Food Preparation and Technology

The average American diet is seriously depleted in many nutrients because of food processing that destroys or extracts nutrients. For example, whole wheat contains twenty-two vitamins and minerals that are removed to make white flour. After the bran and germ are removed from the whole wheat kernel, 98 percent of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), 91 percent of manganese, 84 percent of magnesium, and 87 percent of fiber are extracted.

One of the many lost nutrients is chromium, which is critical for maintenance of blood-sugar levels, normalizing high serum cholesterol levels, and fat burning. The incidence of diabetes has risen steadily in the past decade. It is estimated that 18 percent of all Americans over the age of sixty have diabetes. Most of this is largely preventable with improved diet, lifestyle, and micronutrients, such as chromium and magnesium.

Food Additives

From the earliest times, people salted meats and other foods to cure them. Later they canned foods with sugar, salt, and vinegar to keep them from perishing. Today, because food is produced and shipped from afar, manufactured chemical additives are put into foods to stabilize and preserve them.

More than three thousand food additives are used in the United States alone—dyes, artificial flavors, dough conditioners, texturing agents, anticaking agents, and so on—to extend shelf life and enhance flavor, appearance, consistency, and texture. The average person eats an alarming fourteen pounds of additives each year.

While research shows that only a tiny percentage of the population is sensitive to food additives, I have seen many people in my practice with sensitivities. For instance, it is well documented that sulfites cause asthma and respiratory problems in sensitive individuals. The long-term effects of food additives on children are of special concern.

Children consume more harmful substances per body weight than adults. Many researchers have found that additives caused significant behavior and learning problems in children who are sensitive to them. What are the long-term effects? No one really knows. Additives have been tested singly but never in combination.

The chemistry experiment going on inside of us reminds me of my favorite experiment with a childhood chemistry set. I would mix two chemicals together and watch the test tube explode. Because the combining of food additives has not been tested, we have no idea what their synergistic effect really is.

Healthy people can handle most food additives, but why burden your body with having to detoxify them? Americans love the convenience of frozen foods. But if you read the labels, you’ll find that most frozen foods contain additives that make the foods less perishable or less expensive. With careful shopping, you can find good-quality frozen foods.

The Microwave

Microwave cooking has spread like brush fire over the last two decades. Ninety percent of American homes have a microwave oven. Everyone seems to accept that cooking with microwave ovens is safe. Yet, a recent study from Swiss researcher Dr. Hans Ulrich Hertel reported that use of microwave cooking lowered hemoglobin levels and cholesterol levels while white blood counts rose.

While this is only one study, I currently have a client who has used microwave cooking exclusively for the past fifteen years and he has found the same problems in his blood testing. Studies show that when breast milk has been microwaved to 98.6° Fahrenheit, almost all the antibodies and lysozymes that protect us from infection are destroyed and vitamin C levels are diminished.

One thing is for sure: microwaving foods is a recent innovation and we don’t know what the long-term effects are. Until all the research has been done, I recommend conventional cooking methods—on the stove or in the oven.

Genetic Engineering

Genetically engineered foods are a new concern in our food supply. For the first time, we now have genetically engineered foods available to us. They appear—without labeling—in a large percentage of the foods you find in your local grocery store. Technologists are splicing genes into dozens of foods to make them last longer, be juicier, grow bigger, and be more pest resistant.

Proponents of genetically modified foods (GMF) believe that these engineered crops will reduce pesticide and herbicide usage, make crops more resistant to frost damage, make them more drought hardy, and increase nutritional value. Opposition to these foods is based on the fact that little long-term testing was performed prior to the rapid release of these foods into our global food supply.

While the outcry has been large in Europe, Americans have been relatively quiet about the new food technology even though most of us are eating it on a regular basis. Many people are completely unaware of the issues involved. Generally, the biotechnology has engineered changes to seeds that are planted.

Soy and corn have been engineered to be resistant to the herbicide Round-Up. Formerly, when herbicides were sprayed, the soy or corn would also be affected. Now just the “weeds” are killed. When you eat foods that contain soy or corn that has not been organically grown, you are probably consuming these food products.

Despite consumer protest, use of these crops is increasing steadily. In 1997, 17 percent of soybean acreage was planted in genetically modified crops. By 2001, 68 percent of the soybean acreage was planted in these crops and rose to 80 percent in 2003. Many processed foods contain soy derivatives, corn syrup, or corn starch.

Cotton crops went from 10 percent herbicide resistant in 1997 to 56 percent in 2001. Only 10 percent of corn crops are herbicide resistant; however, additional varieties have been engineered with the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which makes the plant resistant to insects that go through a larval stage.

Bt corn was introduced in 1996; by 1997 8 percent of corn was engineered with Bt, and that number was up to 30 percent in 2003. Because genetically modified foods were first developed in the mid-1990s, the long-term cost and environmental effectiveness is yet to be determined.

From an initial study done at Cornell University, there is concern that Bt corn will endanger monarch butterflies. Researchers dusted pollen from Bt corn onto the leaves of milkweed plants, which is the sole food of monarch butterflies. Nearly half of the caterpillars died and the remainder grew to only half their size.

If monarch butterflies are so affected, what other animal species may also be impacted? Suffice it to say, more testing must be done before we can know the long-term environmental effects that these crops may produce. The only sure way to avoid genetically modified foods is to buy and eat food products labeled “organic.”

Food Irradiation

Food irradiation is now being used in food production. It’s a “clever” way to use nuclear wastes to keep food fresh longer and to decrease the incidence of food poisoning. Irradiation kills all bacteria, such as salmonella, and leaves no radiation in the food itself. But, many researchers are opposed to irradiation.

For instance, milk loses 70 percent of vitamin A, thiamine, and riboflavin. Moreover, irradiated foods have molecules that are found nowhere in nature. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dubs them “radiolytic by-products” and separates them into two categories: “known radiolytic products,” such as formaldehyde and benzene, which are known carcinogens, and “unique radiolytic products,” which are new molecules that haven’t been characterized.

What’s frightening is no one knows what the long-term effects of these molecules will be on health. Many people are opposed to such massive experimentation done at our risk. They are also worried about the risk of having small irradiating facilities throughout the country, which have all the problems associated with handling nuclear materials.