Monday, January 30, 2006

Nitrates and Nitrites In Meat

A total of 78 alerts about contaminated foods were issued in the EU during the second week of January/2006. Of particular concern for some officials were the reports to the Commission from Norway that its regulator had found unauthorised nitrites in smoked or cured salmon and trout produced by its fish processors.

"Eight processors were caught using nitrites to make their fish look fresher. Norway's Consumer Council claims that the producers have damaged the country's reputation by using the additive and has asked the Norwegian Food Safety Authority to file criminal charges against the fish producers."

Nitrates are naturally occurring chemicals that are created by the breakdown of gaseous nitrogen (the most abundant ingredient in air) through the photosynthesis of plants. Nitrites are smaller molecules that are created as a result of the breakdown of nitrates.

Historically, nitrates served two purposes: to help prevent the growth of certain bacteria that can cause an outbreak of botulism, a deadly food-borne illness, and to give cured meat a pink color. These nitrates, once added to the meat, would break down over a period of time, forming nitrites. Eventually, nitrites themselves were added directly to the meat to speed up the curing process.

Because of the toxicity of nitrite (lethal dose of nitrite for humans is about 22 mg per kg body weight), the maximum allowed nitrite concentration in meat products is 200 ppm. Under certain conditions, especially during cooking, nitrites in meat can react with degradation products of amino acids, forming nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens.

Nitrites can contribute to the formation of potentially dangerous carcinogens in the body, which in turn can result in malignant tumor growth over time. Children are especially susceptible to nitrite poisoning.

One clinical study conducted at the University of Hawaii revealed a 67% increased risk of pancreatic cancer in people who consume large quantities of hot dogs, sausage and other processed meats, versus those who consume little or no processed meat. The study was led by Dr. Ute Nothlings and was announced at an annual gathering of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Although the study did not specifically name sodium nitrite as the cause of the heightened cancer risk, according to Mike Adams, nutritionist and author of "Grocery Warning," the huge spike in toxicity and cancer risk can only be explained by something added during meat processing.

"If sodium nitrite is so dangerous, why do food producers continue using it? The chemical is added primarily as a color fixer that turns meats a reddish, fresh-looking color that appeals to consumers. Packaged meats like hot dogs would normally appear a putrid gray, but with enough sodium nitrite added, the meats can seem visually fresh even if they've been on the shelves for months."

In a previous article here at BLV Health Watch -- Carbon Monoxide in USA Packaged Meats -- we revealed a similar process used by some USA meat packaging plants that keeps meat appearing "fresh" on grocery shelves which, in 2003, the EU prohibited the use of carbon monoxide for meat and tuna products.

You might think we were vegetarians, but for the record ...we are not.

- Wikipedia - Nitrite
- Nitrates/Nitrites Facts from duBreton Farms
- News Target ...processed meats hike cancer risk...
- Milk and salmon contamination feature in food safety alerts

Friday, January 27, 2006

What Is Ambergris?

AMBERGRIS [ambergris]: a waxlike substance originating as a morbid concretion in the intestine of the sperm whale. Lighter than water, it is found floating on tropical seas or cast up on the shore in yellow, gray, black, or variegated masses, usually a few ounces in weight, though pieces weighing several hundred pounds have been found. Ambergris has been greatly valued from earliest times. It is now used as a fixative in perfumes. Its active principle is ambrein, a crystalline alcohol with the empirical formula C 30 H 51 OH.

The January 24, 2006 report in the BBC of a 14.75 kg lump of it discovered by an Australian couple while walking on the beach got me curious to find out more about this highly valued (and considered very rare) substance.

Some reports indicate that top perfume makers pay as much as 65 US dollars per gram of ambergris ...other reports say it's also used as an additive for flavoring cigarrettes (unconfirmed) ...still other reports indicate its use in some medicines ...and yet other reports indicate its use as a flavoring in foods and beverages.

In ancient times, animal substances like musk, castor and ambergris were particularly expensive, as they had to be imported from China, Russia, the Persian Gulf and India. Not only were these fragrances supposed to attract the female sex; they were also believed to have therapeutic properties. For example, 17th-century physician Hasan ibn Riza Shirvani believed a dab of ambergris could strengthen the brain and heart.

"Ambergris, when taken from the intestinal canal of the sperm whale, is of a deep grey color, soft consistence and a disagreeable smell. On exposure to the air it gradually hardens, becomes pale and develops its peculiar sweet, earthy odour. In that condition its specific gravity ranges from 0-780 to 0-926. It melts at about 62 C. to a fatty, yellow resinous-like liquid; and at 100 C. it is volatilized into a white vapour. It is soluble in ether, and in volatile and fixed oils; it is only feebly acted on by acids. By digesting in hot alcohol, a substance termed ambrein, closely resembling cholesterin, is obtained, which separates in brilliant white crystals as the solution cools."

"The use of ambergris in Europe is now entirely confined to perfumery, though it formerly occupied no inconsiderable place in medicine." In minute quantities its alcoholic solution is much used for giving a " floral " fragrance to bouquets, washes and other preparations of the perfumer. It occupies a very important place in the perfumery of the East, and there it is also used in pharmacy and as a flavouring material in cookery, as reported by this source.

