It is time to raise the bar on the food we eat and the chemical additives we are willing to put into our bodies. This week I declined an opportunity presented to me to market and sell a new range of nutritional supplements on Paros. “They are all natural!” said the supplement entrepreneur, excitedly, having shown me a 30 minute video, of which 28 minutes focused on the considerable profits to be made from network marketing the product and 2 minutes was spent on describing these expensive supplements themselves. My immediate misgiving that the nutrients were not stated to be organic (meaning they were almost certainly derived from commercially farmed crops - and thus could contain pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and even be genetically modified - about which more in a moment), was far surpassed by noting that sodium benzoate (European additive number E211) was the main preservative in all items in the supplement range.
Now for those of you who do not know, sodium benzoate is a component in silver polish and in fireworks - when compressed and ignited, it makes a pleasing whistling noise apparently. But the comment from the (very well intentioned) supplement distributor that inspired me to write this article was “but you find it in everything” - as if the fact it is a widespread preservative in the food manufacturing process and everyone is eating it regularly, makes this additive OK, safe. No, people, it does not, wake up and smell the contaminated coffee!
It is true, you do find sodium benzoate in many highly acidic processed foods (it needs a pH < 3.6 to be effective) such as sodas (check your Pepsi and Fanta tins), in commercially produced jams, pickles, salad dressings, Chinese food sauces (soy, duck) and many fruit juices. All of us have consumed sodium benzoate at some point in our lives - not least since in minuscule, trace amounts it is found naturally in cranberries, plums, apples, cinnamon and cloves. The problem does not lie, however, in the barely detectable amounts naturally occurring in a few fruits and spices. It arises when the food (and supplement) manufacturers add it to our foods in high amounts or combine it with another preservative/nutrient - ascorbic acid (vitamin C), since together they can form benzene - a known carcinogen.
A UK Foods Standards Agency survey of benzene in drinks in 2006 found levels in four brands were far too high. More worryingly, research carried out by Professor Peter Piper of the University of Sheffield, an expert on sodium benzoate, shows that this common preservative causes such severe damage to the DNA in the mitochondria (the cell ‘power stations’) that it can be completely deactivated! It is the mitochondria in your cells which convert oxygen and glucose to energy in the body, and when you knock out your cells’ mitochondria, you cut off their supply line so they begin to malfunction very seriously. A Pandora’s box of neuro-degenerative diseases are now tied to such DNA damage including Parkinson’s Disease. At the very least, carelessly damaging your DNA in this way will cause you to age at a very accelerated rate. One more thing on sodium benzoate – a report by the UK Food Standards Agency found it to cause hyperactivity in children. No wonder that on May 26th this year Members of the English Parliament called for an urgent investigation into the safety of this preservative.
Please do not be complacent. Do not wait for the EU to withdraw its approval of sodium benzoate or for the inevitable litigation to begin in the USA. Scrutinise every label of food stuff and supplements and try not eat anything with this additive (E211). It’s easy to avoid. Drink fresh, not packaged juices (practically every taverna and cafe on Paros offers fresh juice); make your own jams and pickles (very easy); do not use processed sauces, salad dressings (olive oil with balsamic vinegar and/or lemon juice tastes so much better anyhow), and definitely skip sodas which have no nutritional value whatsoever. Better still, make a point of buying fresh whole foods that have not been mutilated by the food manufacturing industry. Look after your DNA and that of your family and you will be rewarded with health and youth for many years.
If you are eating non-organic or processed foods (or supplements), you are running the risk not just of consuming DNA- damaging preservatives/additives and hormone-disrupting pesticides, but also that of eating foods which have been genetically modified. Having warned about the perils of feeding your children GM foods in my article “Nutrition Tips for Small People - Part 1” (May 2007), I am now going to take a closer look at these freaky foods.
I will start with a little story... As an 11 year old, I was taken on a friend’s birthday treat to the cinema to see a film about a group of humans who found themselves on an island on which animals had been genetically altered by a mad scientist conducting weird experiments. The particulars of the storyline are a bit hazy three decades later, but I do recall that unlike my little buddies who appeared to quite enjoy it, I found this film so terrifying and disturbing that at one point I let out a full-throttled scream, causing the entire cinema to erupt in laughter.
The more I read about GM foods, the more I am terrified and disturbed to the point that I want to scream out loud – but I hope you will not be laughing when I tell you a few more details about these Frankenstein foods. Think about it. The biotechnology industry is taking plants – our food – and messing with their DNA: turning genes permanently on, permanently off, moving them, scrambling them, deleting some, and reversing others. To insert a GM gene into a plant and switch it on, they have to attach an altered virus gene called a promoter as well, which, whoops, they now find out can set off other genes it is not supposed to. It also turns out that the inserted genes are often unstable and can mutate in unpredictable ways (double whoops), creating proteins that were never intended or tested.
