completely cover the produce, rub for one minute (or let sit for 2 to 3 minutes), then rinse under running water. For produce with irregular surfaces — such as broccoli or cauliflower — it is recommended to soak the items in diluted Fit for 2 to 3 minutes, then rinse.

FDA-wash-produceAre these products necessary? The FDA’s website states: “Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. this includes produce grown conventionally or organically at home, or purchased from a grocery store or farmer’s market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap or detergent or using commercial produce washes is not recommended.”

Personally, I keep a spray bottle of 50-50 water and vinegar handy for washing fruits such as apples.

 

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Added Fiber…..it’s often Wood Pulp

With our busy, bustling lives, it’s always tempting to choose convenience. My kids love to make quesadillas and burritos, so sure, I often keep a package of shredded Mexican cheese in the refrigerator.

cheese-cutIf I grate my own cheese, it does tend to clump. What keeps those packaged strands of shredded cheese from sticking together? Powdered wood pulp. You’ll find it listed in the list of ingredients as “powdered cellulose.” Kraft claims that cellulose makes up less than 1% of its shredded cheese. Its purpose: to replace fat and prevent clumping by keeping cheese moist. A more natural product that is sometimes used in shredded cheese is potato starch. Even organic brands come with cellulose. For example, see the ingredients listed for Organic Valley Shredded Mozarella Cheese.

In fact, Cellulose is one of the most commonly used food additives — used to thicken or stabilize foods. It adds creaminess to low fat ice cream, non-dairy creamer or sour cream. It imparts the “mouth feel” of fat, the stickiness of salad dressing. ( See an article in the Wall Street Journal: Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier.) Cellulose adds structure and firmness to baked goods, and contributes fiber to processed white bread. It is used to prevent clumping of powdered drink mixes and spice mixtures. Cellulose helps retain moisture, keeping foods from seeming dry. It is bland, tasteless and inexpensive — seemingly the perfect ingredient for the food processing industry. If you see the words “Lower fat” or “Added fiber” it’s probably got cellulose. Not just on your grocery shelves….cellulose is found in many foods at fast food restaurants.

Beyond shredded cheese, cellulose is found in crackers and cakes, pizza sauce and barbecue sauce, biscuits and cookies, maple syrup and frozen waffles. See: Fifteen Food Companies that Serve You Wood. Here’s a sampling of food products that commonly contain cellulose:

cheese 2Mission Whole Wheat Torillas (ingredient list  in photo to the right)

Aunt Jemima Original Syrup

Eggo Blueberry Waffles

Weight Watchers Ice Cream Sandwich

Duncan Hines Red Velvet Cake Mix

Fiber One Chewy Bars

McDonald’s McFlurry

Fiber One Cereal

Mararoni-cheeseKraft Macaroni and Cheese

Nestle Hot Cocoa Mix

 A Versatile Additive

Cellulose is nearly a miracle food for the food processing industry. Did I mention that it was cheap? Among the many functions cellulose serves:

  • Fiber Supplement: Food processing removes the fiber from foods, so cellulose is used to add fiber back in to foods such as white bread or muffins.
  • Calorie Reducer: Cellulose adds bulk and volume to diet foods without adding calories or fat.
  • Thickener:  Since cellulose is water soluble, it is used to thicken drinks and soups.
  • Emulsifier: Cellulose is added to emulsify sauces, preventing water or oil from separating from the other ingredients.
  • Shredded-cheeseAnti-caking Agent: Cellulose prevents spices, powdered drinks and shredded cheese from sticking together.
  • Filler: Cellulose serves as a replacement for more expensive ingredients, including oil, sugar, or flour.
  • Foaming agent: Cellulose supports the formation of foam or air bubbles in food.
  • Stabilizer: Cellulose helps maintain a uniform consistency of a food product.
  • Glazing agent: Helps give food a shiny appearance or a protective coating.
  • Shelf-life extender: Cellulose adds to the shelf life of many food products.
  • Coating: Cellulose helps prevent oil absorption during frying.
  • Control ice crystal growth: Cellulose helps maintain “a homogeneous state during freeze/thaw cycles.
  • Filler: Cellulose is used as a filler or fiber additive to meat products such as burgers or meatballs.

Not just for foods, cellulose is also used as a coating or binding agent for pharmaceuticals, as well as a thickening agent in personal care products, and a packaging film. For instance, microcrystalline cellulose is found as an inert ingredient in acetaminophen and hydrocodone.

