Letters to the editor, April 2006

This article was originally published in April 2006

High fructose corn syrup

Score again, Trudy! (March Sound Consumer, “High fructose corn syrup: why are we eating it?”) High fructose corn syrup – the bane of food existence. I just rail about the stuff in my classes. Thanks for alerting PCC consumers. I’m so glad PCC has been eliminating products with it.
— Cynthia Lair, author and nutrition educator

It was very pleasing to see an article address some of the problems with HFCS. However, you skipped a crucial problem that affects many, many people: They have a serious adverse reaction to it. When I have even a drop of it, I get boils, swelling and a life-altering migraine that lasts over three days. One of these days a mistaken dose of HFCS will literally kill me. More details would have alerted people to this growing problem so that others can take this non-food item as a serious threat to their health. Shopping at PCC has made life a lot easier for me.
— Cheryl Tracy

Fluoride facts

Thank you for the Update on fluoridation (March 2006 Sound Consumer) and for keeping this important issue alive with informative articles like this. I was pleased to learn that PCC filters water in the key areas of drinking fountains, produce misters and deli espresso makers. I appreciate the steps taken to remove this and other impurities from our most vital resource, especially considering the great difficulty of filtering out fluoride.

While the idea of treating a population for any medical or health condition via the public water supply is abhorrent, the idea that this highly toxic compound — recovered from smokestack scrubbers during the production of phosphate fertilizer — is added to our water (at our expense!) borders on criminal. Amazingly, it’s also NOT FDA-approved, is not pharmaceutical (purified) grade, and contains trace amounts of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and radium.

Fluoride’s relative toxicity is between lead and arsenic (rated “very toxic” and “extremely toxic,” respectively, based on LD50 data from Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products 5th Edition), yet we add it to our drinking water. Even more astonishing, the highest level of a contaminant allowed in drinking water as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead and 50 ppb for arsenic. Fluoride — more toxic than lead and nearly as toxic as arsenic — is allowed at 4,000 ppb. It makes no sense.

As more and more studies point to the risks from fluoride ingestion and toxicity, and increased exposure to fluoride from multiple sources is a growing concern, I’m looking forward to the NAS report. Thank you for keeping the PCC community informed on this topic.
— Maureen Finn, Issaquah

Questions about saturated fats

I enjoyed your article The surprising truth about saturated fats (February 2006 Sound Consumer). You did not mention canola oil. I make mayonnaise with canola oil. Should I use another oil? Is there another oil to use in baking other than virgin coconut oil? It is good in pie crust but not everything.

Is it okay to use olive oil to sauté onions that will end up in chili or a casserole that then will be baked? I guess my question is: When you say not to use olive oil at high temperatures, what’s a high temperature? I enjoy all the articles in the PCC paper. Thank you for that and for your answer.
— Donna Myhre, Seattle

Cherie Calbom, M.S., replies: You can use any oil to make mayonnaise, but try olive, almond or avocado oil. For baking, I’ve had excellent results using a 50/50 blend of extra-virgin coconut oil and organic butter or use almond oil, which doesn’t have a distinct flavor, as do coconut and olive. To sauté onions for chili or a casserole, use a dab of ghee or a blend of coconut oil and butter. Anything hotter than a very low heat can damage unrefined olive oil and create unhealthy properties.

My wife and I both found the article on saturated fats very interesting and now we have a concern about using flax oil. We regularly give Barlean’s fresh flax oil to our 2-year-old. Should we be concerned about the polyunsaturated fats, especially the omega-6, in the oil? Would we be better off giving him only fish oil? What about grinding flax seeds?

Another question concerns coconut oil. Cherie says to stay away from vegetable and seed oils (implying they’re not normal for humans to consume because they’ve been in use only 100 years), but why is coconut oil okay? Has it been used by humans for a longer time?
— Joe Olson, Seattle

Cherie Calbom, M.S., replies: Barlean’s organic flax oil is fresh off the press, air delivered and dated for freshness, but I wouldn’t give it to a 2-year-old. Youngsters have immature systems and while flax oil is rich in omega-3s, it oxidizes easily when exposed to heat, light or air. I’d recommend cod liver oil or ground flax seeds, wild salmon, grass-fed animal products and unrefined virgin olive oil. Like olive oil, coconut oil is an “easy-press” oil, meaning if you simply squeeze the fruit, the oil is easily extracted — you can feel it. Modern industrial machinery isn’t needed to extract the oil, as from a hard seed.

