The average American child views perhaps 40,000 television commercials per year, many whetting their appetite for “junk” food. Kids are probably thinking taste, and maybe the toy that comes with the food. Moms and dads are probably thinking cost and convenience.
We were not taught to think the nutritional quality of food was really all that important. We don’t judge what we put in our mouths with the same discrimination as, say, what supplies we have for the first day of school, or what suit of clothes we wear for an important business meeting.
But now, evidence of years of a processed, convenience food diet surrounds us. Many kids in school are overweight and increasingly, they are sick. Some schools offer “peanut free” tables because so many students are allergic to that classic “kid food.” Other students can’t eat bread, another classic “kid food.” What’s happening?
A combination of social and economic changes in the last 80 years or so has dramatically changed human nutrition. Several patterns reveal themselves when you take a good look at what makes up a few of our favorite kid foods:
One of Britain’s biggest newspapers, The Guardian, got an idea to look at what goes into a strawberry milkshake.
At home, you would likely use strawberries, cream, sugar or honey, and a tad bit of vanilla extract. Just four ingredients.
The Guardian plucked their shake from the menu of an unnamed “big fast food company.” They found not a single strawberry or ounce of milk. Their article was entitled: 59 Ingredients in a Fast Food Strawberry Milkshake.1
“The phrase “artificial strawberry flavour” offers little hint of the scientific wizardry that can make a highly processed food taste like a strawberry: milkfat and nonfat milk, sugar, sweet whey, high-fructose corn syrup, guar gum, monoglycerides and diglycerides, cellulose gum, sodium phosphate, carrageenan, citric acid, E129 and artificial strawberry flavour.
“And what does that “artificial strawberry flavour” contain?
“Just these few yummy chemicals: amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethol, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphrenyl- 2-butanone (10% solution in alcohol), ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter, phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, undecalactone, vanillin and solvent.”
So that’s 40 chemicals for strawberry flavor and 19 more for, well, the milkshake part of it.
Let’s randomly pluck out a chemical from the “milkshake” recipe: E129. http://www.ukfoodguide.net/e129.htm we read:
E129 – Allura Red AC, FD&C Red 40
“Orange-red colour used in sweets, drinks and condiments, medications and cosmetics, A red synthetic azo dye introduced in the early eighties to replace Amaranth, E123, in the United States of America where E123 is prohibited.
“May have slightly less allergy/intolerance reaction by aspirin intolerant people and asthmatics than most of the azo dyes, although those with skin sensitivities should be careful. Allura red has also been connected with cancer in mice.
“Not recommended for consumption by children.
“Banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway.”
Not recommended for children? But still legal to be in the product.
At the very popular theme park in Hershey, Pennsylvania USA, kids can buy a wide variety of “Flavor Burst Syrups” to put on their soft-serve vanilla ice cream:2
Butterscotch – Water, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, E405 propylene glycol alginate, E412 guar gum, E413 tragacanth, E414 acacia, E415 xanthan gum, modified corn starch, E150 caramel color, E331 sodium citrate, artificial flavor, E211 sodium benzoate, E202 potassium sorbate (as a preservative), E129 FD&C Red #40, E133 FD&C Blue #1.
Black Cherry – Water, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, E330 citric acid, E405 proplylene glycol alginate, E412 guar gum, E413 tragacanth, E414 acacia, E415 xanthan gum. Modified corn starch, E150 caramel color, E331 sodium citrate, artificial flavor, E211 sodium benzoate, E202 potassium sorbate (as a preservative), E129 FD&C Red #40, E133 FD&C Blue #1.
Raspberry – Water, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, E330 citric acid, E405 propylene glycol alginate, E412 guar gum, E413 tragacanth, E414 acacia, E415 xanthan gum, E1442 modified corn starch, artificial flavor, E150 caramel color, preservative (E211 sodium Benzoate), E129 FD&C Red #40, E133 FD&C Blue #1.
Strawberry – Water, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, E330 citric acid, E405 propylene glycol alginate, E412 guar gum, E413 tragacanth, E414 acacia, E415 xanthan gum, modified corn starch, E296 malic acid, E211 sodium benzoate & E202 potassium sorbate (as preservatives), natural & artificial flavors, E129 FD&C Red #40, E133 FD&C Blue #1.
Blueberry – Water, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, E330 citric acid, E405 propylene glycol alginate, E412 guar gum, E413 tragacanth, E414 acacia, E415 xanthan gum, E1442 modified corn starch, natural & artificial flavors, preservatives (E211 sodium benzoate, E202 potassium sorbate) E129 FD&C Red #40, E133 FD&C Blue #1.
Tropical Orange – Water, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar, E330 citric acid, E405 propylene glycol alginate, E412 guar gum, E413 tragacanth, E414 gum acacia, E415 xanthan gum, E1442 modified corn starch, natural & artificial flavors, preservatives (E211 sodium benzoate),EL10, FD&C Yellow #6.
Consumer groups in Great Britain have been gaining traction in efforts to remove unhealthy additives from food.
As reported in the British newspaper, The Guardian, May 8, 2007:
“Sainsbury’s will next month become the first major supermarket chain to ban artificial colours and flavourings from its own-label soft drinks … The chain says the ban is the result of “overwhelming” demand from parents…”4
Then in September, 2007, the British “Southampton/McCann Study” landed with a big splash worldwide. A team of researchers demonstrated that common preservatives, like sodium benzoate, and common food colorings, made from petroleum, do indeed cause hyperactivity in kids.
