Category Archives: Food

Got gas? Get the Gum Out!

Gumming up our food. Updated March 1, 2015

I confess, I like ice cream, and I used to indulge quite regularly, but not anymore.

My taste buds prefer to be subtly stimulated rather than blasted with combinations of flavors that leave them confused and reeling with cloying sweetness. Many speak disparagingly of “plain vanilla,” but to me vanilla is one of the most delicious (and natural) flavors ever discovered. What other flavor can better complement the taste of warm homemade apple pie, or luscious berries, or fresh tree-ripened fruits like peaches.

Another feature of ice cream that adds to its delight is its texture. What makes ice cream creamy? Well, uh, could it be cream?

If you are not in the habit of reading the ingredient lists on packaged foods you may not have noticed that within the past couple years every commercial brand of ice cream has added one kind or another of GUM—guar gum, carob bean gum, xanthan gum, tara gum, locust bean gum, cellulose gum—are a few of the various kind of gum you will find in familiar brands, even premium brands like Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs. Breyers, which I used to count on to avoid artificial ingredients and additives has also slipped.

Sacrilege! I say.

I don’t know what has given impetus to this gummy bandwagon, but I can venture an educated guess. First of all, I would expect that gum is a lot cheaper than cream and thus producers are inclined to use it to simulate the texture of the real thing. Secondly, I suspect that it may have something to do with the anti-fat madness that has for many years been hyped by the media. Women especially seem to have been susceptible to the argument that if they don’t EAT fat they won’t GET fat. Hogwash, I say to that, and to artificial sweeteners, too.

A few months ago, I experienced a sudden onset of severe gastritis that has taken many months and a great deal of effort and expense to resolve. I made some drastic changes to my diet, including avoidance of ice cream, though I still consume large amounts of yogurt and cheese, and I use moderate amounts of butter.

I’ve always been careful about what I eat, avoiding foods containing preservatives and other artificial ingredients, yet my suspicions are that the underlying cause of my problem had to do with something in my diet.

Now, a new study that has just been published has heightened my suspicions. A Los Angeles Times report dated February 25, 2015 says “Consumption of emulsifiers, additives widely used in the production of processed foods, promotes inflammatory bowel disease and a cluster of obesity-related diseases known as metabolic syndrome, and may have contributed to the sharp rise in these conditions over the last three decades, says a new study conducted on rats.”

That study, published in the journal, Nature, reports specifically on the effects of two commonly used emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose (also called cellulose gum) and polysorbate-80 (also known as Tween 80). The study using mice showed that these additives “induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in wild-type hosts and promoted robust colitis in mice predisposed to this disorder. Emulsifier-induced metabolic syndrome was associated with microbiota encroachment, altered species composition and increased pro-inflammatory potential.”

The study report goes on to say that, “These results support the emerging concept that perturbed host–microbiota interactions resulting in low-grade inflammation can promote adiposity and its associated metabolic effects. Moreover, they suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases.”

That makes me wonder about the other emulsifiers that are commonly used.

Further background on gum additives can be found at the following sites:

Cellulose gum: http://befoodsmart.com/ingredients/cellulose-gum.php

Study Finds Common Food Additive Promotes Inflammatory Bowel Disease And Obesity. http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/common-food-additive-promotes-inflammatory-bowel-disease-and-obesity-mice.

Harmful or Harmless: Xanthan Gum. http://chriskresser.com/harmful-or-harmless-xanthan-gum

The Truth About Guar Gum. http://www.livescience.com/36580-guar-gum-weight-loss-cost.html

In this day of factory farms, mass marketing, and huge supermarkets, I suppose it’s too much to expect to find products that are wholesome, pure, and unadulterated. Even brands that are labeled “organic” cannot always be counted on.

The bottom line:

  • Read the labels.
  • Inform yourself about the health effects of common additives.
  • Try as much as possible to avoid getting your food from the big corporate producers and suppliers.