 Chemistry of Cellulose

celluloseChemically, cellulose is a complex carbohydrate, specifically a long chain of linked sugar molecules or polysaccharide. Cellulose is the building block that gives plant cells their structure, and it is considered the most abundant organic compound on the planet. It typically comes form wood pulp, but may also come from cotton, bamboo or other plant materials. The plant matter is crushed and treated with hot water and chemical enzymes to break it down.

Cellulose is modified to obtain different functional properties. Microcrystalline cellulose is made by the hydrolysis of cellulose, while carboxymetheylcellulose is obtained by reacting cellulose with chloroacetic acid. Cellulose comes in several forms with slightly different textures and moisture contents:

1) Powdered Cellulose, used for anti-caking applications,

2) Microcrystalline cellulose (listed as MCC or cellulose gel),

3) Carboxymethyl cellulose or cellulose gum.  These last two forms, the cellulose gum and gel are hydrated forms, commonly used in yogurt, ice cream or sauces.

Cellulose may be sold under the trade names Abicel, Avicel, Cellex MX, Arbocel, Jelucel, or Hypromellose.

Is it Healthy?

The FDA sets no limits on the amount of cellulose that can be added to food, categorizing it as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). There are no known health problems with consuming cellulose. The only legal limitation is 3.5% for cellulose fillers added to meat.

Feta-cheeseIn the diet, cellulose is indigestible, because we lack the enzymes to break it down. Therefore it contributes neither energy nor nutrients. Cellulose is considered dietary fiber — it adds bulk and fiber without adding fat or calories. Adults males are advised to consume at least 38 grams of fiber daily; women should intake at least 25 grams.

Of course fiber is good for you. So what’s wrong with getting fiber from cellulose? There are better sources of fiber: beans, broccoli, raspberries, blackberries, avocado, as well as whole wheat grains or flaxseed. Tastier, healthier, digestible….and they don’t come from wood pulp.

In addition, the processing of cellulose “is either highly polluting or energy consuming.

Cellulose fiber may not be toxic…but it’s definitely not food.

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Bread: Sorting through a multitude of choices

Bread-aisle-groceryMy college daughter called, via cell phone, as she strolled the grocery store to ask which type of bread she should buy. A simple question, but surprisingly difficult to answer. The bread aisle can seem overwhelming, with an abundance of choices. Our ancestors baked basic concoctions of flour, yeast, salt and water, with a bit of sugar to activate the yeast. Now bread is more “interesting,” but not necessarily healthier.

Grocery shelves are stacked with breads offering whole wheat, 100% whole grain, cracked wheat, seven grain, twelve grain, multigrain, stone ground, and enriched bread. Products may be advertised as “heart healthy,” gluten-free, “100% natural,” “with double fiber,” “containing flax and grains,”or “made with whole grain”.

I grew up in the Midwest eating sandwiches of white, processed bread. Few choices were available.  Much later, I lived in Paris for a year, and got used to the smells of fresh-baked bread from the local boulangerie. There are healthy choices available in your grocery store, but you have to know what to look for.

Processed vs Whole Grain Wheat 

wkernel2Let’s look inside a grain of wheat. There are three parts to a wheat kernel (also called a wheat berry). The hard outer covering is called bran; it is high in fiber and nutrients, as well as essential fatty acids. The majority of the kernel consists of endosperm, rich in carbohydrates and protein. The inner core of the kernel is the “germ,” rich in nutrients. This germ is the part that sprouts to grow a new plant.

This is the key difference: Whole grain products contain all three parts of the kernel (bran, endosperm and germ), whereas processed white bread is made from the starchy endosperm only.

Most wheat originates from red wheat, though you may encounter “white whole wheat” — made from albino wheat, which has a milder texture and taste. 

When wheat is refined, the kernel is pulverized; the bran and germ are stripped away, leaving only the endosperm. Processing removes the natural fiber to create the uniform palatable texture of refined (white) bread products. Protein and nutrients, such as B vitamins, have also been removed.

Nutritionists widely advise adding more whole grains into our diet for better health. Whole grains contain digestive fiber, proteins, essential B vitamins, along with minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. They are low in fat and free of cholesterol. Consumption of whole grains is correlated with lower levels of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and colorectal cancer, as well as better digestive health. Soluble fiber in whole grain helps lower cholesterol levels. Plant estrogens, known as phytoestrogens, may offer protection against some cancers.