In February, 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a stunning reversal of its long standing position that additives had no effect on children’s behavior:
“…[the Southampton/McCann study] was a carefully conducted study in which the investigators went to great lengths to eliminate bias and to rigorously measure outcomes … the overall findings of the study are clear and require that even we skeptics, who have long doubted parental claims of the effects of various foods on the behavior of their children, admit we might have been wrong.”
And so begins a pattern - there’s lots of “stuff” on the grocery store shelf that may not be recommended for good health but is legally there. And there are lots of government agencies, industry-funded groups, and mainstream medicine organizations who are slow to accept what seems obvious to so many parents - children's health is very much linked to the food and chemicals they ingest.
Real food elements have given way to sweeteners and laboratory flavors which give taste to otherwise bland processed food, or prolong shelf life, or make distribution easier. Industry claims these elements are safe; scientists and consumer watchdog groups often argue otherwise. It is very telling that consumer pressure, more than government initiative, is leading the charge for removal of food additives in Britain and trans fats in the United States.
Most baby boomers ate lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a kid, and “peanut-free” tables at school were unheard of.
The subject of allergic reactions seems to have kicked into high gear about 1995. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends delaying the introduction of peanuts until a child is 3 years of age, especially if there is a family history of food allergies.
Medical journals explain that a severe peanut allergy kills either by laryngospasm (instantaneous swelling and closing of the vocal cords) or by anaphylactic shock, which sets in minutes or hours after exposure and is usually associated with a catastrophic drop in blood pressure.
But medical journals have been unable to explain why kids increasingly seem to have allergies to peanuts.
We do have a theory put forth by some parents and medical practitioners that the problem is not so much an allergy as it is a toxic reaction.
Almonds and walnuts have strong, hard shells that protect them, and like most nuts, they grow on trees. But the peanut is actually a legume that grows underground. It has a soft and porous skin. When the environment surrounding the peanut becomes warm, humid and wet, as it does in most regions of the U.S. where peanuts are commonly grown, a fungal growth occurs. Thus the crops are often heavily sprayed with pesticides. That’s the first whammy to a child’s immune system. The second is the mold.
Peanuts contain high amounts of mold, which produce one of the most deadly carcinogens known to man: Aflatoxin.
Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring mycotoxin produced by two types of mold: Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Aspergillus flavus is common and widespread in nature. Aflatoxin can contaminate virtually any grain, fruit or vegetable that has been stored in conditions permitting the growth of mold. Peanuts seem to be especially vulnerable.
The mold occurs in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and grains undergoing microbiological deterioration and invades all types of organic substrates whenever and wherever the conditions are favorable for its growth. Favorable conditions include high moisture content and high temperature.
Photos from http://www.ars.usda.gov/main/docs.htm?docid=3499
Light green = Aspergillus flavus
Dark green = Aspergillus parasiticus
In 1993 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified AFB1 and mixtures of aflatoxins as Group 1 carcinogens - potent substances that can cause cancer in humans. It manifests as liver cancer.
Chinese medicine sheds light on the toxic reaction theory:
“What few consider is that antibiotics, originally derived from mold, are very similar to mold in their fundamental nature. According to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, mold and antibiotics are both very cold and damp. Therefore, there is a fundamental relationship between mold allergy and antibiotic allergies. A person with one of these allergies is almost certain to have both of these allergies, whether or not they register on allergy tests. Antibiotic use and abuse are the predominant causes of mold allergy. People who truly understand allergies know that there is a direct relationship between toxicity and allergy. A toxic load that overwhelms the body typically becomes an allergy. Allergy is a logical response of the body to a toxic situation. The message to reduce or avoid toxins makes sense, and this is the message allergies try to communicate.”5
Anecdotal evidence is that the Maranatha brand of peanut butter does not cause the allergic reaction because it comes from organic Valencia peanuts grown in the dry soil of New Mexico. The company claims their products are virtually free of mold.
If you don’t have a child with allergies, how do peanuts rank as kid food? They are an inexpensive source of tasty protein. Peanuts are a good source of potassium, magnesium, zinc and selenium, all important minerals. They also supply B vitamins, vitamin E and fibre. Studies have shown that peanuts contain resveratrol, the antioxidant that produces red wine’s heart-protective effects.
The downside? Peanuts tend to contain a lot of mold. Peanuts are a heavily pesticided crop. They are relatively high in omega-6 compared to omega-3 fatty acids and most kids already eat too many foods high in omega-6. Most conventional brands of peanut butters contain hydrogenated oils and emulsifiers - and lots of sugar.
Other nuts are made into butters and can usually be substituted for peanut butter. Almond and cashew butter for example have a much better omega 6:3 fatty acid ratio.
What you are likely to find in a box of breakfast cereals is a bunch of “extruded” grains.
Cereal makers first create a slurry of the grains and then put them in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a little hole at high temperature and pressure. Depending on the shape of the hole, the grains are made into little o’s, flakes, animal shapes, or shreds (as in Shredded Wheat or Triscuits), or they are puffed (as in puffed rice). A blade slices off each little flake or shape, which is then carried past a nozzle and sprayed with a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.6
Paul Stitt worked at Quaker Foods decades ago where he saw with his own eyes a company study on rats which died quickly eating Puffed Wheat.
