Because a lot of spices are produced and consumed in India, the country has been in the front seat of the adulteration problem. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India have issued educational videos on the subject. I have selected their relevant videos below on means to identify some popular forms of adulteration, on which I built to make this a piece I hope you will enjoy consuming. Passing these tests is never a guarantee that the spices are pure, it just rules out that specific form of adulteration.
Bear in mind that people adulterating spices are ingenious and creative, and don’t seem to run out of ways to adulterate spices. Use what’s below to test your spices, and if you don’t want to take any risk, I will be sharing some tips.
Testing whole turmeric roots for adulteration with lead chromate
Testing powdered turmeric for adulteration with added dyes
Checking for adulteration of Chilli powder with added dyes
Checking for adulteration of cumin seeds with grass seeds darkened with charcoal
Testing mustard seeds for adulteration with argemone*
* Note: Argemone seeds are non-edible and toxic. There has been reported cases of toxicity due to consumption of mustard oil adulterated with argemone oil, presumably because of processing of adulterated mustard seeds.
Checking for adulteration of black pepper with papaya seeds
Checking for adulteration of black pepper with black berries
Choosing good quality black pepper
Extra tips from a French expert on pepper trade Gérard Vives, author of Poivres (it means “peppers” in French). According to Gérard, a high quality pepper has mostly large grains, is not dusty, the peppercorns should have an intense colour (this applies mainly to the black one), and should be clean and shiny. Such grains have less heat and more aroma. Never buy any pepper powder. All powders are most prone to adulteration and use of lowest grades as fillers, but also, the aromatics in spices are volatile so black pepper powder is heat without flavour.
Buy exclusively certified organic spices, at least for those most likely to be adulterated and or those that involve the most serious risk in case of adulteration: turmeric, chilli, paprika because the colours can involve lead pigments or carcinogenic dyes.
Whenever possible, grind you own spices. Powders are too easy to adulterate. Heads-up: Unless you have a very strong grinder, made of very hard glass or metal, I would advise against grinding your own ginger or turmeric. They are hard as rock as I broke a standard high-speed blender with those. Spices that will easily grind in any high-speed blender without causing damage include:
cumin seeds and seeds of similar size (fennel, anise, caraway, ajwain, etc.)
coriander seeds Never buy this one in powder form unless you want to end up with a bag of something that smells and tastes of bland sawdust. Always freshly grind coriander seeds to preserve aromas.
Waw, what a busy year it’s been for me! I have not posted in a long time. Here we go again with a really cool study that may have practical implications for us.
But before I dive into what could be a tiny, tiny aspect of health and nutrition, I want to remind the readers that this is nitty-gritty nutrition stuff, meaning this aims at optimisation.
The scientific evidence is rather clear on the fact that achieving maximum human health does – not – quite come from these small tricks and precautions. Rather, the bulk of achievable human health is to be obtained from a high compliance with alow-fat Whole Food, fully Plant-Based diet combined with as many of the following lifestyle factors as possible: frequent movement/exercise, sufficient/restful sleep, good stress management, little to no use of harmful intoxication, loving/supportive relationships, a meaningful occupation, behaviour with low risk of accidents, etc.
Having said that, let’s do this!
In what follows, we will use the abbreviations:
BLL for Blood Lead Level
Pb for lead
A very recent study done in Bangladesh analysed the blood of 430 randomly selected pregnant women for lead, 45 of whom were selected (not randomly) and had their BLL (blood lead levels) published.
While there is no safe lead level either in blood or in food, the USA CDC (Centre for Disease Control) considered lead levels above 5 μg/dL to be elevated. The highest BLL found in the blood of these 45 pregnant women was sitting at whopping 29.1 μg/dL! This is a pregnant woman with lead levels 6 times higher that the (rather lax) US CDC threshold.
The usual routes were explored but did not yield anything from soil, to food, etc.
Interestingly, in Bangladesh, there has been a culture by which some women (possibly few only) eat small amounts of clay, soil or ashes during pregnancy, presumably to obtain nutrients (not a wise thing to do anyway, since almost all nutrients are to be found in actual food, and all the above can be contaminated with heavy metals among other contaminants). Yet, even those were not significantly contaminated with lead.
Some metal tins that were soldered with lead were also found to contaminate the food stored in them. However, that was also rather relatively minor.
Improbable source, Improbable purpose
What was the main source of contamination by very far?
It is added in turmeric processing factories as a colouring agent for the turmeric to look more yellow.
You read this right. Unbelievable! I know.
A product called peuri locally, which is chemically a lead salt with a yellow/orange bright colour, was reported as an adulterant. Chemically speaking, peuri contains lead chromate (PbCrO4), which is the bright yellow stuff, but also also white powders like lead carbonate (PbCO3), and/or lead sulfate (PbSO4).
Besides colouring, lead is called a heavy metal for a reason, it is actually very heavy. So besides making products visually appealing, the lead products also help make the spice artificially much heavier, so producers and traders can earn more money by moving less actual turmeric. Not the first time shame is lacking under the capitalistic sun, especially under the pressures of impoverishment.
According to the authors, this practice of adding lead pigments would have started to meet customer pressures, after a one-off flood made turmeric roots look pale and lack their usual vivid colour.
How bad was the lead situation?
According to the study, the Bangladesh Standard Testing Institution limit for lead contamination is 2.5 μg/g or ppm, meaning 2.5 micrograms of lead per gram of turmeric, also known as parts per million (ppm).
8 out of 28 turmeric samples had level above the official legal limit.
The highest sample had a lead concentration of 1151.9 μg/g, which is 460 times above the threshold. This is ridiculous!
It doesn’t even end there…
In nutrition, bioavailability is the percentage of a given ingested molecule that actually gets absorbed when ingested by apparently healthy individuals. It varies from a chemical or product to another. It can be measured in vivo (in humans) or estimated by in vitro experiment, that is in a lab by simulating human digestion with various chemicals and devices.
These are the bioavailabilities of the lead from different sources:
Pb solder in food storage tins: < 5%.
Pb in clay and ash: < 5%.
Pb in turmeric: 42.9 to 70% (likely made even higher by acidic foods like tomato, tamarind, kokum (mangosteen rind used for sourness in some cuisines), lime/lemon, etc.
The lead colouring added to the turmeric was very easy to absorb, not a good news.
Children absorb lead far better than adults, and they are also more sensitive to it.
Additionally, a pregnant woman’s bone dissolve a bit for a temporary period during the third trimester of pregnancy. This is a natural process to provide calcium to her child in the womb to build bones. The problem is that lead accumulates in the bones. So lead accumulated over many years pre-pregnancy is released from the bones and makes it to the bloodstream where it peaks at that stage of pregnancy. In passing, this is also why consuming bone broth is not only unnecessary but plain dangerous.
What about whole dried turmeric instead of powders?
The study published the lead contents in whole turmeric fingers, in packaged and non-packaged presentations.
No specific type of turmeric was guaranteed to have levels below the limit of 2.5 μg/g. In fact the whole dried roots had even more lead in them in this particular study. It looks like grinding one’s own at home isn’t quite a way out of this problem.
Am I having contaminated turmeric?
I did not search how common this practice is.
We’re supposed to be reasonably protected by the work of food safety authorities in countries with functional infrastructures, which is just a few privileged countries presumably, and even then…
They test regularly various food samples to ensure compliance with imports requirements for contaminants, etc. The problem is those tests are not systematic, and instead done only now and then. As a result, those tests are most likely to almost only detect poor practices that are consistent in time.
That explains why, for instance, an investigation of children in the USA with elevated levels of lead found that turmeric in their homes had levels of lead averaging at 66 ppm. Context: Bangladesh’s official limit is 2.5 ppm, so this was shooting off the roof. The range was from 0.1 to 740 ppm.
The customs and food safety authorities obviously did not catch those samples high in lead.
In 2001 alone, New Zealand and Australia alone imported nearly 300 tonnes of turmeric according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It’s hard testing that much turmeric and everything else. It’s safe to say trusting our spices are unadulterated is a leap of faith.
Is it common to consume turmeric with abnormally high levels of turmeric outside of Bangladesh? I do not know.
What I do know is that we (my partner and I) had been buying our spices from a bulk bin to reduce waste, and we bought it from a local South Asian shop that used to be run by a Bangladeshi family. If they were still in business, I would certainly ask where the spices are from, but they closed down recently.
The best and only way to know about lead content for sure is to get yours tested. If we did that for everything we buy and eat, that would be a pricey endeavour.
But I reckon it’s worth it for a few items we use often, from the same source/brand consistently, and where the risk is believed to be high shall the product be adulterated. Turmeric definitely fits the bill.
What to do then?
I would advise purchasing certified organic turmeric and hope the organic label would exclude, test and enforce any adulteration made to the product post harvest. I would advise doing that with any naturally colourful basic ingredient. The next in line being chilli, which I have seen suspiciously bright red at some shops. I did find studies on the use of artificial colouring in chilli powders, including some banned ones because of their known adverse health effects.
Anything with a natural colour like orange or red is supposed to become less intense in colour with time. In fact turmeric is known to be a very poor dye (for non-food uses such as textiles) because the colour is very sensitive to light and fades out easily.
Turmeric and chilli being colourful spices, it is wise to get those as certified organic.
Another precaution (and fun thing to do anyway) is to make one’s one curry or spice powders, because they rely heavily on turmeric and chilli anyway.
