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PLASTIC & FOOD PACKAGING

PLASTIC & FOOD PACKAGING

I am delighted to welcome back Lisa Patient as this week’s guest blogger. Lisa works together with my friend and colleague Emily Fawell. Both are registered nutritionists, and you can learn more about their work at Vital Health Nutrition here. In this article which was initially written for the #ion_nutrition Institute for Optimum Nutrition magazine, Lisa paints an honest picture of the desperate need for a Plastic Pollution Solution. This is something I feel incredibly strongly about: please do read and share, and then maybe take just a few minutes to consider what YOU might do to cut down on your own plastic consumption…

 

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted annually, so keeping food fresh for as long as possible is vitally important for the economy and the environment. But how safe is the plastic packaging that we use today? Lisa Patient writes for the Optimum Nutrition Magazine:

 

Plastic, in many forms, is the most widely-used material for food packaging. It was first introduced in 1949 as a product called Saran Wrap (a forerunner to products such as Clingfilm in the UK), and soon went on to replace traditional methods that used cloth, paper, or glass. Developed from the first type of plastic to be invented [polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC)], food wrap plastic could keep out air, moisture, and chemicals. It was also versatile, lightweight and cheap to transport — unlike glass, which incredibly dates back to 1,500 BC as a food packaging and meets many of the criteria for food storage.

 

HORMONES

But despite all of plastic’s positives, it has been suggested that exposure to some types could disrupt our hormones. Some research, predominantly using rats and mice, has shown that the chemical structure of certain plastics causes them to either mimic the function of a hormone with a similar molecular structure, or block the action of a hormone by latching on to the receptor site that triggers a hormone to activate. For example, a chemical called Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used in plastics, has a structure similar to the female hormone oestrogen; a comprehensive review of BPA published by the State of California links it to a number of female hormone conditions including recurrent miscarriage and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Many of us will have encountered the term ‘BPA’ on products that are marketed as BPA-free. Widely used since the 1960s, BPA is a component part of the white lining inside food cans, and 
is found in drinks cans, plastic water bottles, and bottle tops. Studies, mostly from the US, have found that circulation of BPA in women’s bloodstreams is common: one study that tested 85 samples of umbilical cord blood found that all 85 contained BPA. In another study of 268 pregnant women, 96 per cent tested positive for BPA in their urine.

Whether or not BPA causes actual harm to human health, however, is contested by the plastics industry because very few studies have been carried out on human subjects — although one 2015 study linked levels of BPA in mothers to low birth weight in babies, with female babies affected more than male babies.

But it is not just women’s hormones that are suspected to be affected by plastics. A recent study found that surfynol, a chemical used to create multi- layer food packaging, damaged sperm in laboratory tests. Analysis of the sperm showed multiple defects including their ability to swim, to make energy, and in their protection mechanisms.

 

 

CARDIOVASCULAR & WEIGHT WORRIES

Another area of concern is phthalates, which are chemicals that are used to soften plastics, and which can leach onto food during microwaving and heating. Emerging evidence suggests these may damage the walls of arteries and may directly damage heart cells. A 2014 study linked dietary phthalate exposure to higher systolic blood pressure in children and adolescents.

However, plastics containing these phthalates are commonly used to package processed foods, and so it may be that further studies need to separate the risk factors of phthalates and quality of diet.

It has also been suggested that some plastics may affect cholesterol levels. Widely used perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been shown to interfere with the genes that regulate cholesterol metabolism, affecting how much cholesterol we produce, and how effectively it is transported around the body. Resistant to heat, water and grease, PFAS are used to line non-stick cookware, greaseproof paper, fast food wrappers (particularly burgers and fries) and microwave popcorn bags.

And it may be the case that dieters in particular should beware of these plastics. More than 620 people participated in a weight-loss trial in Louisiana over two years, during which time blood samples were regularly taken to assess subjects’ blood levels of PFAS. After two years of dieting, higher PFAS concentrations in the blood were linked to weight regain and slower metabolic rates (the rate at which we extract energy from food), particularly in women. The study concluded that “the possible impact of environmental chemicals on the obesity epidemic therefore deserves attention”.