Deconstructing the Labels

* “Wheat flour” is a term used to disguise white flour; it typically contains 25% whole wheat and 75% white flour.

* “Unbleached enriched wheat flour” is another term for refined flour.

* Multigrain bread is made from a mix of different flours; this doesn’t mean that whole grains have been used. Grains may include oats, wheat, buckwheat, barley, millet and/or flax.

Milton-bread

* “Stone ground” doesn’t mean whole wheat. Nor does “Crushed Wheat” or  “Cracked Wheat.”

CrushedWheat

* “Bakery fresh” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. Bakery products may be made from refined flour. Check the ingredients

* Products labeled “enriched” have simply had some of these nutrients added back in. B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin) and iron are used to enrich white flour.

* Breads with “double fiber” have been enriched with bran, oats, soy, cottonseed, cellulose (wood pulp filler), or inulin, a prebiotic fiber from the chicory plant.

Double-fiber-bread

* “Light bread” may contain lower fat content — or it may have a lower calorie count because it is sliced thinner. Water is usually the first ingredient. They are usually made with processed flour and high fructose corn syrup. Light doesn’t mean healthy.

Light-bread

* “Sprouted bread” is made from grains that have sprouted or germinated. During this process, enzymes are released which break down proteins and carbohydrates, which makes them easier to digest. These products, such as Ezekial breads, are typically refrigerated; they are highly nutritious, and free of artificial additives.

Ezekial-bread-ingredients

 

* Brown bread is usually made with whole wheat; it may also contain dark-colored ingredients such as molasses, cocoa, coffee, wheat germ, or raisins.

* “Gluten-free” bread has no gluten — protein from wheat, rye or barley. Brown rice flour or corn flour may be used instead.

* “All bran” is not whole grain — it uses only the bran part of the wheat kernel.

Daily-bread* “Organic bread” must contain at least 95% organic ingredients by weight, as compared to “made with organic ingredients” (70% organic ingredients) and natural (minimally processed).

* See  an extensive evaluation of the ingredients in bread in the report A Closer Look at What’s in Our Daily Bread, from The Organic Center.

What you should look for

Read the list of ingredients, which by law must be listed in order of decreasing abundance in the product.

1. Buy breads that are “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.” The first ingredient listed should be “whole wheat flour.” Not “wheat flour” or “enriched bleached flour,” or “unbleached enriched flour.”

Note that many whole wheat breads (such as the Orowheat 12 Grain) list “whole grain wheat” as the first ingredient, but  “unbleached enriched wheat flour” as the second ingredient. Remember that wheat flour is not whole grain.

Orowheat

2. Look for breads that don’t list sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup as the second or third ingredient. Some sugar is needed to activate yeast, and molasses or honey may be added to enhance the sweetness of whole wheat bread.

SaraLee

3. Look at the nutritional content. A single slice should generally contain about 100 calories, at least 2 grams of fiber, and less than 200 mg of sodium.

4. Color may be deceptive. Molasses, beta-carotene, caramel, coffee, cocoa, or artificial colors may be added to make the bread appear browner and healthier. Even this dark pumpernickel bread has been artificially colored — and made from enriched wheat flour.

Pumpernickel-bread

5. Squeeze it (gently!). If the bread is overly soft, it’s probably not the best choice. Denser breads generally contain whole grains.

6. Look for additives…

And now for something extra

Bakers may add a range of ingredients to enhance flavor, texture, shelf life and/or fiber. These may include:

- Added favors: nuts, berries, seeds, dried fruits, or flax seeds enhance flavor and texture.

- Sweeteners include Sugar, molasses, honey, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners such as sucralose.

bleachedvsunbleached1- Flour bleaching agents are added to make bread appear whiter. These may include calcium peroxide, benzoyl peroxide, chlorine oxide, or azodicarbonamide. Read more about the health consequences of bleaching flour. The ground endosperm is processed with a chlorine gas bath (chlorine oxide) to oxidize and whiten the flour. The chemical alloxan is produced as a byproduct — this chemical is associated with diabetes and hyper-glycemia in lab animals.