How much to buy?
Indian cuisine is known to rely heavily on turmeric. According to the study, India reported consumption rates of 25 g of turmeric per person per month, that is 600g per year for a couple…that eats Indian cuisine every day.
Certified organic turmeric bags I’ve seen online contain in the range of 200-500g and currently go at about US$15 (in New Zealand, Australia and worldwide through iherb.com). Local organic shops may store turmeric.
Pricey for a common spice, yet rather affordable to most people in privileged countries, for about a year supply of a health-promoting spice for two people.
Tell me about what (health condition, goal, etc.) brings you to inquire about consults and nutrition coaching, and what information you’re after.
I will send you the Information Pamphlets you need. Thank you.
If you are still wondering why on Earth it matters that foods should be whole foods, look into Whole foods FAQ. That article addresses the “Why?” part of the question. Why whole-foods? Why not processed foods? Why low-fat? Why no oil? Why no salt? Why no sugar? Basically explaining why there is a problem.
What about the solution?
Well, the present article is the “What?” part of question. What is a whole food? What is not? What to buy instead? What to do instead?
There are two ways I know to explain which foods are whole food, which are not, which are acceptable health-wise and which are not. Different people learn in different ways. Some prefer to learn by concepts, some prefer by examples.
If you learn with concepts, what to chose is easy, neat and concise:
“Eat nothing else but low-fat whole plant foods.
If it’s not entirely made of plants, don’t have it.
If it doesn’t look like a plant, make sure the low-fat whole plant food was used and nothing was discarded, nutritionally damaged, extracted nor added that is not a low-fat whole food plant itself.”
That’s it, done. I always prefer positive wording. Simple powerful concepts like this work really well for me. The whole-food concept is a like an alphabet. Once you get the new concept right, the pantry and fridge look more like it, and you then build upwards from that and can’t possibly go wrong. That approach can’t possibly be mistaken for something restrictive. There’s no right way to eat the wrong foods when it comes to health, so drop meals and products that contain processed foods altogether, don’t try to fix processed foods. That strange planet of delicious disease is already obsolete. Just focus on building a *whole* new edifice, that of delicious health, with solid whole-foods foundations.
Now, if you learn best through examples, it’s a bit different. There’s no other way for this than go through a “good/not good” list which may look like a long prohibitive list. But what is really prohibitive? Could it be the insane extent of our reliance on processed foods that is prohibitive to our health? Reading this, chances are that you leave animals alone and off the plate. So imagine making a list of all animal foods people should replace or stop having? It will inevitably be a long list, and will inevitably seem restrictive to some. But you would know better, you would know the reality of it from experience. You would know, that there is no restriction/prohibition when you actually eat far more nutrients, add more years to your life and more life to your years. You would know, it’s not about cutting/eliminating foods (or rather non-foods), it’s fundamentally about having the right foods and nothing else.
Particularly nowadays, and particularly in certain foods cultures, listing all the processed foods we should be weaning from or replacing to eat the right foods can be quite a mouthful!
But I braced myself today to put it all down so it can go to help whoever wants to go whole-food; starting from where many people are (processed foods from supermarkets, restaurants, cafés, take-aways) and moving to food compatible with health that you prepare yourself from whole plants.
Finally, I must insist on two points:
Of all processed foods or non-foods below, oil, salt, and sugar will be of particular concern due the particular health concern with these. Please do not use them and consider instead the easy alternatives offered below.
Every transition in life can take time to be operated painlessly and sustainably. This list should not scare you. It took us about a year from quitting sugar to being almost 100% whole-foods with no oil, salt, or sugar. With the advice below we could have done that much faster! If you can operate all these changes cold-tofu, do it, you have all the tools now! If you need time, do them one step at a time, just keep challenging yourself until you reach the destination. Pain should not be part of this journey. Do observe priorities: Start first with eliminating oil and high-fat foods. Meanwhile, reduce down to zero your use of sugar and salt gradually enough so it’s not a pain. Meanwhile also, replace the non-whole foods by whole foods. Start with those you eat most, what is it for you? pasta? bread? and rice? Then expand to other things. Expanding your whole-food repertoire can also be done adding whole foods you never had before. We’re learning for example how to prepare whole grain groats as a staple, or legumes. It’s not a very Anglo-saxon thing to do but if other cultures figured it out, and it’s whole foods, that’s more options for you!
In short: no oil *at all*, nothing that is high-fat. What does that mean? For an adult who is 100% oil-free low-fat whole-food nutrition (already a big pre-requisite) : no more than 1~2 tablespoons daily total of any combination of nuts/seeds/avocado. Coconut best avoided. Absolutely zero of all of these of recovering from cardiovascular disease.
Oils and fats are found naturally in all low-fat whole plant foods in sufficient amounts. By energy: kale: 12% (of calories are from fat); brown rice: 6%; potatoes : 1%, etc. Given enough diversity in a low-fat whole-food plant diet, *all* our fat nutritional needs are met, including omega-3. Yes, from just plants only. The addition of fat whether extracted from whole foods (i.e. oil) or even high-fat from whole foods (i.e. nuts and avocado) in large amounts is not just unnecessary, but majorly harmful. It contributes greatly to cardiovascular and metabolic disease; ending in heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, higher incidence of cancer, and of a number of degenerative diseases. In short, the unforgiving price to pay for our by-default under-informed, over-optimistic illusion of “moderation”.
Not whole foods, because all oils are extracts, or TO NOT EAT:
Everything that is called “oil” when you buying it from a supermarket, an online store, “health” store, organic shop, or even if you press it yourself from your uncle’s fair-trade organic locally-grown olives. It doesn’t matter. Do not have any oil, whether it’s:
Extra virgin oils
Extra virgin cold-pressed oils
all chocolate (=> cocoa powder although not technically a whole food, is a high-fiber less-high-fat food, a far more acceptable alternative to chocolate if you’re going to use chocolate)
If you are recovering from any cardiovascular disease (from impotence all the way to surviving a stroke or heart attack) the above was the #1 (plant) things you must start having an absolute zero amount of, besides of course ditching absolutely everything of animal origin.
Whole foods, but use at most in very low amounts*:
* Very low amounts = ~1 teaspoon per person per meal, maximum. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.
nuts and seeds
Whole foods, but best avoided or kept for occasional use*
* Occasional use = 1 tablespoon per person once a month at most maybe. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.
coconut flesh from fresh coconut (even then still among the worst possible whole-food fat there is, almost entirely saturated fat). At home we cut one yearly and freeze it for the whole year. That’s becoming how much coconut we have yearly for two people. Amazing taste, but not worth it as a staple.
ALTERNATIVES TO OIL / ADDED FAT / HIGH-FAT FOODS
Just skip the oil. Below is how to do that for common instances where most people use oil. I know it’s hard at first to think it’s even possible to prepare food without oil. But, trust me, let go of being anxious around this, everything below is based on 6 months of kitchen experience of home-cooking without any oil at all.
How to replace oil to heat up spices If you need to develop the aroma of certain seeds like is done in Indian cooking, just dry roast on less-than-medium heat for a few minutes while stirring, then add wet foods (like chopped onions/garlic) first, then ground spices.
How to replace oils for stir-fries and caramelizing onions/garlic:
There are a few alternative options to oil-frying:
Water-frying on high heat with just enough water so it won’t stick nor burn. Add ground spices if needed only after the onions/garlic have softened and become transparent.
OR: Chop onions and garlic very finely and stir on less-than-medium heat in a pan on its own (no added water). Because it is chopped finely it will cook at similar temperatures as with oil, without burning because finely-cut onions/garlic give off their own water.
OR: If stir-frying or frying is important to give a certain taste to food: consider baking instead. It works for French fries, potato wedges, garlic, bell-pepper etc. If you ever find that it makes the foods too dry, then bake a combination of dry/hard foods along with moist/wet foods. You will end up with nice glossy foods that look and feel exactly as if they were stir-fried.
These may not always give exactly the same result as with oil of course, but close enough that people will not even notice you changed something.
How to replace oil/added fat in baking:
Don’t be anxious, just skip the oil, it works in many cases for cakes, breads, etc.
In cakes and breads, oil serves the purpose of holding moisture, that can be done with prune paste. The amount of prune paste* is amount of oil needed divided by 3, there will not be a prune taste. Don’t worry your final food will not taste of prunes. Try for yourself, we did, as recommended in the China Study Cookbook.
*For Wellington, large bags of prunes can be found at reasonably low cost, in bulk, at Moore Wilsons. Store them in the freezer, and you’re good to go for ages.
Other ingredients help hold moisture as well: certain flours more than others, aquafaba, ground flaxseed, applesauce, and other whole-food vegan egg replacements. Also wet foods like applesauce, zucchini, beetroot, bananas, give great moisture-holding.
For dressings and dips:
See Section below “Dressings”.
To prevent sticking:
Use baking paper, non-stick pans, cast iron pans if you don’t like non-stick coatings, or even any regular stainless steel pot with lower heat.
SWEETNESS AND SUGAR
Most sugars even the “brown” ones are generally extracted saps from trees or flowers, roots or corn, etc. Them being brown or having some nutrients does not make thin either health promoting not whole-foods. They are of similar concern as white sugar.
The sugars naturally found and consumed in whole foods do not pose health problems.
