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The controversy over the pesticide Roundup and glyphosate (which is the active ingredient in Roundup) rages on. This week the Environmental Working Group (EWG) published results of independent laboratory tests (commissioned by them) that looked at glyphosate levels in common oat based foods (cereals, oatmeal, granola, and snack bars). Not surprisingly, they found glyphosate in almost all conventional cereals and at much higher levels than the little they found in some organic cereals (it was felt this was from cross-contamination or "pesticide drift" from conventional farms onto organic farms). The main questions are: Why is this pesticide found in foods? What, if anything, does this mean for our health? Are these levels safe?

The main thing to know: Glyphosate is the most heavily used herbicide (a type of pesticide) in the world. Over 250 million pounds were applied in the U.S. in 2015, with much of the application in the Midwest. Incredibly huge amounts of glyphosate are used in the midwest on farmland - greater than 88.6 pounds per square mile! Top crops it's used on are corn, soybeans, canola - especially genetically modified Roundup Ready crops. It is also used as a dessicant right before harvest ("preharvest") on many crops, such as wheat and oats (see Monsanto's guide for preharvest use). This is why harvested crops have glyphosate residues on them, and the foods we eat. Note that glyphosate (Roundup) can not be used on organic crops.

The herbicide has been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems. (Posts on glyphosate.)  There are currently hundreds of lawsuits from farmers and others claiming that Roundup gave them cancer. This past week a California jury awarded $289. millions dollars to a man who said his cancer was due to repeated glyphosate weed killer (including Roundup) exposure as part of his job. A new concern is that glyphosate has an effect on our gut bacteria - that it messes with the human gut microbiome. Also, that Roundup has more of an effect than glyphosate alone (what's in all those hiddden inert ingredients?) At this point we just don't have all the answers, but there is cause for concern.

Whether these government allowed levels of pesticide residue in our foods are "safe" is also being hotly debated. The chemical industry and EPA say it's safe, while a number of researchers are saying no. It has been pointed out by many that the chemical industry (Monsanto - the makers of Roundup) and the EPA have worked hand in hand to make sure that Roundup is considered "safe".

Also, government allowable levels of glyphosate in foods (called tolerance for pesticide residue) were raised when the pesticide industry lobbied for that (which happened when Roundup Ready crops were introduced and as preharvest use increased). The EPA for years deliberately did not look at how much glyphosate residue is in our foods - if you don't know, how can you be concerned? And research now shows that MOST people have detectable glyphosate residues in them, including most pregnant women. [See all glyphosate posts.]

Both Quaker Foods and General Mills (their product Cheerios was among those with higher levels of glyphosate residues) responded to the EWG report by saying that their products are safe because the glyphosate residue levels in their products are within the EPA’s acceptable levels. Yes, but are these levels really safe? Especially if a person eats many foods with multiple pesticide residues daily.

Bottom line: We just don't know what these small, but increasing levels of glyphosate residues in our food and our bodies means for our health. If you are concerned, and I am, then try to eat organic foods when possible, especially organic corn, soybean, canola, wheat, and oats in order to try to minimize glyphosate levels in your body. Glyphosate and Roundup is not allowed to be used on organic crops. 

Two recent studies caught my eye – both reviews of scientific research that looked at the issue of diet and whether it contributes to the development of Intestinal Bowel Disease (IBD), specifically Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These are chronic inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, and which are rapidly increasing in developed countries (over 1 million individuals in the US). The main question is: Does a person’s diet contribute to the development of IBD?

Both articles (one in the journal Nature Reviews and one in Immunology) said: YES, there is growing evidence that a person’s diet has a role in the development of IBD. Both articles stated that the current view is that some individuals may be genetically susceptible, and their diet (which feeds the microbes in the gut) then makes them more prone to the disease due to the mucosal lining becoming permeable and inflamed. Studies have shown that people with IBD have gut microbial communities that are imbalanced or out of whack (dysbiosis).

What does this mean? A person’s diet has a key role in what microbes live in the gut (human gut microbiome) – what one eats feeds the microbes in the gut, and a person’s general dietary pattern feeds some types of microbes and not others. So what one eats determines what lives in the gut microbial community. Unfortunately a fiber-deficient diet (typical Western diet) is both linked to increased mucosal inflammation (the mucus layer of the intestines) and it makes it leaky. In other words, a fiber deficient diet impairs the mucus layer of the intestines. Animal studies also support this (that the diet regulates mucosal barrier function).

