Thursday, June 10, 2010

Keep Your Nose Out of Our Buns!

Recently a billboard was put up on I-75 south of Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves. The billboard depicted a pack of hot dogs as a pack of cigarettes complete with a cancer warning label. The billboard was commissioned by the Cancer Project which is a non-profit consortium of doctors, nutritionists, and researchers who believe processed meats are carcinogens and should come with a warning label like cigarettes.

“Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps baseball fans and other consumers understand the health risk,” Cancer Project dietitian Joseph Gonzales said in a statement.

The group wants warning labels put on hot dog stands at Turner Field.

Many hot dogs contain nitrates and nitrites. These products will actually tell you on the label. Nitrates are basically non-toxic and occur naturally in nature. When ingested the nitrates are converted to nitrites which in high enough doses can be toxic, mostly in infants. If parents are feeding infants hot dogs I think there are bigger problems to deal with. Infants are generally classified as 3 months to 12 months.

In healthy adults the nitrites are eliminated. The amount one would have to ingest to actually cause a health risk is far beyond what a hot dog or two would amount to. The FDA has set limits on the amount that is allowed in foods such as smoked salmon or hot dogs. The limit by the FDA has been set at 200 PARTS PER MILLION. These chemicals don't build up in the body. They are eliminated as part of natural digestion, so it's not like a hot dog consumed at the ball park when you are 5 is going to cause you to die of cancer 70 years later!

There is no scientific study that shows a definite link between nitrites and cancer. This statement from Argonne National Laboratory is quite telling: "While these compounds are carcinogenic in test animals, evidence is inconclusive regarding their potential to cause cancer (such as stomach cancer) in humans." My question and one that I'm sure any inquisitive consumer would want to know about these studies is... How many nitrites were pumped into these test animals? Surely it wasn't a hot dog or two over a period of weeks!

Another very relevant question is, exactly who is the Cancer Project and what do they stand for? Everyone has an angle and everyone is looking for something. It turns out the Cancer Project is a vegan advocacy group as reported by the LA Times:

"Described by the Los Angeles Times (LAT) as a vegan advocacy group, Cancer Project, wants food companies like Oscar Mayer and Hebrew National, big names in the hot dog world, to put labels on their hot dogs warning that eating this product and other processed meats "increases the risk of cancer".".

Furthermore, Cancer Project states: "62 per cent of Americans eat some kind of processed pork, says Cancer Project, adding that in 2006, 1.5 billion pounds of hot dogs were consumed in the US, at an average of 32 pounds a year per person."

I don't know about you, but I certainly don't eat 32 pounds of hot dogs per year! I didn't eat that many hot dogs when I was in college -- you know the bright pink ones that you could pick up for a buck a pack at the neighborhood quick stop?

The bottom line is this: Eat everything in moderation and don't have a knee jerk reaction to anything you read -- including this I guess! The ultimate goal of a vegan advocacy group such as the Cancer Project, is to hide behind a legitimate and frightening sounding title to advance their own agenda. In this case it is to eliminate meat products from the American diet. It took four articles before I found out what the Cancer Project is all about. I remember reading an article when I was a kid that said scientists believed that saliva caused cancer. I was afraid to swallow my own spit for a year! Needless to say that was false...

If you are worried about these additives, there are certainly alternative hot dogs that are perfectly good and don't contain nitrites. Give bison dogs a shot! Maverick Ranch makes a very good product that is completely organic and lower in fat than most products on the market. The fat, by the way, is what many physicians believe actually leads to various cancers.

Enjoy the occasional hot dog and enjoy life!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Salt: Not the Crusty Villian the Government Would Have You Believe

Salt has been in the news quite a bit lately. Under attack as the super villain of the 21st Century, sodium is actually a very necessary component of the carbon based life form's diet. Muscles are powered by a mechanism known as the Sodium-Potassium Pump. For muscles to do their job, sodium (Na) and potassium (K) move back and forth through a membrane in the muscles. It is this movement that powers the muscles and allows for movement. Have you ever gotten cramps and had someone tell you to eat bananas? Bananas are a rich source of K (potassium). When your body doesn't have enough K, the pump breaks down and your muscles cramp up. The same is true for Na (sodium). I was listening to Sports Talk radio a while back and they were talking about football teams drinking pickle juice. Aside from being quite tasty in a Pickletini or straight up for that matter (my wife says I'm going to turn into a pickle), pickle juice contains a high concentration of Na. As athletes work, they lose high amounts of Na as they sweat. By drinking pickle juice (or taking salt tablets) they are loading up on Na just before engaging in strenuous activity. If not for this practice, cramps will often result because of a deficit of Na and a breakdown of the Na-K Pump. The ions can't move back and forth through the membrane so the muscle stops working.
In a 2006 letter of the Harvard Heart Letter, it states that the benefits of cutting back on Sodium (Na) for the general population are not so cut and dried.
"...there really isn't a one-size-fits-all recommendation for daily sodium intake. If you are under age 50, your blood pressure is in a healthy range, and your health is good, you probably have little reason to worry about salt intake. A lower-sodium diet is good for people who are older, who are of African American descent, or who have high blood pressure or diabetes. These folks should limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,300–2,400 mg a day. People with heart failure or kidney disease are advised to keep their sodium intake under 2,000 mg a day."

Another older report from the Journal of Experimental Physiology centered on a study on pigs. They supplemented the diets of these pigs with salt and monitored the output of Na excreted in the pigs' urine. As the supplements increased, the level of Na in the urine increased. As the the amount of supplement decreased the level of Na decreased while the level of K (potassium) remained the same.

SO! What does all of this scientific gibberish mean? It means that the body needs salt. It also means that if you are a healthy human with properly functioning kidneys, the amount of salt you consume is not of major concern. If you are in one of the key demographics that is sensitive to Na, people who are older, who are of African American descent, have high blood pressure or diabetes, or with heart failure or kidney disease, you should drastically reduce your intake of sodium. For the vast majority of the population, the human body will regulate the levels of Na to maintain safe levels through elimination by the kidneys and other means, also known as homeostasis. (def. N.:The ability or tendency of an organism or cell to maintain internal equilibrium by adjusting its physiological processes.)

So in short, listen to your body. Listen to your doctor. Ignore the bureaucrats. The government's desire to paint the entire population with a 'one size fits all' decree is simply misplaced and over reaching. Your body will tell you when you have had too much salt. Ever had a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew for dinner (Note: I haven't touched it since I was a kid. Don't want to damage my rep as a chef!)? Find yourself downing glass after glass of water which undoubtedly leads to trip after trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night? This is your body eliminating excess salt to prevent the hypertension and high blood pressure the government assumes every American is saddled with. Likewise have you ever had the urge to latch onto a salt lick and not let go until your tongue looks like a piece of Jack Link's Beef Jerky? That's your body telling you, you don't have enough sodium in your body.
Listen to your body. Listen to your doctor. Tell the bureaucrats to keep their noses out of your dining room!