Commercial sweeteners are absolutely not whole foods, they are not even foods. Do not use them.
Besides, some do pose health concerns (like stevia or aspartame) others are experimental (erythritol) and may well be the next aspartame or MSG scandal, a risk we don’t run with corn or dates natural sweetness. The only safe whole-food sweetener I know that is a powerful natural sweeteener called Luo Han Guo (more below)
Sweetening sources that are not whole foods – DO NOT USE
Anything that doesn’t look like a whole plant food, and with the word sugar, syrup, or molasses in it, to list only a few:
raw cane sugar (or Sucanat)
ALTERNATIVES TO SUGAR TO SWEETEN FOOD
The most powerful alternative to sugar is to let your taste buds have less sweet foods so that they can learn to become more sensitive to the natural sweet taste of food and beverages. That should allow you to enjoy beverages with no added sweetness of any kind, and to enjoy food at a lower sweetness level. This being said, there is nothing wrong with enjoying sweetness or sweet foods, as long as that comes from whole foods and not extracted sugars.
There are some very common whole-food sources of sweet flavour that you can use:
Date sugar, homemade only, when it’s made from dried pulverized dates = “date flour”, not the commercial “date sugar” which is often date-extracted sugar and therefore just as mertabolically hazardous as any other sugar.
Raisins, currants, sultanas and other dried fruits but read the ingredients: some come loaded with oil, sugar, preservatives which you can tell form the ingredients or the sodium content for preservatives.
Sweet potatoes like baked orange kumara
Whole-food sweetener: Luo Han Guo*, found in the near tea in many Chinese Shops. Boiled in water it is a very potent natural sweetener with, a long history of usage and not a single known health concern to my best current knowledge after researching it. It might be pulverizable into a powder for use in cooking, baking etc.
* For NZ-Wellington: This can be found at Yan’s Supermarket off Webb Street, or in NZ Lower Hutt’s Davis Trading for Lo Han Guo, see tea section.
The issue with salt has little to do with whole-food or not. Salt is simply not a food, so the wholeness (process salt vs unprocessed sea salt) is secondary and does not matter at all. Added salt is used as a flavour enhancer, for people who have grown a habit for it and not yet weaned off.
Unfortunately it is the source of unnecessary stress/damage on cardiovascular health because it creates a state of hypertension to push the sodium out of the body.
Hypertension leads to serious health concerns, and is considered a cardiovascular disease, yet it is virtually entirely caused by eating a lot of salt or preserved/processed foods. The sodium naturally occuring in plants is more than we need.
There is no right way to eat the wrong foods so all the salts below are salts and should never be part of food:
DO NOT USE:
Himalayan pink salt
black salt (also known as “kala namak”)
or anything with the word “salt” in it or with outrageously high amounts/concentrations of salt or sodium in it.
If you buy partially processed products (like the jarred salt-free tomato paste we use off-season*) always read the ingredients and nutritional content. Sodium per 100g in whole foods is rarely ever above a few dozens: 5 mg, 10mg, 20mg are numbers that shouldn’t worry you. Just make sure it’s mg (milligrams) not grams like I see sometimes. If you start seeing hundreds, something’s wrong, except for a tiny handful or expections that are naturally high-sodium inside them.
Be aware that salt and sodium also are virtually everywhere in processed foods, from canned foods to cookies, to even dried fruit! In restaurants you may order salt-free food but if they relied on processed foods like pasta, or sauces, etc, those also come generously loaded with sodium. As I said in introduction, do not waste your time trying to fix a broken system, build your own, without any of the otherwise inescapable nonsense.
ALTERNATIVES TO SALT
Quitting all salt, and processed foods, is the single best alternative to salt and sodium. It can be done painlessly over 3 weeks to 3 months. After only 3 weeks most people start developing a dislike for salted foods and a preference for unsalted foods. Yes, your taste buds are magical, and you need to harness this power you already have.
Immortalizing the moment when we stopped using salt at home 🙂
What to do about flavour? Preparing food for people that are used to salt?
Simply use more of natural flavours!
We put more of the flavourful foods in our cooking: slightly more spices, more carrots, more celery, more onion, garlic, more whole-food sweetness to lift up the taste without salt, more sourness (from lemon or tamarind) or more whole-food sweetness from dates or other naturally sweet foods. If you hit the tongue right it won’t need a bang from salt, even the highly-demanding tongues and palates of people who have not yet weaned off salt.
People on low-sodium dietary lifestyles have used all sorts of spices instead of salt. They like to go by “salt alternatives” and “salt replacements”. I don’t like those phrasings because when you don’t need salt, you don’t need to replace salt.
I offer to transcend the idea of even replacing salt, and simply understanding that our tongue (and nose) is full of sensors for all sorts of things (for the tongue: sweetness, sourness, bitterness…) and your tongue likes a good whip to be happy. So whip up your tongue (wut-tish!) with everything you have that is an actual food, it will thank you for it.
When we quit salt, my first natural urge was to add sourness (lemon/lime) to everything, but that’s just me.
My tongue loves sour, bitter, sweet but not too chilli-hot, I like pungent but not too garliquey. For my partner it’s completely different. My partner likes NOT sour, NOT bitter, NOT as sweet as I do. She likes VERY spicy, NOT pungent, but VERY garliquey. If food isn’t chili-hot, for her, it’s not food! For me it’s the same but with sour.
So each person’s tongue likes to be whiped its own way. Find your taste spot and give it what it needs!
How to do about salt-containing products? like canned chickpeas, dried fruits with high sodium, spice mixes, etc? Simple: dont’ use them. Find salt-free options if it’s trivial to find, or just save time and make your own.
If you have concerns about health:
The sodium in whole plant foods is far more than sufficient to meet our body’s needs in sodium. Look around, how many land mammals and animals do you see walking around with salt shaker? Salt does not contribute to health.
Any white rice, because it is “milled” = removing the nutrient-rich outer layer (rice bran), then polished after milling to make it look good again.
Whole-food alternatives to milled/polished white rice:
Brown Basmati rice
Brown Jasmine rice
Brown Thai rice
Note: There are different “whole” grades of the rices below. Some rices that look whole (with a bran on top) are actually partially milled (to remove bran partially) or partially polished. Producers undoubtedly derive extra profits from bran as a by-product, sold as animal feed, for rice bran oil, etc. Ideally you want a rice that is unmilled and unpolished. Visual examination might be enough, I’ll start paying attention and see if I notice differences.
LEGUMES, PULSES, BEANS, AND PEAS
Not whole foods:
Red lentils (they are what’s left when you remove the highly-nutritious brans)
Whole-food alternatives to split legumes:
The unsplit whole grains, i.e. your typical chickpeas or lentils or beans with their skin.
Standard pasta. This is why:
Whole-food alternative to white pasta:
Wholemeal or whole grain pasta
Any pasta made at home from whole grains or whole grain semolina.
Note: Commercial use of the term “whole” can be abused in “wholemeal” pasta due to expectable partial amounts of whole semolina or recombined whole semolina made from refined semolina some extracted bran or fiber to give a whole “feel”.
Most breads marketed as “whole meal” or “whole grain” use most often only a small amount of whole-meal flour 10% to 25% only typically. The rest is baker’s white flour, a highly- refined product. Besides whole-food aspects, baker’s flours or bread flours and the wheats they come from are generally under a lot of pressure to be high-protein, high-gluten, and have extremely specific characteristics all highly focused on one thing: to make their final processing standardized and idiot-proof. That requires both high selection of the wheat, and high processing, both of which make the job easy for bakers but has led to wheats that can nutritionally poor since nutrition never was the concern, unnecessarily high-protein, unnecessarily high-gluten, and which generally seem to cause more health issues than more traditional wheats, not specifically selected or refined for bread or bakers. Few people that are not bakers or cereal producers know this.
Commercial breads also come with high amounts of salt/sodium. About a gram of salt per 100g, and I know from personal experience it’s outstandingly easy to eat not just 100g of bread a day, but many hundred grams, which is utterly unnecessary hypertension on our blood vessels and the organs they supply.
Whole-food alternative to store-bought non whole-food breads:
I already wasted ample time looking for truly 100% whole and salt-free bread, let me save you some time. Like many quests to find healthy foods processed by industry, looking for a truly whole and salt-free bread in shops and bakeries was a quest for the Yeti, the Bigfoot, and the Unicorn combined. I would have made enough bread healthy bread for the year by actually not looking for one.
Solution? Make your own bread at home, with baker’s yeast or a sourdough culture, no salt, and if you want to flavour it maybe throw some fennel seeding in the dough. That’s what we’ve been doing.
If you are a breadoholic, invest 50~100$ into a kneading machine and visit op-shops for secondhand baking trays, rolling pins, whatever you may need.
We don’t often make bread anymore, maybe once or twice a month, about 2 kg, and it never lasts as long as we wish it did! At that pace, I actually love and very much enjoy the (minimal) kneading that is required. No machine or fancy equipment here. Home bread-making can be made very easy and very time-efficient.
There are many recipes online to make bread from 100% whole flour from any grain or seeds that’s suitable to you.
Pretty much all commercial dressings, primarily due to oil, sugar, salt and other refined ingredients.
Whole-food alternatives to dressings:
Find recipes for oil-free dressings, and remove salt, replace sugars by whole sweet foods, and high-fat foods by low-fat foods.