People in developed countries such as the US typically eat a Western style diet. A Western diet is characterized by high amounts of red meat, processed food, high-fat foods, refined grains, sugary desserts, and low intakes of dietary fiber. However, the Western style diet has been linked to increased mucosal inflammation of the intestines, and to a higher incidence of a number of diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

What diet is best? A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans), and fish. Low in red meat, but moderate amounts of poultry. High in vitamin D, and high in omega-3 fatty acids. High in dietary potassium and zinc. Eat the foods, not supplements. One good example to follow is the Mediterranean diet. Think of it this way: high fiber diets lower inflammation in the gut, low fiber diets increase inflammation.

Both articles had similar diagrams showing that diet has an effect on the microbes in the gut (the microbiome), which results in either 1) a healthy mucosal lining of the intestines, or 2) a disturbed mucosal lining, disturbed permeability, and inflammation. The one article calls it the “mucinous layer” and the other calls it the gut “barrier” in the diagrams, but both are talking about the mucosal lining of the intestines.

The following image contrasts the effects on the intestines of the two types of diet - the intestines on the left have "homeostasis" (balance) from a healthy dietary pattern (lots of fiber, fruits& vegetables, etc) , and the one on the right has inflammation from a Western dietary pattern.  To see it more clearly, go to the original Figure 1. in the article by L. Celiberto et al: Inflammatory bowel disease and immunonutrition: novel therapeutic approaches through modulation of diet and the gut microbiome

The other review:  The role of diet in the aetiopathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease

Chronic low-grade inflammation in humans is drawing a lot of interest because it is linked to so many diseases (diabetes, cancer, etc). Key ways to lower this inflammation appear to be losing weight (if overweight), exercising, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds (thus lots of fiber). Research also shows that the type of diet a person generally eats has an effect on the composition of gut microbes (you want to feed beneficial microbes!). But which is more important for health and lowering inflammation - whole grains or fruits and vegetables or neither?

A recent study attempted to answer this question. They put 49 overweight or obese individuals, who typically ate low amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (less than 1 serving per day), into 1 of the following 3 groups for 6 weeks: 1) Whole grains (WG), 2) Fruits and vegetables (FV), and 3) a Control group (who ate refined grains). All persons were given 3 servings per day of "treatment" foods to eat at home, but the rest of their Western style diets stayed the same. The individuals did not all consume the same foods, but rather consumed their choice of foods from their group's food category.

The researchers collected blood and stool samples (both at the beginning of the study and after 6 weeks) to measure inflammation levels, and types of microbes and fatty acids in the gut. Inflammatory markers that they measured were: tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interleukin-6 (IL-6), lipopolysaccharide binding protein (LBP), and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP).

The researchers found an increase in microbial diversity in the FV group (perhaps due to the new variety of fibers in the fruits and vegetables), but otherwise there were no significant changes in gut microbiome composition among the groups. [Note: but each group had only some dietary changes, not drastic changes]

The researchers found that whole grains and fruits and vegetables lowered markers of inflammation - but each treatment (FV or WG) lowered different types of inflammation markers. And note that for the fruit/vegetable group - the 3 servings per day, was still below government recommendations of 5 servings per day for adults. And the rest of their diet was the same Western diet that they normally ate. So the whole grains or fruits and vegetables were not major dietary changes. And yet there were positive changes - lowering of inflammation.

So the final answer is that it is best for your health  (and gut microbes) to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and also whole grains. And they didn't even mention legumes, nuts, and seeds - all high fiber foods with lots of micronutrients, and known to be good for beneficial gut microbes. So yes, eat them also. What was a serving in this study? 1 serving = 1 cup fruits or vegetables, and 1 serving = 1 oz of whole or refined grains...continue reading "Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains Lower Inflammation"

It will be great if more studies support a recent study finding that eating a Mediterranean style diet is associated with fewer psoriasis symptoms. The large study, which was conducted in France, found an inverse association with the Mediterranean diet - the more closely a person ate a Mediterranean diet, the less severe their psoriasis symptoms and the lower their serum C-reactive protein levels (which measures chronic systemic inflammation). Key things to remember are that psoriasis is an inflammatory condition and the Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory, and the typical Western diet is inflammatory (low in fiber, lots of highly processed foods, few fruits and vegetables, high in sugar, and red meat) .

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, legumes (beans), fish, and light on red meat. Research finds that micronutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols that are present in the Mediterranean diet reduce chronic systemic inflammation.  The Mediterranean diet has other health benefits - for example, it's good for the heart, is good for gut microbes, and linked to lower rates of several cancers. From Medical Xpress:

Could psoriasis patients eat their way to fewer symptoms?

