Can Food Really Be Our Medicine?

How Toxins Are Pervading our Food Supply and Harming Our Health

Brilliant Blue. Allura red. Sunset Yellow. The colors sound so delicious — surely they describe some dazzling new interior design, an innovative line of eyeshadows or next season’s shiny sportscars? Or perhaps they are new brilliant hues to fill the artist’s pallet, or trending interior accent colors?

None of the above. In fact, they are the names of FDA-approved artificial food colorings and dyes, and they can be hidden in everything from your heart-healthy salsa to your whole grain breakfast cereal and blueberry yogurt.1Food dye consumption per person has increased fivefold in the United States since 1955, with three dyes—Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6—accounting for 90% of the dyes used in foods. Artificial dyes, some derived from petroleum, are found in thousands of foods, and may be carcinogenic, as well as cause hypersensitivity reactions.2They present what the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, DC, literally calls a “rainbow of risk.” In 2016, when Prevention Magazine took a close look at surprising foods with dyes, they found that 90% of foods marketed to children contain dyes, and that everything from flavored applesauce to smoked salmon, hot sauce, and salad dressing contain dyes.3

Many foods, unfortunately, harbor more than potentially toxic dyes—they also contain additives and preservatives that may be carcinogenic. Take, for example, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), two preservatives that prevent oils in foods from oxidizing and becoming rancid. According to the Berkeley Wellness Letter, “The National Toxicology Program has concluded that BHA ‘is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,’ while BHT has been linked to an increased—or sometimes decreased—risk of cancer in animals. The consumer group the Center for Science in the Public Interest thus cites BHA as an additive to “avoid” and puts BHT in its “caution” column.”4

Next up: processed meats—such as hotdogs, salami, ham, bologna, bacon, sausages and more. They contain a chemical called sodium nitrite, which during cooking can form carcinogenic compounds.5A study by the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii and the University of Southern California found a correlation between eating processed meats and cancer risk. The study followed 190,000 people, ages 45-75, for seven years. Those who ate the most processed meats had a 67% higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least amount.6

Then there are the toxins that migrate into food from the wrappings and containers they are packaged in—everything from films to pouches, bottles, trays and lids.7 For instance, many fast-food wrappers and boxes contain chemicals that can leach into food, and one out of five paperboard food boxes in a 2017 study contained detectable levels of fluorine.8Fluorinated chemicals, suspected carcinogens9, also are allowed in compostable food packaging.Plasticizers have a low molecular weight and can migrate from packaging materials into the food wrapped within, thus becoming indirect food additives.10And migration of plasticizers from PVC gaskets in the closures of glass jars has been reported for contact with oily foods.11

Along with additives, preservatives and migrating molecules, heavy metals can be present in many foods. The presence of mercury in large fish is well known. When the Environmental Working Group looked at pregnant women who eat fish, they found that about 30% had mercury levels over the safe limit set by the EPA and 60% had excessive mercury levels in their hair. Frequent fish eaters had 11 times more mercury than a group who rarely ate fish.12And bone broth—in many ways a very healthy, nutritious food—can have excess lead levels. A 2013 study measured the levels of lead in broth made from the bones of organic chickens. The broth was found to have “markedly high lead concentrations” compared to water cooked in the same cookware.13Similarly, rice is well known to sequester arsenic, absorbing it from irrigation water, soil, and even cooking water. Arsenic exposure is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, brain disease, and diabetes.14

Pesticide residues present another threat to our health from the food supply.15,16,17Pesticide exposure is linked to cancer risk, birth defects, obesity, and other maladies.18More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used annually nationwide, according to the Pesticide Action Network North America, an environmental group in Oakland.19,20

Given all the potential toxins in foods, one might wonder how to eat a truly healthy diet. One option is to source organic and fresh produce whenever possible, to avoid packaged and prepared foods and large fish that often contain high amounts of mercury. In addition, varying your diet rather than focusing on a few foods, spreads the risk of accumulation of a particular toxin that food might carry. Many people who eat excess of one food such as tuna or brown rice, thinking it to be healthy, are actually at risk of accumulating high levels of mercury or arsenic in the blood because intake exceeds the body’s ability to eliminate it.

Because of our inherent exposure to these toxic substances and many others, it is important to support the body in elimination. By utilizing specific combinations of nutraceutical supplements, the body’s natural detoxification abilities can be upregulated. This helps the body to process and eliminate these potentially damaging substances which often are stored in the tissues of the body. Because many of these substances are stored in the body, even if you make a dramatic change to your diet today in attempts to avoid exposure, the things you were exposed to weeks and months ago remain stuck in the body, and may be causing damage. Toxic substances not only damage our cells and at larger levels impact organ function, but also can have an epigenetic impact which may affect you and your offspring generations to come.21


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21 Skinner MK, et al. Epigenetic transgenerational actions of environmental factors in disease etiology. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Apr;21(4):214-22.View Full Paper

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