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Flavourings and preservatives have been used for centuries to enhance the taste and freshness of food. Do you wonder if they may be unsafe to eat?, or have you tried to identify all the additives that are in your food ?

Additives are not naturally found in food. They serve a number of purposes;

  • Colours  that add or restore lost colours to food.
  • Preservatives that help protect against food deterioration caused by bacteria.
  • Antioxidants that slow down or stop the oxidative deterioration of foods, e.g. when fats and oils go rancid.
  • Artificial sweeteners which impart a sweet taste for fewer calories than sugar, but also cheaper to use.
  • Flavour enhancers that improve the taste and aroma of food.
  • Presentation and texture enhancers e.g. thickeners, gelling agents, emulsifiers, emulsifiers.
  • Nutrient additions that increase the nutrient value of foods

Without many additives our food may not taste as nice, bread would go sour more quickly. Some foods will no longer be worth eating due to their low nutrient value.

Traditional methods of preservation include; smoking, salting, vinegar and drying are accepted for their long standing safe historical use. The use of additives has to go through a lengthy process to prove that they are safe to use, but despite this there are still many concerns. Below are some of the problems that additives may give rise to.

Allergy

  • Sulphite and sulphur dioxide (E220-28) have been known to cause allergic reactions. Specifically, asthma sufferers should avoid sulphur dioxide gas due to increased sensitivity, but there are also recorded cases of worsening of asthma after drinking soft drinks containing it. They are mainly found in dried fruits, dessicated coconut, relishes and fruit-based pie fillings.
  • Food colours like tartrazine (E102) can cause mild allergic reactions and some studies show that sunset yellow (E1 10) can cause tumours.
  • Annatto, a natural food colouring found in margarine, cheese, smoked fish and cakes is implicated in allergic reactions and irritable bowel.

Cancer

  • Aspartame (E951) has been linked to various cancers(1,2,3), although studies by US National Cancer Institute and European Food Safety Authority concluded that it did not increase the risk of cancers.
  • Erythrosine is a red food colour. Research has highlighted concerns about its potential tumour formation and inhibition of the normal functioning of the thyroid.
  • Allura red has been associated with cancer in mice but evidence is not consistent.
  • Nitrites and nitrates (E249-52) may convert to potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Hyperactivity

  • Although a definitive link has not yet been established food colours like, sunset yellow (E110), quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), tartrazine (E102) and ponceau 4R (E124) have been associated with hyperactivity in some children. These are commonly found in a variety of processed foods, especially in children’s sweets, confectionary, squashes, soft drinks, jams and cakes. Prevalence of hyperactivity is estimated to be about 2.5%.
  • Aspartame has also been linked with changes in behaviour.

Headaches

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate- E621) is a flavour enhancer can cause headaches in some people. Although in a recent review there was no conclusive direct evidence.
  • Aspartame is also linked with causing headaches.

Other


The Bottom Line

Additives are overused in the processed foods industry, so try to avoid them as much as possible.

  • Keep processed foods to a minimum, including sweets, lollies, soft drinks and cakes.
  • Be careful of foods that are presented as low-fat, sugar-free as majority will contain some form of additive.
  • Not everyone reacts to additives in the same way. If you experience signs of reacting to certain foods, then minimise or avoid eating it.
  • If your child shows signs of hyperactivity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) then eliminating some colours from their diet may prove beneficial.
  • Always read food labels to be fully aware of what you are buying.

 

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If there is one New Year’s resolution that we should all make is, drastically reduce the amount of sugar we have in our diet. Why ?…. because it is strongly linked with causing cancer. Shockingly this was discovered in a study nearly 50 years ago – but since the research was funded by the sugar industry the results were never published.

Most of us enjoy a sweet treat, but many are addicted to the taste of sugar.  Sugar has been linked to the development of diabetes and heart disease. In 2016 a study on mice linked high sugar intake with an increased risk of breast cancer. Previous studies have highlighted an increased risk of endometrial cancer in women and colon cancer in men, although clear cut evidence is still forthcoming.

Sugar is everywhere!. Increasingly hidden sugars are a problem. From dried fruits to fruit juice. Clearly, too much sugar is not good for our health but the challenge is how to avoid it. This is especially difficult for those who have a ‘sweet tooth’ and find it hard to abstain. It is essential that the body maintains blood sugar levels within an acceptable range. When it falls too low the energy supply to the tissues is compromised.

Sucrose and fructose, both constituents of table sugar are thought to change cell metabolism and increase cancer activity. Researchers  from VIB and Vrije University in Brussels most recently discovered that a compound found in sugar stimulates aggressive cancer cells helping them to grow faster. This research reaffirms the Warburg hypothesis based on the Warburg effect. The Warburg effect explains that sugar is rapidly broken down by cancer cells as fuel for growth. The reason for the rapid breakdown is because cancer cells are fast growing and therefore greater energy needs. Levels of sugar intake is much higher than healthy cells, and results in the production of lactic acid During the sugar breakdown reaction an intermediate compound is produced which directly activates Ras (a cancer causing protein). The researchers identified a vicious cycle where the Ras protein in turn stimulates sugar breakdown.

This direct link between sugar and the aggressiveness of cancer should not be ignored. However, it does not mean that eliminating dietary sugar will make you cancer free but it will improve chances of a more successful cancer treatment.

Reducing the consumption of sugar as a New Year resolution can be a turning point for improving your health. You cannot control sugars already contained in fruits and vegetables, but you can choose to reduce how much sugar you put in your tea or coffee. Most processed foods will contain sugar. There is more sugar in pre-packaged foods than you think. Always read the label !

 

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