Antioxidants and Myths that Surround Them!

Antioxidants are one of the body’s most powerful weapons in maintaining overall health and wellness.  However, there’s definitely more to these vital nutrients than meets the eye, so this week, I wanted to de-myth the top health claims associated with antioxidants.

1. The role of antioxidants is to remove all of the free radicals that are inside our bodies.

What makes the above sentence a myth?  The word “all.”  Yes, free radicals definitely get a lot of negative hype and attention, but contrary to popular belief, we actually do need some free radicals inside of our bodies. As Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D, and Director of the Antioxidants Lab at Tufts University states, free radicals are “absolutely essential to life.  For example, immune cells will shoot free radicals onto invading bacteria in order to kill them.  They’re an important part of the body’s defenses.”   Hence, it is excess free radicals in the body that can be harmful to humans.  For example, sun overexposure, cigarette smoke, and pollutants can cause so many free radicals that your defenses become overwhelmed, leaving you at a greater risk for disease and cellular damage.  The job of antioxidants, then, is to neutralize free radicals in the body.

2.  The only significant source of antioxidants is found in fruits and vegetables.

Not so much.  Instead, antioxidants are also plentiful in plant based foods as well as many other antioxidant rich foods that don’t fall under the fruit or vegetable category.  In next week’s blog, I will delve into the wonderfully diverse world of foods loaded with antioxidants!

3.  An antioxidant is an antioxidant.  Each of these nutrients offer the same nutritional value to the body.

This actually isn’t true.  You can’t overcompensate on one specific type of antioxidant and then expect it to carry over onto a certain type of antioxidant that is deficient in your body.  For instance, if you consume copious amounts of  oranges for their Vitamin C content, but you are deficient in Vitamin E, the excess Vitamin C won’t be able to act as extra Vitamin E.  Each antioxidant has a different role in keeping your body healthy, so you want to aim to have as much of a diverse plant based diet as possible.  As Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D,  recommends, “Think of antioxidants as an army.  “You need generals, lieutenants, corporals, privates, and others with specific duties. You can’t fight an enemy with only generals.”

4.  Antioxidant fortified foods are super healthy for me and my family.

Most of the time, a food that’s deemed to be fortified with antioxidants is a rather misleading health claim from a manufacturer.  Most food companies have a tendency to exaggerate the actual amounts of vitamins and minerals that their products contain, so it’s up to us as the consumers to read the food labels.  As an example, Cherry 7 Up’s claims to be antioxidant fortified is all well and good, until you read the food label and find the minuscule amount of Vitamin E this soda actually contains.  Finally, the lesson learned here is to blatantly ignore the health claims that manufacturers plaster all over food packaging and instead rely solely on the ingredient labels.  If most of the ingredients are plant based, the chances are high that you are consuming an antioxidant rich food.

As mentioned above, my next post will feature a list of foods that are antioxidant rich…I think some may surprise you!

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

References

IFT. Institute of Food Technologies. N.D. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Masters, Maria. NBCNews. N.P. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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And Speaking of GMOs…

This week I thought that I’d touch upon GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, as a continuation of my guest blogger’s poem.  Below you’ll find information about all things GMO: why they’re in our food, the arguments that favor them, the arguments that denounce them, and how we can identify what foods they are in at the  supermarket.

What are GMOs?

All animal and plant species consist of cells, and at the center of every cell resides a nucleus.  The nucleus is known as the brain of the cell, and it operates the cell’s functioning and how it carries out day to day activities.  Next, DNA, or deoxyribose nucleic acid, can be found inside the nucleus in the form of genes.  And that brings us to genetically modified organisms, or plants and animals that have been engineered to have coveted traits and qualities.  To create a genetically modified organism, the DNA from one species is literally injected into the DNA of another.  However, it’s important to note that these methods are different than breeding or hybridizing.  This is because traditional breeding allows for members of the same species to mate with one another, thus producing a new and improved variety.  It is impossible to breed two different species together using this traditional breeding method.  On the other hand, a genetically modified organism can be engineered using different species.  For example, this science allows for a pig to be mated with a potato…pretty freaky!