Create your own: Play with sweet whole foods (e.g. apples, raisins and dates), sour whole foods (like lemon or lime) and instead of fatty base like oil or cashews use a starchy base like blended and cooked pea, beans, or grains with enough water will make a nice and runny cream.
LEAVENING / RISING DOUGHS / BAKING NEEDS
Baking powder (+ extra concern with sodium content as it is sodium bicarbonate)
Baking soda (+ extra concern with sodium content as it often contains sodium bicarbonate or other sodium salts)
Various essences, either natural or artificial flavours
Whole-food alternatives to baking needs:
Aromas: spices, spice-seeds (fennel, caraway, etc), herbs, real vanilla, grated lemon, dried fruit, orange peels, bananas, etc.
This will not rise instantly, the rising processes takes longer, but good news: you don’t have to sit and stare at breads and cakes leaven! Yeasts are shy and prefer making babies when no one is starring at them and desperately waiting for them to be done 😛 Set an alarm and go on about your life while it’s rising 🙂
PICKLES, FERMENTED AND PRESERVED PLANT FOODS
These are of particular concern to health not because of the whole-foods being pickled, but because of the ridiculous amounts of salt, oil, sugar and preservatives used to keep those.
Salt-free purple cabbage sauerkraut culturing as I write
HOW TO DO WHEN EATING OUT?
It’s a very good question!
We all like to go out, have lunch and dinners with friends.
How do we do?
At this point of time, my partner and I eat about 90% of our meals from home-made food. It’s all low-fat, whole-food vegan, with no oil, no salt, no sugar.
We eat from restaurants and cafés about twice a week, that the 10%. The food we eat out is not always perfect, but we try, and it’s been worth trying so far, even if sometimes it’s a bit of a sport. Restaurants like all businesses care first and foremost about one thing, that is making profit. The health officer in that trade is you and you alone, so you get what you encourage and ask for. Restaurants follow what the people holding the money want, and these people need to express their needs.
Do we really need restaurants and take-aways to “eat out”?
Everything you didn’t make yourself from scratch using whole plant foods is eating out. If you got your act sorted out, that eating out remains the only possible source of unhealthy eating.
Before zooming on restaurants and take-ways, let’s talk about “eating out”.
First of all there are a number of reasons why people eat out. Convenience, hanging out with people, getting food inspiration, etc…A number of these needs can be met without having to go to a restaurant. Since it can be a bit of challenge getting truly healthy whole foods from restaurants, with the help of like-minded friends we have been federating a culture of healthy eating among our friends and communities. So we’re having more potlucks, more dinners and meals at each others house, etc. To some extent, so many restaurants could exist only on a base of lack of community bonds, lack of time spent in the kitchen, and lack of direct sharing in people’s life. This is easy to remedy: Share and make foods for yourself *and* your friends!
That’s our growing whole-food gang, meeting for a lovely autumn picnic. We’re heading towards doing this at least twice a month.
There is also nothing wrong with bringing your own food to work, going to the company/school canteen with your boxes, and sitting at your friends table with your own food. The spotlight won’t be on you too long if you know why you’re doing it and how to articulate it. In fact you may get them to join you…who doesn’t want to spare themselves a heart attack? diabetes? hypertension and all the plagues of animal-based eating?
Restaurants, take-aways, cafés and other food venues
When eating out we skip everything that is deep-fried, or fried, expect stir-fries, more below on this. What’s left is either vegan or not, and to keep choices large, I include non-vegan options so I can explore if it can be veganized (in passing that encourages vegan options). If something is a stir-fry, I ask to water-fry as I ask for “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar”.
“No oil” is currently the most frightening new challenge for most restaurants. Oil is still very central to restaurant/café kitchens and it often seems unconceivable for them to not use oil, either for cooking convenience, time-saving, or for taste. It’s not rare that the person taking our order would go and check with the kitchen to see if they can do that.
Good news though: most often restaurants can remove oil, sugar or salt to some relevant amount, if not entirely. There is of course the odd one out where the waiter “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar” and the food comes either stir-fried with oil, or drizzed with it, or far too salty or sweet, it happened…but quite rarely. There is also the odd one out where a restaurant would insist “The chef doesnt’ want to do a stir-fry with no oil, he/she/it needs oil”. Other times, they would honestly say they wish but they can’t because the food is batch-prepared with oil, sugar, or salt. But most of the time they can remove something, if not all.
Where my face is not familiar yet, waiters taking my food order the first time often (unwittingly) patronizingly tell me that the food will not be very good. But that’s their worried untrained palate speaking, so it’s worth insisting that they shouldn’t worry about taste and that I eat like that everyday and like it a lot. They can get surprisingly insisting that your palate will not find it tasty basically, afraid perhaps to serve a customer a very unpalatable experience that may convert into bad business. But be “kindly firm” in those cases. And when you’re done with your meal and thank them before leaving, tell them what you thought about the food (it’s usually good!). It’s usually only the first time, it gets smooth and easy when you go regularly to the same food places. Once you develop relationships with them, if they’re open to it, they eventually get interested into your motivations to order in this unusual way for them.
A friend, Caitlin, also gave me the tip of ordering a few hours in advance, ahead of peak hours. Not sure why that works, but it works for her and for other people apparently.
We have had some really lovely restaurant experiences, some waiters, chefs or restaurants owners that would have dealt with disease themselves or through a close person. They’d know about why eating the way we do is vitally important, and they were accommodating. Such a breeze when that happens!
Such an accommodating place served us this, everything is no oil, no salt, no sugar. 3 out of 4 plates here are low-fat whole foods: Kachumber (Indian salad), wholemeal bread (Indian roti), and the best chana masala (Indian chickpea curry) I’ve had in my life. Only the rice on the top left is not a whole food, but white rice. Not bad at all overall relatively. The restaurant is Rangoli, in Kapiti, NZ. Great friendly/kind service, rather cosy, amazing food, some vegan wines too.
So far, I talked oil, salt, sugar, but that doesn’t make a tofu burger whole-food, does it?
No it doesn’t. At this point of time, most breads in restaurants are white breads (less so in Indian restaurants), pasta is still always refined white pasta, rice is not yet routinely brown rice or another whole rice, etc…We make do our best with what we have at hand. More and more, I do ask though about the wholeness of the pasta, rice, breads. I would know the answer in advance most of the time, so why do I keep asking? Because customers’ questions always act as subtle requests and they are! It can start very constructive educational conversations for the staff and restaurant, as well as for us in terms of the challenges that they encounter, which we may able to help with.
A restaurant we often go to even started to put on the menu that whole-food options are available with no oil, sugar or salt. The owner, it turns out, already had a preference for oil-free food and whole foods and just needed someone to request it to feel motivated to pursue that route.
This restaurant is in Wellington NZ: Adulis African restaurant, proposing currently essentially Ethiopian/Sudanese foods. Currently in the process of going using more whole foods and pro-actively encouraging options with no oil, salt, sugar. Wonderful! This is at long last the future that many of us have been waiting for, it’s amazing! And again, restaurant owner also very cheerful and friendly person, and so is staff generally. That’s becoming more and more one of regular healthy go-tos.
Was this helpful to you?
What did you learn from this?
Do you feel I forget something important in this list?
Is there something you want to suggest adding?
Do you have short videos (< 5 min) that show clearly the products we’re used to being processed from a whole food to an extracted, refined, nutritionally damaged product?
What struggles are you facing with going WFPN (whole-food plant nutrition)?
or with quitting salt, sugar, and oil?
Iodine content of New Zealand’s Common Edible Wild Seaweeds, for (low-sodium) adequate iodine intake
This article documents the amount of edible seaweeds commonly found on NZ’s shores, that adults can rely on as their exclusive source of iodine, in replacement for iodized salt. Why would anyone drop salt? That you will get a hint in the second part “The Story” but first…the facts!
It took me so much time to compile all this info together, so today is a very exciting day, finally putting this out for everyone to enjoy 🙂 Here’s the menu, and I wish you a lot of fun in foraging, and a healthy long happy life away from the unnecessary pains of hypertension! Later (in a future post hopefully) I will tell you the story of why I gave up salt completely, and how to achieve that in just about 3 months painlessly. But this post for now is more about the “how” part of staying away from salt.
This article is a work in progress. Since I am starting to have a set of actionable data, I am sharing so you can enjoy it as well.
Things to know beforehand to use the facts intelligently
The seaweeds below are found virtually everywhere on New Zealand coasts, if one is not, another will. There is no need to go specifically to the sites listed below, those are just sites chosen by the scientists for their own reasons. In any case, do your foraging safety homework first: always have a buddy, never pull but instead cut live seaweeds so they can regrow, watch your steps to avoid sea snails on rocks, small stand-alone rocks/boulders can are not stable even if they’re big and heavy, no stream pouring nearby, no industries and boating activity nearby, no sewage discharge nearby…I can’t be thorough here on these.
Basically, this article is not a thorough coastal foraging guide. There are some specific things you may want to know for different aspects of safety, other things you may want to know to minimize your impact on the intertidal biodiversity, some sites may be tapu (considered sacred by Māori) and better left alone, etc. All I do here is document the iodine/sodium content of a few common edibles.
Also, this article focuses on iodine requirement for adults. If you need the seaweed numbers for children or adolescents contact me, I’ll be happy computing them and updating this article for you.
