Not all food scares worth consuming
NOTHING GETS people's attention like a scare. News about a safe product is not an attention-grabber. As a consequence, many people worry needlessly about urban legends. Here are some health scares that don't measure up to their hype.
» Claim: Teflon-coated cookware can poison you.
» Reality: The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a precautionary evaluation of perfluorooctanoic acid. This chemical compound is used in manufacturing a variety of products, including DuPont's Teflon coating for cookware.
The EPA's main concern is that the substance appears to be accumulating in the environment. To date, however, the agency has not identified any evidence that people are suffering health problems from exposure to this acid.
Concern about its presence in Teflon cookware is misplaced. The acid is used to manufacture a component of Teflon, but little or none of it is in or released from the final Teflon coating of cookware.
» Claim: MSG (monosodium glutamate) causes serious health problems.
» Reality: MSG is simply common sodium (as in salt), along with a common amino acid component of protein known as glutamate. Much like salt (sodium chloride), MSG is used in small amounts to enhance the flavors of savory foods. Certain foods, such as tomatoes, walnuts and Parmesan cheese, are naturally high in free glutamate (like MSG), which contributes to their flavors.
MSG safety has been thoroughly studied. One classic controlled study was conducted with 130 people, each of whom believed he or she responded adversely to MSG. The results indicated that none of these people predictably responded to MSG consumed in foods.
Excessive intake of any single amino acid can cause adverse reactions in animals and humans. But the amounts of glutamate naturally found in foods and commonly used to season foods with MSG are well within the range of safe intake for most individuals.
As with many other compounds in foods, it is possible that rare individuals are highly sensitive to glutamate, whether added as MSG or naturally present.
Due to fear of MSG, it has been replaced in many foods by much greater amounts of sodium. Based on current scientific evidence, the extensive infoterrorism about Teflon and MSG is more smoke and mirrors than science.
, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs
, Ph.D., C.N.S. are
nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Services and prepares the nutritional analyses marked with an asterisk in this section. See also: Health Events