Why are GMOs in our Food?
In an effort to make species immune to roundup (a type of pesticide), genetically modified organisms are in four-fifths of all of the food we eat.  Roundup is used to exterminate insects and prevent insurmountable weed growth.  GMOs that are able to resist pesticides maximize profits for farmers and manufacturers.
Arguments that Favor GMOs:
Many large scale farmers and manufacturers will argue that the science behind GMOs makes these engineered plant and animal species bionic, and able to withstand the harshest of conditions.  For instance, a genetically modified organism will be more apt to survive droughts and freezing temperatures.  Also, they are more likely to resist wide spread diseases and persistent pests or insects.
Arguments that Denounce GMOs:
The three main areas of concern against GMOs are their effects on our environment, our health, and our economy.  First, people are worried that plant and animals species that aren’t intended to be genetically modified will actually become GMOs through pollen.  For instance, it is possible for the pollen from a crop of corn to be carried over to milkweed plants.  The milkweed would then be consumed by monarch butterfly caterpillars.  The infected pollen would damage the caterpillar’s insides and cause it to die.  Therefore, many worry about what seems to be uncontrollable contamination of species.  In addition, GMOs have been linked to autism, increased allergenicity, birth defects, diabetes, and cancer.  Finally, the seeds of genetically modified organisms are quite expensive, and it is possible there will come a day when all small scale farmers, many from third world countries, wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of the genetically modified seeds.  Hence, without the immediate availability of food, malnutrition and starvation would skyrocket.
How To Detect Food Containing GMOs at the Supermarket:
If you’re looking to reduce your exposure to GMOs, here are some super savvy shopping tricks that you can use to reduce your overall exposure:
1.)  When you’re in the produce aisle, scan your fruits and veggies PLU or price lookup code.  If the first digit in the code is an 8, this means that the fruit or veggie is genetically modified.
However, it’s important to note that these PLUs aren’t required by the FDA, so nothing is guaranteed.
2.)  Opt for products that announce that they’re GMO free or non-GMO.
3.)  Purchase 100% grass fed beef in order to ensure that the animals weren’t fed genetically modified corn.
4.)  Start a garden this spring season…this way, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating: right down to the types of seeds that you bought!
5.)  Scout out local farmers markets and ask the farmers  how they treat their crops.  As a general rule, small scale farmers rely less heavily on genetically modified organisms and pesticides than do large scale farms and plantations.
Interestingly, the labeling of a genetically modified organism in the United States is not mandated by the FDA or the government.  Although a million people have petitioned the FDA in an effort to get proper labeling on genetically modified foods, powerful companies have lobbied against taking action.  But does the FDA’s refusal to grant consumers requests speak for itself in terms of the health effects of GMOs?  Let me know what you think!
Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,
Katie 🙂
References:
Clark, Sandra. HealthyFoodNaturally. Healthy Food – Naturally. 2013. Web. 19 March 2013.
Mastroberte, Tammy. ElevatedExistence. 2011. Web. 19 March 2013.
NoGMOShoppingGuide. Institute for Responsible Technology. 2010. Web. 19 March 2013.
Whitman, Deborah. CSA. ProQuest. 2012. Web. 19 March 2013.

My Guest Blogger has written an original poem…

Hi Everyone,

As I mentioned on Tuesday, my sister Elizabeth (a fellow girl scout) is guest blogging this post.  I hope you enjoy her original poem about the perils of high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified organisms.

Happy Friday!

Katie 🙂

High Fructose Corn Syrup

Sticky, smooth, and super sweet.

Found in Coke, bread, and even ketchup.

If we didn’t have it we would…use sugar.

So what’s the big deal?

It has only made America’s obesity rate skyrocket,

Replaced real cane sugar because it’s cheaper

AND is often made from genetically modified corn.

Who wouldn’t want to eat mutant corn sweetener?

I definitely don’t.

As for my personal opinion, I like food from the ground,

Not a science lab!

What are the effects of “GMOs?”

Could it be a higher risk of

toxicity,

allergenicity,

antibiotic resistance,

immune suppression,

and cancer?

Yes!

Stay away from mutant food.

Stay away from High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Ingredient Profile #3: Brominated Vegetable Oil

I can honestly say that I never thought brominated vegetable oil and flame retardant were phrases that could ever appear in the same sentence.  However, all of this changed when I began to read about this type of oil, which is surprisingly used in roughly 10% of our nation’s sodas and energy drinks.  Turns out, brominated vegetable oil is a food additive that acts as an emulsifier to hold the contents of a beverage together.  For example, this oil is contained in Mountain Dew to ensure that the beverage is homogeneous throughout, so the citrus flavoring of the drink is bound evenly throughout the can.  In addition, this chemical also gives sodas (especially Mountain Dew) their cloudy look.

This substance is in fact banned in Europe and Japan, and it’s not difficult to see why:  this ingredient was first procured as a flame retardant.  These flame retardants have been added to countless everyday household objects, including:  children’s toys,  foam cushions in upholstered couches,  and the plastics in some electronics.  Therefore, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when scientists began to hypothesize that symptoms from exposure to brominated vegetable oil could be quite similar to the ones from brominated flame retardants.  The concern about brominated vegetable oil is its link to skin lesions, memory loss, and some nerve disorders.  Furthermore, it has been proven that the element bromine from the oil has the capacity to build up in your fatty tissues overtime, thus having a negative effect on your body.  Animal studies have also been conducted that indicate excess portions of foods that contain the chemical can cause reproductive problems.

