In a poorly prepared and researched segment yesterday, CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta interviewed a magazine editor from Men’s Health, David Jack, who claimed that there were 5 dangerous foods you should never eat. And it seemed as if Gupta swallowed the whole erroneous pitch, perhaps because he had changed his mind on marijuana legalization recently and was still buzzed.
Strawberries - Jack claimed you should never eat strawberries because they top the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen in pesticide residues. He neglected to mention that not a single one of that Dirty Dozen has sufficient residue to come anywhere near the minimum reference dose. Most of the residues are tens of thousands of times lower than the amount you would have to eat every single day to approach a questionable level.
Unless you buy organic strawberries. Wrong again! Who says organic crops aren’t sprayed. Of course they are. They just use approved organic pesticides, many of which are far nastier than the conventional pesticides. This was explained in a 2011 paper by Winter and Katz that we discussed last year.
White Chocolate - White chocolate doesn’t have the same antioxidants you find in dark chocolate so you should avoid it? Are you kidding? It’s candy! You don’t seriously suggest that you should be getting your nutrients from candy bars do you? And incidentally, we noted that Ben Goldacre pointed out in his book Bad Science that antioxidants are actually not beneficial if you read the actual literature. In fact they can be quite dangerous. The only real reason to avoid white chocolate is that it is about as tasty as a block of paraffin!
Sprouts - This one is actually right! Raw sprouts are very likely to be contaminated according to the FDA and the EFSA. There have been at least 30 cases of contamination in recent years, mostly by salmonella or E. coli. And around half of them have been organic sprouts, which are more likely to be contaminated, perhaps because of the use of manure in growth media. Both Kroger and Wal-Mart have ceased carrying sprouts, so you are rather less likely to run into them than was once common. Children and pregnant women should never be served sprouts.
Canned tomatoes - Well there must be something bad about cans, but Jack has no idea what it is. He refers to cans containing “some sort of resin” that can be dangerous. This is the old BPA (Bisphenol-A) argument clothed in utter confusion. This worry came about after a ridiculously extreme experiment where BPA capsules were implanted in monkeys. In humans, BPA is excreted and is barely detectable. We wrote about these studies two years ago, but if you want a more recent study, here is a recent one from Teequarden at PNL which reaches the same conclusions. Doesn’t accumulate, seldom found in the blood. Isn’t dangerous. No experiment has ever found that BPA causes any harm in humans. Fail.
Swordfish- Jack warns that swordfish are high in mercury and “not sustainably caught.” However, if you consult the Monterey Seafood Watch, you will find that it lists Hawaiian and North Atlantic Swordfish as a Best Choice, meaning that it is caught sustainably (harpoon and longline). You do need to avoid imported swordfish which is not caught sustainably. Most large fish accumulate mercury as they live longer than smaller varieties, although a paper this year from Spanish scientists concluded that while blue shark, cat shark, swordfish and tuna had elevated mercury levels, they were all below EFSA regulatory limits. In general the EPA advice is that pregnant and nursing mothers and small children should avoid Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish. For other adult women and men, the mercury levels are below the minimum reference dose of 0.1mg/ kg of body weight. This means for a 100 kg man, 10 mg of mercury would not pose a risk. And since the highest mercury levels observed were 0.5 to 1 mg per kg of fish, for men (who read Men’s Health), eating swordfish does not pose a lot of risk.
It looks like Gupta’s staff ought to prepare these interviews a little better instead of just letting any “nutritionist” bloviate on TV about “resins” and other things he barely understands. Either that or they don't know Jack!