The quantities below only apply to cleaned and dried seaweeds, not to wet seaweeds: not drained, not seaweeds that feel dry-ish to the touch. By dried I mean something you put effort into drying: crispy-dry if thin seaweeds or corn-chips-cracky/dry if thick just to be very clear. The cleaning to reduce salt content consists in soaking in freshwater (non-salty) baths with several water changes.
Seaweeds are known to show some variation in their characteristics like nutrient content, between species even closely related ones, based on the micro-ecosystem, weather, seasons, etc…In fact this applies to all plants, but people tend to be used to the idea that all foods contain exactly what the nutritional facts state. They don’t, those are averages and estimates from ranges that sometimes are very wide! This being said, some of these seaweeds have been measured in different places of a coherent geographic area (NZ) and at different times of the year. Also, the ranges of iodine are generally always in the same narrow range, most often.
Different seaweeds have different “iodine species” (different molecules that contains iodine) and they are not digested the same. So it’s difficult to know how much iodine is absorbable exactly from seaweeds in general, let alone variations among people etc. This article assumes all iodine in the plant is absorbed, it may not be the case, but this assumption provides a additional margin of safety to stay clear from excess. As for staying of deficiency, minimum iodine requirements are likely to be met at doses between the recommended daily value and the tolerable upper limit. Both will be provided.
The unit below will be “mcg / g” means microgram per gram. I prefer this unit for iodine because daily requirements are expressed in micrograms and grams are something people can measure in their kitchen. This unit is the same as “mg / kg” (milligram per kilogram) or “ppm” (parts per million).
The little number between brackets (i.e.  or ) is to direct to the source of that information, listed below in Sources.
Seaweeds Iodine/Sodium contents and daily intake
If you found in the literature, or measured in your lab other values from these for LOCALLY HARVESTED/FARMED (in New Zealand) seaweeds named below, please comment the sources or drop me an email and I’ll get in touch with you to ask for the more info to update this article.
SEAWEEDS WITH LOW IODINE (FOR EATING)
Long sea lettuce – Ulva stenophylla – (Maori name?)
Image credits: Photo: Algaebase;
Illustration: Setchell and Gardner, 1920b
More info: http://www.marinelife.ac.nz/species/1052
Note: Ulva stenophylla is a specific species of Ulva (sea lettuces). Data provided may be different for other Ulva. To illustrate that, for instance Ulva stenophylla was found to have double the protein of Ulva lactuca , another sea lettuce. Nothing guarantees all Ulva have the same nutritional profile.
Wild samples (3): 27 ±12 mcg/g 
The adult DRI of 150 mcg/day is attained with: ~10g (washed, dried, sodium: ~20mg)
The NZ Tolerable upper Limit is attained with: ~35g (washed, dried, sodium: ~55mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)
Wild samples (3):
Onehunga Bay, Auckland April 2004
Onehunga Bay, Auckland April 2004
Onehunga Bay, Auckland August 2004
Nori – Porphyra species – Karengo (Maori)
Image credits: (left) Kim Westerskov; (right) Wendy Nelson, NIWA
DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~4g (washed, dried, sodium: ~6mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~13g (washed, dried, sodium: ~22mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)
Wild samples (3):
Nelson May-October 2004 (3)
Commercial sample (1):
Kaikoura Coast 2004
Wakame – Undaria pinnatifida – (not a native plant => no Maori name)
DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~1g (washed, dried, sodium: ~40mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~5g (washed, dried, sodium: ~200mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)
This seaweed has a very wide variation of iodine content. Only a tolerable upper limit can be given for the worst-case scenario.
That amount which should be safe in terms of avoiding excess can be in certain cases too low to meet daiy recommended value. This seaweed is safe for occasional seasoning, but not recommended to rely on safely as one’s daily only source of iodine.
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with *potentially*: ~2g (washed, dried, sodium: ~100mg)
Wild samples (3):
Piha, Auckland, NZ , April 2004 (2)
Maori Bay, Auckland, NZ, in August 2004 (1)
SEAWEEDS WITH HIGH IODINE (FOR SEASONING)
Use only as seasoning: from the same way most people sprinkle salt or pepper, to rather the way toddlers would sprinkle super hot chilli pepper in their food 🙂
DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,2g (washed, dried, sodium: ~10mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,8g (washed, dried, sodium: ~50mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)
If you do not have a microgram scale, to visualise how much that is, start from a large amount that your scale can measure (i.e. 10g) and divide the pile of seaweed just visually and with your hands, until you divide enough to reach those values. Divide 10g ÷ 2 =5g, ÷5 =>1g, ÷5 => 0.2g, *4 = 0.8g
Wild samples (3):
Piha, Auckland April 2004
Ti Point, Leigh April 2004
Beaumont, Auckland August 2004
DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,07g (washed, dried, sodium: ~3mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,5g (washed, dried, sodium: ~20mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)
* Commercial sample (1):
Tory Channel, near Nelson, NZ, 2003. (Sold as “kelp pepper”)
Wild samples (4): 3990 ±242 mcg/g 
Commercial samples (1): 3719.45 mcg/g  (within range of wild)
DRI for iodine (150 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,04g (washed, dried, sodium: ~1mg)
TUL for iodine (1100 mcg/day) is attained with: ~0,25g (washed, dried, sodium: ~8mg)
(DRI = Daily Recommended Intake, TUL = Tolerable Upper Limit, defined by NZ, as of 2010)
You need a microgram scale if you want to visualize these amounts.
Wild samples (4):
Maori Bay, Auckland April 2004
Matheson Bay, Auckland April 2004
Beaumont, Auckland August 2004
Takapuna, Auckland August 2004
Commercial sample (1):
Wairarapa Coast 2004
Methods of calculation
Detail of the method used for calculating amounts of seaweed to attain adult DRI or TUL:
For DRI, the worst-case scenario is when the wild seaweed has the lowest possible average concentration.
This is because you want to have at least the DRI, so even the lowest concentration (in theory*) meets the needs.
Worst-case iodine concentration = Average of wild <minus> standard error (the number after ±)
For TUL, the worst-case scenario is when the wild seaweed has the highest possible average concentration.
This is because you want to not exceed the upper limit, so even the highest concentration (in theory*) meets the needs.
Worst-case iodine concentration = Average of wild <plus> standard error (the number after ±)
Then divide UL or DRI by worst-case concentration => How much covers the needs.
The sodium estimations are obtained in the following way: Average sodium concentration for that species <multiplied by> amount to meet DRI or TUL. The sodium quantities have their own standard error (small variations) but since the sodium amounts are extremely very low, high precision is irrelevant.
* There is no guarantee that seaweeds you may forage will match these number. They are quite likely too, but also may no. That means you can get “worse” with what you forage than my worst case-scenarios. Realistically, since people eat seaweed without caring at all to begin with, the guidelines and maximum edible amounts are very useful and far less risky than eating with no guideline.
Part 2/2 – THE STORY
Seaweeds are like Rome, all roads lead to them. I love to forage, to try new things in the kitchen, to try plant foods I never had, and to make sure people have the nutrients and health they need. These are some of many avenues where my insatiable curiosity roams to play, and each of them separately took me to seaweeds, like by enchantment. Can you imagine how fulfilling it can be walking by the beach and just snapping photos of seaweeds and intertidal species, going to the library to find books with pictures, learning to recognize, and then be foraging, preparing, something delicious and which takes an important place in nutrition? As fulfilling as falling in love for the first time. That is what life is all about, and I have yet a new lover. This time it is seaweeds!
Since transitioning to whole-food eating for evident health reasons, my partner and I no longer consume salt at home, like, interestingly, millions of other land-bound animal species that do very well without a salt shaker. Yes folks, sodium is of vital importance. What you may not know is that all the vital sodium you need, and far more than you need, is in all sorts of plant foods you eat, but we’ll keep the detailed story for another day, subscribe the RSS if you want to keep posted on new posts. Anyhow, since something as harmful as salt had been chosen as a vehicle for iodine fortification: if you skip the salt, you also skip the iodine, at least in iodine depleted soils like in New Zealand.
So we had three or really two choices:
Replace the salt shaker by some sort of iodine supplement (in cooking, or as a tablet) but we had lost the salt shaker reflex and it is weird taking a pill each breakfast. You see, a cherry-flavoured vitamin B12 that melts in the mouth, once a week, is not a problem, but an iodine drug-like pill everyday, in a pill box and had with a glass of water, not for us…too medication-like.
Rely on eating sea-animals (fishes, mollusks, etc…) but there’s a major problem with that.
Recently, we fixed an urgently needed upgrade in our frankly standard and deficient knowledge on animal exploitation and the pressing issues related. Watch these documentaries Earthlings, Seaspiracy, Cowspiracy, to get a better idea what made us a bit less less ignorant on rather very important things. Anyway we decided it made complete sense to stay clear of intentionally killing/exploiting animals and better to instead just leave them alone along with the ecosystems they live in => Everything but sea animals, not even an option.
Simpler, tastier, and far more fun: Learn to forage seaweeds! Go have a fun walk on the beach regularly, forage seaweeds and eat the right amount regularly. Use the right ones as a food and the right ones as a pepper (to sprinkle in small amounts).
