1. New reports link sodium phosphate to cancer

    Over Memorial Day weekend, I stood in line for 10 minutes at my local grocery store‘s deli counter. I saw customer after customer load up on salami, honey ham, and smoked turkey for the holiday weekend. (Guess they haven‘t heard about the latest warning about processed meats, sodium phosphate, and one type of deadly cancer. I'll tell you all about the new report in a moment.)

    There are probably 50 different types of lunch meat sold at my grocery store. But I‘ll only buy one. So when they finally called my number, I asked the clerk for a pound of their natural
    turkey. She held up a famous brand and asked if that‘s what I wanted. "This brand doesn't contain any preservatives or artificial ingredients, see," she said and pointed at the deli meat.

    Okay, I said, but I don‘t trust labels. I want to see what‘s in it. (I could hear the anxious customers grumble behind me!)

    She flipped the turkey breast over so I could read the ingredient list. And there you go, sure enough, it said "sodium phosphate."

    Sodium phosphate is not the same as sodium nitrite. That‘s true. But it does help to keep deli meat looking fresh, moist, and tender. That‘s why I consider it a preservative and won‘t ever buy meat that contains it.

    Here‘s why...

    As you can probably guess, sodium phosphate contains a lot of sodium. It actually contains much more sodium than table salt. So if you wonder why your deli meat looks moist, it‘s because they treat it with lots of salt so it will hold lots of water.

    But sodium phosphate also makes you retain water. This puts a strain on your kidneys. It makes them work harder. That‘s why people with kidney problems shouldn't eat deli meat. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, sodium phosphate can actually cause kidney damage.

    According to the NIH web site:

    "Sodium phosphate has caused serious kidney damage in some people. In some cases, this damage was permanent, and some people whose kidneys were damaged had to be treated with dialysis (treatment to remove waste from the blood when the kidneys are not working well). Some people developed kidney damage within a few days after their treatment, and others developed kidney damage up to several months after their treatment."

    But sodium phosphate isn't the biggest problem lurking in your lunch meat. Most lunch meat is treated with sodium nitrite as well.

    Why are nitrites so bad?

    Salt has been used for centuries to cure and cook meat. And sodium nitrite is just another form of salt. It helps to give processed meat an appealing pink color. It adds to the taste. And it helps to retard the growth of bacteria.

    But here's the problem...

    Inside your body, nitrites turn into N-nitroso compounds. We already know these compounds cause cancer in test animals.

    In addition, numerous studies link processed meat (high in nitrites) with cancer in humans. In 2006, Swedish researchers found that eating just one ounce of processed meat a day increases your risk of stomach cancer up to 38 percent.


    In 2005, U.S. researchers looked at 190,000 men and women between the ages 45 and 75. They found that volunteers who ate high amounts processed meat that contained sodium phosphate and/ or sodium nitrite were 68 percent more likely to get pancreatic cancer than those who ate the least.

    And guess what? If you eat 1.2 ounces of processed meat a day (just a slice or two of smoked turkey), you eat "high" amounts, according to this study.

    But there‘s more. The evidence linking processed meat with colon cancer troubles me the most.

    The processed meat connection to cancer

    According to a new report by the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research, we can prevent almost half of the colon cancer cases in this country. All we have to do is make simple changes to our lifestyle. These simple changes include:

    • Eating more fiber-rich foods
    • Limiting alcohol
    • Staying physically active
    • Maintaining a healthy weight

    Plus, researchers found a clear and consistent connection between the kind of meat you eat and colon cancer. Specifically, the researchers cited 24 studies linking colon cancer to processed meat.

    Researchers found that eating 3.5 ounces per day of processed meat increases your colon cancer risk by 36 percent (compared to those who don‘t eat processed meat). Plus, if you eat 7 ounces every day, your colon cancer risk is about 70 percent greater than those who don‘t ever eat processed meat, which contains sodium phosphate.

    Now, if you like the occasional steak, here‘s good news...

    According to their research, eating 3.5 ounces of red meat every day raises your colon cancer risk by 17 percent higher than non-meat eaters. (Again, to put this into perspective, 3.5 ounces equates to a modest size cheeseburger or a petite filet of steak. It‘s about the size of your fist.) Plus, the more you eat, the greater your risk.


    Researchers found very little risk for men and women who eat less than 18 ounces of red meat per week. And this is exactly what I've always suggested in my Guide to Good Health. Red meat is beneficial in small amounts. Eat a serving of it once or twice a week and you‘ll be fine. Just make sure it is hormone-free, antibiotic-free red meat.

    And remember, there is additive-free lunch meat out there. Just don‘t trust the deli counter clerk. Ask to see the list of ingredients and boycott sodium phosphate...even if it is a holiday weekend and there‘s a long line of customers behind you. It pays to be particular. Hormel and Jennie-O both make a line of nitrite-free lunch meat.

    The other option is even better. Buy a whole turkey breast and roast it at home. Slice it thin and you‘ll have the most amazing turkey for sandwiches all week. Add a juicy tomato and an onion and I'm in heaven.

  2. Will FDA admit link between food coloring and hyperactivity in kids?

    A few weeks ago, a friend emailed me a link about the FDA‘s decision to take a closer look at the possible link between artificial food coloring and hyperactivity in children.

