Our food and our body


The clamor for a healthier lifestyle has transformed society into more conscious, more intelligent, and more discriminating consumers of food and food ingredients. Truth in food labeling is a law that is strictly implemented, especially in the United States. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions on this subject.

Why are some meats irradiated?

Some companies irradiate their meats to prevent food-borne illnesses. At the legally prescribed level, irradiation is effective and safe. However, some people are uncomfortable about it. In the United States, the Radura symbol (international symbol for radiation) must be on the label of foods that are irradiated, together with the wording “treated by radiation” or “treated with radiation.” Science has shown over the past several decades that the irradiated food items are safe for consumption.

Does MSG have to be listed too?

Yes, monosodium glutamate food taste enhancer (Vet-Sin) must be printed on the label of food items containing such ingredient. Some people are allergic to MSG, and some others may react to it with headache, sensation of chest tightness or and/or warm flushing sensation all over. MSG is commonly used in Chinese restaurants, where a special request from the diner to the waiters should preclude its use in the cooking of the food ordered.

How long can an unopened can of food be stored safely?

Canned low acid foods, like meats, pasta, spinach, corn, can be safely stored in a dry, cool, pantry for two years, while high acid foods (foods packed in vinegar based marinades, fruits, and tomato products), one year to 18 months. One caveat: If in doubt, throw it out!

Do yogurts contain live cultures?

Most yogurts on the market do, in varying amount, but the average is about 10 million Lactobacillus acidophilus, 10 million Bifid cultures, and over 10 million Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus cultures, per gram. There are now probiotic capsules in blister packs not requiring refrigeration which has 10 Billion L. acidophilus in each capsule, to be taken once a day.

Why are soybeans good for us?

Soybeans are the richest natural source of isoflavones, phytochemicals that are also found in tofu, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, some herbs. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, and beneficial to the body when consumed regularly by lowering the incidence of certain forms of cancer and heart diseases.

What is flash pasteurization?

This is a process used in food “sterilization” to kill food-borne pathogens, utilizing 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 seconds.

If the label says fat-free, is it really cholesterol-free?

No, when the food label says fat-free, and you see oil in the product, it only means the product has less than one-half gram of fat per serving. This is in consonance with the official FDA labeling definition of fat-free.  This is the reason we should all be familiar with the system.

What are trans fats?

Adding hydrogen to unsaturated vegetable oil results in trans fat. The hydrogen crosses the chemical bond and the liquid oil becomes solid at room temperature, like lard. This is also found in foods with hydrogenated oils and naturally seen in meat and dairy products.

What is the source of canola oil?

Originally, canola oil came from Canada, as an altered form of Rapeseed oil. Canola has less saturated fats compared to non-virgin olive oil, is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and is high in monosaturated fats that have been proven to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL, low-density lipoproteins). Virgin olive oil first, and Canola oils second, are the preferred cooking oil, followed by safflower is next. The other so-called vegetable or corn oils are not as healthy.

What are essential fatty acids?

These are fatty acids that are important for our body but which our body cannot produce, unlike fats, cholesterol, and triglycerides which our liver can synthesize. We must, therefore, get our essential fatty acids from the food we eat. The two types are linolenic acid, an omeg-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. Safflower, sunflower and corn are rich in linoleic acid, while sardines, salmon, albacore tuna, herring, and flaxseed oil have abundant linolenic (omega-3 fatty) acids.

Is oatmeal really good for us?

One of the healthiest breakfast foods is oatmeal, better and healthier than eggs and bacon/ham/sausages, etc. Together with fruits in the morning, oatmeal, like wheat and bran cereals, are health food items that lower our cholesterol, make our bowels regular and reduce the incidence of heart diseases and malignancies, like cancer of the colon.

How about the “flake” cereals?

The various “flake” cereals (cornflakes, rice flakes, choco-flavored ones) are high in sugars and much less on fiber. These are carbohydrates with high glycemic indices and not recommended. Wheat, bran cereals and oatmeal are the best. And the same thing with wheat bread being better than regular white bread, and brown rice superior to white rice.

Is sugar-free food devoid of sugar?

The name would make one think so, but, unless the label says “zero” sugar, the product could have sugar in it, in spite of the label. The official FDA rule says if the product contains less than one-half gram sugar per serving, it may be labeled “sugar-free.”

What are malitol, sorbitol, xylitol and manitol?

These are sugar alcohols (not related to alcoholic drinks), which are used as artificial sweeteners, used by many, especially diabetics. They are absorbed by the body more slowly (lower glycemic index), which is good. They also promote lesser dental carries compared to regular sugar. These are also used in sugar-free chewing gums or mouthwashes, etc. Stevia leaf extract is now the popular choice sugar substitute.

Why are non-diet drinks unhealthy?

Regular pop beverages are not healthy drinks because they are toxic to the body, besides their high sugar content. They are the worst enemies of overweight people trying to control their poundage. Children are especially advised not to drink pop beverages, not only for its effect on blood sugar and body weight but for its bad effects on their teeth. The global sales of soft drinks have come down, while the sale of sparkling water is spiraling upwards. Indeed, the best beverage is really the healthy and refreshing filtered water..

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA,  a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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