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By Lee Euler
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Hidden Dangers in the Kitchen
These days in our germ-conscious world people assume that heating, frying, and cooking foods will always lead to a safer, healthier diet. A closer look, however, reveals that the opposite is often true: cooking not only turns nutrient-rich foods into a "nutrition-free zone," it goes beyond that and turns some foods into deadly poisons.
If you've read my report about dietary enzymes, The Missing Ingredient for Good Health, you know I'm a firm advocate of eating lots of fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables. Cooking destroys enzymes that are as vital to good health as vitamins and minerals.
If you read the report, you'll learn the amazing benefits of increasing your consumption of raw produce. You can also up your enzyme levels by eating rare or uncooked meat and fish, but I don't recommend it because of the danger of parasites. The next best thing to enzyme-rich foods is enzyme supplements.
If you want to beat cancer, nearly all experts on alternative cancer treatments agree that you need either enzyme supplements OR a diet of raw fruits and vegetables (or juices made from them). If you seek help at the alternative cancer clinics we recommend, raw fruits and vegetables are almost always on the menu, while sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed "factory foods" and meat are generally off.
High-temperature cooking creates an overlooked poison
Now comes a new reason to avoid cooking and especially over-cooking. Scientists have learned there may be many different carcinogens that can creep into your food while you cook. And it's no surprise, if you think about it.
Picture a typical laboratory setting: When a chemist is trying to spark a chemical reaction in his beaker, he will often place the beaker over a flame. Why? Because intense heat is a catalyst for many, many chemical transformations. The scary truth is that some of the chemical transformations that take place while cooking food over a flame could give you cancer!
The Deadly Laboratory on Your Stove
For years, scientists have investigated the cancer-causing effects of a substance known as acrylamide, a chemical used in manufacturing and ore-processing. It's well-published that acrylamide causes cancer in animals. According to researchers, "Animals exposed to very high levels of acrylamide develop several tumors, including those of the mammary gland, lung, and intestinal and reproductive tract."1
In 1991, The World Health Organization (WHO) said that, "on the basis of experimental animal data, acrylamide is considered to be possibly carcinogenic for human beings."2
A few years later, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the chemical as a "probable carcinogen."3 It is also classified as a dangerous neurotoxin. Because of the widespread, detrimental effects of acrylamide exposure that resulted from an accidental spill in Sweden in 1997, worldwide and U.S. safety organizations have declared it's an occupational risk to workers who handle it.4
In 2002, scientists in Sweden investigated a number of adults who had been exposed to unusually high levels of acrylamide (levels that are "associated with a considerable cancer risk").5
At first they assumed the source was an accidental on-the-job or environmental exposure. What they found instead startled the food industry. The high level exposure to acrylamide wasn't due to their occupation, or to any known industrial source. Rather, it came from French fries and potato chips!
When they looked into it further, the scientists made an even more shocking discovery: the acrylamide was not simply a contaminant on the fried foods — it was created in the cooking process itself. The researchers concluded that the intense heat of cooking sparks a chemical reaction in some basic amino acids and sugars that leads to the creation of acrylamide — much like a chemistry experiment in a laboratory.6 "In this way," they said, "acrylamide occurs as a natural process of cooking, rather than as a food contaminant."7
I want to stress that it's high-temperature cooking, especially frying, that appears to be the problem. So don't become totally paranoid about cooked foods.
Researchers concluded that "cooking of food is a major source" of acrylamide, in amounts that are "associated with a considerable cancer risk."8 According to the WHO, "It appears to be produced naturally in some foods that have been cooked or processed at high temperature and the levels appear to increase with the duration of heating. The highest levels found so far were in starchy foods (potato and cereal products)."9
The highest sources of acrylamide come from fried or baked potato products. In one study, "Concentrations exceeding 1000 micrograms/kg were found in heated potato products such as French fries and potato crisps."10 Potato crisps had the highest levels, up to four times that of other foods! According to one source, a six ounce serving of McDonald's French fries has 600 times the EPA's recommended limit of acrylamide. The fries sold at competing food chains were only slightly lower.
Since these discoveries, the WHO continues, "acrylamide has been found in a range of cooked and heat-processed foods in other countries, including... the United States."11
Gingerbread is one example. The particularly high temperatures used in making gingerbread lead to the formation of potentially dangerous amounts of acrylamide. According to researchers, "Gingerbread may contain up to 1000 micrograms of acrylamide per kilogram." Gingerbread is thought to "contribute 16% of the total acrylamide exposure of the Dutch population."12 The more gingerbread browns while cooking, the more acrylamide accumulates.
Dark toast is another example (especially if it is made from potato bread — admittedly not a common item for most of us). The darker the toast, the more acrylamide it may contain. Acrylamide formation has also been discovered in coffee.13
However, boiling does not produce any acrylamide. It's found only in foods that have been fried or baked at high temperatures. It seems likely to me that the acrylamide found in coffee comes from roasting the beans, not brewing the grounds. Findings were not consistent as to the exact temperature or length of cooking time that will produce acrylamide.
