Measuring Sodium Intake May Not Be So Easy

Eating foods high in salt is known to contribute to high blood pressure, but does that linear relationship extend to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death? While recent studies have contested that relationship, a new study confirms it. The study – published in the International Journal of Epidemiology by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and their colleagues using multiple measurements – suggests that an inaccurate way of estimating sodium intake may help account for the paradoxical findings of others.

“Sodium is notoriously hard to measure,” says Nancy Cook, ScD, a biostatistician in the Department of Medicine at BWH. “Sodium is hidden and you often don’t know how much of it you’re eating, which makes it hard to estimate how much a person has consumed from a dietary questionnaire. Sodium excretions are the best measure, but there are many ways of collecting those. In our work, we used multiple measures to get a more accurate picture.”

Sodium intake can be measured using a spot test to determine how much salt has been excreted in a person’s urine sample. However, sodium levels in urine can fluctuate throughout the day so an accurate measure of a person’s sodium intake on a given day requires a full 24-hour sample. In addition, sodium consumption may change from day to day, meaning that the best way to get a full picture of sodium intake is to take samples on multiple days.

The team assessed sodium intake in multiple ways, including estimates based on that formula as well as ones based on the gold-standard method, which uses the average of multiple, non-consecutive urine samples. They assessed results for participants in the Trials of Hypertension Prevention, which included nearly 3,000 individuals with pre-hypertension.

The gold-standard method showed a direct linear relationship between increased sodium intake and increased risk of death. The team found that the Kawasaki formula suggested a J-shaped curve, which would imply that both low levels and high levels of sodium consumption were associated with increased mortality. “Our findings indicate that inaccurate measurement of sodium intake could be an important contributor to the paradoxical J-shaped findings reported in some cohort studies,” the authors stated. “Epidemiological studies should not associate health outcomes with unreliable estimates of sodium intake.”

Does Nutritional Labeling For Sodium Work?

Ninety percent of Americans eat more than the recommended amount of sodium per day. Foods popular in the American diet that are saturated with sodium include frozen pizza, potato chips and fast food hamburgers. New research from the University of Georgia has determined that one popular approach – nutrition labeling – doesn’t work. “Currently we don’t know which interventions are most effective to reduce sodium intake in the U.S. population, and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act is the only policy in the U.S. focusing on informing consumers about sodium content on most packaged foods,” said Donglan “Stacy” Zhang, assistant professor of health policy and management at UGA’s College of Public Health and lead author on the study.

Nutrition labels are designed to help consumers make the best food choices for their health, which is why calories, fats and other major nutrients like protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals are prominently featured. In a paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Zhang and her co-authors examined the link between regularly reading nutrition labels and consumption of high-sodium foods.

Promoting Sodium Health

Using two consumer behavior data sets from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers compared how frequently participants used nutrition labels and their daily sodium intake. They found a small effect. Frequent nutrition label users consumed 92 milligrams less sodium per day than infrequent nutrition label users, but label readers were still eating around 3,300 milligrams of sodium, well over the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended upper limit of 2,300 milligrams per day. “That’s a very small reduction,” said Zhang. “Without health promotion, without any other additional education intervention, nutrition labeling has little impact on sodium consumption.”

There is a need for better label design. The current label can present challenges to some consumers with limited education or non-English speakers. Visual or color-coded designs, like the traffic light model used on food packaging in the United Kingdom can overcome low literacy. “We need more research in this area, how to better design the label and how to best get this information to consumers to guide their decision-making,” Zhang said.

The effect varied widely across age, gender and socioeconomic groups. Specifically, low income consumers were less likely to use nutrition labels. “We suspect that low-income people are more concerned about other variables such as food prices or convenience,” she said. “Those other competing variables may be more important to them than nutrition values in their food products. Interventions that increase nutritious food choices for low-income consumers may be a more successful way to reduce sodium intake in these groups.”

Can A Healthy Diet Offset High Salt Intake?

A healthy diet may not offset the effects of a high salt intake on blood pressure, suggests a recent study. The research, from scientists at a number of institutions, including Imperial College London and Northwestern University, analyzed the diets of over 4,000 people. The results, published in the journal Hypertension, showed that people eating higher amounts of salt had higher blood pressure no matter how healthy a person’s overall diet.