In Chinese medicine, it has been reported that it is still in use for urinary tract infections, urinary stones, heart disease and infant convulsions, however this information has not been confirmed by us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Omega-3 and Aggressive Behavior

By now, you've probably heard the expression "we are what we eat" but I'm thinking most of us have never applied it to how we act or react, behaviorally speaking.

A new Omega-3 study conducted in Brooklyn on test subjects with a history of substance abuse targeted behavior -- specifically aggressive behavior -- with some surprising results.

According to NutraIngredientsUSA:
A small, double-blind study found that those who took 3g of fish oil per day had lower levels of anger, potentially reducing tendency towards aggressive behavior. The trial, conducted at the Veterans Administration New York Harbor Healthcare System in Brooklyn, involved 24 people with a history of substance abuse who were participants in an outpatient treatment program.
To sum it up... "The 13 patients who received the fish oil showed a clinically significant and progressive decrease in their POMS anger subscale scores. No change was observed in the 11 patients in the placebo group."

To view the entire news article visit this link.

Hmmmm... it kind of gives new meaning to the "old wives tale" about the benefits of giving children cod liver oil, doesn't it?

Caffeine Lovers Get More Bad News

Apparently, drinking caffeine drinks stifles the body's ability to boost blood flow to the heart during exercise -- according to new research released from a study conducted by scientists at the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland.

Previous research suggested that caffeine-based drinks may help people involved in sports-related activities, but this new study suggests that although caffeine drinks are known to stimulate the brain, caffeine is unlikely to boost athletic performance.

Here's why... blood flow to the heart has to increase during exercise in order to match the increased need of oxygen. But when 18 healthy people were given the equivalent of two cups of coffee, the Swiss scientists found that blood flow increase during exercise was much lower than when they exercised without having consumed coffee.

This effect was even stronger when the participants were in a chamber simulating high altitude, said the scientists.

The Swiss researchers stated that their research could also "raise safety questions in patients with reduced coronary flow reserve, as seen in coronary artery disease, particularly before physical exercise and at high-altitude exposure".


New Lawsuits to Target Soft Drink Firms

Professor Richard Daynard, a lawyer who has already taken on the tobacco firms, spent much of 2005 gathering evidence and witnesses to launch a new court battle to get the soft drinks giants out of schools, according to BeverageDaily.

“We've done everything we need to do to prepare for the lawsuit, but we haven't decided exactly when or where to file it. It could be any time after this month,” he said in an interview with

“We have a product that has been shown to make a material contribution to childhood and adolescent obesity and we have it in schools where the kids are required to be for six or seven hours per day,” said Daynard.

You can read the full news article through this link.

Like it or not, this is just the beginning of new lawsuits to come out over the course of the next few years that will target obesity -- a seriously growing problem in the USA and many other countries abroad. We'll keep you posted as details become available.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Food Allergen Labeling Laws

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) (Pub. L. 108-282) required that new food labels for food products affected by the Act be applied to foods entering the market as of Jan. 1 2006.

Keep in mind, these labeling regulations apply only to foods regulated by the FDA. Also note, not all known allergens are covered by the new labeling laws.

Under FALCPA, a "major food allergen" is an ingredient that is one of the following five foods or from one of the following three food groups or is an ingredient that contains protein derived from one of the following:

- milk
- egg
- fish
- Crustacean shellfish
- tree nuts
- wheat
- peanuts
- soybeans

Also, in the case of tree nuts, the specific type of nut must be declared (e.g., almonds, pecans, or walnuts). Plus, the species must be declared for fish (e.g., bass, flounder, or cod) and Crustacean shellfish (crab, lobster, or shrimp).

Congress designated the above eight foods/food groups as "major food allergens" stating they account for 90 percent of all food allergies. Although there are other foods to which sensitive individuals may react, the labels of packaged foods containing these other allergens are not required to be in compliance with FALCPA.

FALCPA's requirements apply to all packaged foods sold in the U.S. that are regulated under the Federal Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act, including both domestically manufactured and imported foods. FDA regulates all foods except meat products, poultry products, and egg products.

For more information on the act, visit

For general information regarding industry labeling guidelines, visit

New Trans Fat Labeling Laws Go Into Effect

In May 2003, California attorney Stephen Joseph filed a lawsuit against Kraft, targeting the trans-fat content of Oreo's. The issue became front-page news. Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh and a host of other media personalities weighed in, many seeing the lawsuit as ridiculous at the time.

Joseph was on Good Morning America when he heard that Kraft had agreed to remove trans fats from their cookies amid the sudden blaze of publicity. And two months later, the FDA announced new labeling rules.

These new FDA trans-fat labeling rules go into effect January 1, 2006 and some lobby interest groups are stating it's long overdue... while others are saying it's not enough.

For example, check out for their comprehensive review of the new trans-fats labeling rule.

To understand the importance of this issue, one needs to know what trans fats are and why it's important for us to be aware of them.

Trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. They have effectively been linked to higher blood levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease.

When you consider that according to the American Heart Association, 70.1 million Americans suffered from heart disease in 2002 (34.2 percent of the population), and the mortality figure was 0.93 million (930,000 deaths)... ...the new laws may not be everything they need to be for the uninformed consumer ...but they are at least one small step in the right direction.