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Alternative Perspective

Chemophobia & Other Food Nonsense

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

I’m about to make a confession – There are times I have no clue as to what to write this column on. This week was just one of those times. The clock was ticking, and the deadline was at hand, and still I had no inkling, shimmer or clue. Then I picked up the mail and began looking through a Food Product Journal for “Innovation, Ingredients, Science, and Compliance.” One of our long time friends told me years ago that it was important to know both sides of the story, that way your enemies never catch you unawares.
This holds true for the world of food also.

As I thumbed through the pages, I saw the word “Chemophobia”, this halted me and required a closer examination – to which head shaking and laughter ensued. “Chemicals are Chemicals, whether found in nature or made by man. But, consumer advocates are sounding the alarm concerning the perceived dangers of artificial flavors.” “Nothing is more indicative of this chemophobia in today’s foodscape than the growing preference for natural versus artificial flavors.” The article goes on to detail how unstable natural flavors are compared to synthetic, that stabilize and preserve while saving cost for the manufacture;” the author stated.  Hummmmm

So I thought I’d look at the listed synthetic food flavors in the article….
Terpenes: “The name “terpene” is derived from the word “turpentine”. A range of terpenes have been identified as high-value chemicals in food, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. , Chemical synthesis of terpenes can be problematic because of their complex structure, and plants produce very small amounts of these valuable chemicals, making it difficult, time-consuming and expensive to extract them directly from plants. Research into terpenes has found that many of them make ideal natural agricultural pesticides. Terpin hydrate – An expectorant and humectant, it is used in the treatment of acute or chronic bronchitis and related conditions. Terpenes are used by termites to attack enemy insects.”
Ok that doesn’t sound horrible – well until you get to the termites that is. So in essence we are using fake tree sap made from yeast to make food, medicines, perfumes and pesticides.

Glutamic acid: “glutamic acid are known as glutamates. In neuroscience, glutamate is an important neurotransmitter that plays the principal role in neural activation. In 1908 Japanese researcher Kikunae Ikeda of the Tokyo Imperial University identified brown crystals left behind after the evaporation of a large amount of kombu broth as glutamic acid. Professor Ikeda termed this flavor umami. He then patented a method of mass-producing a crystalline salt of glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate. ,
a. Warning: people with kidney or liver disease or those with neurological diseases, including ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease — and epilepsy, should not take glutamic acid without consulting a physician. According to a 2010 article in “Neuron Glia Biology,” people who cannot metabolize glutamic acid properly can develop problems associated with a number of neurological conditions, including epilepsy. MSG can cause symptoms ranging from headache and flushing of the skin to chest pain – the effects are potentially dangerous,– palpitations, shortness of breath and swelling of the throat, a sign of anaphylaxis – says MedlinePlus

So of the two chemical compounds listed – one may not be so bad and the other may be life threatening for some. Sounds a little like Russian Roulette to me.

While this and several other articles suggested we the consumers are a bit daft in the head, and are easily lead astray by “food advocates” The rest of the journal was dedicated to Consumer Market trends and how to score big with “Clean Labels”. Here is some of the information shared I found interesting.
a.) 53% of consumers who bought a gluten free food or beverage did not know it was GF.
b.) Since 2013, there have been over 2400 new food and drink launches sporting a “no additives or preservatives” claim.
c.) Almond milk has surpassed soy milk and accounts for 55% of the alternative beverage market.
d.) More than 70% of adults purchased foods or beverages with clean-label package claims in 2012.
e.) The gluten free market reached over 23 billion in 2014
f.) Due to the lack of clarity around the definition of “natural” consumers are targeting foods with clean and simple labels.

So it would seem, while I might be a mad-hatter for wanting clean food, the industry is delighted over the money I’m willing to spend for it. And don’t think for a moment they are not working to get an even bigger market share of local foods and produce – after all the largest funder for this journal is ConAgra.
To Your Good Health and Information

Thimmappa, R.; Geisler, K.; Louveau, T.; O’Maille, P.; Osbourn, A. (2014). “Triterpene biosynthesis in plants”. Annu Rev Plant Biol. 65: 225–57. doi:10.1146/annurev-arplant-050312-120229. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
Augustin, J.M.; Kuzina, V.; Andersen, S.B.; Bak, S. (2011). “Molecular activities, biosynthesis and evolution of triterpenoid saponins”. Phytochemistry 72: 435–57. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2011.01.015. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
Renton, Alex (2005-07-10). “If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache?”. The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-11-21.
“Kikunae Ikeda Sodium Glutamate”. Japan Patent Office. 2002-10-07. Retrieved 2008-11-21.