Friday, August 23, 2013
Chemophobia: Don’t focus so much on chemicals in food; focus on the quality and quantity
I always recommend keeping variety in your diet and just eating healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (fish, beans), and non- or low-fat dairy/dairy equivalents. By doing this, you do not need to worry about every little additive in food and worry about meeting your nutrient needs- because if your diet is well balanced and varied, it should happen almost naturally.
Many people suffer from something called “chemophobia”, when they are afraid of synthetic and natural chemicals found on their foods. Chemistry Professor Gordon Gribble from Dartmouth recently published a paper in Food Security stating that the fear of chemicals in modern food may be unnecessary since they are usually harmless and may even be beneficial. He states that many of the man-made “poisons” such as PCB’s and certain pesticides have similar chemical concentrations to those found in nature. He argues that the bigger focus should be on food safety in terms of bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens which cause thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year.
My recommendations: Again, I’m going to encourage you to try to eat the most natural diet as possible, and try to make 90% of that food “healthy”. Try to eat mostly whole foods (cooked grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, eggs, etc) the majority of the time. However, you don’t need to worry so much about few preservatives found in the whole-grain, low-sugar cereal you eat, because as long as you are natural-whole foods most of the time, that preservative most likely won’t do much harm to you. Eating lots of added sugars or not exercising will probably harm you. Eating charred red meat or sausages will also probably harm you. Furthermore, if you wear perfume or cologne, walk outside and breathe in car exhaust, rub lotion into your skin, wear makeup, etc… you are probably exposed to many more dangerous chemicals than you are by eating your morning breakfast cereal or eating a slice of whole grain bread that has one or two preservatives. So just relax, be rationale, and try to eat whole, non-processed, non-charred food products most of the time!
Reference: Gordon W. Gribble, 'Food chemistry and chemophobia', Food Security April 2013, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 177-187 DOI: 10.1007/s12571-013-0251-2