Hunger is an overwhelming feeling. It is easy to set aside our health goals when it strikes. But we must pay heed to what we eat at all times. A number of foods that regularly find their place to our dining table demand a second look as they may not be all that eat-worthy.
Common Food Toxins
In today’s times of takeaways and eating out, we must be particularly careful of what we are exposing ourselves to. Here is a list of seven common food “toxins” that we regularly ingest.
1. Trans Or Hydrogenated Fats
Trans fats have been in the limelight for quite some time now and here’s another reason why. Trans fats are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils that increase LDL cholesterol (mostly bad cholesterol) while decreasing HDL cholesterol (mostly good cholesterol).1 This poses a major threat for heart disease.
Adding to the damage, these fats also encourage inflammation in the body, increase insulin resistance, and damage the walls of blood vessels. Type 2 diabetes and obesity are resulting concerns.
While trans fats occur naturally and are common in non-vegan diets, according to a 1996 study, processed foods provided 80% of trans fats in the diet. The best way to avoid trans fats is to limit your intake of the following foods:
- Beef and mutton fat, milk, and butter
- Spreads, margarines, shortenings (used in baked goods), and frying oil (used to make fried foods)
Also refraining from processed and packaged foods is a good way to protect yourself.
2. Acrylamides In Deep-Fried Foods
This one is a bummer for french fries lovers. Starchy foods that have been fried or baked at temperatures greater than 120 °C (248 °F) contain acrylamides. This group of compounds have been linked to cancer, nerve damage, and infertility in animal studies..2 In humans, however, the only harmful effect of these compounds is nerve damage in individuals occupationally exposed to abnormally high levels.
The foods that contain acrylamides include bread, baked goods, breakfast cereal, potato products like chips and french fries, cocoa-based products, and coffee.
It is best to avoid deep-fried foods in general; this way you can keep high cholesterol and obesity at bay as well. You may also soak potato slices in water before you cook them, and cook french fries at lower temperatures and to a lighter color to minimize acrylamide production. Toasting bread to a lighter color will also help.
3. PAHs In Grilled And Smoked Meat
When meat is grilled, fat drippings landing on hot cooking surfaces vaporize into toxic PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons). These volatile PAHs can seep into the meat, contaminating it..3 Grilling, smoking, roasting of fish, cheese, and tea too can result in PAH contamination.
PAHs are believed to be cancer-causing, particularly cancers of the digestive tract like colon cancer but also breast, prostate, and kidney cancers. Other lifestyle factors like smoking, however, definitely contribute as well.
Though the estimated intake of PAHs in food is 10,000-fold lower than what can cause harm in humans, a little caution can do you good. Try refraining from grilling and smoking, and use other cooking methods instead. Minimizing smoke and quickly wiping off drippings can reduce PAHs by as much as 41–89%.
4. Mercury In Fish
The food chain is at work in this case. Mercury crawls its way up from waters contaminated with mercury to plants grown in those waters. It then enters small fish who eat those plants and to larger fish who eat the small fish. Humans who eat the larger fish are at the receiving end of this chain. Seems like a lengthy process? Not really – and that’s the problem. It happens quicker than your can imagine.
Mercury causes damage to the nervous system, even in a developing fetus. It also causes skin problems, impaired muscle coordination, hearing defects, and in serious cases, even death.4
King mackerel, swordfish, bonito, halibut, shark, bluefin tuna, and marlin tend to be high in mercury and should be avoided.
5. BPAs In Food Packaging
BPA or bisphenol-A is a building block of plastic, the most convenient food storage material. It is also often used in the lining of food and beverage containers.
BPAs can adversely affect our health, causing reproduction problems and increased risks of breast and prostate cancers in a fetus. Infertility, insulin resistance (hence, PCOS and type 2 diabetes), obesity, and interference in thyroid function are other harmful effects. What’s discomforting is that BPAs can leach out from packaging into foods and finally into our bodies.5
While many countries have banned BPA-containing plastics to preserve the environment, the flamboyant use of such plastics in other parts of the world is still a concern. Eat unprocessed foods and opt for BPA-free containers and cans to minimize your BPA exposure.
6. Coumarin In Cassia Cinnamon
While cinnamon has a number of health benefits like bringing diabetes and high cholesterol in control, it does contain an ingredient that may not be all that safe. This ingredient is called coumarin and has been implicated in liver damage and cancer when consumed in excess.6
The Chinese variety of cinnamon (cassia cinnamon), the more common import in the West, has more coumarin than the Sri Lankan variety.
The exact toxic dosage of cinnamon is different for different people, not only because of different body constitutions but also because of varying amounts of coumarin in a given weight of cinnamon. It is generally considered safe to consume up to a teaspoon of cinnamon a day.
7. Excess Sugar
The term sweet tooth is code for sugar addiction, the most disguised addiction in the world. Sugar even acts like a drug, stimulating the reward centers in the brain. Fructose in sugar has been associated with a number of health conditions – obesity, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. Sugar-rich diets have also been seen to double the risk of colon cancer.
While sugar is sugar whether artificial in a soda or natural in fruits, cutting down consumption of artificially sweetened food products can go a long way. It is definitely a good start in controlling a sweet tooth.
Moderation is always key. Control your diet and protect yourself from foods that you now know will trigger health complications in the future.
|↑1, ↑2, ↑3, ↑4||Dolan, Laurie C., Ray A. Matulka, and George A. Burdock. “Naturally occurring food toxins.” Toxins 2, no. 9 (2010): 2289-2332.|
|↑5||Rubin, Beverly S. “Bisphenol A: an endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects.” The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology 127, no. 1 (2011): 27-34.|
|↑6||Abraham, Klaus, Friederike Wöhrlin, Oliver Lindtner, Gerhard Heinemeyer, and Alfonso Lampen. “Toxicology and risk assessment of coumarin: focus on human data.” Molecular nutrition & food research 54, no. 2 (2010): 228-239.|