However, the good news is that consumers have become more aware of the hazards and side effects associated with brominated vegetable oil and have begun to voice their opinions about how it should be taken out of beverage formulas.  For instance, Gatorade removed this oil from its products as a result of a petition begun by Sarah Kavanagh, from Hattiesburg Mississippi.  More than 200,000 people signed this document and it definitely caught the attention of PepsiCo Incorporated.  Currently, another petition has started with the hope of trying to convince Coca-Cola to remove brominated vegetable oil from Powerade.  With 49,000 signatures and counting,  signers are showing that they no longer want to accept chemical additives in the beverages that they consume.

It’s empowering to learn what other consumers are doing to raise the American standard for foods and beverages.  Keep in mind that producers will usually try to get away with as little as they can, nutritionally speaking, so it’s really awesome to see buyers standing up for their rights.  The wonderful thing about being a citizen of this country is our unlimited and numerous opportunities for communication with each other.  Together, we can all be the voice of change in the food industry.

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

P.S.  I am pleased to announce that you will receive an additional post this week by guest blogger, Elizabeth (my sister!).  As part of a Language Arts assignment, she has to publish a writing piece.  Elizabeth is as passionate about nutrition as I am, so I know you will enjoy it!  I’ll be back with my regular Tuesday post next week.

References

Environmental Health News and Israel, Brett. ScientificAmerican. Scientific American Incorporated. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Lopez, Ricardo. “After Gatorade Removes Controversial Ingredient BVO, Will Powerade?” Los Angeles Times 13 Feb. 2013: Web. Touch.LATimes. 20 Feb. 2013.

A Few Snack Switches!

This week, I want to debrief the snack class that I recently taught.  At this class, we discussed how when snacking, there’s no need to sacrifice taste for quality.  The next time you are looking for a crunch, cookie, etc., keep these things in mind:

1. This first one can’t be stressed enough.  Please  read the ingredient label of each product that you put into your cart!  This way, instead of buying the spiced tortilla chip (yes, I’m thinking Nacho Cheese Doritos) with 28  ingredients, you can opt for a chip flavored without the use of unnatural flavorings and synthetic dyes like Red 40 and Yellow 5.  For instance, Trader Joe’s Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips are a better choice because they don’t have artificial flavors or preservatives.

2.  When searching for the right pretzel, keep in mind that pretzels should really only have 4 ingredients on the label: wheat flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.  The fewer ingredients the better.  I recently discovered pretzel crisps, which are delicious and offer much more of a crunch than the regularly shaped pretzels, because these crisps are much flatter.

3.  Popcorn is an excellent snack choice that satisfies while also adding antioxidants and fiber to your diet.  Try popping your own on the stove and experiment with the different colored kernels.  My personal favorite are red kernels (no, they don’t stay red once they’re popped!).  Even adding your own butter and salt to freshly popped popcorn is much healthier than the microwavable kind, which you may have already heard are filled with toxins from the packaging and the chemical butter flavor.

While we are on the subject of popcorn, have you ever wondered what makes SmartFood “smart?”  Food companies will do anything and everything to make their products seem more enticing and appetizing.  Be on the lookout for processed food packages that have celebrities endorse their food/beverages, use words that relate to health/wellness, use patriotism or purposely ignore the negative aspects of their products to make consumers buy into their marketing campaigns.  Ingredient labels always tell the truth, so never solely rely on advertising when making an informed decision about a food item! ( By the way, SmartFood is not a completely horrible snack choice).

4.  Instead of store bought mini muffins, try making your own.  The processed muffins are unfortunately made up of barely any real food and include ingredients like xanthan gum, soy lecithin, and caramel color, which are all things you definitely don’t need in your body.  When making your own mini muffins, try to branch out from the corn and the chocolate chip…expand your culinary horizons with zucchini muffins, banana muffins, or pumpkin muffins!

5.  Lastly, when choosing cookies, opt for ones that don’t contain trans fats.  These fats are used to maximize a product’s shelf life, and overtime can lead to obesity.  To satisfy your Oreo craving, turn to the Trader Joe’s version of Oreos called Joe-Joe’s, a much healthier alternative that doesn’t have partially hydrogenated oils in them.

Here are some other awesome snack options:

1.  Frozen grapes and/or bananas
2.  Hard boiled eggs
3.  Whole Wheat Crackers and cottage cheese
4.  Sugar snap peas with homemade yogurt dipping sauce
5.  Make your own kale chips
6.  Make your own apple chips
7.  Dark chocolate covered strawberries
8.  Carrots and peanut butter or sunbutter
9.  Crackerwiches:  Spread peanut butter or sunbutter on crackers.  Top with thin strawberry slices.  Drizzle with honey and top with another cracker.
I’d love for you to leave a comment letting me know your favorite snacks and any snack switches that you have made!

Until Next Week…Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