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Don't Be Afraid of Your Food

“I’m afraid my food was grown in poor soil and doesn’t have the right nutrition.” “What if my food has been contaminated by pesticides?” “Will I get cancer from my food?” “Did someone irradiate my food?” “Do I need to avoid a certain types of food?”

These are questions heard by nutritionists every day from concerned people – who are misinformed. The misinformation comes from multiple sources: who have a “safer” product to sell, who have a “back to nature” agenda, who have done their research on fear-mongering web-sites. And some – also as fearful – are “helping” to spread “the truth” about the “dangerous” condition of food. The truth is – in general – food in the United States is safe.

We eat food for the nutritional elements it contains – the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, carbohydrates, amino acids, fats, and fiber. If the plant is deficient in some nutritional element, it will look off-color, deformed, stunted. These elements are just as essential for the plant as they are for us. If the plant looks healthy, it has the nutritional elements it needs – and that you need.

Some thin-skinned foods – like berries and apples – can become contaminated with pesticides, especially if they are over-utilized. But foods that have thick skins or foods in which we normally peel off the outer layer – like oranges and some vegetables – only need to be washed. This includes most leafy vegetables – washed not so much for the pesticides as for the hands that picked and processed them. Pesticides are responsible for 2% of cancers. High fat foods cooked at extreme temperatures increase cancer risk by 36%. Which one is more risky?

Radiation of foods kills germs; it does not alter the nutritional elements of food. Radiation can alter the DNA of living cells to become cancerous; it does not alter dead foods. Radiation is not “stored” or trapped in foods. You can’t “eat” radiation.

The latest fear fads include eating “gluten free” and adding nutritional supplements to the diet. Some people food intolerances; they cannot process some foods like other people. They should follow the old adage: “if it makes you sick, don’t eat it.” The rest of us DO NOT have to worry about gluten or any other substance which we tolerate well.

Likewise – be careful with supplements. Any nutritional element taken in larger than normal amounts – is a medicine with side effects and unintended reactions, some of which are dangerous. Know what the normal levels of a supplement should be; don’t over-supplement.

Most food-caused illnesses are due to contamination in unhygienic food processing. Food should be inspected, packaged properly, cleaned, served from a clean kitchen on clean dishes, and put away in a fridge after serving. All these strategies are good public health recommendations that have been in place for decades – though not always followed.

Don’t be afraid of your food. Be food smart.