High blood pressure affects more than one in four adults in the United Kingdom, and increases the risk of a number of conditions including heart attacks and stroke. It’s thought to have a number of causes, including age, weight and eating too much salt. Vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegetables might in some way affect blood vessels, enabling them to lower blood pressure. Previously, experts believed that eating high amounts of fruit and vegetables might help counteract the effect of high salt on blood pressure. However, while these foods do tend to lower blood pressure, the new research suggests they do not counteract the adverse influence of salt intake.

The team studied data from the INTERMAP study. In this study, which was conducted between 1997 and 1999, scientists tracked the diets of 4,680 people, aged 40 to 59, from the U.S., UK, Japan and China. The volunteers were tracked over four days, and two urine samples were taken. Measurements of height, weight and blood pressure were also taken. The team assessed concentrations of sodium and potassium in the urine samples. Sodium is the main component of salt, while potassium, which is found in green leafy vegetables, has been linked to lower blood pressure.

Blood Pressure And Salt Intake

The team also used dietary data to assess the volunteers’ intake of over 80 nutrients that may be linked to low blood pressure, including vitamin C, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. Many of these nutrients are found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. The researchers found a correlation between high blood pressure and higher salt intake, even in people who were eating a high amount of potassium and other nutrients. The researchers estimated salt intake by analyzing sodium in the urine, as well as analyzing dietary data. The recommended upper limit of adult salt intake in the UK is six grams a day or one teaspoon.

The study found that average salt intake across the study was 10.7 grams a day. The average intake for the UK was 8.5 grams, while the intake for the U.S., China and Japan were 9.6 grams, 13.4 grams and 11.7 grams respectively. Increasing salt intake above this average amount was linked to an increase in blood pressure. An increase of an additional seven grams of salt above the average intake was associated with an increase in systolic blood pressure of 3.7 mmHg.

Blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The first, called systolic pressure, measures the force the heart pumps blood around the body. The second number, called diastolic pressure, is the resistance to blood flow in the arteries. Ideally, blood pressure should be between 90/60 and 120/80 mmHg. However, reducing blood pressure by just a small amount can reduce the risk of conditions such as stroke.

The research shows the importance of cutting salt intake. “We currently have a global epidemic of high salt intake and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Queenie Chan, joint lead author of the research from the School of Public Health at Imperial. “This research shows there are no cheats when it comes to reducing blood pressure. Having a low salt diet is key even if your diet is otherwise healthy and balanced. As a large amount of the salt in our diet comes from processed food, we are urging food manufacturers to take steps to reduce salt in their products.”

Survey Finds Huge Variation Of Salt Levels In Bread

Bread is one of the biggest sources of salt in diets. A recent survey by World Action on Salt and Health reveals the levels of salt present in this essential staple. WASH surveyed over 2,000 white, wholemeal, mixed grain and flat breads from 32 countries and regions, including over 500 products from Canada collected by Professor Mary L’Abbe’s lab at the University of Toronto

Seventy-three percent of Canadian breads exceeded Health Canada’s 2016 targets for sodium in bread products and 21 percent were above recommended maximum levels. The saltiest bread in the survey was Rosemary Foccacia by ACE Bakery, which is available in Canada. It contained 2.65 grams of salt (1060mg sodium) per 100 grams, which is saltier than seawater. In Canadians more than one year of age, bread contributes the most sodium to dietary intakes – 14 percent – primarily because it is consumed in large quantities.

Reducing salt in bread is an easy and effective way of lowering salt intake across the whole population. Research has shown that the salt content of bread could be lowered by 25 percent over six weeks and consumers would not notice the difference. More than 40 percent of white breads included in the WASH survey had more salt than the UK’s maximum salt target. The Republic of Macedonia produced white breads with the highest salt content, averaging 1.42g/100 grams, compared to China which had the lowest average salt content of 0.65g/100 grams. Canadian breads in this category had an average salt content of 1.23g/100 grams, ranging from 0.43g/100 grams to 2.65g/100 grams.

