The Amateur Food Detective

The Amateur Food Detective
Bluebird Acres Farm in Friendship, NY

Friday, November 23, 2012

Arsenic and Old Rice

There’s a new villain in town, and its name is arsenic.
You probably remember reading about high levels of arsenic found in apple and grape juice. Consumer Reports ran a similar investigation on rice and discovered “measurable amounts” of arsenic in nearly all of their 200 samples.
Before I go into what this means for our health or explain how arsenic ends up in our rice supply, let me describe the two different types of arsenic: organic and inorganic.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), arsenic is “a semi-metallic element found in soils, groundwater, surface water, air, and some foods.” It occurs naturally and is usually found combined with other elements such as oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur. When combined with these elements, it’s referred to as inorganic arsenic. When arsenic is combined with carbon and hydrogen, it’s called organic arsenic.

Most of the time, organic and inorganic arsenic compounds don’t have a taste or a scent, and are impossible to detect in food, water, or air. Arsenic is no longer produced in the U.S. and is imported from other countries. Most of it is used to preserve wood so it doesn’t rot. You’ve probably heard of the term “pressure-treated wood.” In 2003, manufacturers quit producing this type of wood for play structures, decks, picnic tables, and other items sold for use in residential areas. Inorganic arsenic was once used as a pesticide in cotton and orchard fields, although now organic compounds are used, mostly on cotton plantations.

What I found interesting is that arsenic can change form. It can become attached to or separated from particles. But it cannot be destroyed. And guess what? It’s everywhere. It becomes carried on the air. It washes into lakes and streams. Some fish and shellfish take in arsenic, although most of the time it’s in a less harmful organic form. We are exposed to arsenic through eating, drinking, and breathing.

Most of the arsenic we take in comes from food, with seafood being the most predominant. Rice and rice cereal, mushrooms, and poultry often contain arsenic as well. According to the EPA, people generally take in about 50 micrograms of organic arsenic (from several different sources) a day. We take in the more dangerous type of arsenic, inorganic arsenic, a much smaller amount; generally 3.5 micrograms a day. Both organic and inorganic leave the body through urine.

Consuming high amounts of inorganic arsenic can kill you. Swallowing lower levels may cause nausea, stomachaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can also cause a lower production of red and white blood cells, which creates fatigue, abnormal heartbeats, nerve problems, and blood vessel damage. Long-term exposure can cause skin cancer, warts on the palms, soles, and torso, and an increased risk of liver, bladder, and lung cancer.

The EPA mentions that there is very little information on how organic arsenic affects humans. It’s considered less harmful than inorganic, although long-term exposure in animals has shown to result in diarrhea and in kidney damage.

Now that you’re aware of what organic and inorganic arsenic is and where it’s found, I’ll go into detail about what Consumer Reports found in its analysis.

First of all, they discovered that white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri , and Texas had higher levels of both organic and inorganic arsenic in their tests than rice samples from any other place. In general, brown rice contained more inorganic arsenic than white rice. Why? Because only the hull is removed in brown rice. The bran that remains has a high concentration of arsenic. When this bran is removed, so is some of the arsenic. (Consumer Reports November 2012 p. 22, 24)

So how did the inorganic arsenic end up in our rice? Insecticides. As usual, man has come up with a way to both keep our food safe from bugs and parasites and poison us, all at the same time. The use of these pesticides was banned in the 1980s, but as I pointed out earlier, you can’t get rid of arsenic. And now it lingers in our soil. The same soil where we grow our food. Also, and this is ludicrous to me, arsenic is permitted for use in animal feed for a purpose similar to antibiotics. The fertilizer produced from these animals contaminates crops with arsenic.

If you’d like to know how much rice is considered safe for children and adults to consume, check out this Huffington Post article:

Okay, that concludes my research on the Consumer Reports findings. Let’s take a look at tests the FDA performed. First of all, let me stress that there isn’t any FDA approved limit for arsenic in most food. But here is what the FDA states on its website: “The FDA has collected and tested rice for total arsenic for about 20 years. On September 19, 2012, the FDA released the first analytical results of nearly 200 samples of rice and rice products tested for both total and inorganic arsenic. The FDA is collecting and analyzing more than 1,000 additional rice and rice product samples, and will post additional data as results become available.”

