It seems that there are new warnings every week declaring that some food or preparation method is harmful to your health. Some of these warnings may be true and based on scientific evidence. Many though, are rumors spread online with very little evidence to back up the claims. Following are some food warnings you may have heard and advice on whether to be concerned.
Don’t eat over-easy eggs because of the salmonella risk. It’s true eggs may carry salmonella and cooking them until hard is the only way to be sure this bacteria won’t be transmitted. But, the odds are slim that you will get salmonella from an undercooked egg. According to the USDA, the odds are 1 in 20,000. Our immune system can fend off small amounts of bacteria; therefore even if the egg was contaminated, it’s unlikely you would become sick. Of course, if your immune system is compromised by age — either very young or elderly — pregnancy, medical condition or illness, it would be best not to take any chances.
Carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation. Carrageenan is a common food additive derived from seaweed. It has no nutritional value and is often used in foods as a thickener and emulsifier. It can be found in ice creams, yogurt, cottage cheese, jellies, infant formula, soy milk and some low-fat milks. It is FDA approved and generally recognized as safe. Carrageenan used in food is not chemically changed during processing, nor is there any chemical change during digestion. It is passed through our system much like any fiber.
There are claims that this additive causes inflammation in the gut and may aggravate or cause irritable bowel syndrome. However, any studies on this have been found to be flawed or the carrageenan was injected, instead of digested. Carrageenan has been used for more than 70 years, and there has never been a substantiated claim of it causing an acute or chronic disease. Don’t worry about this one.
Growth hormones found in milk is causing early puberty in children. Milk cows naturally produce a growth hormone that helps them produce milk. Humans also produce a similar hormone when lactating. Sixty years ago, it was found that injecting additional bovine growth hormones could increase a cow’s milk production. In 1993, a synthetic version of this growth hormone, called BST, was developed. Both the FDA and the National Institutes of Health have reviewed and approved the use of growth hormones in dairy cows.
Hormones can’t be absorbed by digestion, and even if they could, human hormone receptors do not recognize cow hormones and would produce no effect in humans. Pasteurization also inactivates and destroys any hormones in the milk or infant formula. Early puberty is more likely caused by better nutrition and heavier children than ever before. It’s more important to ensure that children drink milk than to worry about whether it contains BST.
Page 2 of 2 - Nonstick cookware fumes are toxic. There are many Internet claims that using nonstick cookware increases your risk of getting cancer and many other health problems. This claim stems from the fact that a chemical called PFOA, which is a suspected human carcinogen, is used by many companies to help get their nonstick coating spread evenly over the cookware during manufacturing. Most of this is then burned off before the cookware leaves the factory. Tests on nonstick cookware found that new nonstick cookware heated at high temperatures did emit some PFOA, but the amounts were very little and declined with each use. PFOA is widely used in food packaging, stain-and water-resistant coatings for carpets, upholstery, and clothing, and in fire-resistant foams and paints, so it is something that we are constantly exposed to. Go ahead and use your nonstick pans, just keep the burner below high.
Unwashed bagged greens aren’t safe. It seems bagged salad greens are frequently recalled. In 2012, there were at least eight recalls by U.S. companies. Listeria was most often the bacteria cited. Listeria can multiply at refrigerator temperature, can cause miscarriages in pregnant women and potentially deadly blood poisoning in older adults or those with compromised immune systems. But, rinsing bags of prewashed salad greens isn’t going to rid them of disease-causing bacteria. Once the bacteria has attached to leafy greens, it isn’t likely to be removed by rinsing with water. What can you do? Use prewashed greens as is; rinse any that aren’t labeled “washed,” and don’t eat any slimy leaves because these are more susceptible to bacteria entry.
Keep an open mind when you hear about new food warnings, and check the facts before jumping to any conclusions.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.