Search your food labels for these dirty ingredients!

1.Artificial-Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are ubiquitous and include aspartame, stevia, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium all of which are 200 to 600 times sweeter than traditional sugar. While often considered useful in reducing sugar cravings, hesitate to consume artificial sweeteners as they have been shown to influence and increase appetite – particularly in children. As these additives do not satiate the body’s demand for traditional carbohydrates, unsatisfied consumers search out additional food – causing problematic weight gain. In particular, studies on acesulfame potassium have found that fetal or infant exposure influences a child’s later sweetness preferences. Acesulfame potassium bears carcinogenic, mutagenic, and hormonal effects upon high levels of consumption making it especially essential to avoid.

References:
Europe PubMed Central
European Food Safety Authority
Journal of Ethnopharmacology
Chemical Senses

2.Artificial-Colorings

Manufacturers include artificial colorings in common food products to boost their appeal. However, many of these dyes have been found to be potentially carcinogenic in humans. Citrus Red 2, Fast Green FCF, Indigotine, Sunset Yellow FCF, and Tartrazine are just a few of the names to be avoided. Fast Green FCF, for example, disrupts bone marrow function and interferes with brain tissue DNA in animal studies. Food dyes have also been associated with diarrhea and gastrointestinal enlargement. Tartrazine, in particular, should be avoided as it has been shown to activate estrogen receptors – increasing the possibility of developing breast or uterine cancers. Because of the problems associated with artificial coloring, select dyes have been banned from the UK and even the EU.

References:
Toxicology
Toxicology Data Network
Food and Cosmetics Toxicology
Food and Cosmetics Toxicology 2
NEJM
The Journal of Pediatrics
Orthomolecular

3.Sodium-Benzoate
Sodium benzoate is a food preservative produced from a reaction of sodium hydroxide with benzoic acid. This chemical inhibits bacterial and fungal development and is often found in salad dressings, carbonated drinks, jams, fruit juices, and condiments. Unfortunately, sodium benzoate has been linked to hyperactive behavior in children. Most problematically, sodium benzoate combines with ascorbic acid to form benzene – a known carcinogen. While foods containing the two chemicals, such as Coca Cola, have been found to have a safe dosage of benzene, heat, light, and shelf life can modulate the amount of benzene formed in food making this additive important to abstain from.

References:
FDA 1
FDA 2

4.refined-sugar

Refined sugars include sucrose, or table sugar, as well as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Excessive intake of these ubiquitously found sugars has been shown to induce metabolic abnormalities including insulin resistance, colorectal cancer, and nutritional deficiency. Sugar intake may also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer. Excessive consumption of HCFS should be avoided at all costs as it has been found to induce additional metabolic issues including high blood pressure and can impair leptin – an appetite suppressing hormone. Consumers with a high-fructose diets have been shown to have increased cholesterol levels.

References:
Europe PubMed Central
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The Journal of Pediatrics
American Heart Association
International Journal of Cancer
Journal of the National Cancer Institute

5.BHT BHA
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are food preservatives used for their antioxidant capacities. Addition of BHA and BHT to foods like breakfast cereals, oats, processed meats and ready-to-eat meals prevents spoilage and rancidity of the fats and oils contained within the products. However, the use of BHT and BHA has been associated with increased cancer risk in addition to an increased risk of birth defects. Particularly, animal studies show that these chemicals interact with the liver to impair its function. It has been suspected that these chemicals act as toxicants to several bodily organs resulting in strict regulation of the usage of BHT and BHA by the EU and the Food and Drug Administration. Avoid BHT and BHA consumption whenever possible.

References:
American Oil Chemists’ Society
Carcinogenesis
Food and Chemical Toxicology
Food and Chemical Toxicology

Food Allergies: The Top Ten Offenders

Allergies to wheat (gluten), mustard and sulfites, are less common than the last 7 allergies we described (Part 1, Part 2), though wheat is still one of the top 8 allergens that affect 90% of allergic individuals worldwide. Regardless of being less prevalent, these allergens are still ubiquitous in many of the foods we eat today. Not only are they a hazard to allergic individuals, these 3 ingredients have been linked to various diseases, sensitivities, and are often found in unlabelled foods such as produce.

References:
Food Allergy Research and Education
Health Canada
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology
Nutrients
Allergy
Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy

Wheat_Gluten

Gluten is the main structural protein complex of wheat and related grains such as barley and rye. A composite of gliadin and glutenin, hydrated gluten is responsible for the elastic properties of wheat doughs and contributes to the rise and chewiness of the final loaf. Gluten is also found in many non-bakery foods including pet foods and meat products, where it contributes to texture and protein content.

