Monday, September 26, 2016

Bogus Warnings

They may come in the form of spam e-mails or desperate pleas on social media, but the bogus warnings are out there.  The people who send them seem to be sincere in their concern.  The people who forward them seem to be lax in their interest to do a little simple research to determine their veracity (Critical Thinking).  But there seems to be no shortage of warnings about avoiding certain foods to ensure our future good health.  Maybe everyone wants to perform a heroic act saving their friends and the population in general, but the result is really a bunch of Chicken Littles crying, “The sky is falling,” and distracting everyone from actual serious concerns.

One example comes by way of social media from a site called Healthy Holistic Living.  The article is undated, but was picked up by a number of other sites in August 2014.  The headline, “The Noodles that Cause Chronic Inflammation, Weight Gain, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease,” is a real attention grabber.

It tells of a “first-of-its-kind experiment” by a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital who “used a pill-sized camera to see what happens inside your stomach and digestive tract after you eat ramen noodles, one common type of instant noodles.”  He found that “even after two hours, they are remarkably intact” which may put a strain on your digestive system.

But wait, there’s more.  They also contain poison!  The noodles contain TBHQ, “a synthetic chemical with antioxidant properties – not a natural antioxidant.”  It’s a commonly used ingredient in processed foods of all kinds but is also used in lacquers, perfumes, varnishes and pesticides.  They go on to warn of a bunch of possible nasty outcomes from eating any non-homemade instant noodles.

This seems very bad on the surface. Has the FDA dropped the ball and the only ones who care about it are the healthy-holistic-living people?  From the rest of the article, the bias becomes clear.  To them all processed foods are bad and potentially poisonous.  This experiment from Mass General just reinforces that view.  So they took that information and combined it with a study from South Korea, where they eat a lot of ramen noodles, showing some adverse health effects.  They published their conclusion linking the noodles to high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The problem is that the South Korea study relied on self-reporting, results have not been reproduced and instant noodles haven't been isolated as a single factor in adverse health outcomes.  The study itself says findings are not necessarily applicable to subjects outside that country.

This rumor apparently was resurrected by NextShark website, published in July 2016 attributing the South Korea study to Harvard (to try to add some credibility).  An old, non-scary study was rebranded to get attention or confirm an agenda.

A similar scary rumor had to do with Trisodium phosphate (TSP) in children’s breakfast cereals.  Although it can be used in high concentrations for cleaning walls before painting, it is "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA and is also approved for use by food safety standards agencies in the European Union.  It is not a paint thinner, solvent or acetone as the author would have us believe.  It’s probably safer for the children than all the sugar found in those cereals.

I guess two good questions come from this.  Shouldn’t we do some research before panicking and reposting these continual rumors?  Are we going to trust the FDA with the mission of keeping us safe from dangerous foods, some painter who noticed similarities with his work on cereal box ingredients list, or a website with a specific agenda of disparaging all processed foods?  The FDA does make a few mistakes, but I think they are much more reliable over the long run.  It’s a matter of critical thinking and a little perspective – calm down, get a grip and investigate before spreading bogus warnings.

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