Option #3 is very appealing now 🙂
Before that, my first approach was “iodine supplementation only” as can be appreciated in this article. I was quite wary of variations in iodine content of seaweeds, some of which are enormous, and I did not want to take the risk. Having learned a bit more about seaweeds since that article, and a bit more about iodine acceptable intakes, I feel safe dropping the iodine supplement and relying more on locally foraged seaweeds. A decision like this is not done lightly and required good hands-on and knowledge on a few things:
knowing iodine concentrations in local seaweeds locally documented (so basically not something you read about “kombu” or “kelp” in general as a product, but science journals publishing iodine levels in clearly named and specific seaweed species harvested locally). That’s the only thing this article will help with.
a good ability to recognize exactly those species when foraging (not too hard but must be learned and practiced)
foraging safety (i.e. foraging fresh seaweeds instead of decaying ones, away from sources of pollution such as manufactures, landfills, sewage …)
When popular media relayed WHO’s statements on the carcinogenic nature of processed and cured meat, were you surprised? I was not. I knew the science, and the politics, I just wish everybody knew as well. This is what motivated me to write this article. About the facts:
The facts come in a bit late, don’t they? And how selective was that still! There is far more to animal products consumption and disease than the reductionist link between processed/red meats on just cancer. So from the science standpoint, that WHO announcement really did not teach me anything new, it also came to the public, far too late.
The question is: Why? Why isn’t the full extent of best practice widely broadcast loudly to the public as soon as the evidence is strong enough?
Well, the second aspect in which the WHO statement failed to surprise me is politics. About the politics:
History has a bad habit of repeating itself. There is a major political dimension to such statements. It is not the first time that a major industry faces the economical threat of the truth coming into the public’s hands. This has been well-documented and the patterns are crystal-clear to me. But I want you to see it as well because it helps make wiser and life-saving choices. Today I want to save you thousands of pages of reading and get that clear in this relatively short and well-documented article. That’s the good news of history repeating itself, those who know the patterns can predict things far ahead of time, I’d love everyone to know! So let’s go back in a history similar to that of meat: the history of the cigarette. Let’s see how it helps predict the truth about our past relationship to meat, and more interestingly the future of meat. Let’s travel in the inevitable future and hopefully make it happen faster.
To do so, I will simply share my notes on the chapter “Saving the Cigarette” by Devra Davis in “The Secret History of the War on Cancer“. I highly recommend this book if you want a well-documented account of industry vs. health battles in recent history she has been at the forefront all her life. She focused on stories looking as far as the Nazi times up to now. I will elaborate on the Nazi German bit. We will also see if the pattern of public manipulation and fraud that happened with tobacco can apply to the meat, dairy, and egg industry. It may have already started…So we will pause one example of a communication from the meat industry, and analyze communication strategies in details. Because I love to have a solution to offer when I point to a problem, I’ll leave you with further practical advice of things you can do right now to avoid being taken advantage of any further. Happy ending…
But first, the rather epic story of the cigarette.
TOBACCO – A HISTORY OF CORPORATE DECEIT AND PUBLIC DENIAL
Chapter 7 : Saving Cigarettes
From the 1960s, US NCI’s smoker head Kenneth Endicott, and anti-tobacco Ernst Wynder got together to try and devise a safe cigarette. Wynder who had linked tobacco to cancer, also knew, perhaps from Graham’s death, that smokers wouldn’t give up smoking even with the best facts. Since it was going to be harder to get more smokers, the strategy now consisted in keeping the smokers addicted for longer. Filters were introduced but that was not enough. In 1967, $30 million of taxpayers money was spent by NCI to create a safer cigarette, about the same amount in the U.K.
Some cigarettes with filter actually had more nicotine and tar than unfiltered cigarettes, and the cigarettes that were retaining tar was also retaining taste and did not sell. In the efficient filters, it was crocidolite that was used, a filter for radioactive particles, made from a blue kind of asbestos. Less cancer-causing tar, more cancer-causing asbestos.
Because filters removed taste, the idea became to have a filter but one that would allow taste-causing tar to flow through. Then cigarette manufacturers found that by mixing some of the tobacco scraps with tobacco, the tar readings were lower but the smoke was still good.
NCI gathered bright scientists and funded their mission to develop a safer cigarette, even if privately the scientists knew “safe cigarette” is an oxymoron. 1969: Gio Gori became head of the Less Hazardous Cigarette Working Group, who unlike Wynder, had little knowledge and was easily disliked. He particularly lost credibility when he stated that filter cigarettes are safer, when in fact in was thought they’re worse because people smoke deeper and more cigarettes with filtered cigarettes. From 1954 to 1976, so before and after filters, the average smoker went from 22 to 30 cigarettes a day. But to attract public funding for research on a safe cigarette, Gori went against all his more scientifically-versed colleagues to build strong ties elsewhere, and promised that a safe cigarette was around the corner. He successfully had a set of research published, which ultimately made it to the prestigious journal Science. The tobacco sales doubled within two weeks for the brand mentioned in the paper as safe. However Califano, a powerful aide to President Johnson, wanted in 1978 to set up extremely hard preventive and tax rules on tobacco but faced opposition and threats from tobacco defenders saying he disregarded “economic realities” of the tobacco industry. North Carolina, the main producer of tobacco, was a part of Carter’s 1979 reelection growing campaign. 1979: The AMA (American Medical Association) officially recognizes that tobacco causes cancers, 15 years after the Surgeon’s general report. Days after, Gori published articles referring by brand the least hazardous cigarettes, which soon got him fired from government.
Sheehy of British American Tobacco preferred to carry out research on acceptability that smoking is personal and small risk and of the low risk of passive smoking, rather than on accepting that cigarettes are unsafe and designing a safe one.
The debate over tobacco capitalized on the scientists ability to love arguing, while it was clear compounds gave cancers to animals. The tobacco industry’s last science-based efforts was to nail in people mind that studies on rodents don’t apply to humans, although only 300 genes differ.
Sir Bradford Hill despair of the manipulation of public health studies in the debate over the hazards of smoking, and laid down principles to decide whether an exposure gives a specific health condition. By looking at statistics, statistician look for measurable differences between groups and then try to estimate if these differences are statistically relevant or not. To do so, we calculate the odds that the measured difference is accidental, it is the p-value, P can range form 0 to 1. If p=100%, the measured difference means nothing, if p=0,05 (the arguable maximum accepted limit in modern science), there is a 5% chance the results would be random.
For rare events or small numbers, the p-value is not used but confidence intervals instead. A confidence interval of 95% means there is a 5% chance the result would fall out of that range.
Epidemiologists also look at the dose-dependent effect of exposures, even if some people are armed with better resistance than others.
Hill urged to statisticians : “Too often I suspect we waste a great deal of time, we grasp the shadow and lose the substance, we weaken our capacity to interpret data and to take reasonable decisions. (…) All scientific work is incomplete (…) that does not confer us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or to postpone the action it appears to demand at a given time”.
Hill also know that the problem is not only a statistical one, it is a political one. The Carter administration was filled with the influence of the tobacco industry. Most people were smokers, and the people in key pro-health positions were ordered to not carry out work that somewhat poses a threat to the tobacco industry. PR specialist Bernays had devised a very clever plan for his very rich client and knew how to manipulate public opinion, and use the biases of smoker scientists or people in government to act on the side of the plans for the tobacco industry.
That idea that health is the consequence of lifestyle was not a popular one in the U.S., where people believed bad health was a result of poor morals or bad luck.
But that changed as medical practices changed and statistical work could tell what was worked and what didn’t. That work gave a hard time to the tobacco industry, which would accept the evidence one bit at a time, and delay its acceptance as long as possible.
Judge Gladys Kessler has clear opinions about the ability of democratic societies to rely on expert advice as she found tobacco firms guilty of using zeal and deception for financial success without regard for the consequences on the public. What information is permitted to get to the marketplace, who decides when to release findings about public health hazards are not determined by scientific inquiry but by the social and economic realities that constrain them.
So there you go, I hope it helped open some eyes on reality of manipulation and deceit through PR campaigns from interested corporations, and their political networks of influence.
Remember here, this is the time line of research from Chapter 3 of the same book) :.
1939: Dr. Franz Müller provided the first irrefutable proof that smoking causes lung cancer. He investigated lung cancers from autopsies to collect information on lifestyle habits and published in 1939 a dissertation in the Journal of The American Medical Association. Shoniger and Schairer confirmed these results, along with effects of asbestos, chromates and dust. British celebrity epidemiologist Richard Doll in comparison published rather late (1950) and without being conclusive on the dangers of Tobacco.
1940: Angel H. Roffo, from Argentina, publishes research showing that lung cancer is caused by tobacco tars, not nicotine.
German research had begun with Kaiser Wilhelm much before, and from 1942 to 1944, 7 dissertations on tobacco were published by the Scientific Institute for Research into Hazards of Tobacco
IT WAS CLEAR BEFORE WW2
1957~59: Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney declared smoking was causing cancer in 1957 and 1959, his last publication was withheld by the AMA officially because there was not enough evidence to decide. It was about avoiding to cause trouble to member of Congress whose votes were much needed on various issues, like the threat of a national health insurance which the AMA feared.
1979: The AMA (American Medical Association) officially recognizes that tobacco causes cancers, 15 years after the Surgeon General’s report.
Let’s see this in pictures.
40 YEARS AN OSTRITCH – MANY MORE YEARS OF DAMAGE
Notice how the sales doubled during the austrich-policy time
40 years of silence: 80 years of good sales aggravated damage. It took 40 years for official recognition, and about 40 more to get back to where we started, the levels of 1940.
