Warnings! Not Everything You Eat Is Healthy

So what shouldn't you eat? Among many other foods Shelf Life Advice has written about (such as raw sprouts), avoid these: too much red meat and processed meat, unwashed (or inadequately washed) avocado, and pasta sauce that's high in sodium. All of these can have ill effects (excuse the pun) on your health. Let's find out why and how you should respond.




TIME: "The Rise of Healthier Proteins"


Toward the end of January, Time published a piece telling us what's wrong with our diet: "Most Americans eat too much protein and too much animal protein, especially red meat." No surprise there, right? You've probably heard before that red meat and processed meats (such as bacon and sausages) are associated with many chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.


But, of course, we need some protein to build muscle and keep our stomachs feeling full. Where should we get it from? You probably know the answer, though you may not like it. Avoid the saturated fat in in a juicy prime steak; turn your noses up on hot dogs and deli meats. There's sufficient protein to be gained from plants, and they have healthy fats and other nutrients that can add years to your life. The Morning Star photo accompanying this article is an example of veggie sausage links made with plant protein.


Here's what I learned from the Time article:


• When 37 experts from 16 countries created an ideal diet for humans, they found that Americans consumed SIX TIMES the amount of red meat recommended by the diet.


• Global greenhouse gases would decrease 25% if everyone gave up eating beef.


• Is cell-cultured meat an improvement? Yes and no. Time says it's only a trifle better than traditional meat (obtained by killing the animal) because "it has a better fatty-acid profile." However, it "reduces the environmental and ethical problems associated with conventional farming." Cell-cultured meat hasn't yet been approved by the FDA, but several companies have produced products that mimic the taste and texture of the animals the cells came from.


• Beans are the best replacement for beef in terms of impact upon the environment and human health.


• Other good plant sources of protein for both humans and their environment: soy, peas, nuts, dairy, lentils and nut butters.


Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter: "Processed Meats and Cancer: It's Not Just the Nitrates."


The World Health Organization (affectionately known as WHO) says "34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meats." What's a processed meat? It is one that has been salted, cured, smoked, fermented or undergone other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation." We're talking here about bacon, ham, hot dogs and other sausages, jerky, and other deli meats. The article admits that scientists are not sure why processed meats are associated with health problems. Perhaps it's the nitrates, salt, processing, and/or the cooking method. Whatever it is, the evidence is strong that increased consumption of processed meats raises the risk of colorectal cancer and other health problems. The article says consuming one hot dog a day can raise the risk of developing colon cancer by 18%.


What's the advice to consumers? 1) Eliminate or greatly reduce eating processed meats. 2) Try lower-salt deli slices. (Believe me, it's possible to get used to and even enjoy the lower-salt taste.) 3) Cooking meats by roasting, baking, microwaving, stewing, or braising seems to be safer than faster methods such as grilling or frying.




USA Today: FDA Warning: "Thoroughly Wash Your Avocados Before Eating Them"


Country Living: "FDA Issues Warning that Avocados Tested Positive for Listeria and Salmonella"


Before cutting into your avocado, be sure to wash it well, says the FDA. Why now? And why are we talking specifically about avocados when we should wash any fruit or vegetable we intend to consume, especially foods we plan to eat raw? Unlike apples, for example, we don't eat avocado peel. So why should it matter if the peel contains a few germs?


In December 2018, the FDA announced that federal investigators found Listeria monocytogenes on the peels of one in every five avocado. This announcement came from data that tested both domestic and imported avocado skins. In fact, 17% of the avocados tested carried potentially harmful bacteria, and .24% had listeria in their edible portions.


Suppose you're cutting the avocado to use in a salad, on a sandwich, or as the main ingredient in your much-praised guacamole dip. The knife you're using could be transferring dirt and bacteria from the peel to the delectable fruit inside.


What does Foodsafety.gov consider washing the avocado well? It involves not just running it under a strong water flow but also scrubbing the bumpy peel with a produce brush and then drying the avocado with a clean cloth or a paper towel. (Now admit it, you haven't been doing all that, have you? I sure haven't until recently.)



Consumer Reports: "Find a Tasty, Healthy Pasta Sauce"


Tasty is no problem. There are plenty of delicious pasta sauces ready-made in jars if you don't want to create your own. Healthy is a problem if you're trying not to overdo sodium. Consumer Reports has been trying to solve the problem by hunting down brands of tomato-based pasta sauces that do not exceed healthy amounts of salt. Current government recommendations are to keep your total daily sodium consumption no higher than 2,300 mg (about one teaspoon a day). For those whose doctors have ordered a low-salt diet, strive to stay around 1,600mg, though that isn't easy. Ideally, it would be nice to purchase pasta sauce that has a serving (generally, 1/2 cup of sauce) that contains no more than 200 mg of sodium. If possible, try to locate one that's about 120 mg. (Yes, there are some on store shelves, but most pasta sauces in supermarkets contain 400-500 mg of sodium.)


Here's what might be the good news. CR research has found two sauces with good ratings for taste that were also low in sodium: Silver Palate Low Sodium Marinara (115 mg per 1/2 cup) and Victoria Low Sodium Marinara (120mg), which scored Excellent for nutrition and Very Good for taste. Tao's Homemade Sensitive Marinara (290 mg of sodium per serving) rated Excellent for taste.


But there are other problems:


1) You may not like low-sodium products. What then? Believe it or not, CR suggests adding a little (note that we said A LITTLE) salt---in other words, 1/4 teaspoon into the entire jar. You might also sprinkle a little cheese (shredded or grated) on top for taste and eye appeal.


2) You may have trouble finding a low-sodium jar of tomato sauce where you shop. Tip: Trader Joe's has one, and so does Prego. Look online for more suggestions.


3) You should also check the numbers on sugar. Buy sauces that have no sugar added.

[See below for Eating Well comments on both sodium and sugar in pasta sauces.]


If the quantity of sodium and sugar aren't excessive, tomato-based pasta sauce is actually healthy, CR says. Most of these sauces are made with olive oil, which is protective against heart disease and stroke. But the sodium is a serious health risk. CR says, "...high sodium intake is the leading dietary component linked to death from cardiovascular disease (responsible for nearly 10 percent of deaths)... " Scary! CR researchers found that nearly half the sauces they tested were "salt bombs" containing at least 400 mg of sodium per serving. Would you consider eating pasta at home only (not in a restaurant) where you can control sodium portions?


Eating Well "Our Picks for the Best Healthy Pasta Sauces"


This website says that many store-bought sauces contain 500 mg or more of sodium per 1/2 cup serving, which equals about 20% of the daily recommended sodium limit. Here are some low-salt pasta sauce brands recommended on Eating Well: Amy's Light in Sodium Family Marinara, Dell'Amore Original Recipe, and Victoria Low Sodium Marina (The last one is also listed by CR).


What about watching for added sugar? Eating Well offers these suggestions: Look for added sugar by other names--for example, evaporated cane juice or honey Select pasta sauce that has no added sugar or, at least, lists the added sugar ingredient last. Tomato-based pasta sauce is naturally sweet because tomatoes contain sugar fructose. You shouldn't need added sugar to make it taste good.






Time, "The rise of healthier proteins" January 28, 2019.


Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, Processed Meats and Cancer: It's Not Just Nitrates." January 2019.


Consumer Reports, "Find a Tasty, Healthy Pasta Sauce," December 08, 2018



Eating Well, "Our Picks for the Best Healthy Pasta Sauces"



Country Living, "FDA Issues Warning That Avocados Tested Positive for Listeria and Salmonella," December 20, 2018






You must be logged in to post a comment or question.

Sign In or Register for free.