A study of more than 3,500 French psoriasis patients found that the healthier their diet, the less severe their symptomsSpecifically, the closer an individual adhered to the nutritious "Mediterranean" diet, the less onerous their psoriasis became. This was true regardless of whether or not the patient was obese, the French researchers noted. 

...continue reading "Could the Mediterranean Diet Help With Psoriasis Symptoms?"

The American Academy of Pediatrics (representing 67,000 pediatricians) has come out with a statement expressing serious health concerns about the Food and Drug Administration's  (FDA) lax regulation of chemicals added to food and food packaging - such as additives, BPA, colors, flavors, nitrates, nitrites, etc. They also list ways that this problem could be fixed (Congress needs to pass legislation!), and also give some steps on how people can lower their exposure to these chemicals.

A panel of experts representing the group issued both a technical report and a statement which talked about the scientific evidence (which grows yearly) against such compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) used in grease-proof paper, certain colors (dyes), and preservatives. These chemicals can enter into the body and cause harm or health problems, for example  by disrupting crucial biological processes such as the endocrine (hormone) system and immune system. A number of these chemicals are thought to mimic or suppress natural hormones - they are endocrine disruptors. Children and developing fetuses are especially vulnerable to long-term effects. They also expressed concern with nonpersistent pesticides.

Many of the chemicals currently in the food supply "have not been tested at all, while others have not been tested for endocrine disruption or their impact on brain development, and their effect on children's health is still unknown," said Trasande, the paper's lead author and an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine in New York. This is because the old required tests are too simplistic, too crude, using old out-dated technology and knowledge.

The American Academy of pediatrics points out in the statement that currently: "more than 10 000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food and food contact materials in the United States, either directly or indirectly, under the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)". Many of these were grandfathered in for use by the federal government before the 1958 amendment, and an estimated 1000 chemicals are used under a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation process..."  Whew.... so many chemicals...

Is there a problem with GRAS? Of the approximate 1,000 GRAS compounds added to food and food packaging, the large majority were designated as such by either the company that manufactures them or a paid consultant. (Do you see a problem here? The conflicts of interest are huge - the fox is guarding the chickens.)

How can you personally lower your exposure to all these chemicals? 1) Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, and avoid eating canned foods (the can lining has BPA or other just as worrisome chemicals - bisphenols), 2) Avoid processed meat, especially during pregnancy (nitrates, nitrites, etc), 3) Avoid microwaving food or liquids in plastic containers (chemicals leach out) - including infant formula and breastmilk, 4) Avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher (chemicals leach out), 5) Use alternatives to plastic such as glass and stainless steel, 6) Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless plastics are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware,” indicating that they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols, 7) Wash  hands before eating, and wash fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled. 8) Also - read the ingredients on all labels, and look for "real" ingredients ...continue reading "Pediatricians Have Health Concerns About All the Additives In Food"

A decades long study (from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) had results that many women may find reassuring - because there may be something they can do to increase their odds of preventing breast cancer. The study found that women who ate more than 5.5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day had an 11% lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate 2.5 or fewer servings daily.

While the findings support eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, they found that cruciferous (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) and yellow/orange vegetables (e.g. winter squash) appear to be especially beneficial in reducing the risk of breast cancer, especially those that are more aggressive tumors. The association between amount of fruits and vegetables eaten daily  and breast cancer appeared to be strongest 8 or more years before cancer diagnosis - meaning fruit and vegetable intake now appears to have effects many years later.

By the way, the researchers found in earlier research that a higher fiber intake (especially during adolescence and early adulthood) was also associated with a lower beast cancer risk. Now let's see if these findings hold up over time in other studies. From Science Daily:

High fruit and vegetable consumption may reduce risk of breast cancer

Women who eat a high amount of fruits and vegetables each day may have a lower risk of breast cancer, especially of aggressive tumors, than those who eat fewer fruits and vegetables, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In their findings, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, and yellow and orange vegetables, had a particularly significant association with lower breast cancer risk.  ...continue reading "Eating Lots of Fruits and Vegetables Associated With a Lower Breast Cancer Risk Years Later"

Full fat dairy products better (healthier) than low-fat or non-fat dairy products? A number of studies have recently suggested this (herehere), and now another one. A large study (from Univ. of Texas, Houston School of Public Health) actually measured different kinds of fatty acids in almost 3000 adults over 65 years of age during a 22 year period. The researchers found no link with whole fat dairy and death (from any cause), coronary heart disease, and stroke. In fact, one type of fatty acid (heptadecanoic acid) found in dairy fat was associated with lower death rate from heart disease, especially death from strokes.