The website mentions that their analysis is consistent with the findings from Consumer Reports. However, it is yet to be proven that consuming great amounts of rice or rice products causes the types of illnesses associated with arsenic. The FDA is continuing its study on arsenic in rice, but at this time does not feel the public needs to be alarmed. They stress that people should eat a balanced diet with a variety of grains.

The FDA found that the average rice or rice product contained 3.5 to 6.7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving. Although the FDA doesn’t have a safety standard for arsenic in food at this time, it has set the safety level for water at 10 micrograms in one liter of bottled water or 10 parts per billion (ppb), which was adopted from the EPA’s standard. So if you consume one serving of rice, you are well within the limits of safety according to this measure. Two servings may put you over the limit, depending on the levels of arsenic within the product. This limit was set in 2001.

The EPA states that in drinking water, inorganic arsenic is more prevalent than organic arsenic. They linked arsenic in drinking water to the health risks I mentioned earlier, thus set this standard to protect consumers.

There is still more research to be done, but as it stands now, here is a recap of my findings:

The EPA found a connection between health risks and arsenic in water. Rice is grown in water. It absorbs both organic and inorganic arsenic well. Inorganic arsenic can cause cancer. Organic arsenic is less toxic. It cannot be proven that consuming rice or rice products cause cancer. There is no set standard of how much arsenic in rice is safe for consumption. If using the guidelines given for water consumption, most levels in one serving of rice are safe for adults and children. (Remember, a serving for children is less than a serving for adults. Check labels to determine how much one serving is for individuals.)

This is another case of possible sensationalism mixed with a need to be aware of what one is putting into his or her body. Until more research is done, we won’t know if consuming large quantities of rice over a lifetime may be a health risk. But I will leave you with one more finding I discovered. In America, the liver and stomach cancer incidences and death rates are higher for Asians and Pacific Islanders than for any other ethnic group. According to, one cause is a bacterium called H. pylori. But I want to put this thought out there…what if one of the reasons the Asian population has more occurrences of stomach cancer is because they consume more rice than some other ethnic groups? I’d be curious to know if anyone has done any research on this. So far I have not found any sources that can provide me any information on this matter. But if I do, you will be the first to know.

photo credit:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

So What's Soy Lecithin, Anyway?

Today I picked up three different snacks that my children eat on a regular basis. Many of the ingredients were the same, such as unbleached flour. One other common ingredient was present in the snacks as well: soy lecithin.
Now, I’m no cave dweller. I’ve been aware this product exists, and I’ve even pondered its role in food production. I just never researched it before. However, as I happen to be a very curious person, I couldn’t help but wonder what is this that my children are consuming? And is it something that can be digested on a regular basis without repercussions on our health?
As it turns out, there’s a lot of information out there on this product. You could spend the next two years reading up on it. You know, if you had a soy lecithin obsession. But I’m going to break it down for you in easy terms.
First off, back in the mid-1800s lecithin was made with eggs. Now it’s most often made using soybeans. Phospholipids are extracted from soybean oil and used as an emulsifier (aka thickening agent) in products such as margarine or bottled salad dressing. What are phospholipids? Glad you asked.
You produce some phospholipids organically within your body. They make up the cell membrane. When it’s in your food, it allows fat and water to mix so that the fat moves easily through your cells and vessels. Think about how if you pour a cup of oil into a bowl of water, the two substances remain separate. Phospholipids help meld the two so that they take on a single property.
Okay, back to soy lecithin. It’s used to extend the shelf-life of foods, and to prevent them from crumbling. It improves texture and enhances nutrition. It’s in crackers, cookies, breads, pastas, meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. Not only is it used in food products, it’s also used in paints, waxes, and lubricants.
Here is what you need to know about its pros and cons:
Pro: Lecithin provides a great source of choline, which is similar to folate as it helps with brain and memory development, according to The body produces some choline, but we also ingest it through food. (Lean beef, salmon, cauliflower, and eggs are all great sources of choline.) So lecithin essentially can help with memory and cognitive function.
Con: Soy and soy products have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer for adult females. Also, in a study at John Hopkins Medical Institution, rats consumed soybeans containing genistein* (yes, I had to look up that word, too…more in a sec), which is organically a part of soybeans. These rats then had offspring with lower testosterone levels, smaller testes, and larger prostrate glands.
*Genestein is an isoflavone…yes, more research was done to figure out what that was, too. Isoflavone functions as an antioxidant as well as something that affects the body in a similar way as estrogen. It’s present in soybeans.
Pro: Lecithin helps the body break down fats. It helps the body produce more digestive juices, which in turn aids in breaking down food in the stomach.
Con: Soybeans are oftentimes genetically modified. Studies of tests performed on animals have shown that genetically modified foods have negative effects on laboratory animals, including abnormal cell growth and a high mortality birth rate. What this means for humans is up for debate.
Also, soy is one of the eight most common allergens, according to the FDA. It’s estimated that .2% of the U.S.’s population is allergic to it. However, it can be noted that most of the food made with soy lecithin has so little soy protein (which is the major allergen) that it’s difficult to know how much can be consumed before an allergic reaction occurs.
So what does this mean for the average unaware consumer? That, as usual, the jury is still out on soy lecithin’s safety. But at least now you know why it’s used and what it does. So far I have yet to discover an emulsifier that I can confidently promote as 100% safe. However, it seems to be in most of the products my family consumes, and I’m not sure I’m ready to pull the plug on those quiet yet. Though I feel the need to be more aware of what foods contain soy lecithin and how often we’re eating them. What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Maltodextrin is a what...?