In mouse studies, BPA has also been linked to weight-gain; one study found that even a low dose of BPA caused disruption to the metabolisms of male mice, affecting body weight, food appetite, and insulin and glucose regulation.

SCALE OF THE PROBLEM

Currently, we can’t seem to escape plastics. Samples taken from water supplies around the world have shown that the vast majority of water supplies across all continents are contaminated by microscopic plastic fibres. In the UK, plastics were found in 74 per cent of samples — so avoiding plastics may be more difficult than we might like to think.

And it’s not just tap water that is affected. A broad analysis of 259 bottles of water from 11 different brands sampled from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, found that 93 per cent contained particles of microplastic, including polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

 

Demonstrating how difficult it is to avoid plastics, one fascinating study in 2012 analysed the blood levels of phthalates and BPA in a group of volunteers that had been restricted to an organic natural diet that had not been in contact with any plastic packaging. These were compared to samples from a group eating a regular plastic-wrapped diet. Much to everyone’s surprise the concentration of phthalates in the blood of the organic group actually increased over the course of the study. After much investigation, the research team attributed this to leaching of phthalates from the plastic tubes that were used to extract organic milk from the cows’ udders.

 

INNOVATIONS IN FOOD PACKAGING 

The plastics used in food packaging do not biodegrade, but instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces until they become tiny particles called microplastics.

Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the EU, has said that Brussels’ priority is to clamp down on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again”.

But nature may have a solution — in the form of microbes. A paper published in
 the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research discusses how microbes and fungi could be used to break down plastics.

For example, mangrove soil taken from the Niger delta contains a family of bacteria called the Aspergillus species, which feed on carbon from both high-density and low- density polyethylene, the latter of which accounts for about 60 per cent of all plastic waste.

The race is on to produce packaging and bottles that are wholly or partially made from plants or biomass such as corn, sugarcane, cellulose, seaweed and algae. In the meantime, some consumers are looking for more natural ways of storing food. Herbs, for example, have been used for centuries as a means of preserving foods, and recent publications describe success with cinnamon oil, rosemary extracts and green tea as preservatives, using them to line the inside of packaging.

However, any changes to our use of plastic is likely to be consumer-driven rather than led by manufacturers. This is because the success of plastic remains: it’s very low cost to produce, and change can be expensive.

 

For a referenced version of this article, please click here.

 

 

 

If you would like to learn about the alternative to plastic food wrapping that Shaw Lifestyle recommends click here

 

MOOD FOODS

MOOD FOODS

I am delighted to welcome Lisa Patient as my guest blogger for this week! Lisa works together with my friend and colleague Emily Fawell. Both are registered nutritionists, and you can learn more about their work at Vital Health Nutrition here. I know you will love reading this post about ‘Mood Food’ from the Spring 2017 edition of the #ion_nutrition Optimum Nutrition Magazine. Lisa writes about how different foods affect our mood, and investigates whether swapping comfort foods for healthier choices could make us feel much better in the long run…

 

‘I was feeling low so treated myself to a cake/glass of wine.’ If I had a pound for every time a client has said this, it would amount to a tidy sum. But why do we turn to sugar and alcohol to cheer ourselves up? And are there healthier ‘mood foods’ available? 

 

THE SUGAR HIGH 

Saliva and digestive enzymes rapidly break down sugary foods such as cakes and biscuits so that they quickly enter the blood stream as glucose. But before you’ve even swallowed your first mouthful, the taste of sugar on your tongue has already activated the release of a hormone called dopamine in your brain. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feel-good feelings, particularly those associated with reward, which is why that doughnut may indeed make you feel happy. But it’s not the doughnut itself that cheers us up, more the chemical reaction in our brain. 