Azodicarbonamide, also known as ADA,  was in the news as the “yoga mat chemical” — a foaming agent which gives plastics their buoyant quality. The Subway chain of restaurants recently removed ADA from their bread products.

RomanMeal

- Dough conditioners are used to improve the texture and speed the processing of bread. These include monoglycerides and diglycerides, ammonium chloride, sodium stearoyl lactylate, DATEM (Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Ester of Mono and Diglycerides), lecithin, and calcium salts. Avoid any breads with bromated flour.

DoughConditioners

- Powdered cellulose (virgin wood pulp) may be used as a filler in breads to add fiber. It is found in products such as tortillas and Fiber One Ready-to-Eat Muffins. See 15 Food Companies that Serve you ‘wood’.

Cellulose-bread

- Preservatives may added to increase shelf life. These include:  calcium propionate, and natamycin.

CalciumPropionate

- Artificial dyes may include caramel coloring, beta-carotene, or Yellow #5 or #6.

What does this leave?

The basic problem is that bread should be consumed soon after baking. In order to manufacture it on a large-scale, transport it, and give it an extended shelf life, bread is processed with dough conditioners and packed with preservatives and other questionable ingredients, including DATEM, calcium peroxide, azodicarbonzmide, and potassium bromate.

Some recommended bread products can be found on the website Food Facts, as well as Food Babe’s blog. These include Ezekial Sprouted Grain Bread, Spelt Ancient Grain Bread, and Good Seed Spelt Bread. Another excellent choice is Dave’s Killer Bread — made with organic whole wheat, sweetened with cane syrup and molasses. No preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or dough conditioners.

Healthy-Bread-ingredients

Consumer choices

We’ve concentrated on wheat products. Other whole grains include: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rye, oats, titricale, wild or brown rice. Less common varieties of wheat include bulgur, kamut and spelt.

61A3fHBpo3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_If you have the time or inclination, there are excellent recipes for crafting your own breads at home. For example, see the Five Minute Artisan Bread recipe, or the many recipes for using home bread machines.

A wealth of choices await you at the grocery store or your local bakery. Appearances are deceptive. Breads that are labeled “Healthy Multigrain” may be baked from enriched bleached flour.

Sorting through them begins with reading the list of ingredients, and exercising your power as a consumer to make the healthiest decisions for you and your family.

 

 

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What is the risk? Is it safe to eat raw eggs?

What is the real risk of consuming raw eggs? As kids we licked spoons coated with batter left over from making cookies. Some body-builders swear by protein shakes blended with uncooked eggs — as Sylvester Stallone memorably demonstrated in the 1976 movie Rocky. Yet, the fear of bacterial infection is real, though quite small, and there are ways to minimize it.

DSCN1059Salmonella enteritidis is a type of bacteria that is the most common culprit in food poisoning cases in the United States. The bacteria can be found on both the inside and outside of eggs. Eggs can become contaminated two ways: 1) internally from the reproductive tract of a hen infected by salmonella, or 2) externally due to contact with salmonella-infected soil, feces or unwashed hands. Egg shells are porous, and micro-organisms can cross the shell boundary.

However, the risk of an egg being contaminated with salmonella is extremely low. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that perhaps 1 in 20,000 eggs, 0.005%, may be internally contaminated — this is five one-thousands of one percent.

If eggs are eaten raw or undercooked, this bacterium can cause Salmonella poisoning , also called salmonella enteritis, or salmonellosis — which usually manifests as a fever, coupled with abdominal cramps, diarrhea and/or vomiting. Symptoms typically appear within 12 to 72 hours of consuming contaminated eggs, and may last four to seven days. Most individuals recover without treatment. In severe cases, the infection may spread to the blood, then to the rest of the body, requiring hospitalization and treatment with antibiotics.

The elderly and young are particularly susceptible to salmonella poisoning, as are pregnant women and those with suppressed immune systems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that there are 142,000 cases of salmonella poisoning each year.

To wash or not wash? Refrigerate or not refrigerate?

Egg-washEven if the egg did not originate from a hen infected with salmonella, it may have come in contact with the bacteria through manure or feces. In the United States, it is standard USDA practice to wash chicken eggs in warm water with mild detergent and then treated with a chlorine sanitizer. This sounds like a logical step, and yet, in Europe, it is actually illegal to wash and sanitize eggs. The EU maintains that washing removes the egg’s natural wxy cuticle coating, which provides a natural barrier to bacteria and pathogens. Some U.S. producers spray the washed eggs with a thin layer of colorless mineral oil.