The other day a friend and I were munching on tortilla chips at her house when she began to develop a funny feeling in her throat. The start of what seemed to be an allergic reaction. She took something for it immediately, but the situation caused me to jot down the ingredients that might have caused her throat to swell. The one she pondered about was maltodextrin. I promised to look into it for my blog, so here it is.
What is maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate made from rice, corn, or potato starch, though it can also be derived from barley or wheat. First, the starch is cooked down, then an acid or enzyme is added to further break down the starch. It’s used as either a sweetener or an inexpensive thickener or filler. It’s found in sugar substitutes such as Splenda and Equal. It’s also found in salad dressing, pudding, cereal, snack food, sauce, and canned fruit. It’s used as a binding agent in medication.
Is it similar to sugar?
Maltodextrin has a higher glycemic index than table sugar and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. One caveat: there is a type of maltodextrin that is called “starch resistant maltodextrin.” This has a lower glycemic index and doesn’t cause the huge spike in blood sugar levels. But the majority of food containing maltodextrin is not starch resistant.
Is it safe for consumption?
The FDA considers maltodextrin to be “Generally Recognized As Safe.” (GRAS for short.) It’s supposedly easily digested.
Are there some people who should avoid maltodextrin?
People with celiac disease may be unable to consume maltodextrin, depending on the source from which it’s made. If you have celiac disease, it would be prudent to stay away from products that contain maltodextrin unless they are labeled gluten free.
People with Type 2 Diabetes should avoid products that contain maltodextrin because it causes a spike in blood sugar and can affect insulin levels.
Maltodextrin has also been found to cause heart palpitations and chest pain in some people. If you discover this to be the case, see a health practioner.
Some women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrom) should avoid foods with a high glycemic index, therefore it would be a good idea to avoid products with maltodextrin.
Here’s something of interest: maltodextrin is sometimes used by bodybuilders to help increase energy during exercise and to gain weight. Gain weight? Hm. Also, maltodextrin can increase LDL, or the “bad cholesterol” in your body. Those who have allergies to wheat and corn may have a reaction that may include (and is not limited to) rashes, heavy sweating, and difficulty breathing. So although the FDA regards maltodextrin as GRAS, it can potentially harmful to particular individuals.
Although I can’t be positive maltodextrin is the cause of my friend’s allergic reaction, it certainly could be another reason why my cholesterol is high, or why people with glucose intolerance have stomach problems after consuming this additive. At any rate, I learned something new. It seems that America uses an awful lot of different types of emulsifiers for our food products. And it seems we are becoming an unhealthier nation for it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Food Safety