“I came across a little flyer that the company has published in 1942. It contained a report on a study in which four sets of rats were given special diets. … The rats which received the whole wheat lived more than a year on the diet. The rats who got nothing but water and vitamins lived for about eight weeks, and the animals on white sugar and water lived for a month. But Quaker’s own laboratory study showed that rats given vitamin, water and all the Puffed Wheat they wanted died in two weeks. It wasn’t a matter of the rats dying of malnutrition; results like these suggested that there was something actually toxic about the Puffed Wheat itself. Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the puffing process of putting the grain under 1500 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure, and then releasing it, may produce chemical changes which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance.
“I was shocked, so I showed the report to Dr. Clark, who shared my concern. His predecessor, Dr. Graham, had published the report, and begged the company not to continue producing Puffed Wheat.”7
But the cereal had made the company $9 million the previous year so it wasn’t about to disappear from the shelf. As Stitt points out, we have known however about the animal toxicity of extruded cereals since at least the 1940s when Quaker performed this unpublished rat study.
Another unpublished experiment was carried out in the 1960s. Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation relates the details:
“Researchers at Ann Arbor University were given 18 laboratory rats. They were divided into three groups: one group received corn flakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the corn flakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water. The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. But the rats receiving the corn flakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The last corn flake rat died the day the first box rat died.) But before death, the corn flake rats developed schizophrenic behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. The startling conclusion of this study is that there was more nourishment in the box than there was in the corn flakes.”8
Just about all dry cereals that come in boxes are extruded cereals.
Good source of fiber? Well, federal guidelines recommend women get 28 grams of fiber per day. Look at the label on the box and you find that Special K serves up less than 1 gram of fiber. You would be doing well to find a cereal with 4-6 grams of fiber per serving.
And of course cereals have long been criticized for their high sugar content. A diet high in sugar contributes to insulin resistance and chronic inflammation.
Fast Food Chicken
McDonalds introduced McNuggets in 1983 and they became wildly popular with kids. One would think that chicken McNuggets are made primarily of chicken, right?
Nope. A McDonald’s Chicken McNugget is 56% corn. There is more corn than chicken in a McNugget.
The ingredients, as stated by the McDonalds corporation, are:9
Michael Pollen, author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, dissected the McNugget this way:
“Of the thirty-eight ingredients it takes to make a McNugget, I counted thirteen that can be derived from corn:
“A couple of other plants take part in the nugget: There’s some wheat in the batter, and on any given day the hydrogenated oil could come from soybeans, canola, or cotton rather than corn, depending on the market price and availability.
“According to the (ingredients) handout, McNuggets also contain several completely synthetic ingredients, quasiedible substances that ultimately come not from a corn or soybean field but from a petroleum refinery or chemical plant. These chemicals are what make modern processed food possible, by keeping the organic materials in them from going bad or looking strange after months in the freezer or on the road. Listed first are the “leavening agents”: sodium aluminum phosphate, mono-calcium phosphate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and calcium lactate. These are antioxidants added to keep the various animal and vegetable fats involved in a nugget from turning rancid.
“Then there are “anti-foaming agents” like dimethylpolysiloxene, added to the cooking oil to keep the starches from binding to air molecules, so as to produce foam during the fry. The problem is evidently grave enough to warrant adding a toxic chemical to the food: According to the Handbook of Food Additives, dimethylpolysiloxene is a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen, and reproductive effector; it’s also flammable.
“But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to “help preserve freshness.” According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause ‘nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.’ Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.”10
Let’s take a second look at some of those ingredients.
• McNuggets are fried in hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, making for a concoction of very unhealthy trans fats.
• “Spices” is a loosely regulated term that can include dangerous substances like MSG, the excitotoxin known as “the Chinese restaurant headache.” Neither the labels nor company website clarifies whether MSG is used; Dr. Joseph Mercola and others say it is plentiful in a number of McDonald’s products.
• Dextrose, from corn, is a sugar.
• The “enriched flour” in the breading has been stripped of so much fiber and bran that the body registers this highly processed carb as sugar.
• Sodium aluminum phosphate is a type of acid used in the baking powder. If you are looking to avoid Alzheimers tomorrow by not ingesting aluminum today, this would be on your Do Not Eat list.
All that, and 510 calories for a 10-piece serving of McNuggets.
And oh yes, you’ll get a sauce for dipping with your McNuggets. Depending upon which one you choose, you will be adding to your calories and the list of ingested ingredients:
• red 40, yellow 5, or yellow 6
• corn syrup solids
• high fructose corn syrup
In 2003, a federal judge weighed in on McNuggets after two obese New York teenagers sued McDonalds. Judge Robert Sweet dismissed the suit saying it is not the place of the law to protect people from their own excesses. “They cannot blame McDonald’s if they, nonetheless, choose to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald’s products.”
However, in recognition of just how far removed processed “products” can be from real food, the judge said that when an item is substantially less healthy than it appears, a seller may be held liable for the resulting harm. “Rather than being merely chicken fried in a pan,” he wrote of McNuggets, they are “a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook. … It is at least a question of fact [whether a reasonable consumer would know that a McNugget] contained so many ingredients other than chicken and provided twice the fat of a hamburger.”11
Lest you think the chicken sandwich is significantly different than, or better than, the McNugget, check this out:12
What you don’t read on the label that also may come in your chicken: arsenic.
