What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You
It’s inevitable, we all eat filth unknowingly. Today it could be fly vomit on your pizza. Tomorrow mouse hair or rat poop in your taco. Down the road you will likely consume roach wings in your peanut butter or phlegm in a big salad.
It doesn’t help that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits a lot more revolting things into your food than you might think. The FDA has a handbook called Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans. It covers objectionable matter contributed by insects, rodents, and birds as well as decomposed material and miscellaneous items such as sand, soil, glass, rust, and other foreign substances.
According to the handbook: “It is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.”
To that end, the FDA allows filth limits before it takes action. Some examples:
- Up to six or more attached asparagus beetle eggs and/or sacs are allowed per 10 percent of asparagus spears or pieces.
- Rodent hairs in your cinnamon are allowed as long as it’s less than an average of 11 rodent hairs per 50 grams.
- Insect heads are OK in your fig paste if the heads are less than 13 per 100 grams of paste.
- Mammalian excreta on your ginger is permitted if it’s less than 3 mg of excreta per pound of ginger.
- Mildew in your canned greens? Not a problem if mildew coverage averages less than 10 percent of the leaves and the dew is less than one-half inch in diameter.
- Checkers draw the line on insect fragments in your macaroni at an average of 225 insect fragments or more per 225 grams in six or more sub samples.
- Frozen peaches really shouldn’t have worms. But the FDA allows a little wiggle room as long as an average of only 3 percent of the fruit is wormy.
- Most people prefer sand on beaches and not in their raisins. However, the FDA allows up to 40 mg of sand and grit per 100 grams of natural or golden bleached raisins.
- Rodents need to poop, too. But you would prefer they didn’t do it in wheat products you’re about to consume. Yet, the FDA says poopy wheat is edible as long as there is less than an average of 9 mg of rodent excreta pellets and/or pellet fragments per kilogram of wheat. (Not to mention the gluten or the fact that wheat is drenched with pesticides like malathion and Chlorpyrifos methyl, and is also often GMO.)
And keep in mind, while the FDA, often in conjunction with state regulatory agencies, routinely checks food manufactures’ facilities for cleanliness, and conducts analysis samples for purity, inspectors aren’t on the scene every day. In other words, the odds are pretty good that sooner or later maggots (even a number over the allowable maximum) will find their way into a batch of just about anything between inspections.
Food For Thought
No two people (much less agencies) will ever agree on how much filth is too much. However, even a little filth can be the cause of big health problems.
“It can cause exogenous toxicity, endogenous toxicity, inflammation, leaky gut, overt inflammatory responses, diarrhea, cramping, and bloating,” says microbiologist Kiran Krishnan, founder of MegaSporeBiotic. “These types of symptoms can lead to more serious inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — perpetuate systemic inflammation that can affect heart health, diabetes, and cognitive capabilities.”
Lakers Diet Doc Catherine Shanahan, M.D., says the biggest threat to our health is contamination from bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and Listeria, which cause infectious diarrhea.
“Metal parts, rocks, and glass shards can also enter food and potentially cause oral injury,” Shanahan says.
Infectious diarrhea symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, malaise, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
“The infection can clear without antibiotics but it can take a long time, even weeks, or months,” Shanahan says.
Most of the time, according to Shanahan, unless someone has a high fever and bloody diarrhea or is very frail, antibiotics do not help and can potentially make the symptoms last longer.
Hands Down To Finger Foods
Microbiology professor Holly Ahern says most people don’t think about the “yucky stuff in food” until something sensational gets attention like someone finding a severed finger in an Arby’s roast beef sandwich (this really happened).
But in reality, “The world is covered in a fine patina of feces,” says Ahern quoting Stanley Falkow, the “father” of microbial pathogenicity.
“So we do eat filth,” says Ahern, “but the human body evolved to cope with that because we have to eat to survive, and if filth made us sick every time we ate it, we’d all be sick or dead.”
Still, it’s a little like Russian roulette. Some rounds of filth are deadlier than others. Ahern says about one percent of bacteria are pathogenic and “the diseases they cause can have a profoundly negative effect.”
Ahern says one particularly bad food-borne illness is Listeria, which causes at first a GI type of disease but in some people can lead to potentially fatal meningitis. Most bad bacteria simply makes you lose your liquids through vomiting and diarrhea, your body’s way of purging bad microbes.
“When you think about it, those reflexes only play into the hands of the bacteria, who want us to vomit and have diarrhea so that they can spread to new hosts,” Ahern says. “Coevolution at its finest.”
6 Ways To Minimize The Damage
Probiotics are microorganisms introduced into the body for their beneficial qualities.
“A proper probiotic can enhance the body’s natural detox and protective capabilities,” says Krishnan. “The body has a natural detox capacity through the liver and protective systems in the mucus layer that is coated with immunoglobulins (antibodies). These systems are controlled by friendly microbes in large part and so enhancing the presence of friendly microbes will prove to offer significant benefit.”
Krishnan says the right probiotic should be one that is guaranteed to survive the gastric system and one that has proven capability to help protect the body from damaging food.
“Spore-based probiotics like Just Thrive have scientific proof showing a protective effect on the digestive tract,” says Krishnan.
Where probiotics introduce external bacteria, prebiotics, such as HoneyColony’s Equilibrium Energy Superfood, help support and fertilize already active bacteria in the colon.
“It’s a little like gardening or ‘if you build it they will come,’” says Shanahan. “Good bacteria thrive on complex carbohydrates (found in prebiotic supplements). Bad bacteria thrive on sugar.”
3. Beneficial Foods
Like supplements, certain foods also provide beneficial probiotic microorganisms.
“The best thing you can do to ‘fight off’ the bad microbes you might ingest is to keep your own gut bacteria as happy as you can,” says Ahern. “ I’m talking about providing the 99 percent of good guys already down there with the food they like to eat.”
5. Molecular Hydrogen
Molecular hydrogen (H2) is the smallest molecule in existence. It is possibly the only antioxidant molecule that can reach inside the mitochondria (power generators) of a cell. Working deep within the cellular level puts H2 in the perfect position to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. Once inside the mitochondria, previous studies have shown that molecular hydrogen exerts anti-inflammatory properties and protects from noxious chemicals (cytoprotective) in addition to acting as an antioxidant.
Staying hydrated is a key to good health and a factor in diluting filth. According to a recent study, molecular hydrogen may help keep you better hydrated. A 2012 study concluded that drinking molecular hydrogen water was an effective fluid hydration strategy for athletes. This is significant considering studies show two of three people are partially dehydrated. Even light dehydration of no more than 2 percent of total body weight disturbs physiological functions and decreases the body’s natural microbe-fighting efficiency.
6. Prepare Meals At Home
Dr. Abby Kramer, a holistic practitioner and chiropractor in Glenview, Illinois, says her best advice is to avoid processed and prepackaged foods.
“These are the types of foods that would contain ‘filth’ which can definitely wreak havoc on the body and especially gut health,” says Kramer.
Shanahan agrees, “The No. 1 thing to do is eat food you’ve made yourself from scratch.”
According to Shanahan, more than half of all the food-borne illnesses occurring between 1998 and 2004 came from eating out in restaurants, hotels, and delicatessens. An additional 4 percent came from schools and 22 percent from hospitals, catering services and civic/church buffets.
“Given that most people eat at home most of the time, it’s safe to say that eating out increases your risk of getting sick by anywhere from five to 10 times,” says Shanahan.
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