 Years ago I had a friend who decided she would cook a meal for her roommate and me. When I arrived at their apartment, I took a seat at her kitchen table and watched the preparations. She pulled the raw chicken from it's plastic wrapping, set it on the counter, then opened a cupboard and grabbed some spices. With the hands she used to pick up the chicken. Without washing them in between. From there it got worse. The entire time she cooked, she did not wash her hands. She went from touching chicken to wiping her hands on a towel by the sink, to continue handling the rest of the food. Needless to say, when the food was ready, I feigned being full. I made up some story about having eaten a late lunch. Somehow I got away with it. My friends did not become ill (although I was ill watching her contaminate every surface in her kitchen), and I was in actuality famished, but my main rule has always been: Keep things clean, dummy! I have had food poisoning, from fried fish. It was awful. I thought I was dying. My insides were turned outside and I sweated and cried. Even had my mom come over and take care of me even though I was a married adult. That's how bad it was.
Common food illnesses (according to are:
1)   salmonella—this can be found in contaminated eggs, poultry, and meat as well as dairy products, raw fruits, sprouts and vegetables, spices and nuts. To avoid this, make sure foods are cooked to the appropriate temperatures, and that milk and cider are pasteurized. Also, wash off utensils and plates that have touched raw meat before using them to handle the cooked product. Chill foods promptly.
2)   Norovirus—this can be found in shellfish and produce and, sick as this sounds, the feces or vomit of an infected person. To prevent infecting others, always wash hands before handling any food, or wear disposable gloves (you can purchase some on, that’s where I buy mine).
3)   Campylobacter—a very common form of food poisoning. Found in raw or undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.
4)   Toxoplasmosis—a parasite. According to the food safety site mentioned above, “more than 60 million people in the United States have the parasite.” It’s only problematic for those with weak immune systems or for unborn babies when the mother is infected for the first time. You can find this in undercooked meat, anything that has had contact with raw meat, cat feces (if the animal has the parasite), contaminated water, or in either an organ transplant or a blood transfusion from an infected individual. To prevent this, wash your hands thoroughly, wash produce well, and pregnant women should avoid changing litter boxes.
5)   E. Coli—can be found in undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized juice and milk, soft chesses made from raw milk, and raw fruits and vegetables, especially sprouts, which pregnant women should avoid. It can also be found in untreated water (remember to tell your children at water parks NOT to drink the water that is being sprayed) farms, and the feces of infected people. Wash your hands after visits to the petting zoo. Make sure hamburgers are fully cooked through.
6)   Listeria—found in soil, water, poultry and cattle. It can also be found in processed meats, including hot dogs and sandwich meat. You can find it in unpasteurized dairy products, refrigerated smoked seafood, and sprouts. (Those sprouts are looking pretty dangerous.) Pregnant women are told to avoid unheated processed meats. Wash produce thoroughly before consumption. Wash hands after handling raw meat and poultry. Do not consume dairy products made with unpasteurized milk.
7)   Clostridium perfringens—a common cause of food poisoning in the United States. Can be found in poultry, beef, and gravies. Cooking kills the cells of this bacteria, but not always the spores. Food left out can grow new cells. The bacteria thrive between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate food promptly and don’t eat if it has been sitting out more than two hours. Do not let leftovers cool on the counter. Many outbreaks occur at catered events and cafeterias.
There are many more ways to get sick from poor food preparation. Handling food without washing the hands can cause shigella, staph aureus, and Hepatitus A. Eating food that has sat out too long can also cause Bacillus cereus. And some foods may cause botulism, including old canned goods (use by date on can, do not consume if can is bulging), home-canned food (if it has a low acid content), foods held warm for an extended amount of time.
So in a nutshell, to prevent food illness wash hands before and after food preparation. Wear disposable gloves if you are ill (and all restaurants should require their cook staff to wear gloves when handling food), wash utensils and plates that have touched raw food before using them on the cooked product (and re-contaminating the food), refrigerate leftovers immediately, do not consume food that has been left out, and for goodness sakes, do not eat sprouts!
How can you be sure the restaurants you frequent won’t have contamination? There’s no way to be sure. But if you feel you’ve become ill from a dining experience, you can report it here: Food products from a grocery store can be reported here:
If you’re interested in knowing what restaurants near you have health code violations, you can google to find the information. If you live in Monroe County in New York State, you can get the information here: Just click on the restaurant you want to check up on. To look it up in the New York City area: 
Also take a look at:  for more information on restaurant safety inspection as well.
Most of the time our food is safe. But it’s good to know how prevent food-borne illness, and how to keep your family healthy.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What Came First, the Chicken or the Fluoroquinolone?

