Saturday, November 19, 2011

Food Colorants in my Cereal Bowl!

Cereals advertised for their
Calcium, Zinc and Iron content
I’ve probably had too many colorants in my system for quite some time when I was kid. My mom used to buy us Trix, and what was she thinking! When talking about snacks and cereals for kids – and possibly adults- one can’t ignore the topic of food dyes!
Colored breakfast cereals are attractive to kids, especially with those cartoon characters on their packages. Other than their high content of sugar and sodium, and putting aside that they are advertised by mentioning their high calcium, iron, zinc, fiber and ‘fruity’ content, my concern here is their dye content!
Testing Food Dyes
Food colorings are tested for safety by different parties and sometimes views on food color safety can get quite controversial.
  • In Europe, E numbers are given to European Union-approved natural and synthetic dyes. In fact, in European countries these colorings are considered hazardous until they can be proven safe.
  • In the US, FD&C are given to FDA-approved synthetic food dyes that do not exist in nature. In the US, it's totally the opposite >> The colorings are safe until proven otherwise!
So companies that do business in Europe use natural and safe colorings; however, they use harmful and synthetic ones elsewhere! And guess what, yes; Lebanon is considered an "elsewhere" country.
Allowed Common Artificial Food Dyes
In the USA, the following seven artificial colorings are permitted in food as of 2007. You can see E number, FD&C number or the dye’s name. So when you check your label, you can find any of the 3.
  • FD&C Blue No. 1 or E133 –Brilliant Blue (blue shade) 
  • FD&C Blue No. 2 or E132 – Indigotine (inidigo shade)
  • FD&C Green No. 3 or E143 – Fast Green FCF (turquoise shade) 
  • FD&C Red No. 40 or E129– Allura Red AC. This dye is approved by the EU in general, but Switzerland already banned it and the UK is on its way!
  • FD&C Red No. 3 or E127 – Erythrosine 
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 or E102 – Tartazine
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 or E110 – Sunset Yellow FCF (orange shade so it can also be called Orange E110). Now this is approved in the US; however, EU is considering its ban while Norway already banned it! 
  • [Blue no.1, red no.40, yellow no.5 and yellow no. 6 being the most popular]
Disallowed Common Artificial Food Dyes
The following 9 dyes have been disallowed by the FDA because of their adverse effects so keep them in mind, and let’s hope we don’t see them in any of our foods!
  • FD&C Red No. 2 – Amaranth 
  • FD&C Red No. 4
  • FD&C Red No. 32 
  • FD&C Orange No. 1 
  • FD&C Yellow No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 
  • FD&C Violet No. 1
Artificial Dyes Health Concerns
Certain artificial food dyes have been shown to be carcinogenic to animals, affect mood and intensify ADHD while few are associated with fertility. You can pick your favorite. Now these studies are not conclusive yet, but the fact many are showing weak to moderate association between the dyes and the suggested health concern while facing a lot of “food politics” pressure, is enough of a concern to me! 
  • The FDA requires that Yellow No. 5 be clearly labeled on food packaging along with other ingredients.  This label is just indicating Yellow 5 is in the food. This is not a warning label so now you’re warned. 
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, colorants that may increase hyperactive behavior include: Yellow No. 6, Yellow No. 10, Yellow No. 5 and Red No.40. So even though, these are allowed by the FDA, studies are showing that they might have hazardous effects! 
  • According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, food coloring such as Blue No. 1, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 cause allergic reactions. Yellow food No. 5 has triggered asthma episodes in children. Red No. 40 may cause skin conditions such as eczema. Yellow No. 2 has been connected with male sterility and ADHD. Blue No. 1 and Blue No. 2 used in beverages and often in pet food have been associated with brain tumors in animal studies and Red No. 3 is linked with thyroid tumors. It’s quite the mess! Actually, according to the Center for Science in Public Interest, artificial dyes are best avoided. They also have a "Food Dyes and Behavior Report Form" to fill out if your child shows any change of behavior when food colorants are ingested.
Natural Food Dyes
Some brands have natural food dyes
There's a growing number of natural food dyes commercially produced, especially due to consumer concerns surrounding synthetic dyes. Some examples include:
  • E150 - Caramel coloring made from caramelized sugar, used in sodas 
  • E160b - Annatto: a reddish-orange dye made from the achiote seeds
  • E140 - Chlorophyll: a green dye made from algae 
  • E120: Cochineal a red dye derived from the cochineal insect 
  • E100 – Turmeric from curcuminoids 
  • E160a- Saffron (caratenoids) for a yellow to orange color 
  • E160c - Paprika 
  • Betanin extracted from beets to give a bluish-red to brown color 
Natural food colors, due to their organic nature, can sometimes cause allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock in sensitive individuals. Coloring agents known to be potential hazards include annatto and cochineal. However, natural colors are not required to be tested nor mentioned on the label in the US!