Despite the UK’s progress with salt reduction to date, the average salt content of wholemeal breads from Qatar, China, Costa Rica and South Africa were lower than the average salt content of wholemeal breads in the UK. This suggests that mandatory salt reduction targets, such as those put in place in South Africa, may be more effective than voluntary targets.

Although mixed grain breads had the lowest salt content of the bread categories, there was still a huge variation within this category. The highest salt bread available in Bulgaria had a salt content of 2.50g/100g, compared to the lowest salt bread available in Costa Rica with a salt content of 0.09g/100g. In Canada, the highest salt bread in this category had a salt content of 1.69 g/100g and the lowest 0.46 g/100g.

Salt Reduction Goal

A recent survey by WASH found that a third of respondents felt that the World Health Organization could do more to encourage countries to lower salt intakes. However, the majority of respondents felt that their country’s government should take primary responsibility. “Although recent Health Canada data has documented some progress in the reduction of sodium in prepackaged foods, Canadian bread products surveyed here demonstrate that more work is needed to meet recommended levels,” says Professor Mary L’Abbe at the University of Toronto.

“This survey clearly demonstrates the progress still to be made to lower salt intake by 30 percent by 2025, in line with WHO recommendations,” added Mhairi Brown, Nutritionist at WASH. “Bread is an essential staple food in many countries but is still a key source of salt in our diets due to the frequency with which we eat bread. Globally we must do more to reduce salt intake, and a simple way to do this is to lower salt in our staple foods.”

“Eating too much salt puts up our blood pressure, the major cause of strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, the leading cause of death and disability worldwide,” added Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiology at Queen Mary, University of London, and WASH Chairman. “Reducing salt intake around the world would save millions of lives each year and all countries should be working towards reducing salt intake by 30 percent by 2025. Our survey has shown that many bread manufacturers internationally are still adding huge and unnecessary amounts of salt to their products. Governments must act now and reinvigorate salt reduction work in the food industry.”

Limiting Your Salt Intake

Sodium intake also continues to be a major issue for many Americans. While the American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most adults, recent findings showed that from 2013 to 2014 the average daily U.S. sodium intake was 3,409 milligrams excluding salt added at the table. These findings from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed breads were the top source, comprising six percent of sodium consumed. This was followed by pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts and cured meats, soup, and rice. The most important thing consumers can do to ensure they are not overdoing on salt is to check food labels.

The AHA recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, and an ideal limit of 1,500 milligrams for most adults. “Most items you buy at the grocery have a food label that will tell you exactly how much sodium is in that product,” says Anna Threadcraft, RDN, and Director of Employee Wellness at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “The recommended daily sodium intake is 2300 milligrams or less, which may seem like a lot, but that’s really the equivalent of a teaspoon. It is very easy to overconsume without realizing it.”  Most Americans consume their recommended sodium intake already through the foods they eat day to day, and when people add more salt for flavor, that pushes them over the limit.

Because the average American’s sodium intake is so excessive, even cutting back to no more than 2,400 milligrams a day will significantly improve blood pressure and heart health. “I encourage people to taste their food before salting to see if food actually needs it to ensure they’re not salting simply out of habit,” she said.

Read The Labels

Americans get most of their daily sodium – more than 75 percent – from processed and restaurant foods. Sodium is already in processed and restaurant foods when purchased, which makes it difficult to reduce daily sodium intake. “I think the first and most important thing people can do is to read the labels on the products they buy,” Threadcraft continued. “Pre-packaged foods definitely have their place, but they should be chosen carefully.”

The first thing to do when looking at labels is to identify the serving size, then look at the milligrams of sodium which are connected with the serving size listed. “A lot of people who have busy schedules need something quick and pre-prepared to eat,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you have to give up flavor in order to get something healthy that is also easy to make. Frozen vegetables are a great option for a quick and low-sodium side at dinner, and typically there is no sodium added.”

When using canned vegetables, look for low-sodium or sodium-free options since many canned food items are high in sodium. Rinsing canned items is another way to reduce the sodium content.  Americans eat at fast food or dine-in restaurants four or five times a week. For those who frequent restaurants, most establishments have their nutrition facts listed either online or in the store.

