Abigail Mackey

Column Abigail Mackey

Health columnist Abigail Mackey writes "The Written Remedy" for the Observer-Reporter.

There’s what in what?

Surprise, surprise: Ingredients can provide alarming insight

September 11, 2013

There’s nothing like a good surprise.

Surprise jewelry, hockey tickets, visits from loved ones are all day-makers in my book.

There are also situations in which I would not prefer a surprise: doctor appointments, odd sensations on my bare feet when walking in the dark and the contents of food.

On that last one, I know I am not alone because, if I were, “mystery meat” would be a delicacy.

I’ve recently come across a few ingredients in very common foods that have surprised even an amateur food anthropologist like myself, and they’ve caused me to exclaim …

“There’s WHAT in WHAT?”

“Ingredients” like arsenic.

No longer reserved for plays ending in “Old Lace,” arsenic has found its way into 88 percent of the chicken grown for human consumption, based on a 2010 statistic.

Two drugs – both marketed by the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer – are responsible for the unsavory substance added to our marsalas and cordon bleus: roxarsone and nitarsone. While Pfizer voluntarily removed roxarsone from the market in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration has still failed to ban it, and neither organization has made a “peep” about addressing the use of nitarsone.

If the FDA and a major pharmaceutical company are going to bother feeding us such garbage, there must be a good reason, right? Nope. Just greed.

Nitarsone is used to increase weight gain and improve feed efficiency in chickens, improve the pigmentation of meat (to make more appealing to consumers) and prevent one specific type of parasite. That parasite, by the way, is curable and nonlethal.

That would be a nonlethal parasite fought with arsenic – a known carcinogen associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive deficits and adverse pregnancy outcomes, in case you were counting your chicks before they were hatched.

A is for arsenic and … ammonia.

Glass bottles of Coca-Cola may be one of the most iconic symbols of American culture, and who can properly enjoy a Superbowl without the newest Pepsi commercial?

However, the “caramel coloring” that gives the colas their signature hue doesn’t have the sugary sweet roots the name might imply.

Rather than coming from natural, ewwy-gooey caramel at the bottom of grandma’s pot, it comes from a chemical process involving ammonia – a process which does not destroy the ammonia and does result in consumption of the chemical.

This chemical is, of course, considered safe by the FDA.

Sunny California is making the world a better place for all of us, however, since it passed a law earlier this year requiring soda companies to lower the level of the dreaded 4-methylimidazole (sounds a lot different than “caramel coloring,” huh?) in order to be sold in the state.

Coca-Cola Co. has since changed its formula throughout the country, while PepsiCo Inc. products still test positive for the chemical outside the state of California, according to The Center for Environmental Health. Pepsi pledges that the entire country will be 4-meth-free by February 2014.

The caramel coloring is listed as a known carcinogen based on animal studies only, which has the American Beverage Association totally miffed at the powers that be in Cali.

Seriously, California, how dare you take offense to carcinogenic food coloring. Tightwads.

The last bit of insanity that has garnered a death-stare from me lately is the presence of artificial sweeter … in everything.

Believe it or not, I love diet pop. Diet Cherry 7UP is the champagne of all things fizzy and diet, and the orange Vitamin Water Zero accompanies the breakfast of champions.

However, as a pregnant woman, (you heard me!) I’m operating under a strict no artificial sweetener policy. Have you any idea how difficult that is?

You can pretty much forget any chewing gum impulse buy in the checkout line, and make sure to read every single ingredient on the back of any drink whatsoever, even seemingly full-calorie quenchers.

The avoidance of artificial sweetener also earns you extra reading time when it comes to cooking sauces, yogurts, cereals and more.

Even once the the teeny Mackey makes his appearance, the road to protecting his developing nervous system from these chemicals is far from over.

Flinstones vitamins and children’s liquid medicines are extra tasty due to artificial sweeteners, in addition to a variety of food dyes.

In our kids’ vitamins? Really?

Consumption of artificial sweeteners should be our choice, not substances hidden in everyday nondiet foods that are accidentally consumed unless you read every ingredient, all the time.

Here’s the point: If a Mr. Yuk sticker belongs on the substance, it probably doesn’t have a place in our food supply.

Abigail Mackey is a registered nurse. For more quips and tips refer to her blog, “The Written Remedy” at hewrittenremedy.blogspot.com. She can be reached at amackrn23@gmail.com or on Twitter at @AbigailMackeyRN.



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