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More about the gums that are added to our foods. (Addendum of March 1, 2015)

One good source of information about the various types of gum that are used as food additives is the website of Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac According to his website, he “is a globally recognized leader in the fields of ancestral health, Paleo nutrition, and functional and integrative medicine. He is the creator of ChrisKresser.com, one of the top 25 natural health sites in the world, and the author of the New York Times best seller, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback in December 2014 as The Paleo Cure).”

http://chriskresser.com/harmful-or-harmless-guar-gum-locust-bean-gum-and-more.

Here’s a brief summary of his postings on gum additives:

Xanthan gum is a largely indigestible polysaccharide that is produced by bacteria called Xanthomonas Camestris. (1) Manufacturers place the bacteria in a growth medium that contains sugars and other nutrients, and the resulting product of bacterial fermentation is purified, dried, powdered, and sold as xanthan gum. (Makes you wonder who first thought to put it in food, doesn’t it?)

Based on the available evidence, the worst xanthan gum seems to be capable of (in adults) is causing some digestive distress in those who are susceptible by increasing stool bulk, water content, and sugar content. But as I just mentioned, those with severe allergies should also be careful.

I recommend that people with digestive problems generally avoid xanthan gum, not because there’s evidence that it could damage your gut, but because its structural properties make it likely to produce unpleasant gut symptoms

Unlike xanthan gum, which is a product of bacterial fermentation, guar gum is derived from an actual food: the guar bean, or Indian cluster bean, which grows primarily in India and Pakistan. ….Because the animal studies showed no harm even at very high doses, guar gum is now being studied in humans as a therapeutic tool for reducing blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

….even small amounts could cause unpleasant symptoms in those with sensitive digestive systems, and I’ve had patients with gut issues improve after removing guar gum from their diet. With that in mind, I think it makes sense to avoid guar gum if you have gut issues, like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or IBS, unless you’ve removed it and added it back in without noticing any harmful effects.

Locust bean gum, also known as carob bean gum, is derived from the seeds of the carob tree. During a two-year animal study, rats were given locust bean gum as 5% of their diet, and no carcinogenic or other toxic effects were observed. (12)

I think the same recommendation I gave for guar gum applies here: if you have gut issues, it would probably be best to avoid locust bean gum. Otherwise, I see no indication that it will cause harm.

Based on the available research, gum arabic seems pretty benign, even for those with gut issues. I certainly wouldn’t be concerned about consuming small amounts of it, although as always, be aware of your individual tolerance.

I’m slightly more skeptical of tara gum compared with the other gums because the toxicity results are less conclusive. Also, while all of the other gums have been tested on humans, tara gum has not. That doesn’t mean it’s not safe, because the available evidence indicates it is; it just means we don’t have as much to go on, and it’s always good to be cautious of new food additives.

Gellan gum is similar to xanthan gum in that it is an exopolysaccharide produced by bacterial fermentation. … To test the safety of gellan gum, the diets of ten volunteers were supplemented with gellan gum at approximately 30 times the level of normal dietary exposure for 23 days. (21) Gellan gum acted as a bulking agent similar to xanthan gum, but no adverse effects were reported. However, a rat study with gellan gum supplemented at 5% of the diet for 4 weeks resulted in abnormalities in intestinal microvilli, which is concerning. (22)

I think those with sensitive guts should avoid it just to be on the safe side. For everyone else, I doubt the small amounts found in food will cause a problem, but it might be best to avoid it if possible.

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Farming with nature

From “fir tree desert” to model permaculture farm.

My Travels: 2013-November/December

I’ve been abroad since Nov 13, starting in Istanbul where I gave a presentation at the Green Economy and Commons conference and spent a few days exploring the city. (Here is the link to the conference site : http://www.tr.boell.org/web/35-1830.html).

Istanbul was interesting and I think my presentation went over well. You can see the pictures from my Istanbul visit at, https://picasaweb.google.com/112258124863172998784/201311IstanbulTurkey?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCJv3nPOd34igcQ&feat=directlink

From there I flew to Kuala Lumpur then a couple days later traveled by bus to Penang.