Pure Herbs And Spices

Consumers should also be aware of hidden sources of sodium such as sauces and dressings, and ask for these toppings on the side. One tablespoon of teriyaki sauce can have 879 milligrams of sodium. The same amount of soy sauce may have up to 1,005 milligrams – almost half of the recommended daily intake. Try using pure herbs and spices instead of extra salt to find the perfect flavor. “There is no salt in pure herbs and spices at all, and you can get a very rich flavor from those,” Threadcraft said. “Acidic juices like orange or pineapple are great marinade alternatives for chicken or fish compared to barbecue sauce or soy sauce.”

To get the most flavor from herbs, crush or rub them before adding them to the dish. Buy herbs and spices in small amounts as you need them rather than storing them for a long time. If using fresh herbs such as parsley or cilantro, store them in water so they stay fresh.  Most Americans eat three meals a day, and depending on diets, breakfast may be the biggest culprit when it comes to sodium intake.  “In the South, we love our salt,” Threadcraft said. “Breakfast casseroles, sausage and bacon are major sources of sodium. While watching sodium intake can be tedious, all foods can fit. If you really love bacon, which is high in sodium, then maybe you can make a wise choice and not add salt to your eggs at breakfast. You can find ways to compromise, but be smart with it.”

The Health Risks

“Excess sodium can increase your blood pressure and your risk for a heart disease and stroke,” Threadcraft continued. “Together, heart disease and stroke kill more Americans each year than any other cause.” But salt does not just increase risk of stroke and heart disease. UAB researchers David and Jennifer Pollock, Ph.D., are studying the effects of salt on the renal system. “We know that the Western diet we all eat has far too much salt in it, and we know the number of people consuming salt in Western and developing countries is rising,” David Pollock said. “Evolutionarily speaking, we didn’t have bountiful salt in the diet until just in the last 100 years. But physiologically, we are designed to conserve salt. We haven’t evolved to handle these high-salt diets we’re eating. Now that it’s become appreciated that a high-salt diet may contribute to the rise of many diverse health problems including autoimmune disease, trying to understand how the body regulates salt is extremely important.”

Salt helps to maintain the body’s fluid balance and maintain muscle contraction and is a vital component of blood, plasma and digestive secretions. Salt is not inherently bad, but people need to learn to manage it effectively.

Cinnamon: An Impressive Entity For Health

Research has shown that the spice known as cinnamon is a great thing to add to the diets of those who are dealing with obesity, insulin sensitivity and diabetes. Additional research now shows that the spice works really well in accordance with fat cells. The essential oil cinnamaldehyde, which gives the cinnamon its flavor, actually helps to burn away fat. The reason why this happens was previously not understood or well documented. Researchers at the University of Michigan had some questions about how this occurs and wanted a more complete understanding of this function so they set out to test how it happens.

One of the findings was that cinnamaldehyde helps to improve metabolic health by directly targeting the fat cells and inducing the process called thermogenesis, which is the process of burning these cells for energy. The study took various participants from differing ages, ethnicities and weights. When their cells came into contact with cinnamaldehyde, there was a noticeable increase in expression of many cells regarding an enhanced metabolism. There was also an increase in specific proteins that are involved in the process of thermogenesis.

Promoting Thermogenesis

“Scientists were finding that this compound affected metabolism,” explains June Wu, head researcher and study author. “So we wanted to figure out how – what pathway might be involved, what it looked like in mice, and what it looked like in human cells. It’s only been relatively recently that energy surplus has become a problem. Throughout evolution, the opposite – energy deficiency – has been the problem. So any energy-consuming process usually turns off the moment the body doesn’t need it.”

This is sensational news because the growing obesity epidemic can use something effective that would help curb the issues our society has with excess weight. The way that cinnamon helps to promote the act of thermogenesis could be incredibly essential to the diets of those who are struggling with their weight.

Metabolic health compromise comes when caloric intake is too high, hormone regulatory systems are not working and poor food choices are made. Cinnamon has also been known to positively impact the way that insulin works in individuals who are pre-diabetic and deal with high blood sugar levels.