According to independent test results released in 2006 by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), brand name chicken sold in American supermarkets and fast food restaurants are widely contaminated with arsenic.
• Nine out of ten American children eat at a McDonald’s at least once a month.
• One out of every five public schools in the United States now serves brand name fast food.
• Children who are obese at 13 have a 90% chance of being overweight at 35 years old.
• One out of every three toys given to children in the U.S. every year is from a fast food restaurant.
“It has been claimed that none - or at least very little - of the arsenic put into chicken feed makes its way into the meat. But arsenic levels in chicken meat are a lot higher than previously acknowledged. That was the conclusion of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists, writing in 2004 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institutes of Health. So, we set out to do something the federal government had never done. We tested for arsenic in the chicken meat that people mostly eat.”13
IATP tested chicken products from Foster Farms, Trader Joe’s, Gold’n Plump, Perdue, Smart Chicken, and Tyson Foods and found 55 percent carried detectable arsenic. Fast food chicken products included in the test were McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Church’s and Popeyes; 90 percent contained detectable levels of arsenic.
For decades, arsenic has been routinely put into chicken feed to kill vermin and make the animals grow bigger, faster.
Arsenic causes cancer even at the low levels currently found in our environment. Evidence suggests arsenic also contributes to other diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and declines in intellectual function.
Birds sold under organic labels may not legally be given arsenic.14
Meanwhile Consumer Reports was looking at the bacteria count in chicken in 2006. Investigators for the independent consumer group tested 525 whole broiler chickens from leading brands including Perdue, Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Foster Farms, as well as organic and other brands raised without antibiotics.
“CR’s analysis of fresh, whole broilers bought nationwide revealed that 83 percent harbored campylobacter or salmonella, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease. That’s a stunning increase from 2003, when we reported finding that 49 percent tested positive for one or both pathogens.”15
Both salmonella and campylobacter colonize the birds’ intestines usually without harm to the birds. But when a chicken is slaughtered, feathers, guts, and waste water, which should be discarded during processing, are routinely “recycled” back to the layer and broiler houses as feed. Industry experts believe that along with unclean slaughtering and processing techniques, this enforced cannibalism is leading to the rampant salmonella epidemic in U.S. poultry plants.16
Finally there is the problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are used to promote growth and to combat infections that come from the crowded, stressful conditions found on many large animal-production facilities.
Investigators reported that 84% of the salmonella organisms analyzed and 67% of the campylobacter were resistant to one or more antibiotics. Studies published in 2001 in The New England Journal of Medicine indicated that many food-borne and other illnesses in people no longer respond to the usual antibiotics.17,18
In Canada, the use of hormones in chicken feed has been banned since the 1960s.
There is some good news in this picture. Major U.S. commercial chicken producers have been removing antibiotics from chicken feed since the FDA banned the use of Baytril®,a drug similar to Cipro®, in 2005.
The American cowboy and small farmer raising cattle on the open range got swallowed up by corporate America. In their place, we have uniform fast food burgers all over the world.
Eric Schlosser’s meticulously researched book, Fast Food Nation, describes what went wrong in the process:
“American meat production has never before been so centralized: thirteen large packinghouses now slaughter most of the beef consumed in the United States.
“The E. coli O157:H7 bacterium is a newly emerged pathogen … This strain of E. coli was most likely responsible for some human illnesses thirty or forty years ago. But the rise of huge feedlots, slaughterhouses, and hamburger grinders seems to have provided the means for this pathogen to become widely dispersed in the nation’s food supply.
“A nationwide study published by the USDA in 1996 found 78.6 percent of the ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal material. The medical literature on the causes of food poisoning is full of euphemisms and dry scientific terms: aerobic plate counts, MacConkey agar, and so on. Behind them lies a simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill: There is shit in the meat.
“To be infected by most food borne pathogens, such as Salmonella, you have to consume a fairly large dose - at least a million organisms. An infection with E. coli O157:H7 can be caused by as few as 5 organisms. A tiny uncooked particle of hamburger meat can contain enough of the pathogen to kill you.
“For years the meatpacking industry has managed to avoid the sort of liability routinely imposed on the manufacturers of most consumer products. Today, the U.S. government can demand the nationwide recall of defective softball bats, sneakers, stuffed animals and foam rubber toy cows. But it cannot order a meatpacking company to remove contaminated, potentially lethal ground beef from fast food kitchens and supermarket shelves.”19
Warning bells began to ring more than 20 years ago and keep ringing:
• 1982 - dozens of children got sick from hamburgers contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 sold at McDonald’s restaurants in Oregon and Michigan.
• 1993 - the infamous Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak where more than 700 people got sick, 200 were hospitalized and 4 died.
• 2007 - Topps Meat Company of New Jersey recalled 21.7 million pounds of ground beef because of E. coli contamination that brought forth reports in 8 states of sickened people.
• 2008 – largest beef recall in U.S. history; USDA recalled 143 million pounds of beef produced by Westland/Hallmark Meat Company after a U.S. Humane Society video showed the plant had used sick animals, unfit for human consumption.
The CDC estimates that 20 cases of E. coli O157:H7 and 38 cases of Salmonellosis actually occur for every case that is reported to federal public health authorities.20
E. coli O157:H7, once inside the human body, can release powerful “Shiga toxins” that attack the lining of the intestine. In a small percentage of people, especially children, Shiga toxins enter the bloodstream and can lead to seizures, neurological damage, strokes, kidney failure, anemia, internal bleeding, and the destruction of vital organs.