Penang

I stayed almost two weeks in Penang at a small Hotel where I’ve stayed before. I like Penang but this part of it (Georgetown) is very busy and the traffic gets worse each time I visit. Also, lodging costs keep going up as old guest houses get refurbished and new ones pop up.

Penang is a UN world heritage site, very diverse ethnically, racially, religiously, culturally, etc. and, in my opinion, has the best food in the world, much of it vegetarian. Food is still cheap there; how about $1 for breakfast, $2-$3 for dinner? Of course if you want western food you’ll pay more but still less than western prices. Penang was once a British colony, so that influence is evident, including English and Scottish street names and a British fort (Fort Cornwallis) built in the late 1700s . Penang’s population is majority Chinese with a healthy sprinkling of Tamil Indians and Malays. Islam is an ever increasing presence as more mosques and masjids are sited in Chinese neighborhoods.

Cambodia

Two weeks in Penang was enough. I chose to visit Cambodia instead of going to Thailand, taking a flight on December 5 from Penang to Phnom Penh.

My Cambodia visit got off to an inauspicious start. After checking into my hotel, I decided to take a stroll down by the river. I tried to cross the street and got sideswiped by a motorbike; no stitches but my left shin got skinned and bruised. I managed to get to the other side and sat down on a convenient bench; almost passed out but got some aid from a British friend I had been traveling with for some days, and a Polish couple who happened to be passing by. My wounds have fortunately turned out to be minor, no trouble walking, only a little discomfort, and healing is almost complete by now.

I spent only a couple days Phnom Penh then decided to take a minivan to Sihanoukville which is on the Gulf of Thailand. I stayed a week at Otres Beach about 5 km from Sihanoukville. Otres has a nice clean sandy beach, clean water, and a couple dozen guest houses and bungalow places ranging from backpacker dorms and huts to pretty decent rooms with A/C and hot showers. Almost all have free wi-fi and decent internet connections. After two nights in the rather primitive Done Right ($18), I moved a few meters away to the more comfortable and quiet Otres Guest House ($20). There are many places to eat right on the beach and you can hang out all day long on their lounge chairs if you buy a drink ($1-3) or a meal ($2.50-$6.00). Done Right has both “geodomes” and “cubes,” as well a dorm rooms, is run by young  people and meant to appeal to the twenty-something backpacker crowd. As you might expect, there are lots of dogs and cats around, (and consequently, lots of flies) an open-air pool table and ping pong table, so there’s lots of activity from morning to evening, but nights are fairly quiet except when the dogs get set off by something.

At my age, I require something more comfortable and conventional. Otres Guest House provides it. My room was large and I had a desk and chair that provided a decent work station. The beach across the way provides a good diversion when I tire of working.

I had some surprisingly good Greek food in Sihanoukville at a restaurant (the sign reads “Greek Cousine”) that is run by Greek restaurateurs who spend the off season here.

I’m now in Kampot, a charming little riverside town which is a couple hours’ drive toward the southeast, where the lodgings and food are both good and cheap.

I also have Siem Reap (Angkor Wat ) on my agenda and will visit there at some point. I hope to schedule another visit to Phnom Penh to see the “killing fields” and the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21). Here’s a bit of pertinent history:

“Prior to 1975, Toul Sleng was a high school. When the Khmer Rouge came to power it was converted into the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. Inmates were systematically tortured to extract confessions, after which they were executed at the killing fields of Choeung Ek. S-21 processed over 17,000 people, less than a dozen of whom survived. The building now serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge regime.”

Yes, Cambodia has that gruesome history, but so do many other countries, including the U.S., Argentina, etc. The situation now seems quite different. You do notice a dearth of old people, and Cambodian government is said to be corrupt, but that seems to have little impact on the tourist. The people are friendly and helpful and no one has tried to rip me off yet. Still, this is a third-world country and not up to the standards of Malaysia or even Thailand, which have had more time to learn the tourism business.

Organic Consumers Association calls for boycott

Payback Time: Boycott the Brands that Helped Kill Prop 37

They stomped on our right to know. Now it’s time to get even.