Incorporate Good Eating Habits

The presence of heart disease, diabetes and obesity are plaguing this country and any additional information or tips that can be given to the general public, regarding what needs to be done in order to combat these issues – and even in some cases reverse them – needs to be considered. Incorporating good eating habits, and directly dealing with habits that lead to overconsumption and poor food quality, will allow us to do better overall.

Access to healthy food is also something that must be fully acknowledged as some areas don’t have an adequate grocery store nearby. Thankfully, something like cinnamon is relatively inexpensive and can be found at many grocery stores and also at discount and saving stores.

Making concerted efforts to improve your health from the inside out is crucial to your quality of life. The food that you ingest is central to this in a number of ways. Stay away from processed foods and sugar because they are absolutely terrible for you. You likely ingest way more of them then you even realize.

The Truth About What Curcumin Does

One of the most commonly talked about substances in holistic spaces comes from the brightly colored turmeric. Curcumin is a compound within the yellow root turmeric and it has amazing properties that can greatly improve your mood and your memory. UCLA researchers wanted to know if the hype about this special compound held up.

Curcumin is absorbed very easily and has impressive interactions with the mind in a way that can potentially be beneficial to those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. One of the most common effects is its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It has largely been thought that there is a type of inflammation that happens in the brain that accounts for the widespread prevalence of cognitive disorders that are seen more commonly in the elderly. This would certainly account for why those who consume a lot of this substance would have less of a chance of suffering from these conditions.

Meaningful Cognitive Benefits

“Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression,” says Gary Small, lead doctor on the study. “The results suggest that taking this relatively safe form of curcumin could provide meaningful cognitive benefits over the years.”

The results that Smith is referring to looked at 40 different people between the ages of 50 and 90, all in relatively good health other than some mild complaints regarding their memory. There were individuals who were randomly picked to be given the placebo while the others received 90 milligrams of curcumin twice a day for a year and a half.

All 40 of the participants took part in cognitive awareness tests every six months and their results were monitored and logged. Eighty percent of the participants also took PET scans to determine the exact amount of both tau and amyloid that their brain had at the beginning and end of the year-and-a-half period.

A Real Game Changer

Those who did take the curcumin experienced noticeable differences in their memory and their ability to stay on task. The PET scans also showed much less of the tau and amyloid signals in the patients who were given the placebos instead of the curcumin dosage. A couple of individuals mentioned that they were experiencing a bit of abdominal pain and nausea, however these reactions may not have been related as two of them were taking the placebo while four were taking the curcumin.

The researchers were incredibly impressed by the results and will be conducting a similar study with a larger test group of people. There will also be more elaborate and thorough testing regarding the ability of curcumin to positively impact those who struggle with mild depression. The fact that curcumin also has antidepressant effects could be a real game changer in the psychiatric realm.

Studies Shed Light On Food Chemicals And Additives

With the start of a new year, many Americans will resolve to cut back on fast food to avoid an overload of fat and calories. Yet, there is another reason to resist the temptation to indulge in fast food. The grease-proof packaging holding your burger and fries may contain potentially harmful fluorinated chemicals that can leach into food.

In a comprehensive analysis on the prevalence of highly-fluorinated chemicals in fast food packaging in the United States, researchers tested more than 400 samples from 27 fast food chains throughout the country. The samples, consisting of paper wrappers, paperboard, and drink containers, were analyzed for a class of chemicals called PFASs – per and polyfluoroalkyl substances – also known as PFCs. These highly-fluorinated chemicals are widely used in an array of nonstick, stain-resistant, and waterproof products, including carpeting, cookware, outdoor apparel and food packaging.

Potentially Harmful Chemicals That Can Leach Into Food

Exposure to some PFASs has been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, immune suppression, low birth weight, and decreased fertility. “These chemicals have been linked with numerous health problems, so it’s concerning that people are potentially exposed to them in food,” says Laurel Schaider, an environmental chemist at Silent Spring Institute and the study’s lead author. “Children are especially at risk for health effects because their developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals.” Approximately one third of children in the U.S. consume fast food every day.

Researchers applied a novel technique using particle-induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy to analyze the samples for fluorine – a marker of PFASs. The findings were reported in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The team found that almost half of paper wrappers – burger wrappers and pastry bags – and 20 percent of paperboard samples – boxes for fries and pizza – contained fluorine. Tex-Mex food packaging and dessert and bread wrappers, in particular, were most likely to contain fluorine compared with other categories of packaging.