Gliadin, a component of the gluten protein, is responsible for the intestinal damage that Celiac patients suffer from. Gliadin causes this condition increasing the permeability of the intestinal lining. In turn, the inherent barrier function of the lining is disrupted, potentially allowing for the passage of environmental antigens involved in gluten-associated illnesses.

Gluten causes adverse (allergic, autoimmune and gastrointestinal) side-effects for those with Wheat Allergy, Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. A recent paper published in Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology found that gluten consumption is associated to Autism Spectrum Disorder. Likewise, another study published in Nutrients also linked gluten consumption to Type 1 Diabetes risk.

The second most heavily subsidized crop in the United States, wheat and its derived products are now present throughout the food system as well as being present in items such as chewing gum, cosmetics, textiles, and pharmaceutical tablets. This fact is concerning to those with gluten-associated conditions, such as those listed above. Due to the prevalence of these conditions, in August of 2013 the FDA instated a new regulation on gluten-free foods. This regulation required that any food labelled as gluten-free must have a maximum of 20 parts of gluten per million (ppm).

References:
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Mayo Clinic
Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology
Nutrients
Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Environmental Working Group
Celiac Disease Foundation
Food and Drug Administration
BMC Medicine

Mustard

Mustard seeds are the small round seeds of mustard plants and are used in spice mixes, sauces, processed meats and Indian cuisine. Although mustard seed allergy is a fairly uncommon food allergy, it has been associated to conditions such as atopic dermatitis, and has cross-reactivity with mugwort pollen and the Brassica family of plants (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rapeseed, etc.). In addition, mustard seed allergy has been linked with sensitization to tree nuts, legumes, and the Rosaceae family of plants (apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, etc.), which can cause side effects in patients as severe as exercise-induced anaphylaxis. Also, since rapeseed and mustard seed are used in the production of Canola oil, it is suggested that those allergic to mustard seed be aware of this fact and consume canola products with caution. Canola oil is processed to remove mustard proteins, therefore it should not contain any allergens, but it may still pose a risk if improperly processed.

References:
Allergy
European Journal of Dermatology
Health Canada

Sulfites

Sulfites are a group of sulfur-based compounds that can occur naturally in foods, or can be added to food as a flavour enhancer or preservative. These compounds can be found in soup mixes, canned food, pickled vegetables, gravies, wine, beer and some medications. Sulfite sensitivity rarely results in anaphylactic shock, rather, it more often results in flushed skin, hives, wheezing, coughing, asthma, and chest tightness.

Some common misconceptions surrounding sulfites are that those who suffer with sulfite sensitivity cannot consume sulfonamide antibiotics, sulfur, or sulphates; the latter of which is found in many soaps and shampoos. Fortunately, these compounds are unrelated to sulfites, despite their names sounding similar. Though regrettably, sulfites can be found in foods where the ingredients are not listed such as on fruits and vegetables (to prevent browning) and on shellfish (to prevent melanosis). Therefore, in order to avoid sulfites it may be advisable to speak with your local fish salesperson to see whether sulfites are added to their shellfish, and to seek out produce companies that does not use sulfites.

References:
Web MD
Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
Health Canada

Food Allergies: The Top Ten Offenders

The following three allergens, shellfish, fish and soy, are part of the top 8 allergens that affect 90% of allergic individuals worldwide. Though allergies to these foods are slightly less common than cow’s milk, egg, peanut and tree nut allergies, they are still ever present in many of the foods we eat today. Not only are they a hazard to allergic individuals, these 3 ingredients have been linked to sensitivities and various health conditions.

References:
Food Allergy Research and Education
Health Canada
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
Clinical and Experimental Allergy
Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine

shellfish

Shellfish are a type of sea life that include molluscs, such as oysters and clams, and crustaceans, such as lobsters and crabs. They are commonly found in Japanese cuisine, coastal dishes, oyster sauce, fish sauce and Clamato juice. Shellfish allergies (found in 0.1% of North American children and 2.0% of adults) are fairly common and are often caused by the protein tropomyosin which is found in many different types of shellfish. These allergies generally present themselves at random as a person ages, though they can be brought on by constant exposure. For example, those who often handle shellfish are likely to get sensitized to it, causing contact dermatitis and asthma. It is also a common misconception that such reactions can also occur after the use of iodine and radiocontrast material in individuals allergic to shellfish, though this has not been proven. In fact, studies have shown that having a shellfish allergy has no affect on one’s risk of reaction to radiocontrast dye.