Since my expertise is fertility nutrition, I was horrified to learn that GM foods can reduce the fertility of animals and insects feeding on them. Ladybirds who ate greenfly which were feeding on GM potatoes had a drastic reduction in fertility and produced far fewer eggs. The fertility of the petunia plant has been shown to be significantly reduced by the introduction of a gene to increase redness in the flower. Even more troubling, experiments conducted by Irina Ermakova, a leading scientist at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, show that when rats are fed GM soy at the pre-conception stage and whilst pregnant, they give birth to smaller offspring of whom 55.6% were dead within three weeks – compared to 6.8% of infant deaths in the control group.
We know generally when mice are fed GM soy they develop misshapen nuclei in their liver cells and other cellular anomalies. We also know also know from the only human study on feeding GM foods carried out by the Foods Standards Agency in the UK (on volunteers who had their lower intestines previously removed and all had colostomy bags - who would dream up such a study?!), that one meal of GM soy burgers and soy shakes is enough for a GM gene to transfer to gut bacteria – making it herbicide-resistant like the freaky GM soy they were fed.
Very recent research from the Independent Committee for Independent Research and Genetic Engineering at the University of Caen, France, has found that a variety of GM corn approved for human consumption in 2006 causes signs of liver and kidney toxicity, and, more importantly, hormonal changes in rats.
Instinctively, I feel this tampering with nature cannot be right and that eating unnatural produce is not going to assist my health (or indeed my fertility). It concerns me that most of the genetic modification to plants is designed to make them more resistant to pests, diseases and other environmental hazards. But do you really want to be eating tomatoes which have a gene from flounder fish added to them to make them more resistant to frost?
The British Medical Association shares my concerns. It fears that if we eat plants which are bred using antibiotic resistant markers, these could corrupt our intestinal flora to be resistant to antibiotics, that this could in turn reduce human susceptibility to antibiotics such as penicillin (which can be life-saving) ultimately leading to the creation of super diseases against which we have no immune defence. In a report entitled “The Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health”, the BMA has called for research into these freak foods to see if they will damage the immune system and fertility, and a moratorium on GM foods altogether.
GM foods are now meant to be labelled. You should be aware that up to 90% of the soy crop from the USA is now genetically modified. At the moment we do not know the full price to be paid in terms of human health by eating these Frankenstein foods, but frankly, I’m following the rats, ladybirds and the petunias – what’s bad for their health has to be bad for my own.
Food from organic sources will not be genetically modified. Chose the best organic food available on Paros and avoid commercially grown produce as much as possible. Better still, take up gardening and enjoy organic produce year round.
With the winds and rain (hooray) upon us I got creative in the kitchen and devised two (stunningly tasty, if I may immodestly say so) easy recipes with my usual, lazy, bung-it-in method.
Slimming Tomato & Millet Soup
In a large saucepan add:
1 tin (organic) tomatoes
2 whole cloves garlic - peeled
1 small red onion - roughly chopped
1 cup fresh basil from the garden
4 tablespoons millet grains (available from
Anoussakis Market - Drios)
1/2 litre mineral water
1tsp apple cider vinegar (other vinegar OK)
1 tsp xylitol or sugar
Himalayan crystal salt (ok - normal salt if you
want) & ground black pepper - to taste
Turn to full heat and let come to boil, then simmer for about half an hour. Remove from stove top and blend with a wand-hand blender (I bought mine in Atlantik Supermarket). Add more water if you prefer a thinner soup.
Enjoy! Makes 3 bowls and I calculated the entire recipe made in this way to contain only 400 fat-free, dairy-free calories - so 133 per bowl.
Autumn Fruit Compote
In a saucepan add:
2 quinces - cut into quarters (remove core if
you are fussy, unlike me)
5 frozen figs (left over from the August glut)
1 cup/small bunch red grapes (from the
September glut )
1/3 litre (approximate amount - use only
enough to cover fruit about half way)
1 tbsp xylitol or agave nectar (or if you do not
have these, sugar is fine).
Spices: cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon,
allspice - as much as you like.
Boil away - about 30 minutes, then enjoy. The figs and grapes impart a delicious syrupy sauce all over the tart pieces of quince.
I had this for desert one evening, then reheated it the following morning and put it on top of my porridge/oatmeal - yum yum.
PAROS ORGANIC FOOD SPOTS
Melanitis Supermarket, Logaras: organic golden flax seeds only 1.59 euro per pack, organic teas. They also sell locally grown produce - definitely not GMO!
Anoussakis Market, Drios: a wonderful range of organic frozen vegetables: spinach, peas, green beans and sweet corn (good to stock up). Also semi-wild /organic Norwegian salmon in fillets. The biggest range of organic items on Paros.
Daras Market, Marpissa: some shelves of organic produce from Germany. Good range of organic juices, tea and kamboucha.
Aliki Supermarket: an organic food section (near the bakery counter) containing jars of vegetables, pasta and other organic products.