Setting the Record Straight on Good Eating Habits ; Exposing Food Myths, from Cured Meats to Trans Fats and Salmon

By Brody, Jane E | International Herald Tribune, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Setting the Record Straight on Good Eating Habits ; Exposing Food Myths, from Cured Meats to Trans Fats and Salmon


Brody, Jane E, International Herald Tribune


Jane E. Brody addresses some nutritional falsehoods that circulate widely and why, as a result, millions of people are squandering money on questionable, even hazardous foods and supplements.

Let's start the new year on sound footing by addressing some nutritional falsehoods that circulate widely in cyberspace, locker rooms, supermarkets and health food stores. As a result, millions of people are squandering money on questionable, even hazardous foods and supplements.

For starters, when did "chemical" become a dirty word? That's a question raised by one of Canada's brightest scientific minds: Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal.

Dr. Schwarcz, who has received high honors from Canadian and American scientific societies, is the author of several best- selling books that attempt to set the record straight on a host of issues that commonly concern health-conscious people.

I have read two of his books, "Science, Sense and Nonsense" (published in 2009) and "The Right Chemistry" (2012), and recently attended a symposium on the science of food that Dr. Schwarcz organized at McGill.

What follows are tips from his books and the symposium that can help you make wiser choices about what does, and does not, pass your lips in 2013.

Cured meats Many health-conscious people avoid cured meats like hot dogs and bacon because the nitrites with which they are preserved can react with naturally occurring amines to form nitrosamines.

Nitrosamines have produced mutations in cells cultured in the laboratory and cancer in animals treated with very high doses.

As an alternative food, sandwich lovers often buy organic versions of processed meats or products without the added nitrites. Without preservatives, these types of foods may not be protected from bacterial contamination. And despite their labels, they may contain nitrites.

According to Dr. Schwarcz, organic processed meats labeled "uncured" may be preserved with highly concentrated, nitrate-rich celery juice treated with a bacterial culture that produces nitrites.

If you're really concerned about your health, you would be wise to steer clear of processed meats -- organic, nitrite-free or otherwise. High saturated fat and salt content place them low on the nutritional totem pole.

Meat glue Never heard of it? You may have eaten it, especially if you dine out often. At WD-50 in New York, the chef, Wylie Dufresne, makes his famous shrimp noodles with the enzyme transglutaminase, also known as meat glue. It binds protein molecules, gluing together small pieces of fish, meat or poultry.

The Japanese use meat glue to create artificial crab meat from pollock. Others use it to combine lamb and scallops, or to make sausages that hold together without casings.

Sound frightening? It shouldn't. The enzyme is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as "generally recognized as safe," and there is no reason to think otherwise.

Our bodies produce it to help blood clot, Dr. Schwarcz points out. When consumed, it breaks down like any protein into its component amino acids in our digestive tracts.

There is, however, one possible indirect hazard: If glued- together animal protein is not thoroughly cooked, dangerous bacteria that originally contaminated the meat could remain viable within the fused product.

Trans fats The removal of heart-damaging trans fats from processed foods is a much-ballyhooed boon to health. …

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