Interesting latest news. Even more interesting, you have to really search to find it. I was doing routine research on poultry and beef when I came across something of which I feel everyone should be aware.
Poultry farmers used to feed an antibiotic called fluoroquinolone to chickens and turkey. It was used to protect the animals from E. coli infections. In 2005 the FDA banned the use of fluoroquinolone for reasons I will clarify in a moment. A recent study at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University discovered evidence that this banned product still exists in some of the poultry we are ingesting, and it has caused quite a stir among researchers and their peers.
Here’s what you need to know about fluroquinolone:
1)   It’s used to treat bacterial infections in humans (in familiar drugs such as Cipro, Proquin, Penetrex, and Levaquin).
2)   In humans it’s used to treat a variety of stomach ailments, including foodborne disease.
3)   It either kills bacteria or prevents their growth and is used both in hospitals and for the general public with a prescription.
4)   They are generally not used for children because it’s been shown to create bone development problems in young animals.
5)   Side effects include but are not limited to: seizures, tendon rupture or swelling of connective tissue, intestine infection, nerve damage, heart rhythm changes, sensitivity to sunlight, and skin rashes.
The FDA banned this drug because scientific evidence concluded that when fluoroquinolone-laced food is introduced into human bodies, it can cause fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter infections.
“The FDA's rough estimate, using 1999 data, is that use of fluoroquinolones in chickens resulted in over 11,000 people that year contracting a strain of the campylobacter illness that was resistant to fluoroquinolones, contributing to unnecessarily severe disease.” –
In other words, it created antibiotic resistance in some people. Not a good thing if you’re battling salmonella poisoning. At first, the FDA recommended farmers stop using fluoroquinolone for their poultry, but it soon became evident that many poultry farmers did not feel the research was strong enough for them to comply. Eventually, the FDA determined a ban would be the only way to prevent farmers from using fluoroquinolone.
But now it seems a ban is not enough.
Let me give you a little history on the John Hopkins study. First of all, it was conducted because scientists wanted to see what types of drugs are being used for poultry. Secondly, it was performed on chicken and turkey from both the U.S. and China, and they examined feather meal for the study. As an aside, they also found these drugs in the birds as well: antihistamine diphenhydramine, acetaminophen, caffeine, and the antidepressant fluoxetine. Apparently we are eating sleepy, depressed chickens that have bad allergies. Here’s some reason for this find: “Poultry growing scientists have recommended using Benadryl, Tylenol and Prozac to reduce anxiety in chickens, because stressed chickens grow slower and have tougher meat. Chickens are fed coffee pulp and green tea powder to keep them awake so they can spend more time eating. Arsenic is fed to poultry to fight infections and turn the meat a more appetizing shade of pink.”
Please note that the National Chicken Council wants to remind us that “the study looked at feathers, not meat…there is no immediate health concern,” and that the USDA tests meat for chemical and antimicrobial residues.
Of course, they neglect to “remind” us that this feather meal is added to the food chickens, fish, cattle in pigs eat. It’s also used as fertilizer on farms. So these drugs are getting into all our food supply. Perhaps not in large doses, and I have found no research that can prove it’s doing any harm used in this manner. But I put it out there for you to decide for yourself.
So here’s what you need to know. First off, there might be traces of the drug fluoroquinolone in the poultry your family is consuming. It’s been banned by the FDA because researchers have determined it has caused antibiotic resistance in humans. This drug also has many serious side effects including skin rashes and tendon rupture. On the flip side, the FSIS (USDA) tests meat for contaminants. See this site to know what companies have violated the chemical residue policies:
Here’s what I’m thinking: some poultry farmers are continuing to use fluoroquinolone. Could be that they’re only using it on the hens that lay eggs. Or, it could be, as New York Times Op-Ed writer Nicholas D. Kristof mentions in his article, that farmers don’t realize what’s in the feed they’re giving their animals.
Here is the refuting statement given by in its entirety:
TUCKER, GA – The U.S. Poultry & Egg Association released the following statement on the recent Feather Meal report published by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. “The U.S. commercial poultry industry does not use fluoroquinolones and has not since they were banned in 2005 by the FDA for poultry. In fact, ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, and ofloxacin found in this study – albeit at extremely low levels – have never been used in the U.S. commercial poultry industry. The fact that they are evident in this study calls into question the source of the feather meal that was tested, potential cross-contamination with other products, and ultimately the scientific objectivity of the research since it implies continued use of fluoroquinolones that were never used by the poultry industry in the first place,” remarked Dr. John Glisson, DVM, Director of Research Programs for U.S. Poultry & Egg

You decide for yourself. Meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye out for what happens next.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's the Beef with Beef?

