The Amateur Food Detective

The Amateur Food Detective
Bluebird Acres Farm in Friendship, NY

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid...More Than a Mouthful

Thanks to one of my blog readers, I’ve come up with an interesting, albeit unfounded, theory. He mentioned that beans gave him headaches. Since canned beans are popular, being that they don’t need to be soaked first because they’re already packed in liquid, I assumed this was the type he consumed. So I checked out the ingredient list.
Both my Wegman’s brand black-eyed peas and my Bush’s Best Garbanzos beans contained Disodium EDTA. Both also informed the consumer (in parenthesis) that the substance was used to “promote color retention.” Upon doing some research, I came up with a different explanation for its usage.
Before I explain further, let’s break this solution down so we can understand what Disodium EDTA is.
EDTA is short for ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. This acid is considered a chelating agent. A chelating agent neutralizes harmful metal ions found in water-based substances. When a metal reacts with a non-metal, the metal atom loses its electron in the outer shell. It then becomes what is known as an ion, and it forms a salt. Thus the name “disodium EDTA.” EDTA decreases a metal ion’s reactivity.
Here’s where things get interesting. EDTA is also used to treat lead poisoning and skin irritations caused by chromium, nickel, and copper metals (this is called chelation therapy). And we know that beans are canned in metal containers. Yes, a plastic coating is used. But what if…and this is my pragmatic mind speaking here…what if the reason why EDTA is added isn’t so much to keep the color, but to help prevent the metals from the aluminum can from harming our bodies?
I know, I know. My imagination is going full throttle. So I have to wonder…how does ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid retain vegetable color?
The patent to this design was filed in May of 1968. According to my study, EDTA was either added to brine or to the syrup following the brining process in order to keep pickles crisp. Pickles are generally produced in glass jars. So this does not help my theory, although it does prove that manufacturers use EDTA to improve texture in food.
I looked into this further and discovered that when one consumes a lot of EDTA, it can absorb the metals in our bodies that are necessary for human health, such as zinc, and leave us deficient in these metals.

Okay, so what about headaches? Can EDTA cause them? The simple answer is yes. People going through chelation therapy may have headaches due to the sodium content or the lowered blood glucose. But this is when EDTA is used to treat heavy metal poisoning or removing plaque on artery walls caused by arteriosclerosis.  The amount used is higher than what is used in food processing. But is the EDTA in canned food causing headaches? The jury is out on that one. I have searched the web far and wide, and there’s enough information written about ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid to make my eyes cross. Some people report those symptoms along with stomach issues, but I have found nothing conclusive. I also can’t find a single shred of evidence that manusfacturers use EDTA in order to prevent metal contamination from canned goods.

But I’d love to hear from anyone who is positive EDTA has caused their migraines, headaches, or even stomachaches. As I am well aware, sometimes it is the consumer that finds side effects from consuming products. How many times have you heard of a lab rat complaining of a headache? None? Right. And lab experiments are how the majority of chemicals are tested for safety and side effects.

Okay, so my theory about companies using Disodium EDTA to prevent heavy metal contamination in their products seems a little far-fetched, but it does have me thinking. After all, not everything is always what it seems. If anyone knows that, it’s the Amateur Food Detective.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chewing Xanthan Gum

Okay, so the title of this piece is a little tongue-in-cheek (not to be confused with gum in cheek, ha ha), because obviously xanthan gum isn’t the candy you might use to appease a wailing child. It’s a food additive, and like most additives, it has both a negative side and positive side.
If you’ve ever read the ingredients on a bottle of salad dressing or sauces, or even on packages of ice cream, you will likely find xanthan gum listed. Like polysorbate and carrageenan, it keeps ingredients from separating and making the product appear inedible. It can also help thicken the product.
Xanthan gum is made by fermenting glucose, sucrose, or lactose with the bacterium Xanthomonus campestris. This bacterium is the same one that creates the black spots on cauliflower and broccoli. Your mouth watering yet?
If you’re allergic or sensitive to corn or soy, you may wish to avoid xanthan gum, as companies may be using these ingredients in its production. It’s also possible it could cause bloating and abdominal pain for some people. This could be because it’s a carbohydrate with 7 grams of fiber per tablespoon. However, take a look at this post by someone who has abdominal distress after consuming products containing xanthan gum:
I’ve also read that exposure to xanthan gum might cause migraines, skin irritation, or in the case of bakers working with the powder, throat and nose irritation.
Now on to another interesting part of my discovery. In the 1970s, an experiment performed on people who were looking to lose weight showed that taking xanthan gum in capsule form (two 550 milligrams 20-30 minutes before meals) helped shed weight. Another study following that one also affected weight loss, but it was a slow loss.
I find this interesting, because in all my research I can’t find anything where people have tried taking xanthan gum for weight loss. I’ve found that several people use it in smoothie recipes or baked goods (especially if they can’t consume products containing gluten). If you know of anyone who has used xanthan gum to aid in their weight loss plan, please have them contact me. I’d love to interview him or her.
The FDA regards xanthan gum to be safe. FAO/WHO could not find any toxic effects or carcinogens attributable to the gum. So although people may be sensitive to this product or allergic to the ingredients it’s derived from, in general it seems to be a harmless product.