Good Food for Consumers

The food police’s laws have suffered heretical attacks lately.  Opposition toward peanuts by parents of young children seems misplaced.  The increased incidence of allergy is likely a consequence of parental choice in feeding the children.  The standard dogma on saturated fat versus unsaturated fat has been undermined by the National Institute of Health (NIH).  This will create turmoil within the diet industry.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a genetically modified organism (GMO) apple with highly desirable characteristics.  Each of these represents an opportunity to improve Americans’ health, but resistance to change can be expected from those who have staked out contrary positions.

Peanuts:   Among school-aged children, the incidence of peanut allergy quadrupled in 13 years.  Without searching for the cause of the allergy, some parents focus on making their child’s environment safer by ridding it of peanuts.  That includes in the school cafeteria, in snacks from vending machines, and in anything that other children bring from their home.  Peanut eradication has even spread to airlines and some restaurants go out of their way to warn patrons about the bowls of peanuts on the table and shells on the floor.

In a successful medical trial, infants who were given small amounts of peanut regularly until age 5, exhibited a rate of allergy at about 3.2%.  Infants who did not consume peanuts before age 5 exhibited a rate of allergy at 17.2%.  The vast majority of peanut allergies are caused by peanut avoidance during early childhood.  In the peanut allergy trial, 11-month old infants were first triaged with a pin-prick peanut sensitivity test.  The peanut dosage (8 peanuts per week) was then adjusted or omitted entirely depending on their degree of peanut sensitivity.  Parents who want to avoid peanut allergy should consult with their physician on the correct procedure – The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research does not offer medical advice.

In parallel with peanut studies, researchers noted that “early introduction of other allergenic foods, including egg and cow’s milk, showed that earlier introduction of egg and milk into an infant’s diet was associated with a decrease in the development of allergy.” It seems we often choose to fight alligators instead of draining the swamp.

Fat:  For many years, the dogma on consumption of fat has been “saturated bad, unsaturated better.”  Or in more detail “…so-called saturated fatty acids, which are found in butter, meat, chocolate, and cheese, increase the risk of heart disease, and … people should instead eat more unsaturated fatty acids, the type that dominates in fish, nuts, or vegetable oils.”

A recent NIH meta-study combined results from dozens of studies. The conclusion was: “Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”  In other words, “we cannot say unsaturated fat is better nor that saturated fat is bad.”  This has undermined the traditional dogma on fat consumption and as expected, other experts criticized the annoying conclusion and offered data to correct the meta-analysis.  Based on those criticisms, the NIH authors made corrections but they affirmed the same conclusion.

This is a big deal in the diet business. When the scientific shouting subsides, the conclusion will make obsolete many diet books, reputations, and cults. In place of their traditional enmity toward saturated fats, some diet experts are already lining up to denigrate carbohydrates.  The diet industry evidently needs a villain to provide dynamic tension in an otherwise bland landscape.

GMO Apples: The FDA has approved Okanagan Specialty Fruit’s “Arctic Apple,” a genetically modified apple that doesn’t brown when cut open or bruised, and doesn’t need to be sprayed with citric acid if left in a salad bar.  This breakthrough fruit will lead to less food waste and the apple poses no risk to humans, plants or other organisms.

Benefits of Okanagan Specialty’s work will likely spread quickly, but we can expect resistance as well.  Some oppose any genetically modified organisms fearing that the genetic modification will contaminate other plants and animals.   In that crowd, “Frankenfood” is a common epithet.  There is little point in arguing on the science as they will not accept the research done to persuade the FDA.

We should be thankful to the scientists who continue food research seeking provable truths.   Without them, we’d be choking on stylish myths urged on us in the name of educating the public.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research

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