Colored Cereals in Lebanon
Now, long story short, I found these colorings in 6 different colored cereals in Lebanon:
  • Artificial colorings - Yellow E 102 (No. 5), Yellow E 110 (No. 6), Blue E 133 (No. 1), Red E 129 (No. 40)
    >> Although all these have been approved in the US, the
    Center for Science in Public Interest advises that they are best avoided! They are under the "Unsafe in amounts consumed or is very poorly tested and not worth any risk" category. Red 40 and Yellow 6 are being phased out in some European countries.
  • Natural colorings - Turmeric, Paprika, Spinach, Carrots, Blackcurrant
    >> All shown to be safe.

Food dyes are lurking everywhere in our diets!They can be found in granola bars, candies, jelly beans, chocolate, beverages, sodas, cakes, chewing gums, lollipops, syrups, icings, jams, dessert powders, ice cream and puddings. These could be quite obvious due to their flashy colors, but hey, colorants can be found in pale colored cereals, cheeses, chips and dips too! So you gotta become a label reader, especially for foods that you consume regularly. Don’t be fooled with words like ‘natural’ and ‘fruity’. You’ve become familiar with those names and numbers now, so watch out for them and try to limit your intake of processed foods. 

Info Sources

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Diabetes Needs Awareness!

November 14 is World Diabetes Day and cases of diabetes are exploding by the year, especially among youngsters. This makes diabetes a very crucial determinant of our wellness and health! The term "diabetes mellitus" refers to a group of diseases that affect how your body uses blood glucose (aka blood sugar or glycemia). Glucose is vital to your health because it's an important source of energy for all our cells - our brain can't function but on glucose! So when someone is diabetic, no matter what the type and its reasons are >> they have too much glucose in their blood and yes, too much glucose has serious detrimental consequences.

My concern is diabetes type 2. When we eat food, our body breaks down carbs to give glucose, which stimulate the secretion of insulin from the pancreas to help cells in absorbing the needed glucose. In diabetes Type 2, the cells cannot respond properly to insulin - a state called insulin resistance. Thus glucose stays high in the blood, cells don't get to have their need of glucose and the body keeps on making more insulin yet no response! Eventually with long term, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, the pancreas will reduce the amount of insulin it produces. 

In 1992,  an estimation of the prevalence of diabetes type 2 in Lebanon was at 7-8% and it rose to reach 16% in a study published year 2005! On the other hand, a very recent study showed that among Lebanese school students, glucose levels were significantly higher in overweight versus normal weight individuals with around 9 % of the normal weight group had hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels ) while among those who were overweight 37 % had hyperglycemia!