The bad news, however, is that over-activating the dopamine reward mechanism with too much of any pleasurable substance can begin to desensitise it, so that we need more to get the same response, in the way that addicts require more of a drug to get the same level of high. Studies have found that switching to a ‘normal’ diet after following a high-fat or high-sugar diet can lead to sugar cravings, feelings of anxiety, and low mood.(1) This may be a biological response to the rapid release of insulin, as a result of the surge of glucose in the bloodstream, which is then followed by a crash in blood sugar levels. Taking all this into account, and the fact that it can contribute to us piling on the weight and rotting our teeth, sugar is not a good mood food after all — long-term. 

In the case of alcohol, we might use it to celebrate or cheer ourselves up, but it is described by the NHS as a ‘depressant drug’.(2) Although alcohol may relax us initially, heavy drinking affects levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, leading to anxiety and depression. Like sugar, it also wreaks havoc with blood sugar control; so an alcohol binge results in low blood sugar, which can lower mood. 

 

 

HEALTHY BOOST 

Most anti-depressants work by altering the balance of serotonin in the brain. If we want to eat foods to naturally improve our mood without the side effects of sugar and alcohol then, ideally, we would look for foods that would boost both dopamine and serotonin. 

However, we don’t get serotonin itself from food. For our bodies to produce it, we need to consume sufficient amounts of the amino acid tryptophan. Soya-containing foods such as tofu and miso are particularly high in tryptophan, as are eggs, edible seaweed, spirulina, and most seafood. But to get the maximum benefit, think about combining foods: research has shown that ingesting tryptophan with carbohydrates makes the tryptophan more available to the brain. 

 

TYROSINE

Turkey is definitely not just for Christmas. As well as being a lean form of protein, it contains both tryptophan and a high concentration of the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine increases levels of dopamine in the brain, improving mood, and has also been shown to promote deep thinking, which may be particularly beneficial for the creative among us.(3) Other foods high in tyrosine include most fruits (particularly apricots, cranberries and kiwi), soya beans, chicken, cheese and eggs. 

 

ANTIOXIDANTS

Research has linked depression with inflammation in the brain.(4) This has led to interest in the role of antioxidants in the diet, which help protect cells against damage caused by inflammation. For example, a small number of studies found that the antioxidants in a tart cherry juice provided a protection mechanism for tryptophan, ensuring that a greater quantity of tryptophan from food was available for the brain to use.(5) 

Curcumin, a powerful antioxidant in turmeric, also shows the same ’neuroprotectant‘ mechanism, and there is evidence that it also has mood-lifting properties.(6) Turmeric is used extensively in Indian cooking and is now widely available in its root form. It’s becoming increasingly popular to add fresh turmeric to smoothies, while turmeric powder can be sprinkled into soups, stews and curries — although in Indian cooking rarely more than a pinch is used because of its bitter taste. 

Saffron, a fragrant herb derived from the stamens of the flower Crocus sativus, is traditionally used in paella, biryani or cakes, and has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine as an anti- depressant. In fact studies have found that saffron extract can be as effective in raising serotonin levels as the anti-depressants imipramine and fluoxetine.(7) 

 

 

MAGNESIUM

Magnesium is nicknamed the calming nutrient, with some studies showing it to be beneficial if you feel tense and anxious. Other research has suggested that low magnesium can be linked with depression.(8) A systematic review of studies into magnesium and depression concluded that magnesium appeared to be effective in easing depression, but that further studies were needed to properly understand the mechanism. It also suggested that oral magnesium supplementation might prevent depression.(9) So to keep calm, add magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, nuts, spinach, beans and wholegrains to your daily diet. 