Just note that US nutritional guidelines are still sticking to encouraging low-fat or non-fat dairy foods. Eh... From Science Daily:

New research could banish guilty feeling for consuming whole dairy products

Enjoying full-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and butter is unlikely to send people to an early grave, according to new research by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The study, published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no significant link between dairy fats and cause of death or, more specifically, heart disease and stroke -- two of the country's biggest killers often associated with a diet high in saturated fat. In fact, certain types of dairy fat may help guard against having a severe stroke, the researchers reported. 

...continue reading "Is Full Fat Dairy Healthier Than Low Fat or Non-fat Dairy?"

Two more studies find that drinking coffee is associated with health benefits, which is good news for coffee drinkers. The first study found an association of daily coffee drinking (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) and lower risk of premature mortality (early death) among half a million United Kingdom residents - as compared to those who don't drink coffee. Studies finding an association with daily coffee consumption and health benefits (e.g. lower risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and death from heart disease and stroke) are really adding up. The studies generally find the positive health effects to be dose dependent, usually up to about 4 cups of coffee.

The second study found that in mice, an amount of caffeine equivalent to four cups of coffee was beneficial to mitochondria, improved mitochondria-dependent processes, and protected heart cells from damage. The researchers thought that the same process occurs in humans. What are mitochondria?Mitochondria are the “powerhouses of the cell”. Mitochondria are organelles found in the cells of every complex organism. They produce about 90% of the chemical energy that cells need to survive.

From Medical Xpress: Fresh grounds for coffee: Study shows it may boost longevity

Go ahead and have that cup of coffee, maybe even several more. New research shows it may boost chances for a longer life, even for those who down at least eight cups daily. In a study of nearly half-a-million British adults, coffee drinkers had a slightly lower risk of death over 10 years than abstainers ...continue reading "More Good News About Coffee"

Long-awaited  vitamin D studies are finally appearing this year. A large international study found that higher levels of vitamin D in a person's blood is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Those with the highest vitamin D levels had a 21% lower risk (compared to the lowest group) of colorectal cancer after an average 5.5 years.

But the researchers generally do not recommend vitamin D supplements - saying that most people had adequate levels from foods and sunshine. However, they suggest that the risk for vitamin D deficiency is higher for those with very dark skin; for older adults (their skin may not be as efficient at synthesizing vitamin D); and for those who do not go outside at all - and that these groups may need supplementation (but not beyond 4000 IU per day - because higher levels have negative health effects). From Medical Xpress:

Large international study links blood vitamin D levels to colorectal cancer risk

new study authored by scientists from the American Cancer Society, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, and more than 20 other medical centers and organizations finds that higher circulating vitamin D concentrations are significantly associated with lower colorectal cancer risk. This study strengthens the evidence, previously considered inconclusive, for a protective relationship. Optimal vitamin D concentrations for colorectal cancer prevention may be higher than the current National Academy of Medicine recommendations, which are based only on bone health ...continue reading "Vitamin D and Colorectal Cancer Risk"

There has been a lot of concern with the rising incidence of type 2 diabetes in the US and other countries. Along with that is an interest in blood glucose levels after meals (postprandial blood glucose response or PBGR). Glucose is a type of sugar that slightly rises after a meal, and some types of foods rise it more than others. It is thought that big spikes in glucose levels in the blood are unhealthy for both long-term health and also if one has diabetes.  A nicely done Canadian study (people randomly assigned to groups) found that swapping out half of a portion of starchy potatoes or rice with lentils reduced levels of blood glucose levels by 20% (when replacing rice) to 35 % (replacing potatoes).

What foods are pulses? Pulses are dried seeds of legume plants, and include all lentils, dry beans, and dry peas. This includes, baked beans, all lentils (red, green, yellow, brown), chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black-eyed peas, runner beans, fava beans, kidney beans, lima beans, haricots, cannellini beans, pinto beans, etc. They provide fiber in the diet and are a great source of proteinFrom Science Daily: Lentils significantly reduce blood glucose levels

Replacing potatoes or rice with pulses can lower your blood glucose levels by more than 20 per cent, according to a first-ever University of Guelph study. Prof. Alison Duncan, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, and Dan Ramdath of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, found that swapping out half of a portion of these starchy side dishes for lentils can significantly improve your body's response to the carbohydrates. ...continue reading "Eating Lentils Has Health Benefits"