Ah, yes. Dr. Oz found another food for us to panic over. I don't mean to belittle his efforts. It's important that someone open up our eyes to what we're consuming. The problem is that now we're playing a game of telephone, and no one knows what's true and what's false. So here I am, once more, to bring you the information I've painstakingly researched, and again it is up to you to decide what you feel is safe for your family's dinner table.

First off, in case you don't know the terminology, LFTB stands for Lean Finely Textured Beef. It's the mainstay of the controversy. What is it, exactly? Some people have nicknamed it "pink slime," but from what I understand it's the trimmings of beef that include some fat and portions of beef that have been trimmed from the animal so that the beef cut has a desired shape and consistency. These trimmings are then heated to 100 degrees and the fat liquefied and drained from the beef. This leaner beef may be added to other ground beef and processed into hamburger.

So what's the problem?

The issue is the way the lean beef is treated. A "puff" of ammonium hydroxide gas is used to destroy bacteria on the trimmings after it's separated from the fat. The type that's used for the beef is not the same as your everyday household cleaner. It's been declared safe by the FDA since 1974. The argument for this being safe is that ammonia is a natural substance that is produced in animal and plant products as well as in humans. Yet, it sounds like an additive, and that alone may raise hairs. Supposedly, the gas evaporates from the meat, so it can't be considered an additive because it's not actually added to the beef. The argument for using it is that it prohibits bacteria from forming, therefore making the meat safer for consumption.

What does this mean for the consumer?

Well, if you watch video on "pink slime," you'll see the trimmings being processed and to be honest, mushy meat looks gross. Otherwise there doesn't seem to be much of a problem. Oh, except for the cattle. You see, now that fast food and grocery chains have pulled back from using LFTB thanks to consumer backlash, more cattle have had to be slaughtered to fill the demand. Apparently trimmings filled in enough meat to save some bovine lives. Alternately, some of this beef will be higher in fat because the trimmings helped make the meat leaner.

I do not consume beef. For me it's a health issue because of my cholesterol, and to be honest, I was never a hamburger fan. Veggie burgers are yummier in my opinion. I also don't cook burgers or steak for my family. half our meals are vegetarian by choice. But I still was disgusted when the news broke about pink slime and its supposed negative effects, which I still haven't yet found evidence of. If anyone finds proof that LFTB is a terrible thing, other than the look of it, please comment and let me know so I can adjust my opinion if need be. But at this time I don't see what the beef is.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Knocking Back Cholesterol Without Drugs

Have you ever wondered why some people can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, yet never get fat or have issues with cholesterol?  There's one word that solves this riddle...genetics.  Up until a few years ago, I never gave this much thought.  After all, I worked out regularly, watched what I ate, and lived a pretty clean lifestyle.  Why should I worry about cholesterol?  The answer came in the form of a wake-up call.  Make that three wake-up calls.

First, my mother revealed to me that both she and my father had high cholesterol and were put on Lipitor by their doctor.  At first, I found this hard to believe.  Granted, my parents were in their early sixties at the time but they live the cleanest lifestyle of anyone I know.  We're talking about two people who are still within five pounds of their high school bodyweight....forty some odd years later.  Lipitor?  My parents?

It was about this time that I got the second bucket of cold water dumped over my head.  I got my cholesterol checked....189.  Not too bad according to today's standards but my doctor told me that, given my family history, it would continue to go up until I'd eventually need cholesterol lowering drugs.  Now that's something to look forward to.

Not long after this, I got the most startling news of all.  Bob, my new neighbor, had a nearly fatal heart attack at age 37.  Turns out, his cholesterol level was over 500!  According to Bob, his mother's level was just as high.  After a successful bypass, his doctors did what all doctors do nowadays - they put him on a mega dose of cholesterol lowering drugs.  This worked for a while but the side effects were so bad, Bob went back to his doctor and asked for an alternative.  There was no alternative....according to his doctor. 

Bob begged to differ and did a little research of his own.  He came across a book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn:  Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.  This book made the bold claim that eating a strict vegan diet which excludes any and all oil (even in the ingredients of food) will not only prevent heart disease but actually reverse it.  In addition, it has a cholesterol lowering effect that rivals (and even beats) many drugs for some individuals.  Bob bought the book and brought it in to his cardiologist....the same guy who told him there were no other alternatives.  To his surprise, the cardiologist spoke highly of Dr Esselstyn and said his claims were essentially true.  So Bob asked the obvious question - why didn't you tell me about this?  The cardiologist calmly replied that "no one can stay on this diet."  And that was that.