While the low-fat diet may not be the panacea once thought to be, I don’t agree with several statements in “The surprising truth about saturated fats.” I do agree the food industry relentlessly has promoted a more processed, refined diet than what traditional cultures have eaten.

However, the claim that changes in the types of fat eaten as the major contributing cause to the increase in heart disease over the past 60 to 70 years is a gross overstatement. We have gone from a country worried about infectious disease, acute illnesses, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies to one of overconsumption, sedentary lifestyles, obesity and chronic disease.

I also would like to point out some inconsistencies and inaccuracies. All fats and oils have the same general calorie content per gram (9 kcal/g). It’s not fair to state that monounsaturated fatty acids can “put on weight” if eaten in excess. All fats and oils have this potential. And, while conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is highest in grass/pasture fed animals, this is not the only source.

Despite what seems to be a different diet message everyday, the general principle has not changed in decades: eat in moderation and with variety, focusing on whole foods, fruit, vegetables and whole grains with lean protein and some fat — avoiding excess amounts of polyunsaturated and minimal trans-fatty acids.
— Sara Lynch MS, RD, Seattle

Cherie Calbom, M.S. replies: I did not say processed seed and vegetable oils are the major cause of heart disease today, but that the “huge increase in polyunsaturated oil and margarine now is believed to have contributed to the rapid rise in heart disease.”

Before 1920, we had not even named Myocardial Infarction (MI). It was after processed seed and vegetable oils came into the market that we saw a new disease being named. There has been a definite rise in heart disease since they came on the scene.

Researchers today are focusing on the following contributors to heart disease: (1) damaged fats — particularly trans fats, (2) high blood pressure, (3) inflammation, (4) blood clots, (5) oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (polyunsaturated oils) [they oxidize easily] and (6) high levels of homocystein.”

Quality saturated fats are necessary for good health — at a cellular level (cell membranes are 50 percent saturated fat), for the health of our bones, liver and immune system, to reduce substances indicating vulnerability to heart disease, and for providing the fats needed by the heart in times of stress. Yet, I was clear, “When it comes to animal fats, it’s still wise to consume them in small amounts …” The point is that it’s advantageous to remove processed polyunsaturated oils from our diet.

Meat and dairy are the only significant sources of CLA and it appears that grass-fed is the key to CLA levels. The Journal of Dairy Science reports that milk from grass-fed cows contains as much as five times more CLA than milk from cows given grain in feedlots, and even feedlot cows eat grass at some point in their lives. CLA is most highly concentrated in milk fat — the very fat we were taught previously to avoid. Nonfat dairy products have virtually no CLA.

Trouble with Teflon

Regarding the March article, “Non-stick cookware: slippery truth on a sticky subject,” I’ve always questioned chemicals and synthetics. It reminded of something shocking that happened 20 years ago, while visiting my cousin Cecile in Spokane. Cecile, being a single young lady in her 30s, lived in a small two-bedroom home and enjoyed cooking and pets. She had two small dogs and a yellow canary. The canary’s cage was mounted about 5 1/2 feet on a stand about two feet from the end of her kitchen counter. Her stove was about one foot from the end of the countertop.

Cecile took out her Teflon frying pan to scramble eggs and ham and after she finished cooking the meal, she noticed her canary lying on the bottom of the cage. Research and discussion with her veterinarian determined that her bird had died from fumes from the Teflon-coated pan. Needless to say neither of us cook with any utensils with Teflon coating then or now!
— Dana Ames, PCC office manager

What are natural flavorings?

As PCC shoppers for the last four years, we’ve been able to feed our family with food we feel is better for the environment and us. We usually purchase items from the produce or bulk sections, but occasionally I’ll browse the packaged goods. There’s an ingredient in many packaged foods that concerns me — “natural flavorings.” I generally stay away from anything that includes this ingredient and am very curious to find out exactly what “natural flavorings” means and how it differs from “artificial flavorings.” Can you lay my curiosity to rest and explain the differences between “natural” and “artificial” flavorings”?
— Meghan and Brian Peterka, Seattle

PCC Nutrition Educator Goldie Caughlan replies: Artificial flavors don’t even pretend to be derived originally from food. They’re created from chemicals by “flavorists” in a lab.

Natural flavors can be pretty much anything approved for use in food and they don’t automatically earn a bill of health. Although they start from natural sources, they undergo complex chemical processing that changes them into synthetic substances bearing no similarity to their origins. In general, if it’s not certified organic, then the history of “natural flavors” is not traceable.

If the natural flavor, however, is approved for organic products or is certified organic, then it’s not made with any artificial chemicals.

Also in this issue