How did that translate into lung cancer death?
Epidemiologically, few things in cancer correlate as predictably as smoking and lung cancer.
So…how many people died unnecessarily and prematurely, only out deceit and denial?
Quick and dirty estimation: We will focus on the US only since this is US data.
We will assume symmetrical bell curves, and even simplify them as triangle shapes.
The average population will be 200 Million all across, which is grossly inaccurate but sufficient to guesstimate. Women’s death rate will be about 1/3 of the male’s rate when relevant
1) In a perfect world where best evidence goes immediately into practice and tobacco sales go down in 1940 (who cared then?):
20 years of delay between cigarette sales pattern and death curves
Best evidence available in 1940 => hypothetical peak of death of lung cancer in 1960 at 45 per 10^5
Death curve: Beginning to hypothetical end of curve death reached in 1960+30 = 1990.
Total 60 years to peak then down. Max at 45 per 10^5. 200 M people gives 60 • 45/100,000 • 200,000,000 = 5.4 million males => roughly 6 million people (women barely smoked then)
2) In the real world, where it takes gigantic efforts for best evidence to make it out:
Same calculation, but with 1930-2050 as a base, and a lung cancer death rate peak at 90 per 10^5 gives 120 • 90/100,000 • 200,000,000 = 21.6 million men => 28 million people
In the US alone, due to the delay in application of best evidence regarding smoking, a total of ~22 million people have been killed by smoking, through lung cancer alone, all of them preventable (among other way to be sick or die of smoking).
TOBACCO – NAZI GERMANY KNEW BETTER, WHY DID NO ONE LEARN FROM IT?
If you read further through Devra Davis’s book A Secret History of the War on Cancer, you will find that a lot of unorthodox things happened after the Germans lost, among a few:
Science, knowledge and technology was stolen form the Germans, in fields that have little to do with war or safety, but a lot to do with money and financial gains
Some German scientists were bought and cleared from their charges by U.S. firms
Science done by Germans under Nazi times was recycled, re-appropriated and not fairly cited.
Knowledge about the toxicity of certain chemicals and foods had been thoroughly documented in Germany at that time and is part of the knowledge that was stolen but intentionally secretly kept by corporations among the Allies.
Germans under the Nazi times (perhaps for the wrong reasons) were increasingly adopting very healthy lifestyles. They advocated a vegetarian lifestyle and a particular hatred for smoking was developed for many reasons, far before the effect on cancer was scientifically proven beyond doubt.
Inevitably, you are left to wonder: If so many things have been gladly stolen from the Germans, why were some valuable things like toxicology knowledge and a culture of optimal health not taken as well?
As the book The Nazi War on Cancer puts it:
1939: Germany sets up a Bureau Against the Dangers of Alcohol and Tobacco. Workers missing too many days of work due to smoking related illness are forced to rehab, and fertile women are advised to have vegetarian diets and are banned from buying cigarettes.
Extreme, forceful techniques, no doubt. But the point is serious health advocacy was in place in 1939. Why did the Allies wait for so long to start taking effective action at all on Health Advocacy on the leading causes of illness and death?
IS THE SAME HAPPENING WITH MEAT TODAY AS HAPPENED WITH TOBACCO?
The pattern of delaying the application of best practice has happened over and over again. It is predominantly a matter of politics, and financial interests, more rarely matters of public acceptance. To cite a few the history of iodine deficiency, proactive cancer prevention (though fasting, supplementation and chemo-prevention) cancer treatment, toxicity of glyphosate, of leaded gasoline, toxicity and uselessness of statins etc…the list is virtually endless. That’s just in medicine, I am not even touching the history of science!
So, it is hard to predict the future in detail, but based on court cases it is rather safe to speculate that the following scenario is very likely:
“There is not enough evidence”: Eternally asking for more proof, or claiming that there is not enough evidence. This creates a delay and buys time.
Creating doubt: Bribed bad science financed to defend that meat is not that unsafe, usually coming from trusted sources of information.
Reassuring people: Attempts to make “safe meat”, looking for good ways to do the wrong thing.
Rallying the biased and influential: A persistence to portray meat as healthy and nutritious, using the bias of doctors and researchers that are very dependent on meat personally. It’s common in science-washing. As for influence, remember the Camel ads? More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette.
Diverting focus: Financing studies that focus on other dangers things than meat, other contributors to cancer and disease. Cigarette manufacturers have financed studies on the the risks of chemical pollutants to divert attention.
Limiting focus: Only cured and processed meats, not all meats. The same was done in France where only the Roundup brand (from Monsanto) of glyphosate was banned only from gardeners shops, instead of all glyphosate from where it’s most used: in the fields by crop producers.
More of these tactics are well documented by Devra Davis. As an epidemiologist, she is well used to the old same textbook tactics being used over and over again.
I will focus on the attempts to make meat safer, which is not without reminding us the attempts to make a safe cigarette. Why would the meat industry try so desperately? Let’s see things from their perspective:
“If these recommendations [to reduce meat intake] were adhered to, cancer incidence may be reduced, BUT FARMERS AND MEAT INDUSTRY WOULD SUFFER IMPORTANT ECONOMICAL PROBLEMS.”
“These additives, and others still under study, could provide an ACCEPTABLE way to prevent colorectal cancer.”
It’s about keeping business going, health outcomes are secondary to that.
I am quoting below bits of the abstract, and will break it down so that you can see the tactics employed. I put in italics the bits you should pay attention to.
1) “The effect of meat consumption on cancer risk is a controversial issue. However, recent meta-analyses show that high consumers of cured meats and red meat are at increased risk of colorectalcancer.”
2) “This increase is significant but modest (20–30%)”
3) “Current WCRF-AICR recommendations are to eat no more than 500 g per week of red meat, and to avoid processed meat”
4) “Dietary additives can suppress the toxic effects of heme iron.”
1) LIMITING FOCUS: Here we limit our focus only on the effect of meat on cancer only of all health consequences. Of all possible concerns meat contributes to, we will only focus on the colorectal cancer specifically. Of all meats we will only focus on red and cured meat. Of all consumers this concerns only high consumers. Is this reductionist? What defines high consumers? Let’s continue.
2) DISCOUNTING GRAVITY: We also deem that a 30% increased risk of that very specific cancer is “modest”: How many people die from this modest risk increase?
Quick and very conservative back of the envelope calculation, staying within the extremely narrow focus of the study.
Let’s assume 1 billion people eat too much meat,
Lifetime risk is ~5% in the US, with ~50% survival. let’s assume it’s that same rate in all countries that eat too much meat.
If all of them have indulged, taking only a 20% increased risk because of meat, that’s 20% of 5% => 4% is what the rate should be if people were not “high consumers”.
The extra lifetime risk of only cancer, only colorectal, only because of meat is 1%. Sounds small? Hold on.
1% x 1 BILLION people = 10 MILLION people that develop colorectal cancer only because of meat. 5 million of them dying of meat-induced colorectal cancer. Is that modest?
And anyway, the real numbers of meat-induced avoidable deaths are more likely to be around not 0.5% like above but around 50% of all people in those countries, essentially of cardiovascular disease/accidents and cancer. That’s 500 million, 100-fold what the study points to.
3) DIVERTING FOCUS:It’s people’s fault. Look, we are good people, we do tell have recommendations written somewhere saying that people should eat in moderation, such as eating in a week what they eat in a day. Meat consumption in “first-world” countries is close to 300g/day all meats included, that’s 2300g of meat a week, rather easy to end up putting in that 500g of red meat and 500g of processed meat. In practice such obscure recommendations have little effect if any. What is the “WCRF-AICR” anyway?
4) THE SAFER MEAT: And don’t worry, additives are here to save the day and make more safe what we reckon has toxic effects.
DOES THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN AGAIN?
No, and that’s the good news. What would you do if you became aware that a craving or bad habit of yours was planted in your head, deliberately, assuming you are weak and have poor control of yourself? That is precisely what happened with tobacco; new adverts running while tobacco manufacturers knew the science and the harm. It was about creating new addicts and keeping the old ones. There are people that started smoking their first cigarette from 1940 to 1980, all ignoring they were being manipulated by people who knew the harm, but hoped the smokers would not find out the good research in a pile of junk. So are we manipulated now to do things that are not good for us? Are we the new tobacco fools only with meat? Will we look back in 50 years thinking it was ridiculous of much meat people used to eat while it was clearly a carcinogen? More importantly what can we do now?
Well, there is no nicotine in meat. That’s a big bonus to your advantage!
Millions of people have gradually moved on to a plant-based diet, and for having done that change myself, it’s rather easy, and certainly far easier than I thought. Here are some resources to help this transition. Watch this documentary about:
The story of people who have switched to a plant-based diet: Vegucated
Watch Dr. Greger’s regular science-based videos with updates on nutrition: NutritionFacts.com
More science: Check out T. Colin Campbell’s work. The book “Whole”, “The China Study”, and his website NutritionStudies.com
“I’m convinced, what can help me?”
