What You Don't Know About Food Can Sometimes Hurt Ya

From Food Rules by Michael Pollan

by Renée Canada

Yesterday I got that annoying, telltale reaction that tells me something’s off in my body: a rough rash and puffy sensation around my lips. I remember commenting on it but just chalking it up to my body’s reaction to decreasing my dose of prednisone again. Over the last several weeks as I’ve been weaning myself off the medication, I’ve been having infections and odd reactions in my eyes, around my nose, my mouth, as well as the rest of my body.

But then shortly after eating dinner today, I again felt the reaction crop up. I realized that yesterday’s reaction had been temporary as well, and thus likely, a food sensitivity reaction. I hadn’t eaten any of the usual suspects: pure tomatoes, white potato, citrus fruit, etc. So I put on my detective hat and tried to think if there was anything new I’d put into my diet.

Then it dawned on me. Yesterday I tried a new “cheese” that I had recently picked up on recommendation from the woman who worked at a nearby natural foods and vitamin store. This shredded cheese is dairy free, lactose free and most importantly to me, casein free. It also is soy free, and without gluten, another thing I am trying to eliminate from my diet. So what did it have?

It was a relatively short ingredient list. I could probably count them on two hands, and they seemed relatively tame. Filtered water, tapioca and arrowroot flours, pressed canola and safflower oils, coconut oil and pea protein. None of those ingredients would cause that reaction.

I wasn’t happy about the (inactive) yeast and the nebulous “vegan natural flavors” on the list. As Fooducate shares, natural flavors are created in a lab, with formulations “guarded as trade secrets.” Often, they are added to make up for the lack of natural ingredients you would expect in a meal if it were home-cooked.

Finally, my eyes hovered over an ingredient I’d never noticed before: annatto. Hmm.

Next, I thought about tonight’s dinner, deviled eggs with cheese shrimp sauce. While in the past I have shown sensitivity in the lab to eggs, they had never caused a reaction around the mouth, the main site for my food sensitivities to manifest. My body had always shown love for shrimp and whole grain brown rice. But what was in that sauce?

Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese Condensed Soup seemed to have an ingredient list a mile long. I lost count after 30. I thought of Michael Pollan’s food rules: Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients. While just five is a bit extreme considering the fact that many cooked-from-scratch meals well exceed five ingredients, there is good reasoning behind that tenet.

The more ingredients a product has, the less likely it contains ingredients that you would actually want you, your children, your mother or any other of your loved ones to knowingly ingest—that is, if you want to stay truly healthy for a substantial length of time. My gut turned over as I glanced over the few dozen ingredients in the “cheddar cheese” soup.

I had to use to my finger to run through the tiny letters until I finally found an ingredient the soup shared with my shredded cheddar cheese-like substance. Annatto.

I hopped on the trusty iPhone’s Chem Cuisine App from the Center for Science in the Public Interest to get the skinny. According to them, this is a natural food coloring that comes from the seeds of a tropical shrub. A further Google search says that tree is the achiote, which grows in tropical regions of the Americas. Annatto is used as both a spice and a dye for butter, margarine, cheese and smoked fish.

Unfortunately, Chem Cuisine states annatto can cause hives in some people. Furthermore, allergic reactions seem “more common than reactions to commonly used synthetic food dyes.” Who knew?

I guess it’s no more surprising to me than the fact that my former naturopath had a patient who was allergic to lettuce. I remember hearing that for the first time, I thought, “How can anyone be allergic to something so benign-looking as a head of lettuce?” Further proof that everybody—every body—is different. One person’s power food is another’s poison.

So moral of the day: Know your body, Know your food, Claim your health. The better you are acquainted with your body, how it normally operates and functions, the better you will be able to identify what your body wants and what it absolutely can’t tolerate. Tonight only reinforced for me the importance of knowing as much as you can about the food you put into your body.

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