Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Food: What You Don't Know Will Hurt You

The following will make you reconsider using plastic containers and canned food, and products with high sodium levels. In recent days there are two significant news stories concerning this.

Information on a chemical called bisphenol A has the potential to turn the plastics and canning industry upside down.

Evidence shows that bisphenol A, a dangerous chemical used in plastics and cans, leaches into our bodies and has been linked to breast and prostate cancers, among other ailments.

For years, we've also heard about salt being associated with high blood pressure, and now there is more scientific information about unhealthy high levels of sodium in food already. But you can reduce the amounts by reading the labels. You can avoid products that have more than 20% of the daily recommended allowable amount of sodium.

Over the weekend the Globe had an extensive piece on the controversy surrounding bisphenol A. Here is a summary of key pieces of information taken from that article:

Part I - Bisphenol A
This is a toxin in plastics and cans that leaches into food or liquid and is ingested by practically all of us. Scientists and environmentalists contend that bisphenol A is one of the scariest manufactured substances in use.

Here are some medical problems that low amounts of bisphenol A have been suspected to be associated with: the early onset of puberty, declining sperm counts, and the huge increase in breast and prostate cancer, among other ailments.

Bisphenol A is used to make the resins that line most tin cans, dental sealants, car parts, microwaveable plastics, sports helmets and CDs. Government scientists classified bisphenol A as "inherently toxic."

Dr. Patricia Hunt, a Washington State University geneticist, said she would "love to see it banned from the face of the earth." She began ditching her bisphenol-A-containing products after discovering that mere traces of the chemical were able to scramble the eggs of her lab mice. In humans, similar damage would lead to miscarriages and birth defects, such as Down syndrome. "I thought, 'Oh my God,' I'm going to throw out every piece of plastic in my kitchen."

About 90 per cent of studies by independent researchers over the past decade, numbering about 150, have found adverse effects, ranging from enlarged prostates to abnormal breast tissue growth.

Not too surprisingly researchers for companies that use bisphenol A in their products failed to find evidence of adverse effects. A further assessment will take place next month and thus put more pressure on companies to prove that it is not harmful.

Bisphenol A has been used in increasing amounts since the 1950s in food and beverage containers because it doesn't impart a plastic-like taste, although traces leach out. Plastics that use it are often identified by an industry triangle symbol and the number seven.
You will probably hear much more about this toxin in the months and years ahead. This story has the potential to be as huge as the cancer causing nicotine in tobacco, or the health risks of trans fats in food.

More than one scientist involved in testing this chemical have given up using canned food and plastics. Manufacturers of plastics and cans are certainly threatened by this and may be forced to radically change how they produce their products. Isn't it so coincidental that their research finds no harmful relationship between bisphenol A and health while about 90% of independent and academic research over the last decade have found harmful effects?

Imagine, scientific researchers being paid to withhold important information from the public, surprise surprise (think nicotine and trans fats). Hopefully if and when this news item broadens, people will question what other suspicious ingredients are in food that have the potential to harm us. There are currently 200 substances that Environment Canada and Health Canada has determined to be possibly dangerous and in need of thorough safety assessments.

Related Links

On the Trail of Water Bottle Toxins

New Findings Make the Case for Bisphenol A Ban

Part II - Salt
Many of the food products we eat already have a high level of salt in them, more than the daily recommended allowance. According to Statistic Canada people consume far too much salt. The maximum upper level allowable doze for people 14 and older is 2,300 mg a day. However, the average for all Canadians was 3,092 mg of sodium a day -- one-third more than the maximum.

When you exceed the recommended levels of salt you risk problems associated with hypertension (high blood pressure). If you went from high levels of sodium and drop down to the recommended levels, research shows that you should be able to drop your blood pressure possibly a 15 to 20 per cent reduction of your risk of stroke.

Kevin Willis of the Canadian Stroke Network warned that even if you were to reduce your own use of salt and cut out salty snacks, that wouldn't necessarily get the levels down to normal. This is because salt is added to so many of the food products we consume.

He suggested avoiding food products that provide more than 20 per cent of the daily value of recommended sodium. A good example of this is packaged shaved turkey or ham. I will be cutting out this for my sandwiches as it has 22% of the daily recommended level of sodium.

These are only two substances that are making a splash in the news right now, but how many other substances are in everyday foods that are harmful or potentially detrimental to our health? It causes one to think, "Has there been a cover up of key information by plastics and can manufacturers?" or "Should nutrition charts and packaging be more detailed, or provide warnings about the risks of digesting certain levels of salt or other components of food products?"

As was suggested by Kevin Willis, the food industry and government should work together to get the level of sodium down in foods "an across-the-board cut in sodium in our food supply".

That would make sense and reduce peoples' risk of problems of hypertension. Question what's in your food, your plastic containers and cans of food because it could be causing you serious health problems.

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