Join a local vegetarian or vegan community, on Facebook , Meetup, etc. This is by very far the best piece of advice I have. It’s great for support to be connected with people that have made or are making the important change you are making. Some branches or groups have regular meet-ups and events with delicious food and nice folks, it is so in New Zealand 🙂 It’s also practical to ask practical questions such as “where to find plant-based meat?”, what are some restaurants that provide plant-based meals, are there doctors that are up to date with nutrition and that won’t poopoo you etc…
If anything here was of interest to you, save this article for future reference, and share it or some of it with others. That’s more to help others, and to help with the general situation. You can make a change, that’s what got me sat for three days putting up this article 🙂
Contact me if you have any question or concerns. I’ll do my best to help.
If you have been struggling with cavities, it’s because of the combination of in short your genetics, your mouth hygiene, and your diet. What causes cavities is not directly sugar but the cavity forming bacteria S. mutans, that feeds on the sugar, acidifies your mouth thus demineralizing the teeth (dissolving them). They also form the unaesthetic and gum-harming plaque, and create glues to stick to the teeth. When you understand how cavities are formed, you understand why mouthwash exists, and why it is extremely important in the fight against cavities. Virtually regardless of diet and genetics, adding mouth hygiene by using an effective mouthwash can bring the vast army of S. mutans to a near eradication and prevent further plaque and cavities. But which mouthwash? Well two things: I hate the taste of conventional mouthwash, I don’t fancy putting in my mouth broad antiseptics, and I’m always happier when I don’t rely on “cosmetic” products, so this white tea/green tea mouthwash really got my attention. But does it really work?
Dr. Michael Greger’s website has a wonderful video called “What’s the Best Mouthwash“. In this video, he compiled scientific evidence to compare the efficacy and safety of different mouthwash solutions, commercial or homemade. The wining solutions used green tea, and immediately it raises the usual questions: How to make it? How to use it? Are there risks (like staining teeth)? Can I use white tea instead? None these questions were addressed, making such interesting information poorly actionable. So I decided to look into the literature cited and beyond, to get some answers and hopefully convert the scientific talk into something people can easily make at home, whether health-conscious, frugal, or in places of the world with limited resources.
For those in a hurry who already decided they would go for it:
Recipe and instructions for a 0.5%green tea mouthwash : Put 5 grams of green tea (or white tea) in 1 liter of room-temperature water, let sit 1 hour and strain. Rinse with 15mL for 30 seconds and spit. Do this after brushing your teeth or before/after a meal. WARNING: Because of the natural variation in the content of active ingredients found in tea leaves, refer to section 6) to know how to test your batch and make sure it will actually work. Cost: ~5cts for a 500mL bottle = 2 week supply. You can’t beat that! Based on 250g of loose green tea at about US$5 in a Chinese shop, and assuming your tea is as potent as in the study.
1) Let’s re-cap
Different studies used green tea extract, one showing how green tea helps keep a high oral pH, lowers (cavity causing) S. mutans population and reduces oral bleeding. Another study showed how green tea dramatically reduces plaque accumulation, improves gingival index, and improves salivary pH. In the former study, oral pH remained above 6 (mildly acidic) without green tea, but plummeted below 5 without (relatively very acidic). In the latter study, mean plaque score goes from 1.45 to a ridiculously low 0.11, indicating a 94% reduction in plaque. You can read more here about plaque assessments, it’s interesting.
2) Figuring out a recipe and instructions
The first study was done one a single-shot basis (not over a long period of time) and people swished 10 ml, of a 2% green tea solution that people swished for 5 minutes . The sucrose solution (in your case: the meal) was taken 20 minutes after the end of swishing. Unfortunately, they mention nothing about how that “2% solution” is prepared.
The second study was done over 3 weeks. They used a 0.5% green tea solution. “The subjects were instructed to brush twice daily” and “15 ml of mouth was rinsed for 30 s after each brushing” . Unfortunately, how they prepared their green tea solution is confusing and imprecise.
When I looked into the recipe they used, I was disappointed to find a rather complicated way of explaining something simple, and they had used an ehow.com recipe: “Tea was extracted by combining 3 1/2 oz. (about 7 tablespoon) of green tea with 4 cups of still (not sparkling) mineral water. The tea was steeped at room temperature for 1 h and then poured in to the lidded container, straining the tea with sieve as it is poured followed by refrigeration. The loose tea is discarded. The 500 ml concentrated tea is mixed with 1000 ml of distilled water to get 0.5% solution of tea mouthwash”.
It doesn’t say of the water was boiled or not, so by default we’re going to assume it was not, and that it doesn’t matter whether is blended or not. There are chances all these factors make some difference in the extract content.
Nothing says where that “0.5%” figure came from, and everything about their recipe is misleading. Is it fluid ounces (volume) or weight ounces? Is the water boiled or not? 4 cups doesn’t give 500mL so why did they say “The 500mL concentrated tea” instead of just “500 mL of the concentrated”, did they use the official cup measurement or not? Ah…those moments when you wish the metric system was more popular than the Kardashians.
Anyway, I solved this ambiguity though another study about green tea  not mentioned in the video. That study says “As in previous studies (9), the concentration used during brewing was 2 g of tea leaves per 100 ml of hot water (2%, wt/vol)”. The percentage is in weight per volume. Problem solved.
3) Should you add amla or indian gooseberry? You can, but the study on amla  used a solvent extract of amla, not a water extract. So it’s fair to wonder what is the active ingredient? is it water extractable? if so would it work? and if it interacts with green or white tea. More research reading needed there.
4) “Green teath” and the white tea alternative Some people asked in the comments of the video if it’s possible to use white tea instead to prevent stains. White tea is the young leaf of green tea basically. First of all, do the stains happen if one swishes with cold tea or could it be the hot tea? Is it in people who drink sweetened green tea, or green tea alone? The concern for stains can only be in our heads until we get evidence that green tea swishing – not drinking – stains the teeth. There are two ways to answer the question about white tea: 1) Understand why green tea works and see if white tea has a similar same composition in that regard 2) Confirm that white tea works, for instance by doing something as simple as a pH test using paper pH testers at home, like they did in . I looked into the literature to get a feel of what is responsible for effect of green tea for oral health. That was done very fast and needs more in-depth work. This being said, it seems that it’s the catechins and especially EGCG that are at play. Does white tea have that? Yes, but it’s also a bit different : “White and green teas contain similar levels of EGCG but differ in the relative amounts of other polyphenols and caffeine” . This suggests white tea extract is likely to work as a mouthwash too, with the same recipe. If it doesn’t work as well that might be because of the difference composition, or just because of the greater general variation in the content of active ingredients between batches…
5) The problem of variations and how to hack it
You’re not using the same batch as in the study so the same expression “green tea” in practice can be a very different product each time.
We can be very obsessed about precise numbers in an effort to practice good science. All that precision becomes irrelevant when you start taking into account variations. In nature, the content of any compound in living things varies tremendously. That’s how selenium in a single Brazil nut can go from almost nothing to 20 times the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake). In my past work on growing methods for crops (where health begins) I came across a study showing a 10-fold difference in vitamins and minerals depending only on growing practices. Then the studies like that on Brazil nuts confirm that the composition of the soil have a profound impact on the composition and nutrient density of foods. Then you have freshness, storage, processing , distributors mixing batches from different locations, cooking/extraction technique. All this put together results in a very wide range of minerals, vitamins, and other compounds in any living things and food. Always take the nutritional values with a truckload of salt. In the case of tea specifically : “Total catechin content (TCC) for white teas ranged widely from 14.40 to 369.60 mg/g of dry plant material for water extracts […] TCC for green teas also ranged more than 10-fold” . In one of the studies  or  the authors state very clearly that other groups carrying out similar studies failed to find an improvement in oral health due to green tea. Content variation should be the number one suspect for inconsistencies in results from studies using extracts that are not titrated for their content of active ingredients.So how to hack this variation?
For practical reasons, a pH test of saliva is the best way to know if a green tea extract is potent enough or not. Paper tests can do the job, you want a pH test mostly sensitive for pH in the range the [4.5 to 6] and keep a pH above 6 when following the protocol of the study  that I summed up in paragraph 2 of this article. I’m sure there’s even a way to do this pH test with very low-tech means at home without even having to buy paper strip pH tests.
It’s tricky though, because this will work the first time, and if you’re consistent with green tea mouthwash, the pH test will not give you an acidic saliva reading and you’d find yourself confused. Why? There seems to be an increased benefit of green tea mouthwash overtime as described on the pH results in , very likely because of a gradual eradication of the acid-forming bacteria S. mutans overtime (a single wash cuts S. mutans population in about half in both saliva and plaque ). This means you’d have to test your new batches either by using a guinea pig (homo sapiens) that doesn’t use green tea, or by not using your mouthwash for a while, re-allowing your bad bacteria to develop and be able to score you a low pH again of you weer to have a sweet drink. For practical reasons I would go for the latter even if I don’t like the idea of allowing the bacteria population to grow again. So I don’t have to do that too often I would make large concentrated batches I can keep in the fridge. This would assure that I have a lot of a good batch saved whenever I make one.
1) This article is purely based on a literature review. It provides a prediction of what is expected to be the best method to sustainably achieve with low-tech means a green/white tea extract that is reliably potent. Experiments with the above method are needed to confirm or disprove what I described. The results are of interest to me, so do share in the comments what the results are for you or if you have a question.
2) The could be a possibility of the bacteria S. mutans adapting to the active ingredient in green or whit, rendering the mouthwash useless. Only long-term experimentation will tell.