Therefore, it is quite crucial to know Diabetes Warning Signs! Diabetes symptoms vary depending on how high your blood sugar is. Most importantly, some people, especially those with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, may not experience symptoms initially!!
  • Thirst and dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme hunger
  • Headaches, blurred vision and fatigue
  • Slow healing sores and cuts
  • Frequent infections, such as gum or skin infections and vaginal or bladder infections
  • Erectile dysfunction
The causes are not quite determined yet, but many risk factors have been shown to increase the risk of developing diabetes type 2! Being overweight, being inactive, having a family history of type 2 diabetes, having high blood pressure, having high triglyceride and cholesterol levels and having polycystic ovary syndrome all increase the risk. Moreover the risk increase with age especially that we may tend to exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as we age. Sadly, type 2 diabetes is increasing dramatically among children, adolescents and younger adults!

Diabetes is preventable and manageable.
You are able to control it!
The key in diabetes type 2 is that it's preventable!  
So you see that some of the risk factors can be controlled and can be managed if you have diabetes as well!
  • Keep your weight within the healthy range. So calculate your BMI to know if it's between 18 and 25: the healthier range. Weight loss improves insulin resistance, blood glucose, high lipid levels and help in reducing blood pressure. It is important to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Have a balanced healthy diet. A licensed dietitian can sure help you count your carbohydrates intake, have the right amount of healthy fats and limit your alcohol consumption. You can also check this detailed diet and diabetes guide!
  • Keep an active lifestyle, exercise is indispensable so move more, sit less.
  • Do your best to avoid stress. Stress is associated with increased inflammation state in your body. It can cause your blood pressure to rise or you would turn to food to cope. So adopt stress management skills, breathe and plan to reduce your stress as much as possible.
  • Quit smoking, work hard on breaking this habit because tobacco use is associated with more complications in people with diabetes!
  • Keep normal blood fats levels: HDL is best above 40 mg/dL, LDL should be lower than 100 mg/dL, total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL and triglycerides below 250 mg/dL
  • Monitor your blood pressure to stay below 140/90 mmHg
Diabetes complications affect all your body.
They are never to be underestimated!

What's sneaky about diabetes is its complications! When your blood glucose levels are not regulated, complications become crippling, detrimental and life threatening. Diabetes can damage blood vessels and all that accompanies it: cardiovascular diseases, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage, increased infections, brain damage and cancers. So it's definitely not the disease to neglect.

If you are suspicious that you, your parents (they tend to be neglectful about their own health) or your child is showing diabetic symptoms, don't neglect this. It is preventable, diagnosable and manageable and the earlier the better!

More info and sources:


Friday, November 11, 2011

Cancer Risk, Lowered By Diet!

“You are what you eat”. We have all heard that saying from time to time, but do we realize the truth inherent in it? When it comes to health, it cannot be over stated. Cancer, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. has been tied to diet. Recent studies show that food intake plays a significant part in 30% of all cancer diagnoses. As certain foods can help fight cancer risk and others cause for a rise in it, food intake is one of the most important factors in cancer prevention
When eating, it is important to determine whether the food you are eating is promoting or discouraging cancer development. The most harmful foods are usually those that are the least natural. As many cancer causing agents are found in chemicals present in food additives, less natural food is more prone to promoting cancer. Natural foods may not be as colorful or stay on the shelf as long as others, but they are important nonetheless. One other food linked to cancer is red meats. Red meat, with its high amount of animal fat is known to highly correlate with cancer diagnosis. The toxins and carcinogens found in animal fat may have a lot to do with this. Understandably, many will still eat red meat; however, cutting back and replacing it with other leaner proteins such as fish and poultry will help reduce cancer risk.
Fruits and vegetables are essential
to help in decreasing your cancer risk!
Foods with naturally occurring flavonoids and antioxidants have shown the ability to curb cancer development. In nature, flavonoids keep plants alive. Often found in bitter foods such as coffee, dark chocolate as well as many citrus fruits, flavonoids may actually slow down tumor growth. Along with them, antioxidants have been shown to help limit cancer development. Found in fruits and vegetables antioxidants as well as vitamins Band C have been shown to inhibit growth of a number of cancers such as gastric cancer and pleural mesothelioma. If you are looking for a cancer-free diet, natural fruits and vegetables are definitely the way to go. 
To recap, in order to maintain a cancer-free diet, one merely needs to maintain a natural, healthy, fruit and vegetable-heavy diet. While taking action to improve your diet is not a guarantee to remain cancer-free, it definitely won’t hurt your chances, and hey, I bet you’ll feel better and maybe lose a little weight too.