Eggs sold in the European Union (EU) are not required to be refrigerated prior to sale, as EU regulations maintain that chilled eggs left at room temperature could be covered in condensation — and this moisture could facilitate bacterial growth. Research by the National Institute of Health showed that for eggs infected with salmonella, storage at room temperature for up to two weeks had no significant effect on the growth of bacteria; after twenty-one days, bacteria contamination of unrefrigerated eggs was pronounced.

Another difference is that British producers vaccinate their hens against salmonella; only a small percentage of American producers vaccinate.

Note that eggs purchased from grocery stores may already be one to three weeks old.

To cook or not cook?

Digesttibility-raw-eggsSome fitness pros believe that there is more bioavailable protein from an uncooked egg — hence their inclusion in protein shakes. In fact, the data suggests the opposite. A 1998 study by Belgian physiologists determined that 94% of the protein is digested for cooked eggs, versus 55 to 64% of the protein for raw eggs. In fact, you’d be better off eating a hard boiled egg with your protein. 

According to an article on Bodybuilding.com, “Some older athletic diets used to propose eating just raw eggs. This is a foolish attempt at taking in additional protein. Eating raw eggs (or raw egg whites) will only result in about 50% absorption of the available protein. That means that if you eat enough raw eggs to give you 40 grams of protein, your body will only absorb 20 grams. Eating just raw egg whites results in the same (or worse). Egg whites have a huge amount of a substance called ‘avidin,’ which loves biotin. As a matter of fact, once the avidin-biotin forms a bond, the body can’t break it apart. So y ou will develop a partial or full Biotin Deficiency Syndrome. Cooking your eggs (or egg whites) will quickly denature the protein avidin and will allow you to absorb 90% of the protein. In short, always cook your eggs.”

Catching-Fire-cookingPrimatologist Richard Wrangham further explores the health benefits of cooking food in his book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, arguing that our evolutionary success is, in part due to our shift to using fire to cook food.

Reasonable Precautions

To prevent the risk of salmonella infection, purchase eggs from a refrigerated case, and dispose of any cracked or dirty eggs. At home, eggs should be kept refrigerated at ≤ 40° F (≤ 4° C).  Eggs should be thoroughly cooked, to a temperature of at least 160° F, until the yolk and white are firm. Note that sunny side up eggs and eggs over easy do not attain this minimum temperature. Casseroles and other egg dishes should also be cooked to a temperature of 160° F (72° C). Eat immediately, or refrigerate any leftovers. Obviously, wash hands and kitchen surfaces after contact with raw eggs or chicken.

Salmonella outbreaks often occur in restaurants, where large quantities of eggs are mixed and left at room temperatures for extended periods. One bad egg can literally spoil the whole bunch.

51Uv0c16uMLDishes that call for raw eggs — such as Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, homemade ice cream and eggnog — should be made with pasteurized eggs. Most eggs are not pasteurized, but some are labeled “Pasteurized Shell Eggs” – these eggs have been treated to a temperature sufficient to destroy Salmonella bacteria. The patented process that allows eggs to be pasteurized in their shells (without cooking the egg), involves immersing the eggs in warm water paths for set time periods. Pasteurized eggs are more expensive, but just as nutritious; they are safe to use in smoothies, or undercooked in sunny side up eggs…or if you wish to lick the spoon from your cake or brownie mix.

New safety regulations went into effect in 2010 for egg producers having 50,000 or more egg-laying hens; in 2012 these regulations expanded to medium-scale producers (3,000 to 50,000 hens). These regulations require preventative measures involving testing and monitoring of hens, rodent control, and the use of refrigeration during egg storage and transportation.

Theoretically, organically grown eggs should have a lower incidence of salmonella, since chickens are not kept in tightly packed conditions where diseases can easily spread. Statistically, this seems to be supported by data: larger commercial producers have a higher incidence of bacterial infections. Read this article for an argument for buying eggs from Farmer’s Markets.