To characterize the different types of PFASs present and to validate their analysis, the researchers conducted a more detailed study on a subset of 20 samples. In general, samples that were high in fluorine, also contained PFASs. Six of the samples contained a long-chain PFAS called PFOA – perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as C8. Following a review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in 2011 several major U.S. manufacturers voluntarily agreed to stop using C8 compounds in food packaging due to health hazards.

Reduce The Use

Although major U.S. manufacturers have agreed to phase out long-chain PFASs in consumer products, other countries still produce them, and many companies have been replacing them with shorter-chain PFAS compounds, some of which were detected in the study. “The replacement compounds are equally persistent and have not been shown to be safe for human health,” says co-author Arlene Blum, founder of the Green Science Policy Institute. “That’s why we need to reduce the use of the entire class of highly-fluorinated compounds. The good news is there are non-fluorinated alternatives available.”

The team found PFASs present at a wide range of concentrations in their samples, suggesting that some packaging was deliberately treated with fluorinated compounds, whereas in other cases, the chemicals may have come from recycled materials or other sources. Even if the chemicals are phased out, they are highly persistent in the environment. Studies have shown that PFASs from consumer products accumulate in landfill sites, and can migrate into groundwater, potentially impacting drinking water supplies. Currently, PFASs are allowed in compostable food packaging, which can affect levels in soil and crop plants.

“All PFASs, including the newer replacements, are highly resistant to degradation and will remain in the environment for a long time,” says co-author Graham Peaslee, a physicist at the University of Notre Dame who developed the PIGE method to screen food wrappers. “Because of this, these highly-fluorinated chemicals are not sustainable and should not be used in compostable products or any product that might end up in a landfill.”

Food Additive Could Alter Digestive Cell Structure And Function

The ability of small intestine cells to absorb nutrients and act as a barrier to pathogens is “significantly decreased” after chronic exposure to nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, a common food additive found in everything from chewing gum to bread, according to other research from Binghamton University, State University of New York. Researchers exposed a small intestinal cell culture model to the physiological equivalent of a meal’s worth of titanium oxide nanoparticles – 30 nanometers across – over four hours (acute exposure) or three meal’s worth over five days (chronic exposure).

Acute exposures did not have much effect, but chronic exposure diminished the absorptive projections on the surface of intestinal cells called microvilli. With fewer microvilli, the intestinal barrier was weakened, metabolism slowed and some nutrients – iron, zinc, and fatty acids, specifically – were more difficult to absorb. Enzyme functions were negatively affected, while inflammation signals increased.

Avoid Titanium Oxide

“Titanium oxide is a common food additive and people have been eating a lot of it for a long time – don’t worry, it won’t kill you! – but we were interested in some of the subtle effects, and we think people should know about them,” said Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Gretchen Mahler, one of the authors of the paper.

“There has been previous work on how titanium oxide nanoparticles affect microvilli, but we are looking at much lower concentrations,” Mahler said. “We also extended previous work to show that these nanoparticles alter intestinal function.”

Titanium dioxide is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and ingestion is nearly unavoidable. The compound is an inert and insoluble material that is commonly used for white pigmentation in paints, paper and plastics. It is also an active ingredient in mineral-based sunscreens for pigmentation to block ultraviolet light.

However, it can enter the digestive system through toothpastes, as titanium dioxide is used to create abrasion needed for cleaning. The oxide is also used in some chocolate to give it a smooth texture; in donuts to provide color; and in skimmed milks for a brighter, more opaque appearance which makes the milk more palatable.

A 2012 Arizona State University study tested 89 common food products including gum, Twinkies, and mayonnaise and found that they all contained titanium dioxide. About five percent of products in that study contained titanium dioxide as nanoparticles. Dunkin Donuts stopped using powdered sugar with titanium dioxide nanoparticles in 2015 in response to pressure from the advocacy group As You Sow.

“To avoid foods rich in titanium oxide nanoparticles you should avoid processed foods, and especially candy. That is where you see a lot of nanoparticles,” Mahler said.