In short, your stove may be a chemical laboratory that can poison you. It is clear that we need to get over the assumption that cooking is always beneficial — it can sometimes be dangerous. Personally, I don't eat fried foods very often, and those are in general the most dangerous because of the high temperatures involved. Grilling also poses a risk.
What Do We Do About It?
According to researchers, "Since acrylamide may have detrimental effects on public health, methods need to be identified for the consumer to reduce acrylamide formation during home preparation of food."14 I'm ready to agree with that. So how do we reduce our exposure to this potentially dangerous cancer-causing agent?
Because "acrylamide levels in home-prepared food tend to increase with cooking time and temperature,"15 it may be helpful to simply cook food at a lower temperature and for less time whenever possible. It may also be helpful to avoid commercially baked potatoes and French fries. This could help lower your potential exposure to acrylamide Research has shown that even if this doesn't decrease your risks for cancer, it can certainly lead to greater health.
Another Hidden Danger in the Kitchen
Next time you're in your kitchen, check to see if any of your pans have a non-stick surface. DuPont, the company that manufactures Teflon (a popular non-stick surface), argues that its Teflon-coated pots and pans are perfectly safe.16 The EPA, however, discovered and fined Dupont for hiding evidence that perfluoroocanoic acid (PFOA), used in the manufacture of Teflon, is likely a cancer-causing agent.17
Research suggests "that residual PFOA is released from the [Teflon] coating to the gas phase under the normal cooking temperatures."18 In the same study, "PFOA was found in the vapours produced by microwave heating of pre-packed popcorn bags." Microwave popcorn bags are often coated with a Teflon-like coating to keep the contents from sticking while cooking. These bags were discovered to be one of the most alarming sources of PFOA. According to another study, "PFOA is present in microwave popcorn bag paper at amounts as high as 300 [micrograms/kg]."19 This evidence is just another example of how cooked and processed foods can have hidden, unintended consequences.
In general, research confirms that "the consumption of contaminated food is the most important pathway causing exposure to PFOA."20 Also, PFOA isn't just a carcinogen. Studies indicate PFOA "can cause developmental and systemic toxicity in laboratory animals" and poses a significant threat to humans as well.21 Dupont came under fire when residents of communities near the company's manufacturing facilities complained that the company leaked PFOA into the water supply.
A Raw-food Diet Can Help Prevent Cancer
In 2003, the World Health Organization released a shocking prediction: cancer rates will increase up to 50% by 2020, with 15 million new cases that year alone! This is a staggering increase. It's so big I questioned the research assistant who brought it to my attention and asked him to make sure it's correct. It is.
The organization also predicted 12 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2030. This report also pointed to diet as one significant factor in this alarming trend.22
This new evidence about the potential dangers of cooking gives credence to a growing movement that claims that raw foods are potentially the best way to prevent disease and nourish our bodies. Although cooked foods are easier to digest, they are also much less nutritious, because valuable nutrients are destroyed in the cooking process.
These claims are backed by scientific studies that show that "all vitamins decreased during cooking" of common foods.23 There's no doubt in my mind we should question the age-old tradition of cooking our food as often and as thoroughly as we do.
According to the WHO, in order to prevent this dramatic rise in cancer, "many countries should encourage consumption of locally produced vegetables, fruit and agricultural products, and avoid the adoption of Western style dietary habits."24
Time to question one of mankind's oldest traditions
It can easily be argued that if cooking doesn't predate nearly every other cultural tradition, it has certainly lasted the longest. There's no written record of the first cooked meal — cooking predates the invention of writing by tens of thousands of years.
It's an established fact that cooking can turn otherwise poisonous and indigestible foods into meals that are safe and nutritious to eat. Cooking often serves as a pre-digestive aid that breaks down the nutrients for easier absorption into the body. When our ancestors discovered cooking, according to historians, "Toxic and inedible roots became edible... [and] indigestible and unchewable parts of game became prized giblets."25
In fact, many anthropologists claim that we have an evolutionary obligation to cook our food! They say that we've been cooking our food for so long that our bodies have forgotten how to digest many forms of uncooked food.
One anthropologist, Richard Wrangham, has gone so far to say that if we had not started this ancient tradition of cooking, we would be no smarter than apes. He claims that cooking allowed us access to nutrients that supported a dramatic growth in the size of our brains.26 In other words, cooking is considered by some anthropologists to be central to being human.
To all this you can add the modern discovery of disease-causing microbes, and the knowledge that cooking food at high temperatures kills them. But modern people don't need any encouragement to cook their food. We way overdo it and consume almost NO raw foods. In some cases, the over-cooking is mandated by the government. We aren't allowed to purchase raw milk or juices in the stores — they've ALL been pasteurized. It's the product of a foolish hysteria.
I'm delighted that cooking allowed prehistoric humans to expand their menus — maybe we wouldn't be here if they hadn't -- but a diet consisting only of cooked and processed foods is a health disaster.
1 Margareta Tornqvist, "Acrylamide in Food: The Discovery and its Implications," Chemistry and Safety of Acrylamide in Food, Ed. Mendell Friedman and Don Mottram (New York: Springer Science).1-20.
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