    "Wow!" she wrote, "Do you believe it? The FDA‘s finally taking a stand!" My friend has four kids, so I can understand why she was interested.

    But, ever the cynic, I wrote back, "Yes, but it‘s just a ruse. They‘ll review the data and then say ‘we‘ve looked at it and determined there‘s no problem.‘ So go ahead, eat all the Froot Loops and Jello Jigglers you want!"

    Sure enough...I was right.

    The FDA panel decided that there is now link between food coloring and hyperactivity in most children. (There is plenty of scientific research that proves otherwise. To see the research for yourself, go

    The panel did concede, however, that artificial food coloring might affect children who already suffer from hyperactivity. They called for more research into the matter, but stopped well short of banning artificial coloring.

    In addition, the panel voted 8 to 6 against adding warning labels to food products that carry eight types of food dye. (Actually, that‘s a much tighter margin that I would have ever predicted!)

    Apparently, it‘s too much of a hassle to add warnings to food packages. According to Tim Jones, Tennessee‘s deputy state epidemiologist and a member of the FDA panel,

    "If we put a label that long on every chemical and ingredient that hasn‘t been adequately studied, you wouldn‘t see the package anymore. It‘s a question of relative concern and severity, and that‘s a hard one.", do I have Jones‘s argument right? We can‘t add warnings about these chemicals --even though we believe some kids can‘t tolerate them -- because it would cover too much of the food package?

    Really, Tim, did you ever think about cutting out the mysterious chemicals? You wouldn‘t have such a packaging dilemma on your hands. But I have bigger concerns with the FDA‘s ruling and it doesn‘t have anything to do with warnings on wrappers...

    FDA ignores powerful data

    I‘m not sure which studies the FDA reviewed, but I have a feeling they did not consider this major study that looks at food coloring and hyperactivity in children...

    A few years back, the British researchers found that common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate could cause healthy children to show signs of hyperactivity.

    For this study, British researchers recruited 300 children between the ages three and nine. They divided the children into three groups. One group received a fruit drink that contained artificial coloring and sodium benzoate. The second group received the same drink, just with lower levels of the additives. The third group received a pure fruit drink with no additives.

    Teachers then assessed the children throughout the week using standardized behavior tests. They found that children given the drinks with artificial colors showed "increased hyperactivity." In fact, these children scored poorer in areas of restlessness, concentration, fidgeting, and interrupting. Plus, the younger the child was, the greater the problem.

    Because of this study and a few others, the European Parliament now requires that food manufacturers print those pesky warning labels on foods that contain certain types of food coloring and preservatives. (See Tim, it's really not that big of a deal.)

    Unfortunately, the link between good coloring and hyperactivity is only a fraction of the problem. There's also the problem of artificial preservatives being detrimental to health, such as sodium benzoate...

    Beware of more hidden dangers

    Most foods that contain food coloring also contain preservatives. Food manufacturers use these to extend a product‘s "shelf life." That‘s why white bread stays "fresh" in your bread box much longer than natural whole grain bread. It‘s loaded with preservatives.

    Just pick up a product along the inside aisle of your local grocery store. Unless, you‘re standing in the health nut aisle, I bet the product contains a preservative.

    Here is a list of commonly-used preservatives:

    • Nitrates
    • Nitrites
    • Sulfites
    • Bisulfate
    • Sulfur dioxide
    • Propyll Gallate
    • BPA and BHT
    • Sodium benzoate
    • Potassium bromate (banned everywhere in the world but the U.S. and Japan)

    No matter your age, you‘ll want to avoid products containing these chemicals. Nitrites and nitrates are especially dangerous. Used to cure meat and prevent the growth of bacteria, these chemicals go hand-in-hand with processed meats such as hot dogs, lunch meat, and bacon.

    Recently, Harvard researchers reviewed 20 different studies using processed meat. They found that just one serving of it per day increased heart disease risk by 42 percent. It raised diabetes risk by 19 percent. Plus, nitrates are known carcinogens...

    In once recent study, Swedish researchers reviewed the eating habits of 4,700 people. They found that eating just one ounce of processed meat a day increased stomach cancer risk by up to 38 percent. That‘s incredible!

    If people knew that eating just one slice of ham per day could increase their stomach cancer risk by that much, the lines at the deli counter would probably disappear!

    How to choose safer options

    Hormel makes a line of additive-free lunch meat. You‘ll also find additive-free meat at organic grocery stores like Trader Joe‘s.

    Overall, try to keep natural foods the mainstay of your diet. Also, stay out of the center aisles at the grocery store. Stick to the perimeter and you‘re in much better shape. Here you will find 100 percent whole grains (bread, brown rice, pasta) foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables (organic, of course). Also, strive to eat fresh, wild fish several times a week. Some red meat is okay. Just make sure it‘s organic and hormone-free.

    For snacks, avoid the processed stuff. Instead, go for fresh nuts and seeds. Also, go ahead and try out that one "healthy aisle" in your grocery store. Believe it or not, you can find tasty additive-free snacks here. You just have to look a little harder...and be a little adventurous!

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