Everyday Chemicals Linked To Chronic Disease In Men

Chemicals found in everyday plastics materials are linked to cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure in men, according to Australian researchers.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute investigated the independent association between chronic diseases among men and concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates. The results of the study were published in the international journal Environmental Research.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals widely used in common consumer products, such as food packaging and wrappings, toys, medications, and even medical devices. Researchers found that of the 1,500 Australian men tested, phthalates were detected in urine samples of 99.6% of those aged 35 and over.

“We found that the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure increased among those men with higher total phthalate levels,” says senior author Associate Professor Zumin Shi. “While we still don’t understand the exact reasons why phthalates are independently linked to disease, we do know the chemicals impact on the human endocrine system, which controls hormone release that regulate the body’s growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function. In addition to chronic diseases, higher phthalate levels were associated with increased levels of a range of inflammatory biomarkers in the body.”

Adopting A Healthier Lifestyle

Age and Western diets are directly associated with higher concentrations of phthalates. Previous studies have shown that men who ate less fresh fruit and vegetables and more processed and packaged foods, and drank carbonated soft drinks, have higher levels of phthalates in their urine.

“Importantly, while 82% of the men we tested were overweight or obese – conditions known to be associated with chronic diseases – when we adjusted for this in our study, the significant association between high levels of phthalates and disease was not substantially altered,” Shi added. “In addition, when we adjusted for socio-economic and lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol, the association between high levels of phthalates and disease was unchanged.”

Although the studies were conducted in men, the findings are also likely to be relevant to women. “While further research is required, reducing environmental phthalates exposure where possible, along with the adoption of healthier lifestyles, may help to reduce the risk of chronic disease,” Shi concluded.

The Research To Minimize Food Contaminants

Food too often contains unintended substances, including dangerous materials such as dioxins and polyfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS). While efforts to reduce dioxins over the last 30 years has been successful, more work needs to be done to minimize other contaminating substances. New research published by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in the special issue Food Contaminants surveys the risks of various substances, examines the ways they enter food, and the explores their prevalence in humans and the environment. This information will be critical in protecting people from food contamination.

The food production process is far from perfect. Substances unintentionally present in food – known as “contaminants” – are often detected. Some contamination results directly from mistakes in processing and transportation, and it can also occur from presence of substances in the environment – from pollution as well as the use of agrochemicals and pesticides. These substances are often harmful to the humans who ingest them, and steps need to be taken to minimize the presence of these contaminants. These steps begin with cutting-edge research. In the words of Dr. Reiner Wittkowski, the vice president of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, “Far-sighted approaches for identifying new risks have to be developed so that we don’t have to play catch-up,” he said. “The institute is helping to make strides toward that goal with the research published in Food Contaminants.”

Research into this subject is so vital because it provides a direction for regulations that can have positive effects on human health. Such regulations have worked in the past. After research in the 1980s demonstrated that dioxins were both harmful and widely present in the food supply, regulation succeeded in drastically reducing their presence.

PFAS

This same approach needs to be applied to other contaminants such as per- and polyfluorinated alkylated substances or PFAS. These stubborn compounds are resistant to heat and water, degrade slowly, and are unfortunately widespread because of their use in hundreds of common consumer products. PFAS remain in the environment for long periods of time, and they bioaccumulate in a human body – that is, their concentration increases over time in the blood and organs. At a high enough concentration, PFAS are linked to cancer, birth defects, resistance to vaccinations, high cholesterol, and the delayed onset of puberty. Researchers study these substances, their effects on the body, and their prevalence in the environment and people in order to inform our public policy.

Examples of such policy include regulation of materials used to store and transport food. This material sometimes contains substances that can bleed into the food. Other policies entail regulation of the food production process, as some contaminants can result from industrial practices. Still other solutions can involve regulation of the disposal of contaminants to avoid pollution. Studies in the special issue help to guide such policies by examining not only the harmful effects of contaminants but their estimated prevalence in the environment, giving lawmakers an idea of the urgent need to take action now and a path for future legislation to take.

Food is our life source and as such, we deserve clean, healthy, unadulterated access to it. Various contaminants can not only be dangerous but have long-stemming effects that can be costly and disastrous in the long run.