Prop 37, the California Right to Know GMO labeling initiative, was narrowly defeated last week thanks to a relentless, deceitful $46-million advertising blitz. Among the largest bankrollers of the NO on 37 campaign were huge multinational food and beverage companies whose subsidiaries make billions  selling some of your favorite organic and “natural” brands.

Brands like Kashi. Honest Tea. Naked Juice. Muir Glen and Morningstar Farms.

It’s time to boycott the companies whose dirty money confused and scared millions of California voters into voting No on Prop 37.  It’s time to plaster their facebook pages with this message: We won’t support you until you support us. It’s time to call their consumer hotlines, complain to their store managers. It’s time to tarnish their holy organic and natural images, to expose their hypocrisy and greed.

It’s time to raise a little hell.

The OCA is calling on all consumers to boycott these 10 organic and natural traitor brands:

• PepsiCo (Donated $2.5M): Naked Juice, Tostito’s Organic, Tropicana Organic • Kraft (Donated $2M): Boca Burgers and Back to Nature • Safeway (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M):”O” Organics • Coca-Cola (Donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla • General Mills (Donated $1.2M): Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar • Con-Agra (Donated $1.2M): Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, Hunt’s Organic, Lightlife, Alexia • Kellogg’s (Donated $791k): Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger  • Smuckers (Donated $555k): R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic • Unilever (Donated $467k): Ben & Jerry’s • Dean Foods (Donated $254k): Horizon, Silk, White Wave Tell these companies that if they want your loyalty – and your grocery dollars –  they must do two things:

1.  Speak out publicly in favor of the pending GMO Labeling Ballot Initiative (I-522) in Washington State in 2013, as well as the pending GMO labeling bills coming up in Vermont and other states.

2. Contribute as much or more money to the Yes on I-522 Campaign in Washington than their parent corporations spent to defeat Prop 37.

Prop 37 was narrowly defeated, by dirty money and dirty tricks. But it spawned a huge, national consumer movement that is fired up and more determined than ever to fight this battle until we win the right to know if our food has been genetically modified.  We’re already collecting signatures in Washington State, talking to legislators in Vermont and Connecticut. A 30-state coalition is formulating a plan to collaborate on GMO-labeling laws and initiatives.

You are a part of this movement, and today we’re calling on you, on the millions of consumers who were outraged by the NO on 37’s dirty campaign, to send a clear message to the traitor brands who helped kill Prop 37, in the only language they understand: lost profits and lower sales.

TAKE ACTION: Join the Boycott!

Balancing your health while balancing your budget

Organic fruits and vegetables usually cost more than those that are conventionally grown and handled. At current levels of production, economies of scale are difficult to achieve and most people simply cannot afford to buy all organic food. Here is some important information, taken from Natural News, that will help in making the right food choices when you shop.

The dirty dozen

The EWG (environmental working group) cleverly calls the 12 fruits and vegetables listed below the “dirty dozen” due to their high levels of pesticides, when compared to other produce. If possible, purchase the following organic produce.

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

The clean 15

This next group of 15 produce are known by the EWG as the “clean 15”. They are the lowest in toxic pesticides, so if you’re going to buy non-organic produce, these would be the ones to buy.

1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Consuming foods from the clean 15 will lower your pesticide exposure a whopping 92% when compared with the dirty dozen. By choosing five fruits and vegetables a day from the clean 15 list you’ll consume fewer than two pesticides per day, whereas consuming five fruits and vegetables a day from the dirty dozen will cause you to ingest as many as 14 different pesticides every day.

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Is it really organic? Can Whole Foods be trusted?

This investigative report raises considerable doubt. Much of what Whole Foods markets sell is imported from China. It may be labeled “organic,” but there is no reliable assurance that it really is. You decide, but be sure to read the labels on each package. At least we can still count on labeling to be correct. Or can we??

Maine town declares “food sovereignty”

At a recent town hall meeting, residents of the town of Sedgwick, Maine, unanimously supported an ordinance that pushes back against state and federal regulations that promote the corporate food system and encumber small-scale local farming. Read about it here.