Ground beef, the stuff of hamburgers, is especially problematic. “Even if you assume that only 1 percent [of the cattle] are infected, that means three or four cattle bearing the microbe are eviscerated at a large slaughterhouse every hour,” and a single animal infected with E. coli can contaminate 32,000 pounds of ground beef, Schlosser documented.
America has not responded by cleaning up feed lots or by putting tough oversight mechanisms in place. Rather, the focus was put on cooking hamburgers more to kill what pathogens may be lurking within.
If you cook it, are you safe? Two of the four children who died in the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak had not eaten hamburgers themselves; they became infected through contact with a playmate who had eaten a tainted hamburger.21 Cooking eggs and meat at high temperatures (overcooking by another definition), produces a chemical compounds called PhIP or HCAs, which studies increasingly link to breast cancer.22
McDonald’s and Jack in the Box introduced tougher safety rules for their suppliers; however, these are private initiatives, the test results are not public.
The modern American hamburger is also implicated in fueling the obesity epidemic and triggering early puberty in children.
Many cattle are fed the same muscle-building androgens, usually testosterone surrogates, abused by some athletes. Federal law prohibits you from buying and self-medicating with these steroids, but they are administered to U.S. cattle on a massive scale.
According to the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health, the use of growth hormones in beef production poses a potential risk to human health. The Committee also questioned whether hormone residues in the meat of “growth enhanced” animals and can disrupt human hormone balance, causing developmental problems, interfering with the reproductive system, and even leading to the development of breast, prostate or colon cancer.23
Children, pregnant women and the unborn are thought to be most susceptible. Hormone residues in beef have been implicated in the early onset of puberty in girls, which could put them at greater risk of developing breast and other forms of cancer.
The European Union does not allow the use of hormones in cattle production, has prohibited the import of hormone-treated beef since 1988, and has banned all beef imports from the US. What does that tell you about the beef you get at fast food places or typical American grocery store? Remember when Oprah Winfrey was sued for saying that, based on what she’d learned about meat production in the United States, she was never going to eat another hamburger? That is political clout and intimidation; that is not the government looking out for your health. You have to look out for your own health.
How can hamburgers have contributed to the obesity epidemic? Because commercially grown cattle are not fed their natural diet. Imagine the cowboy out on the range; visualize those cows eating grass and roaming (and pooping) over large acreage of sun washed prairie. Now fast forward to a crowded feedlot where the animals stand in their own manure, and are fed corn and grain. (They can also be fed dead pigs, horses, poultry and chicken manure which consumer advocates feel risks the human variation of mad cow.)
The feedlot diet is higher in fat and calories and contains less of the nutrients that have nourished human health for tens of thousands of years.
Compared to naturally grass fed beef, feedlot (“grain-finished”) beef contains
• less vitamin A and vitamin E
• a worse omega-3:omega-6 ratio
• less conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
• more fat and calories24
Grass-fed beef is lower in total fat. A 6-ounce steak from a steer that has eaten nothing but grass can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a feedlot steer. If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grassfed beef can save you 17,700 calories a year - without requiring any willpower, just a change in your shopping habits.25
Meat and dairy products from grass-fed ruminants are the richest known source of a good fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has been shown to promote weight loss. When ruminants are raised solely on fresh pasture, their meat and milk contain three to five times more CLA than products from animals in the feedlots.26 When cattle are taken off pasture and fed corn and grain in a feedlot, their CLA levels plummet.
CLA is also in the milk fat from dairy cows. But milk drinkers are unlikely to take in much CLA from milk because confinement dairying methods, which are the norm in American agriculture, deny cows green growing grass, without which they cannot produce CLA.
So part of the obesity equation appears to be the loss of CLA in our diets.
More and more children are developing chronic illness, and in many cases, a dietary imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 plays a part. Conventional beef contains a 1:4 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 while grass-only diets produce a healthier 2:1 ratio.27 (Combine the typical grass fed burger with the typical French fry cooked in vegetable oil, and you worsen the omega-3 to omega-6 imbalance because vegetable oils are also high in omega-6s. In fact, add to that a salad with a vegetable oil-based salad dressing. Now do you see a pattern emerging of how years of such a diet is an engraved invitation to health problems?)
The omega fats are called “essential fatty acids” because, like vitamin C, our bodies cannot make them. We must get them from foods we eat. And the Standard American diet, hamburgers included, are providing less and less of the right balance.
Consider some of the research coming to light:
• In animal studies, these essential fats have slowed the growth of a wide array of cancers and also kept them from spreading.28
• In a Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet, had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels.29
• People who have ample amounts of omega-3s in their diet are less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. They are 50 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack.30
• Omega-3s are essential for your brain as well. People with a diet rich in omega-3s are less likely to suffer from depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer’s disease.31
Cattle, like all other ruminants, developed eating green leafy plants, mostly grass. They ate virtually no grain. Those who blame red meat for health problems overlook the implications of feeding of grain to the animals we eat; they overlook how different today’s feedlot beef is from that which mankind ate for tens of thousands of years.
Ketchup & Mayo
And what goes well with hamburgers? A big dollop of ketchup, of course. What is it? Well, one-third of ketchup is usually sugar. (And while we’re here, how about the bun? Usually made of processed flour, stripped of nutrients, to which a half-teaspoon of sugar is added so the yeast can make it rise.)