Bob wasn't buying it.  He went on the diet and it ultimately had the effect of allowing him to go on a much lower dosage of the drugs.  He can't eliminate them completely, due to his incredibly bad genetic profile for cholesterol, but the dosages are tolerable now....and the side effects have come way down as well. 

Given my family history, I decided to give the Esselstyn diet a whirl.  I didn't just go into this on a whim though, I had blood work done beforehand.  Sure enough......189.  Next, I read the book....fascinating.  Finally, I hit the diet - no more meat, cow's milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or any foods with even a trace of oil in the ingredients.  What I found was that I was buying most of my food in the organic section at Wegmans.  The grocery list consisted of pasta, rice, Ezekial bread (the only kind without oil), soy milk, soy meat substitutes, and loads of fruits and vegetables.  My stir fry sauce was a mixture of red wine, vinegar, and maple syrup - sounds gross but it's really pretty decent.  Homemade protein bars turned out to be a life saver on this diet as well. 

After seven weeks of this Spartan diet, I went back to my doctor and had the bloodwork taken again.  I opened the mail about a week later to get my results.  I couldn't beleive it - my overall cholesterol had dropped to 140 - almost a 50 point drop!  All my other readings improved in tandem including LDL, HDL, and Triglycerides.  In the meantime, my bodyweight dropped by close to ten pounds....and I wasn't even trying to lose weight.  My energy levels were way up and I never felt more healthy. 

This convinced me, more than ever, that there are natural ways to improve one's health.  The strict vegan diet may not be for everyone but it is, at the very least, an alternative to the typical drug regimen.  Not to mention that this diet can actually reverse heart disease over time, since the lack of oil dries out the arteries.  This drying effect enables the arteries to slowly erode years of plaque buildup into the bloodstream, where it's ultimately eliminated.   Esselstyn demonstrated this in his book with before and after x-rays of his patients' arteries.  No drug on the planet can make that claim.

My experiment is over now but my eating habits will never be the same.  My diet is cleaner than ever before and I still stay away from meat and dairy.  I'm not following the strict Vegan diet per se, but I know I can do it again in the future if need be.  The best part is, I don't fear my genetics anymore.  I have options now - regardless of what the medical establishment might think.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Corn Product Sensitivity

My husband and I recently tried out a new diet plan. The idea is to see what foods our bodies are sensitive to. The book that lays out this information, and has quite compelling arguments, by the way, is The False Fat Diet by Dr. Elson Haas. (

So you know, I am not an endorser, I have never met this man, nor am I recommending his books. Consider me an unbiased opinion in the world of consumerism. I really liked his explanations of how many people have "reactions" to certain foods. Similar to a food sensitivity, a reaction can be something as simple as bloating, or something more serious, such as heartburn. By elimination specific foods from our diet, we can slowly introduce those foods back into our bodies and discover which foods give us the most digestive trouble.

Granted, I only kept up the diet for four days because I was hungry throughout its duration. I used what is called the "Sensitive Seven" diet. (He describes a few different diets one can go on; they vary in strictness.) My husband also went on this diet and both of us saw weight loss immediately, including less bloat. My husband, who swore up and down he never had any problems with food, was surprised at how much trimmer he felt.

Here is the thing: I did not want to stay on the diet. Not only was I hungry, but my cravings for carbs got the better of me. It's a tough transition from white starches and sugar to vegetables and lean protein. I do plan to go back and try again, though, because it really did make a difference in how I felt. I had more energy, I felt less boated, I had no heartburn or that heavy feeling one gets after eating too many carbohydrates. The only problem was the cravings and the hunger.

More about this diet on my sister site:

Anyhow, in the short span of time in which I tried this diet I discovered that I have a sensitivity to corn. I'd wondered about this before, since canola oil has always bothered me. My mother-in-law uses it in everything, and I normally go the olive oil route. Usually after eating dinner at her house, I have gas pains. It makes perfect sense, since I seem to be sensitive to corn. My mother assumes it bothers my stomach because it's a genetically altered food, but I can't prove that as being the case.

Here are some sites dedicated to corn intolerance and allergies:,

I am interested in researching genetically altered foods, such as corn, and hope to find out information pertinent to our health. If you have specific questions regarding this topic, please ask and I will do my best to research and report on my findings.

For now, I will try to find ways to eliminate all corn from my diet and see if that helps me cut back on health issues I've been having.