Not just eggs: Outbreaks of salmonellosis have been attributed to consumption of chicken, pork, raw milk and cheese.The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that one in eight broiler chickens was contaminated with salmonella. Poultry should be thoroughly cooked, to an internal temperature of 165° F (74° C).

salmonellosis-symptoms-raw-eggsSalmonellosis can also arise from fruits and vegetables such cantaloupe, tomatoes, raw almonds, spinach, lettuce, and alfalfa sprouts – largely due to bacterial contamination from soil or groundwater contaminated with animal feces. “Once Salmonella gets on and into a tomato, the fruit acts like an incubator,” writes Ewen Callaway in New Scientist. Particularly when you’re traveling, it is be cautious of fruits and vegetables which may be unwashed or washed in contaminated water. Washing fruits and vegetable in cold water doesn’t necessarily eliminate salmonella, as the bacteria can adhere tightly to the surfaces, forming an adhesive biofilm.

In the end, take reasonable precautions.

 

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Banana Equivalent Dose — or BED

Many worry about radiation exposure — particularly after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster released significant amounts of radionuclides, such as iodine-131 and cesium-137 into the atmosphere and ocean. Increased exposure to radiation may also come form living near a nuclear power plant, flying in an airplane, or from undergoing certain medical procedures, such as X-rays, mammograms or CT scans.

It’s important to remember that radiation is a natural factor in the environment. You are exposed to background radiation in the air, in the soil, in the food we eat, even in our own bodies. In your home, radiation comes from typical construction materials, such as bricks and wallboard, granite countertops and tile floors, through cat litter, or even from the soil or bedrock beneath your house.

On average, 82% of your total annual exposure to radiation is from natural sources, most of that from radon. A wonderful graphic (shown to the left) is from the xkcd website. Note that we’re talking about ionizing radiation, the type of exposure absorbed by body tissue that can potentially damage human cells.

One measure that has been proposed to illustrate natural radiation exposure is the Banana Equivalent Dose (more technically the biologically effective dose) or BED. This refers to the radiation exposure from eating one banana. In fact, all foods are slightly radioactive, but bananas are particularly rich in potassium, which is the major source of natural radioactivity in plant matter. And 0.1% of potassium consists of the radioactive isotope Potassium-40 (40K), which decays with a half-life of 1.25 billion years. For an average banana, that yields about 14 decays per second. This translates into a microscopic amount of radiation, which is quantified as 0.1 micro Sievert or mSv.

Obviously bananas won’t kill you. They won’t set off a Geiger counter; they don’t glow in the dark. There are rumors that crates of bananas have set off radiation detectors at customs — but these are most likely urban legends. Trace levels of radiation are also found in foods such as beans, nuts, seeds and potatoes. Even human bodies are naturally radioactive. Sleeping next to someone for eight hours yields a dose of 0.05 mSv. This works out to half a BED – which seems quite appropriate!

To put it in perspective, fifty bananas would be the equivalent of the radiation dose of a dental X-ray; eating 70,000 bananas would equal one chest CT scan.  The yearly dose per person from food is estimated at 400 micro sieverts . The maximum yearly dose permitted for U.S. radiation workers is 50,000 mSv.

Is the BED a valid measure of radiation exposure? Maggie Koerth Baker writes that the potassium-40 in bananas is a poor choice, “because the potassium content of our bodies seems to be under homeostatic control. When you eat a banana, your body’s level of Potassium-40 doesn’t increase. You just get rid of some excess Potassium-40. The net dose of a banana is zero.” But it takes time for the body to remove excess potassium, during which time doses can accumulate.

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The Golden Spice of Life?

DSCN1055Widely touted as a “superfood,” the world’s healthiest spice, or the “golden spice of life,” turmeric has been in use for at least four thousand years. The deeply colored yellow-orange spice is what gives Indian curry its distinctive yellow color and savory flavor. The taste might be considered somewhat bitter and peppery. Turmeric is not a cure-all, though it has been touted as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and even an anti-cancer agent.

First how do you pronounce it? Most people drop the first “r,” enunciating TOO-mer-ik, but it is also considered correct to say TUR-mer-ik or even TYOO-mer-ik.

Where does it come from?

turmeric_varietiesTurmeric, also known as Indian saffron, the poor man’s saffron, haridra, or haldi. The powder is obtained from the rhizome (root stock) of Curcuma longa, a perennial herbaceous plant that is related to ginger. The plant, a member of the Zingiberaceae family, grows in India and tropical regions of Southern Asia.

