It can be quite easy to get mad at the food industry, especially the food processing industry, for contributing to the global burden of diseases. For example, the food industry created artificial trans fats which is the result of hydrogenation process of vegetable oils. Trans fat has been nailed a culprit in diseases of the heart, obesity, type II diabetes, inflammation and it has been linked to cancer. Trans fats can be found in margarine, coffee creamer, fast foods (deep fried foods), popcorn (microwave and other industrially processed), frozen pizza, breakfast cereals, peanut butter and many other processed foods. By staying away from these products, you would be reducing your intake of trans fats.
What about you? What practices are you engaging in that might be increasing your risk of getting cancer or causing poor health for yourself and your family? Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and in Nigeria and while research is still advancing, there is currently no cure.
Carcinogens are substances that are capable of causing cancer. Here are some ways that we might be introducing carcinogens and other dangerous compounds into our foods:
- Eating Deep fried foods
When foods are deep-fried, whether at home or purchased, the vegetable oil is heated at high temperatures and it produces trans fat. Also, Acrylamide, may be produced when carbohydrate foods are fried. So we are looking at fried potato chips, Puff Puff, Chinchin and other deep-fried foods as ‘suspect’. When vegetable oils are overheated they form lipid peroxides and aldehydes which are linked to cancer.
- Charring Foods
Another word in place of Charr is burn. Sometimes when you charr your food, it gives a nice flavor and taste but in the process carcinogens are produced. So, when grilling and your meat or fish is very ‘burnt’ or heavily barbequed, know that you might be introducing carcinogens into your food. What happens is that some carcinogenic pyrolysis products such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) and Heterocyclic Amines (HCA) are converted by human enzymes and permanently attaches to your DNA. PAH and HCA are mutagenic and can cause changes to your DNA. Simply removing the charred part of meat or fish can reduce the amount of PAH and HCA in your food. That delicious toast or Jollof rice (bottom of the pot) OR fried plantain that is burnt should not be eaten. A yellow to golden brown colour of food is okay but it should never be black.
- Cooking food in Plastic
Some Nigerian foods require wrapping before cooking such as Moin-moin and Okpa. Leaves have been used traditionally in the past and are still being used but nylons and plastic containers are now the to-go food wrapper and this constitutes a health problem. Plastic (nylon or container) contain plasticizers which give plastic a hard or soft form. Examples of platicizers are Bisphenol-A and Phthalate which are hormone-disrupting chemicals. The more you eat foods containing Bisphenol A and Phthalate, the more you endanger yourself. Find an alternative wrapper for your food (this is a business opportunity for someone).
- Microwaving in inappropriate containers
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While safety of the microwave oven remains a controversy amongst some people, there are sure ways that people use these ovens that it becomes dangerous to them. Microwaving in plastic containers is a big NO. Some of the chemicals in plastic containers can leach out into your food. Whether heating plastic in the microwave or using the conventional cooking gas, the results are the same. The chemicals Phthalate and Bisphenol-A are particularly dangerous in infants because they affect their development. If you are going to microwave, adhere to the instructions: do not use plastics such as empty margarine containers, takeaway containers to microwave. You can use microwaveable plastics and if you are not sure if the manufacturer is lying about the container being safe for microwave ovens, please you other appropriate containers like glass and ceramic dishes or paper plates, parchment paper, and towels. Also, if your microwave safe containers are cracked, scratched or old, throw them out.
- Consuming high dose of toxic substances in foods
It is amazing how farmers would cover themselves up to apply pesticides and herbicides to crops yet they use these chemicals on the foods that they grow and we eat. Foods like vegetables have these chemicals sprayed directly on their leaves and roots and when we purchase, there is the tendency that we might be consuming these chemicals also. What we can do is to thoroughly wash our fruits and vegetables before consumption but the best we can do is to grow our own vegetables and it is becoming very important to do this in current times when you cannot be sure that regulatory bodies are regulating the farming industry.
There are other toxins like the Aflatoxin which is produced by a fungus and found in many foods in the tropics like our groundnuts. Aflatoxin has been linked to liver cancer in both man and animals.
Also,while we import canned tomatoes we need to be careful. This is because cans are usually lined with Bisphenol A which is a hormone disrupter as mentioned above and can cause an imbalance, obesity, and even cancer.
The days when we ‘blast’ scientific evidence and say that ‘our parents and their parents ate these things and nothing happened to them’ have passed. Every day, chronic diseases, cancers are being detected in infants, young children, people of reproductive age and elderly in Nigeria.
The power lies in your hands and you can control what you eat. Take control and live better.