For those of us that can enjoy shellfish, we may have to be cautious around shellfish caught in the Pacific ocean in the future. Some would argue that due to leakage from the Fukushima power plant, sea life within the Pacific ocean is being exposed to radioactive material. This event has caused many to be concerned about consuming Pacific shellfish. As it stands now, the FDA has stated that they are actively testing foreign and domestic shellfish and have yet to find anything that would be a threat to public safety. The FDA has further stated that if they do happen to find any unsafe shellfish, they will remove it from the U.S. markets. Therefore, any shellfish currently available for sale today is safe to eat.

References:
Clinical and Experimental Allergy
Food Allergy Research and Education
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
The Journal of Emergency Medicine
Food and Drug Administration

fish

Fish are a common staple protein in many coastal countries and are classified by their fat content as whitefish (<1% fat) or oily fish (10%-25% fat). Fish are often found in Japanese cuisine, coastal dishes, Worcestershire sauce and Caesar salad dressing. Allergies to fish (affecting 0.1% of North American children and 0.4% of adults3), commonly caused by the protein parvalbumin, can arise not only with ingestion, but with skin contact and vapour inhalation as well. Such allergies are most prevalent in countries that consume a large amount of fish. Though parvalbumin is present in most fish, its levels are higher in white-muscled fish (like cod), than in dark-muscled fish (such as tuna). Although this protein’s characteristics do not change with cooking, the canning process has been shown to alter allergic responses to fish, possibly causing less severe reactions in allergic individuals when ingested.

As with shellfish, some believe that fish from the Pacific ocean are also at risk of accumulating radiation due to leakage from the Fukushima power plant. In response to these concerns, the FDA has been continuously testing foreign and domestic fish and they have yet to find anything that would be a threat to public safety. If they find any unsafe fish, the FDA has stated that they will remove it from the U.S. markets. Therefore, based on the FDA’s specifications, fish currently available is safe to eat. However, a recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology found that in 2011 and 2012, since the earthquake, there were increased levels of 134Cs in Albacore Tuna caught in the East Pacific Ocean. Given that the study did not find any detectable levels of 134Cs in fish caught in 2008, and found increasingly higher levels in fish caught in 2011 and 2012, it may be likely that fish, and possibly shellfish, could accumulate even greater levels of 134Cs in the future.

References:
Fish and Fish Products
Food Allergy Research and Education
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
Pediatric Allergy and Immunology
Food and Drug Administration
Environmental Science and Technology

soy

Soybeans are a species of legume (bean) that are used to produce oil, protein powder, tofu, tempeh, miso paste, soy sauce, tamari, and various other Asian foods. Soy allergy affects roughly 0.4% of children, with roughly 50% of children outgrowing the allergy by the age of 712. This allergy has been shown to cause rhinitis and atopic dermatitis, and has also been linked to cross-reactivity with birch pollen, almond, apple, apricot, buckwheat, and many other foods.

Today 85% of North American soy is genetically modified. Provided that certain soy allergens have been found to be 7 times more abundant in GM soy as compared to organic soy, there may be some association between GM soy and soy allergy. Regardless, studies have yet to demonstrate a causal link between GM soy and soy allergy prevalence.

References:
Food Allergy Research and Education
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
The Doctors Laboratory
Hautarzt
GMO Compass
Biology of Nutrition in Growing Animals
Toxicology Letters

Food Allergies: The Top Ten Offenders

Many of us know of at least one friend or family member that has a severe food allergy. To the average person, these foods are harmless, but to an allergic individual the presence of such allergens can mean the difference between life and death. The reason behind these dangerous reactions is rooted in the immune system’s response to allergenic proteins. An allergic individual’s immune system finds said proteins and reacts much like it would to a cold or flu, by causing inflammation and attacking the “invading” allergenic proteins. Though, unlike a reaction to a virus, the immune system attacks the allergen very quickly, often leading to swelling, rashes and anaphylaxis.

Blog_Allergy_1_v5

Severe food allergies affect roughly 1 in 21 Americans and 1 in every 13 American children. Though many children outgrow these allergies, the rate of food allergy diagnosis in children has been on the rise in the past few decades. In fact, a recent study by the CDC stated that food allergies in children have increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011, although the cause of this increase is still unknown. What scientists do know is that 8 allergens, including milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish, cause 90% of all allergic reactions, while allergens such as mustard, sulfites and others comprise the remaining 10%. Today, we will be discussing the most prevalent food allergens: Cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. Stay tuned for future blog posts about other common allergens, including soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, mustard and sulfites.