 

VITAMIN D

It is now widely acknowledged that vitamin D deficiency is commonplace in winter when the sun’s UV light is not strong enough to trigger the synthesis of vitamin D by the skin. Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to depression. While this could be an association, with depression being due to lack of sunny weather rather than vitamin D itself, there is some evidence to show that supplementing vitamin D does improve mood. (10) 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, trout is one of the best food sources of vitamin D, only pipped to first place by wild salmon. Trout contains a whopping 635IU [international units] of vitamin D in a 100g serving,(11) which is considerably more that the recommended daily allowance of 400IU. Vitamin D is also found in other types of oily fish, eggs and tofu, and in mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light or grown in sunshine. Other food sources include processed foods such as bread and cereals, which have been intentionally fortified with vitamin D. 

If in doubt about your vitamin D status, a blood test will help you decide whether you need to take a supplement or to eat more vitamin D-rich foods. 

 

OMEGA-3

Omega-3 fats are critical for the function of the central nervous system, and a diet that is out of balance by containing more omega-6 foods from meat and vegetable oils and less omega-3 from nuts and oily fish has been linked to depression.(12) 

Walnuts, which have the highest amount of omega-3 compared with other nuts, make a terrific snack, and walnut butter can be added to smoothies or rye toast for a delicious breakfast. Flaxseed oil and oily fish are also great sources of omega-3 fats. 

 

B VITAMINS 

The beautiful pink beans called ‘pinto’ (painted) in Spanish are second only to lentils in richness of the B vitamin folate. Folate is essential for the creation and function of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Broccoli, leafy greens and all other beans and lentils are great sources. 

Women planning pregnancy should supplement this vitamin, as deficiency can lead to problems with the development of the baby’s nervous system. 

Hand in hand with folate is vitamin B12, a B vitamin that, along with vitamin B6, is used to create serotonin. One serving of lamb, sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, or scallops provides your daily allowance of vitamin B12, but a sufficient intake of vitamin B12 can be harder to achieve for vegetarians and vegans. 

So although it might be tempting to reach for fast, comforting food, in the long-term, adding healthy, natural foods to our diet is more likely to keep us feeling good in ourselves and about ourselves. Add that to exercise, which is shown time and again to improve mood, and who needs that doughnut? 

 

  1. Singh M (2014). Mood, food, and obesity. www. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4150387/ 
  2. www.nhs.uk/Change4Life/Pages/alcohol-and- health.aspx 
  3. Colzato, L. S., de Haan, A. M., & Hommel, B. (2015). Food for creativity: tyrosine promotes deep thinking. Psychological research, 79(5), 709-714. 
  4. Setiawan, E., Wilson, A. A., Mizrahi, R., Rusjan, P. M., Miler, L., Rajkowska, G., … & Meyer, J. H. (2015). Role of translocator protein density, a marker of neuroinflammation, in the brain during major depressive episodes. JAMA psychiatry, 72(3), 268-275.
  5. Liu, A., Tipton, R., Pan, W., Finley, J., Prudente, A., Karki, N., … & Greenway, F. (2014). Tart cherry juice increases sleep time in older adults with insomnia (830.9). The FASEB Journal, 28(1 Supplement), 830-9.
  6. Tizabi, Y., Hurley, L. L., Qualls, Z., & Akinfiresoye, L. (2014). Relevance of the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin in neurodegenerative diseases and depression. Molecules, 19(12), 20864-20879.
  7. Hausenblas, H. A., Saha, D., Dubyak, P. J., & Anton, S. D. (2013). Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of integrative medicine, 11(6), 377-383.
  8. Eby, G. A., & Eby, K. L. (2006). Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Medical hypotheses, 67(2), 362-370.
  9. Derom ML, Sayón-Orea C, Martínez-Ortega JM et al (2013). Magnesium and depression: a systematic review. Nutr Neuro, 16(5), 191-206. 
  10. 10.Lansdowne, A. T., & Provost, S. C. (1998). Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter. Psychopharmacology, 135(4), 319-323.
  11. 11.ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/
  12. 12.Deacon, G., Kettle, C., Hayes, D., Dennis, C., & Tucci, J. (2015). Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, (just-accepted), 00-00.

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