Over thirty different varieties are known, with names such as Alleppey Finger, Erode and Nizamabad Bulb. The fresh rhizomes are boiled, then drained and dried in the sun for up to two weeks, before being ground to obtain the powdered golden spice.

The active ingredient of turmeric is the compound curcumin (typically comprising 3 to 6% of turmeric), along with volatile oils and resins. The volatile oils enhance the flavor and aroma of the spice. Note that curcumin is not related to cumin, another spice used in Indian cuisine — that comes from the seeds of a different plant. Chemically, curcumin consists of curcuminoids, complex compounds which are linear diarylheptanoids.

A Versatile Spice with Multiple Uses:

Turmeric is one of the main ingredients of curry – the others being coriander, cumin, fenugreek and chili pepper, with the possible addition of garlic, ginger, asafetida, cardamom, nutmeg or black pepper . Note that the term ‘curry’ does not refer to a single spice, nor a spice of uniform consistency; rather it is a Western invention, dating back to the British occupation of India.

Six-spices-indianMore authentic Indian recipes do not call for curry powder, but rather for complex combinations of spices, such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic and asafetida (hing), and black cardamom, stored in a traditional spice tray, as shown in the picture to the right. (You can find these gorgeous stainless steel Masala Dabba spice trays, for about $20 online).

These spices are often sautéed with ghee or oil to bring out the full flavor of the spices. Vegetarians might try this Chickpea Curry recipe on AllRecipes.com. You can sample more recipes of Indian cuisine involving turmeric, such as Kofta Curry, in the cookbook Six Spices: A Simple Concept of Indian Cooking, by Neeta Saluja

5 spice jacket 1st glly.inddMany cooks are overwhelmed by the number of spices necessary to recreate traditional cuisine. Five spices, Fifty dishes, by Ruta Kahate offers a simplified approach, presenting recipes that revolve around only five basic spices: turmeric, coriander, cumin, mustard and cayenne pepper, to create vegetarian and meat-based dishes.

Turmeric is in wide demand by the food processing industry, as synthetic colors are increasingly avoided. Turmeric is  widely used a natural food coloring to impart a deeper color to a diverse range of products including: butter, margarine, salad dressings and cheese, ice cream and yogurt, as well as baked goods, popcorn, gelatin, and even orange juice. Turmeric imparts a vivid color to soup broths and salad dressings. Turmeric is used as a flavoring additive for many mustard blends, as well as for sausages, pickles and relishes.

Turmeric is also used to color fabrics, and it is found in cosmetics. In India, turmeric paste is applied to the skin, as part of a traditional wedding; the Rasam (Ritual) of Haldi is performed one day before the wedding ceremony. Turmeric spice is mixed sandalwood powder along with milk or almond oil. The bridal glow mask is said to impart a healthy glow to the skin — and protect from evil spirits. You can make your own Turmeric Facial Mask from turmeric, rice flour and yogurt — it is said to soften the skin, and relieve the symptoms of acne.

Health Benefits:

DSCN1045Turmeric, or more specifically, curcumin, acts as an antioxidant, meaning that it scavenges free radicals in the body. The compound has been promoted as an anti-inflammatory. Topical pastes made with the powder can be applied to the skin to relieve the pain associated with wounds, bites, arthritis and an antiseptic for disinfecting sores.

Herbal remedies involving turmeric has been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for thousands of years, particularly  as part of the Ayurvedic tradition. It was been used as a dietary supplement to relieve stomach, intestinal and liver disorders. Among the many claims, it is said to stimulate the gallbladder, reduce cholesterol level, aid in digestion and relieve irritable bowel syndrome.

There are preliminary indications that turmeric may be useful to inhibit the spread of cancer, in particular prostate and colorectal cancer, but clinical trials are few. Initial indications show that turmeric may correct cystic fibrosis in mice. Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles are undergoing regarding turmeric’s effect on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

turmeric-supplement-spiceYou can easily incorporate turmeric spice to your diet through recipes such as those listed above — or you can sprinkle it on your salad or sandwich or add it to your soup or stew. There are also pure herbal supplements containing turmeric (specifically curcumin).

Turmeric is considered safe for general use, but there are few systematic studies involving larger, therapeutic doses of the spice. Possible interactions may occur for individuals using blood-thinning medications, non steroidal pain relievers, drugs to reduce stomach acid, or those undergoing treatment for diabetes.

No guarantee it will keep away evil spirits.

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