In 1981, Congress ordered the USDA to issue new standards for federally financed school lunch programs. One of the USDA’s proposals was to classify ketchup as a vegetable. The suggestion was widely ridiculed; the proposal was killed.
The good news here is, most ketchup is still made from real tomatoes and so it contains some healthy lycopene. Some studies show that organic varieties contain more of it.
Organic ketchups are also more likely to use sugar rather than the less healthy corn syrups.
Mayonnaise is typically made from unhealthy vegetable oils - too high in omega-6 fatty acids - with a big dollop of preservatives, flavoring agents, and thickeners.
You can make your own with olive oil. It will last about a week and may require a “taste-bud readjustment” before acceptance sets in.
Or just use sour cream instead - kids love sour cream.
Both of these are condiments - meant to be used sparingly.
In 1930, the average dairy cow produced 12 pounds (about a gallon and a half) of milk per day. In 1988, the average was 39 pounds per day. This was accomplished by selective breeding to obtain dairy cows that produced a lot of pituitary hormones, thereby generating large amounts of milk. Today rBGH, a genetically engineered copy of a cow’s naturally occurring growth hormone, is used to produce more milk, bringing the average up to 50 pounds (over 6 gallons) of milk per day.
In 1993, the FDA gave Monsanto corporation approval to market the first such hormones under the trade name “Posilac®”, and no labeling was required in consumer products. Bovine growth hormone was the flagship product in Monsanto’s campaign to take command of the ultra-high-stakes biotechnology industry.
There was strong and broad opposition from scientists, farmers, consumers and other governments. The FDA relied on a study done by Monsanto in which rBGH was tested for 90 days on 30 rats. (A standard cancer test of a new human drug requires two years of testing with several hundred rats.) The study was never published, and the FDA stated the results showed no significant problems. Critics argue the approval came after pressure from Monsanto’s lobbyists.
A key health concern is that animals given rBGH produce more insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1). Studies, have linked high levels of IGF-1 in humans who consume rBGH milk with breast, prostate, colon and other cancers.
Cows treated with rBHG have more mastitis which increases amounts of pus in milk. Commercial dairies aren't concerned about germs in the pus however, because the milk will be pasteurized. But mastitis is treated with antibiotics, increasing the antibiotics residues which are present in milk fed to consumers. From time to time, we get proof antibiotics do make it into milk. The Wall Street Journal in December, 1989, found that 20% of the milk had illegal antibiotics present. This number was confirmed in a May 1992 Consumers Reports study; the Center for Science in the Public Interest found 38% of the milk to be adulterated with illegal antibiotics. It raises the question whether some farmers purposefully use antibiotics they know the government does not test for.
The ever louder grumbling about this adulteration got the ear of two top-notch, well respected investigative reporters in Florida.
In 2001, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, were fired from the Fox News station in Tampa after months of controversy surrounding their investigative report on rBGH use in Florida dairies. “Fox 13 didn’t want to kill the story revealing synthetic hormones in Florida’s milk supply,” Wilson said. Instead, “We were repeatedly ordered to go forward and broadcast demonstrably inaccurate and dishonest versions of the story. We were given those instructions after some very high-level corporate lobbying by Monsanto and also, we believe, by members of Florida’s dairy and grocery industries.”33
The reporters lost their jobs, but the consumers got the message.
In February 2007, the Organic Consumers Union, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and the Family Farm Defenders, filed a joint petition asking the FDA to require cancer risk warning labels on all U.S. milk produced with rBGH. They also asked the FDA to suspend rBGH approval due to "imminent hazard." The FDA did not respond, but the marketplace did. Costco, WalMart, Kroger, and others stopped buying milk and dairy products made from milk with rBHG in it.
In 2009, Monsanto sold Posilac to Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly and Company.
Organic milk is produced without the use of synthetic hormones. U.S. sales of it soared since Monsanto introduced rBGH into milk. Despite the fact the FDA stands behind the genetically engineered hormone, it is banned in all 25 European Union nations, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
The rBGH controversy pales in comparison however to the raw versus pasteurized milk controversy.
One of the most visible advocates for healthy milk is Sally Fallon, head of the non-profit Weston A. Price Foundation:
“The source of most commercial milk is the modern Holstein, bred to produce huge quantities of milk–three times as much as the old-fashioned cow. She needs special feed and antibiotics to keep her well. Her milk contains high levels of growth hormone from her pituitary gland, even when she is spared the indignities of genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone to push her to the udder limits of milk production.
“Pasteurization destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6 … Pasteurization was instituted in the 1920s to combat … diseases caused by poor animal nutrition and dirty production methods. But times have changed and modern stainless steel tanks, milking machines, refrigerated trucks and inspection methods make pasteurization absolutely unnecessary for public protection.
“Inspection of dairy herds for disease is not required for pasteurized milk.
“Pasteurization destroys friendly bacteria and allows pathogenic bacteria to proliferate.
“Both raw and pasteurized milk harbor bacteria but the bacteria in raw milk is the healthy bacteria of lactic-acid fermentation while the bacteria in pasteurized milk is the bacteria of spoilage. And the overall bacteria count of milk produced under clean conditions is much lower than that of pasteurized milk. Both raw and pasteurized milk contain E. coli, normally a benign microorganism. The most likely source of the new strains of virulent E. coli is genetically engineered soy, fed to cows in large commercial dairies.