References:
Immunobiology: The Immune System in Health and Disease
Food and Drug Administration
Food Allergy Research and Education
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
Health Canada

Blog_Allergy_1_milk

Cow’s milk is a common staple in the Western diet as it is found in butter, yogurt, cheese, cream, pastries, entrées and desserts>. Such products, as well as sheep, goat and buffalo milk, can cause significant side effects for those with Cow’s Milk Allergy. This is one of the most common food allergies in children, affecting 2.5% of North American children and 0.3% of adults. In addition, some children who are allergic to cow’s milk have been shown to be allergic to soy milk, as well.

Individuals with milk allergies often avoid milk-containing foods, but likely do so with the fear of getting osteoporosis when they get older. Therefore, those with milk allergies should note that a recent meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in May 2009 found that “osteoporotic bone fracture rates are highest in countries that consume the most dairy”. In addition, they stated that “most studies of fracture risk provide little or no evidence that milk or other dairy products benefit bone”.

Allergies aside, milk-drinking individuals should also be aware that recently the International Dairy Foods Association petitioned the FDA to allow artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners to be unlabeled on milk products. Though the ingredients would still be shown in the ingredient list, the front label would no longer have to contain the words “reduced-calorie”. This would mean consumers could unknowingly choose artificially sweetened milk over natural milk—a choice many of us would still like the power to make. Given that this petition has not yet been accepted, the current labeling standards still apply.

References:
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
Web MD
Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Mayo Clinic
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Food and Drug Administration

Blog_Allergy_1_eggs

Eggs are produced by birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, though humans consume chicken eggs most often. Chicken eggs are used in many different foods including mayonnaise, sauces, breads, batters and pastries. Egg allergies (which affect 1.3% of North American children and 0.2% of adults) are often caused by proteins found in the egg white, such as ovalbumin, but can also be caused by proteins in the egg yolk, such as apovitillin. Versions of these proteins can be found in the eggs of many bird (chicken, duck, quail, turkey and ostrich, for example)and fish species, though the cross-reaction of fish roe with bird’s egg allergens is rare.

Aside from egg-containing foods, individuals allergic to chicken eggs should also be cautious of flu vaccines as chicken eggs are used in the production of flu vaccine. Otherwise, for egg consumers, reconsidering the source of our egg products may be of interest. A recent report published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing Practice in 2010 found that factory farmed egg consumption is linked to increased salmonella poisoning compared to cage-free eggs.

References:
Food Allergy Research and Education
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
Pediatric Clinics of North America
European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
The Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Holistic Nursing Practice

Blog_Allergy_1_peanuts_v2

Peanuts are members of the legume (bean) family of plants and are commonly found in baked goods, cooking oils, sauces and Eastern cuisines. Approximately 2.1% of American children and 0.6% American adults suffer from peanut allergies and similar rates of peanut allergy are seen in other westernized countries (Canada, United Kingdom, Australia). Unfortunately, peanut allergies cause the most cases of anaphylaxis out of all of the allergens, and since the prevalence of peanut allergies in children has increased nearly four-fold (0.6% to 2.1%; U.S.) in the past decade, the increased risk of death in children has become a pressing concern.

In response to the increase in peanut allergies, many scientists have begun to engineer peanut plants that are hypoallergenic by selectively removing the genes responsible for producing peanut allergens. These new strains of peanuts would theoretically be safe to eat, and would produce no allergic reactions. Though that may be the primary concern for those with peanut allergies, peanut crops may also be harmful to non-allergic individuals as they are often rotated in fields that grow cotton. These cotton fields are often sprayed with herbicides (linked to various health conditions) that can still be present in the soil when the crops are rotated.

References:
Food Allergy Research and Education
Current Opinion in Immunology
Discovery Medicine
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Peanut Rotation Study
Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition

Blog_Allergy_1_treenuts

Tree nuts are dry fruits that contain one seed and a hard outer wall, such as almonds, cashews and pecans. These nuts are primarily used in baked goods, desserts, cereals, and Eastern cuisines. The majority of tree nut allergies (affecting 0.2% of North American children and 0.5% of adults) are caused by certain proteins that are common across many types of tree nuts. Due to this, many of those with tree nut allergies are allergic to more than one type of tree nut.

Tree nut and peanut allergies often go hand-in-hand, with many sufferers bearing both types of allergies. Therefore, those suffering with any type of tree nut allergy should be cautious when purchasing packaged foods as cross-contamination can occur in food processing plants that handle tree nuts, peanuts or both.

References:
Food Allergy Research and Education
Current Allergy and Asthma Reports
The Journal of Nutrition