This post is a guest post by Leroy Templeton

Leroy Templeton is a recent college graduate from the University of Central Florida. He majored in English and was involved in several health and fitness clubs including the sports medicine team. He has always been fascinated by the body and has been looking to promote the benefits of living a healthy and active lifestyle.

Photo source

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sitting Around May Increase Cancer Risks!

The hours we spend sitting at home, at workplace, in class, driving from and to places, using computers or watching TV are all as bad as couch-potato lifestyle! These sedentary hours may be increasing our risk for cancer, just as the time we spend exercising can reduce this risk.

Well, the connection between lack of exercise and the increased risk for heart disease is well established by now; however, the association between a "couch potato" lifestyle and cancer risk is a relatively new! 
A study published last week show that there is now convincing evidence that being physically active reduces the risk of both colon and breast cancers!

Of course it is important to exercise daily, but if the rest of your time is spend sitting, we have a problem! Regular exercise can reduce the risk up to 35 % for colon cancer and 25 % for breast cancer. And yes, there is a dose response: the more you are active, the lower the risk. The connection that lies between obesity and risk of cancer is through hormones, insulin resistance, and increasing inflammation - among others - that are all affected by one's sedentary versus active lifestyle. So just sitting around can increase our markers of inflammation and can actually cut years off our lives!

We need more of this at work!

Therefore moving at work is crucial to aid in decreasing cancers risk!

The American Institute for Cancer Research includes tips for getting active at work:
  • You can stretch your neck, your upper body, your forearmsyour lower back while sitting or standing!
  • Take a short walk, even down the hall, every hour. Set the timer on your phone or computer to remind you. Just take a trip to that water dispenser, get some water. This way you can stay hydrated, loosen up and stretch a bit. This has been shown to help decrease constipation, so there you go!
  • If possible, take a walk with coworkers to discuss issues; not just by email.
  • Use light weights while you're on the phone or reading emails.
  • Walk around while you talk on the phone.
  • Use an office wall for stretching, doing vertical pushups or leg lifts.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkins this Halloween!

Yesterday I was intrigued to buy me some pumpkin to carve! You see them everywhere during Halloween but I actually never carved one myself, especially that it's not a tradition in Lebanon. However, it is sure gaining some popularity so why not have some fun!

I googled how to carve a pumpkin and got this step by step carving technique, it was pretty helpful and I have to admit, it turned out to be a fun - and not sooo messy - activity! 

My sister with our masterpiece
and a weird spooky ghost that
came out of nowhere!
It may be said that the remarkable nutritional value of the orange-yellowish pulp of the pumpkin is due in part to its composition, but also for what it does not contain! Pumpkins are among the lowest of any foods in fat and sodium! The nutrient content of a pumpkin is quite low - 6 % carbs, 1 % proteins and virtually no fat! However, it stands out for its fiber content which increase satiety and its richness in beta-carotene (provitamin A), vitamin C, vitamin E and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus and calcium. All these give pumpkins - no matter what their shades of yellow or orange is - their ability to aid in regulating blood pressure and coronary heart disease, to act as a laxative as well as a mild diuretic.
As for pumpkin seeds, which mom is currently sun-drying them, they are one of the most nutritious and flavorful seeds! They are a good source of beta carotene, vitamin K, omega 3 and minerals like magnesium and manganese, zinc and copper.

So over all, pumpkins are not just a pretty face - they can be nutritious as well! Vegetarian pumpkin kebbe, a dish made from pumpkin, bulgur and stuffed with swiss chard or spinach from Chicho's kitchen is my all time favorite! There's also my teta's favorite: pumpkin kebbe stuffed with labne or feta which I got from The Food Blog!