Making life taste better

Monthly archive for April 2012

Acrylamide levels ‘do not increase concern about human health’

A new Food Standards Agency (FSA) study shows an upward trend in acrylamide levels in processed cereal based baby foods (excluding rusks) but a reduction in other products, such as pre-cooked French fries, potato products for home cooking and bread.

However, the FSA says the levels reported in the study do not increase concern about the risk to human health.

Acrylamide has been present in food ever since humans began cooking, but it was not known about until April 2002.

The formation of acrylamide occurs as the result of a reaction known as the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction between an amino acid (the building block of protein) and a sugar such as glucose, fructose or lactose.

Heat is required to start the cooking reaction that causes a chemical changes which ultimately result in the ‘browning’ of the food. One of the most common examples of the Maillard reaction is the heating of white bread to give brown toast.

Since its discovery in food, major research projects have been conducted by scientists to better understand the risk of exposure to acrylamide through food.

At high doses, it has been found to cause cancer in some laboratory animals. However, the FDA, the World Health Organisation and most other health regulatory bodies have not determined if the presence of acrylamide in food presents a health risk to humans, and do not recommend that consumers change their diets in order to avoid acrylamide.

“Public authorities worldwide are not advising people to stop eating any foods found to contain acrylamide,” says an FAIA spokesman. “That said, food manufacturers have taken measures to reduce acrylamide formation in food.”

Soft drinks giants change manufacturing process to avoid ‘unfounded health warning’

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are changing how they make an ingredient in their drinks to avoid being legally obliged to put a cancer warning label on the bottle which they say is ‘scientifically unfounded’.

The new recipe for caramel colouring in the drinks has less 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) – a chemical that California has added to its list of carcinogens.

However, Coca-Cola says there is no health risk to justify the change – but that it is doing so to ensure to ensure its products ‘would not be subject to the requirement of a scientifically unfounded warning’.

The caramel colour in all of our products has been, is and always will be safe, Coca-Cola said in a statement.

Indeed, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reaffirmed the safety of caramel colouring back in March 2011 – following a
comprehensive review of the scientific literature – saying that the presence of 4-MEI in caramel colouring is not a health concern.

The chemical has been linked to cancer in mice and rats, according to one study, but there is no evidence that it poses a health risk to humans, says the American Beverage Association, which represents the wider industry.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims a person would need to drink more than 1,000 cans of Coke or Pepsi a day to take in the same dose of the chemical that was given to the animals in the lab test.

“Both EFSA and regulatory authorities around the world say caramel colouring is safe for use in food and drink,” says an FAIA spokesman.

“Just last November, Health Canada said that 4-MEI does ‘not represent a risk’ to consumers. Also, the FDA has approved caramel as a colour additive and lists it as ‘a generally recognised as safe’ food ingredient.”

Vitamin D deficiency a ‘major problem’

A quarter of all toddlers in the UK are lacking Vitamin D, according to new research. A recommendation that all children under five should take Vitamin D supplements, 74 per cent of parents know nothing about the guidelines. And more than half of health professionals are also unaware of them.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, consultant paediatrician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, describes the vitamin deficiency issue as a ‘major problem’.

“We see about one case of rickets a month in our hospital, but that’s the very severe end of the disease,” he says. “There are many other children who have less severe problems – muscle weakness, delay in walking, bone pains – and research indicates that in many parts of the country the majority of children have a low level of Vitamin D.”

However, it is not only children who are at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. Anyone who doesn’t get enough sunshine, possibly because they are unable to go outside, or people whose diet is lacking in Vitamin D, could also be at risk.

Those who don’t go out in the sun are advised to eat plenty of oily fish and take supplements to ensure a sufficient intake of Vitamin D.

Healthy diet can improve behaviour of children with ADHD

Eating more healthily can improve the behaviour of children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) if therapy and
medication fails to work, according to a new study.

Researchers said that there was conflicting evidence on the impact of supplements and restricted diets for people suffering from ADHD – and in some cases they were no better than the placebo effect. The report, by doctors at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, argued nutritional intervention should therefore be considered as a secondary approach to treating the condition.

‘Supplemental diet therapy is simple, relatively inexpensive and more acceptable to patient and parent,’ it says. ‘Public education regarding a healthy diet pattern and lifestyle may have greater long-term success.’

Interventions such as cutting out additives and food dyes have soared in popularity in recent years, but there is little evidence to suggest this makes any difference.

The causes of ADHD are unknown, although studies have pointed to hereditary factors as well as social and environmental influences. Foods high in sugar and fat are also thought to exacerbate symptoms. Interventions including giving iron supplements or cutting out additives and food dyes have soared in popularity in recent years, but the study says there is little evidence to suggest this makes any difference.
For many parents, simply feeding their children a healthy diet rich in fish, vegetables, fruit and whole-grains is likely to help, the study says.

Food allergy myths

An online tool aimed at dispelling myths about food allergy and intolerance has been launched on the NHS Choices website, with
the help of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The tool, developed in conjunction with FSA allergy experts, looks at common misconceptions about food allergies and intolerances and sorts the facts from fiction. It tackles topics including:-

• the differences between allergies and intolerances
• whether you can ‘outgrow’ allergies and intolerances
• the use of home-test kits
• whether allergies and intolerances can be cured

This myth-buster tool provides information in an easy-to-use format and I challenge everyone to have a go on it and see how much they really know about allergy, says Sue Hattersley, head of the FSA’s Allergy Branch.

A number of surveys have found that 20%-30% of people claim to have a food allergy. However, an FSA report in 2008 estimated that only 5-8% of children and 1-2% of adults really do have a food allergy.

The allergy tool can be found here.