“Children fed raw milk have more resistance to TB, scurvy, flu, diphtheria, pneumonia, asthma, allergic skin problems and tooth decay. In addition, their growth and calcium absorption is superior.”
Pasteurization extends the shelf-life of milk products. It has become as much a part of our commercial food heritage as the E. coli and antibiotics in the cattle feedlots:
“Pasteurization was done at the end of the 1800s as a temporary solution until filthy urban dairies could find a way to produce cleaner milk. But instead of cleaning up milk production, dairies used pasteurization as a way to cover up dirty milk. As milk became more mass produced, pasteurization became necessary for large dairies to increase their profits. So the public then had to be convinced that pasteurized milk was safer than raw milk. Soon raw milk consumption was blamed for all sorts of diseases and outbreaks until the public was finally convinced that pasteurized milk was superior to milk in its natural state. … As the dairy industry has become more concentrated, many processing plants have switched to ultrapasteurization, which involves higher temperatures and longer treatment times. The industry says this is necessary because many microorganisms have become heat resistant and now survive ordinary pasteurization.”37
Some might argue that milk still needs to be pasteurized to avoid tuberculosis. Dr. Ron Schmid, author of The Untold Story of Milk, sorted out the issue:
“The link of tuberculosis and milk in the public mind dates back to [the 1880s and Robert Koch who] announced his discovery of the tubercle bacillus as the cause of TB. … Hailed as the greatest scientist of his day, Koch announced a few years later that he had found exactly the same bacillus in the sores of tubercular cows and their milk. Meanwhile, Pasteur discovered that heat treatment of milk - later named pasteurization - would kill the tuberclebacilli and presumably save children from tuberculosis. These announcements were met with great excitement everywhere, for pasteurization promised to be the solution to the whole problem of tuberculosis. The promise was illusory, and the disease would not be controlled until the advent of antibiotics in the 1940s (and many still die of tuberculosis, in spite of the use of antibiotics). But significantly, in the years following Koch’s and Pasteur’s discoveries, great commercial possibilities opened up. Large sums of money were invested in the fledgling business of pasteurization - the foundation of the modern dairy industry.”
“In 1901, however, Dr. Koch announced that a prolonged series of experiments had proved that the human and the bovine tubercle bacilli were neither identical nor transmissible, and that humans had little to fear from the bovine bacillus. “The human subject is immune against infection with bovine bacilli,” he wrote. “Human tuberculosis differs from bovine, and cannot be transmitted to cattle.” This announcement too had great impact and although it sparked tremendous controversy, earned Koch the Nobel Prize four years later. But by then, pro-pasteurization proponents had taken action to refute Koch’s findings. … Today, it is accepted … human tuberculosis is spread primarily by inhalation. … It was the advent of modern, closed-system milking machines, starting in the 1920s, and not pasteurization, that reduced the spread of the human strain of tuberculosis in milk to nearly zero.”38
Milk straight from the cow was used medicinally by doctors early in the 1900s. Dr. J. R. Crewe at the Mayo Foundation used raw milk in the treatment of a wide variety of serious chronic diseases, and that he reported no problem, even with patients who were very ill. However, at that time the medical profession was not treating millions of people with immunosuppressive drugs.
Laws regarding the sale of unpasteurized milk vary from state to state. Arizona has one small dairy in Queen Creek that sells organic, raw milk. People travel for miles to buy it. In the fall of 2006, a bill was submitted to the Arizona Legislature proposing to ban the sale of raw milk except at the farm. The bill would have put the dairy out of business. State Senator Carolyn Allen advised the United Dairymen of Arizona to drop the bill because she expected a very large protest from consumers.
Beware of “low-fat” milks. Non-fat dried milk is added to 1% and 2% milk. Unlike the cholesterol in fresh milk, which plays a variety of health promoting roles, the cholesterol in non-fat dried milk is oxidized and it is this rancid cholesterol that promotes heart disease.
Homogenization also feeds heart disease. The process strains fat particles through tiny pores under great pressure. Milk fat contains an enzyme called xanthine oxidase (XO), some of which survives the pasteurization process and, thanks to homogenization, is now able to pass through the gut wall into the bloodstream intact. When foreign XO enters the bloodstream it creates havoc by attacking plasmalogen within artery walls. Plasmalogen is a tissue that makes up 30 percent of human heart muscle and artery wall cells. The attacks cause loss of plasmalogens, with resultant oxidative attack on artery walls. The body’s protective mechanisms respond to the damage by scarring and laying down cholesterol plaques (like band-aids) which subsequently become calcified. We call this thickening and hardening of the arteries, and subsequent blockage of blood flow, arteriosclerosis.
Finally, there is the issue of what breed of cow supplies your milk - raw or not. Most milk now comes from Holsteins and Friesians, newer breeds of cows that have a mutated form of casein, a protein found in the milk-solids (but not in the butter or whey). Casein is also used in many foods as a binding agent. Holsteins and Friesians generally give milk that contains a small but significant amount of beta-casein type A1, which behaves like an opiate and which epidemiological studies have implicated in heart disease, Type 1 diabetes, autism and schizophrenia. Evidence suggests that mutated beta-casein appears to act as a histamine releaser. It has been found to cause neurological impairment in animals and people, particularly autistic and schizophrenic changes. It also interferes with the immune response. Older breeds of cows - Jerseys, Asian, and African - have beta-casein type A2.
