The dose makes the poison. So said 16th century physician Paracelsus. I learnt this today reading an article in The Guardian titled Inside the food industry: the surprising truth about what you eat by Joanna Blythman. At this point in time I known very little about Blythman but I am going to make it a priority to find out more.
While some have accused Blythman of using potentially inflammatory language to make her case, I think she may very well be onto something.
Regular readers know I have at least one auto-immune (AI) condition and consequently have been doing some research. In summary, my learnings include:
- Incidence of AI conditions is increasing and researchers don’t yet know why.
- There are over eighty AI diseases.
- 25% of AI patients have more than one AI condition.
- Researchers are currently looking at the links between gut bacteria and rheumatoid arthritis (an AI condition).
- Many AI conditions affect women more than men.
- In Australia women aged between twenty-five and seventy-four are high users of medical care. I don’t know about other countries at this point, but Australian health seems to mirror that of other Western countries.
Blythman mentions chronic disease.
A disturbing 60% of the UK population is overweight; a quarter of us are obese. Are we leaping to an unjustified conclusion when we lay a significant part of the blame for obesity, chronic disease and the dramatic rise in reported food allergies at the door of processed food? There are several grounds for examining this connection.
AI conditions are where the body’s immune system, designed to defend the body from marauding intruders, turns on itself. Why? The scientist who answers that question need never work another day in her (or his) life.
I found Blythman’s article worrying. It is she who cites Paracelsus and I remembered researching aspartame a few years ago. I hate the taste, you see. Can’t drink anything where aspartame is used as the sweetener. I always wondered why until I read an article in a newspaper one day stating that those of use who find aspartame decidedly unpleasant actually retain an old gene. That gene controls a function of the body that detects poison in food. Very handy, I am sure, in caveman days when those delicious looking berries could kill in five seconds flat if more than a taste was ingested. Infuriatingly I can’t find any information on this genetic variation on-line, therefore I can’t substantiate it for readers. I can’t stand the taste of any of the artificial sweeteners except perhaps Splenda which I have never tried – once I read it was a chlorinated sugar, a chlorocarbon, I wasn’t going anywhere near it.
The old adage of “we are what we eat” may be truer than we think, perhaps. I am intrigued by the details in Blythman’s article. Some of the industrial stuff done to food we then eat is quite worrying: what is that food then doing to our bodies? One of the possibilities is turning our bodies against us. I’ve never been one to eat a lot of highly processed foods, but everyone’s bodies react differently. Some people are allergic to penicillin yet it has saved countless lives. Some allergies develop over time. No two people are the same.
A salesman for Agricoat told me that they had been dipped in one of its solutions, NatureSeal, which, because it contains citric acid along with other unnamed ingredients, adds 21 days to their shelf life. Treated in this way, carrots don’t develop that telltale white that makes them look old, cut apples don’t turn brown, pears don’t become translucent, melons don’t ooze and kiwis don’t collapse into a jellied mush; a dip in NatureSeal leaves salads “appearing fresh and natural”.
For the salesman, this preparation was a technical triumph, a boon to caterers who would otherwise waste unsold food. There was a further benefit: NatureSeal is classed as a processing aid, not an ingredient, so there’s no need to declare it on the label, no obligation to tell consumers that their “fresh” fruit salad is weeks old.
A processing aid! No labelling requirement so I can’t even avoid it if I wanted to. I am sure years ago when I was young fresh milk never had the use-by date two weeks out like it seems to these days. Hope they aren’t doing anything sneaky to the milk.
Over the past few years, the food industry has embarked on an operation it dubs “clean label”, with the goal of removing the most glaring industrial ingredients and additives, replacing them with substitutes that sound altogether more benign.
Worrying. I do suggest you read Blythman’s article. She has twenty-five years experience investigating the food chain – this is no novice in the field.
We started bringing the laboratory into our food chain relatively recently in historical terms. Of course, medical science has improved during the same period – we can now detect conditions we never could in years gone past. There could be nothing more than co-incidence here. Or not.
It could be that some of these additives and processing aids trigger our immune systems to malfunction. This may occur over time. It may be that the female body chemistry is such that women are more susceptible.
Clearly I don’t know the answers, but I sure hope someone out there is looking. Asbestos used to be considered a wonderful thing once. Then we found out about malignant mesothelioma. No more asbestos for us! The lesson we should have learnt is we don’t always know as much as we think we know.
The desire for increased profit drives much of the food fiddling.
A pastry chef in gleaming whites rounded off his live demonstration by offering sample petits fours to the buyers who had gathered. His dainty heart- and diamond-shaped cakes were dead ringers for those neat layers of sponge, glossy fruit jelly, cream and chocolate you see in the windows of upmarket patisseries, but were made entirely without eggs, butter or cream, thanks to the substitution of potato protein isolate. This revolutionary ingredient provides the “volume, texture, stability and mouthfeel” we look for in cakes baked with traditional ingredients – and it just happens to be cheaper.
Just what I wanted – pastry made of potato protein isolate.
So, out come two additives and one ingredient that many people avoid, to be replaced by a single new-generation ingredient, one that is opaque in its formulation (proprietary secrets and all that) but which won’t trigger consumer alarm.
I’m a consumer. An unwell, alarmed consumer who quite possibly reads too much and then asks too many awkward questions. The oft-cited reasoning around additives that are KNOWN to be toxic is something along the lines of “in small does it is OK”. Perhaps we could make that “ALONE in small doses”. The levels of toxicity we are exposed to in 2015 in just getting from home to work is nothing like it was in 1815. Way, way higher. A little bit of toxicity in your drink, a little more in your pre-packaged pudding and what is in your toothpaste and nail polish that is being absorbed by your body? What are the possible long term effects on the human body of an accumulation of these approved small doses of toxicity in combination with each other and/or external toxins we are exposed to daily such as carbon monoxide? Or even just some human bodies if some of us are immune (or just tougher).
I’ve written before about the relationship between stress and AI conditions. Perhaps we are reducing our body’s ability to deal with stress effectively. The possibilities are endless.
The food industry is big business. Oddly, most of us like to eat. In this fast paced, less free time than ever world in which we live, less and less of us cook all our food from fresh ingredients plucked from our garden as my parents did. We killed our own meat too. The only things we bought were fruit, fish and bread with the occasional watermelon (because my mother missed Australian watermelon). In my home we cook most of the time, but we are not averse to the odd packet of chocolate chip cookies from Costco or ice-creams from Coles and we don’t have control over how the “fresh” meat, fruit and vegetables are “prepared” before we buy them. What we cook we assume to be fresh-ish, but how do I know what processing aids may be lingering? I now wonder if our cookies are really just potato. A friend once told me if buying shares, invest in companies that make toilet paper and tissues as those companies will never go broke. The same could be said of food to a degree: food never goes out of fashion.
The dose makes the poison. Yes, indeed. Are we allowing ourselves to be slowly poisoned? Will we ever find out? Would we be considered safe to eat or would we be considered too contaminated?
We have no Science Minister in Australia. We have stripped the guts out of the CSIRO. We have the IPA wanting to stop food labelling.
71 Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling
How are we to protect ourselves and our children from unscrupulous practices?