Friday, April 4, 2008

The Good News Aboud 'Bad' Foods

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) -- an additive that pumps up the flavor of foods -- has been controversial since 1968, when a doctor wrote a letter to a medical journal about the headache and chest tightness he had after eating Chinese food. Follow-up research found no concrete link, but people have continued to blame MSG for reactions ranging from heart palpitations to nausea.
In 1995, an FDA-sponsored review of decades' worth of data reaffirmed the safety of MSG for the general public at levels normally consumed. The report noted that only a small percentage of people experience short-term reactions to MSG, and only if they eat large doses (3 grams or more) at one sitting on an empty stomach. "But the average American gets only about half a gram a day," says Aurora S. Hodgson, Ph.D., chair and specialist in food technology at the University of Hawaii, "so it's not a major concern." The panel also warned that occasional single doses of 1.5 to 2.5 grams may bring on or intensify asthma attacks in those with severe asthma that is poorly controlled -- though more research is needed to confirm that.

Palm Oil

This so-called tropical oil (from the fruit of palm trees) achieved notoriety in 1988 when a massive advertising campaign driven by a wealthy Omaha businessman branded it -- along with coconut and palm-kernel oils -- as a culprit that hikes up blood cholesterol and leads to clogged arteries. Despite the lack of evidence to support the allegations, the campaign led many companies to reformulate their products, usually replacing the oils with hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Now experts say the issue was overblown -- and there's very little reason to panic if your favorite brand of cookies contains palm oil. "The level of these fats in the American diet is too low to worry about," says David Kritchevsky, Ph.D., of The Wistar Institute, a research center in Philadelphia. Even before the use of tropical oils nose-dived, a government survey showed that they accounted for only about 4 percent of the average American's total fat intake. Furthermore, several short-term studies have shown that a diet high in palm oil -- the least saturated of the three -- doesn't ordinarily boost cholesterol in people with normal levels. (If you have high cholesterol, however, it's probably wise to err on the side of caution and avoid tropical oils when possible.)


"Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot," said President Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the century, when critics proposed banning it. Now it seems he was right -- experts agree that the no-cal artificial sweetener isn't a health hazard.
Saccharin has been used for decades with no evidence of harm, but in 1977 the FDA proposed banning it after studies showed that it caused bladder cancer in rats fed very high doses throughout their lifetimes. At the time, saccharin was the only sugar substitute available in the United States, so a public outcry ensued -- and Congress passed a law that delayed the ban but required a warning label on all foods containing it. Later research failed to find a correlation between saccharin and health risks, even among diabetics, who tend to be heavy users. Finally, in 1991, the FDA quietly withdrew the proposed ban. And in 1992, researchers reported that the rat's physiology makes it susceptible to bladder cancer brought on by saccharin. The phenomenon is specific to the rat and does not occur in humans.


They've been accused of causing every ailment from a pounding headache to high blood pressure -- but now research shows that they're not the villains we thought they were.

It's official. A little bit of alcohol (whether your choice is wine, beer, or hard liquor) can help lower the risks of strokes and heart attacks, according to the federal government's newly revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released this year.

The guidelines recommend no more than a drink a day for women, and 2 for men -- with meals. Food slows the consumption and absorption of alcohol, and at least one study suggests that a mealtime drink may help stop blood clotting that could occur when fat enters the bloodstream. A glass of red or white wine with a meal may even protect against food poisoning. Researchers have found that wine can kill bacteria responsible for several common types, including salmonella.

On the sobering side, heavy drinking raises the risks of high blood pressure, strokes, heart disease, certain cancers, birth defects, accidents, and other problems. And some studies have linked even moderate alcohol consumption (1 drink a day or less) to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Drinkers' risks vary a lot, according to age, overall health, gender, and family history. And although nondrinkers shouldn't start drinking for their health, responsible drinkers needn't feel guilty.

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