A Final Note
There are common patterns among the practices of modern chicken, beef, and milk processing, and the challenges to human health that have resulted. When we traded the small, local farmer, for bigness, uniformity, and high technology, we lost much more than we realized at the time. We traded milk and strawberries for food coloring and additives we can’t pronounce; now we are forced to face the unintended consequences.
Often, public pressure is what motivates change in the marketplace. Moms and dads have more ability than they probably realize when it comes to taking charge of their children’s health. How we decide to spend our money on food is an economic force more powerful than industry lobbyists.
Inquiring Minds Who Want to Learn More - Recommended Watching and Reading:
The Meatrix is an award-winning trilogy of creative cartoons to explain many of the issues discussed above.
In 2004, Peter Jennings of ABC News aired a special report entitled “How To Get Fat Without Trying,” a surprisingly candid look at the role of government policy and food industry in selling unhealthy food to kids. As of August 2007, you can access the 5-part report on You Tube entitled “The Food Industry Is Deceiving You.”
• Consumers think it is their fault they are overweight, but it is not that simple. The food industry and the government are at fault.
• Farmers today grow twice as much food as we need. Abundance has become the enemy.
• Farm subsidies are given out with no thought as to the health impact on the public. Fruits and vegetables receive less than 1 percent of the subsidies.
• Corn is the most heavily subsidized crop. We consume nearly three times more corn in the form of corn sweeteners than we do in all other forms combined.
• Soybeans are another example of how massive government subsidy contributes to obesity. Most soybean consumption is in the unhealthy form of soybean oil.
• If Americans were to follow a healthy diet, the USDA says nearly twice the number of acres of fruits and vegetables would have to be planted.
• Processed foods are typically made from a mixture of high fructose corn syrup, water, flour, starch, fat, artificial colorings and flavorings. You can make almost anything out of that - pudding, beverages and all kinds of snack foods that are dirt cheap to produce.
• When you look at the products introduced by industry in recent years, one thing is abundantly clear; the vast majority is food that Americans should be eating less.
• In the 1960s and 1970s we consumed healthier snacks like milk and fruit. In the last decade we are consuming high fat, salty snacks like chips.
• Americans are snacking all day long and consuming more calories. The food industry spends $33 million a year to promote that behavior; it is a deliberate strategy to sell more food.
• A person must walk for 6 hours to burn off a McDonalds meal; exercise alone is not the answer.
• Since “reduced fat” products have come on the market, Americans have gained more weight because sugar was often substituted for fat.
• Most of what is marketed to kids is unhealthy. It has changed cultural expectations to where children think they should be eating this kind of food all the time.
• Television ads are designed to generate a “nag factor” because they know children will pester parents for it, and parents dislike arguing with their children about food.
• One-fourth of elementary school children already have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or some other marker for heart disease.
• The modern kid diet may be condemning them to a lifetime of illness so why are TV ads allowed to be aimed at children?
• America has no restrictions regarding food advertising and children. Italy prohibits all ads during cartoon shows, Australia prohibits advertising to shows for preschoolers, Norway and Sweden prohibit all TV advertising to children under 12.
• In the 1970s the U.S. Federal Trade Commission proposed restrictions but ran into a political buzz saw powered by the food and television broadcasting lobbies.
• Since then, obesity had become the most pressing heath problem for children and adults in America.
• The obesity situation is like the tobacco situation decades ago when the government finally stepped in and discouraged what led to poor health.
In May 2006, Eric Schlosser and co-author Charles Wilson released a children’s book entitled Chew On This. “We felt that kids needed to hear the other side of the story. The eating habits that a person develops as a child are difficult to break later. And if a child is obese by the age of thirteen, he or she is likely to remain obese for life. The nutritional education of American children shouldn’t be left to the fast food, junk food, and soda companies.”
Recommend the video over the book because it shows film of three generations of cats raised by Dr. Pottenger. The cats who ate a feline’s natural diet of raw meat remained healthy. Cats fed cooked meat (do you feed your pets processed kibble?) produced unhealthy offspring. By the third generation, the cats fed cooked meats had visible body deformities and were largely unable to reproduce. This gives wonderful, clear-cut understanding of the impact of unnatural diets on a living species.
This is a landmark work in human nutrition. Dr. Weston A. Price traveled the world – from Alaska to Africa, from Switzerland to South America - studying what native populations ate and their resulting state of health. Native Eskimos, who don’t eat vegetables, for example, experienced no cancer and little illness. His photographs document the ravages of sugar and white flour on human health.
Why do some people shop at health food stores and pay extra for grass-fed beef? Jo Robinson’s book will explain. She advocates pasture-feeding of animals and documents how human health is directly impacted by the health of animals raised for human consumption.
The phrase, Got Milk?, will take on a whole new meaning after you learn how pasteurization and homogenization change milk. These two well researched, easy to read books were written by experts, Dr. Ron Schmid and Dr. William Campbell Douglass, respectively.
http://brightspot.org/eee/index.shtml (movies about the nutrition change in a Kansas elementary school program).
www.ppnf.org/ (website of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation)
www.WestonAPriceFoundation.org (website devoted to understanding of human nutrition)
www.NorthStarBison.com (website of a Wisconsin company that ships grassfed meats to your door)
www.organicconsumers.org (website of the Organic Consumers Association, a consumer watchdog group for organic food standards, irradiation, and genetic modification of food)