Chemicals and Food Safety in the 21st Century

I was honored to be asked to contribute to this discussion on “chemicals in our food”. This is the fourth in a series of collaboration between Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience and In Defense of Processed Food. This discussion is also published via Chemicals and Food Safety in the 21st Century by Danielle Robertson Rath

I’m at a party and I see a veggie platter, bags of chips, and a plate of raw hamburger meat. I’m confused, are people supposed to make burger patties themselves and barbecue them outside? This seems like an odd thing to do at someone else’s house. Other people at the party assure me this raw meat is actually steak tartare, perfectly fine to eat as-is, but I can’t bring myself to try it. This is a challenge for the heart, the body, and the brain. In my heart, there is too much fear this meat would make my body violently ill. In my brain, I don’t have enough information to accept this food is safe for me to eat.

Danielle Robertson Rath offers the fourth in a series of collaborations with Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience. Danielle is the go-to authority on caffeine and energy drinks so what better person to help us look at the safety of chemicals in our food?

Food poisoning is an awful experience, but what’s worse is when your food is making you sick and you can’t tell. Some people worry about chemicals in food making us sick. We have a right to be worried or, at least, to be skeptical.

In 1856, William Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic organic dye. That discovery launched the practice of using dyes to color food. Nearly 100 years later, several children became ill from eating Halloween candy which was colored with FD&C Orange No.1, a dye that was, until that point, considered safe. As technology advances, we may discover some ingredients are less safe than we previously thought. We can reevaluate, just like the FDA did in 1950 –the year those children got sick from the orange dye, U.S. House Representative James Delaney began holding hearings on the safety of food additives. This prompted the US FDA to reevaluate all the listed color additives and remove the ones that caused serious adverse effects.

Science has come a long way since 1950. As technology advances, we have microscopes that are more powerful than ever. The difference is like admiring the leaves of a maple tree from the roof of a 10-story building versus being right there under that tree, holding its leaves in your hands. With this new sight, this new power, we face a dilemma. How do we know what to look for? How do we know what matters most? How do we reconcile the heart, body, and brain?

Holy Hill Wisconsin Rath Photo Shoot

Consider the ingredients in an energy drink. Red Bull is the world’s number one top-selling brand, so let’s use that. Red Bull’s full list of ingredients includes caffeine, B-vitamins, taurine, citric acid, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium carbonate, and sweeteners glucose and sucrose (or artificial sweeteners Aspartame and Acesulfame Potassium in Red Bull Sugarfree). Red Bull is undoubtedly a processed food, but its ingredients list may have less “chemical-sounding” ingredients than one would expect. Nonetheless, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has a few of these Red Bull ingredients on their Chemical Cuisine List in the “AVOID” section. And yet, the worst chemical in Red Bull is…

caffeine.

RedBull SugarFree Ingredients List

There are plenty of people on board with the “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” campaign, and you can find concerned citizens blogging about every one of the items on Panera’s “No No List”. These “clean label” initiatives certainly speak to the heart, but let’s give the brain more data to analyze the situation. Caffeine has killed people. Several people. Compared to caffeine, chemicals like acesulfame potassium look like a lazy college roommate who never stops playing video games.

While acesulfame potassium has been accused of giving cancer to lab rats, there are several people who have died or almost died because of caffeine:

  • A Nigerian man died after drinking 8 cans of an energy drink similar to Red Bull
  • A man from the UK died after eating a whole tin of caffeinated mints
  • A New Zealand woman’s death was linked to her habit of drinking 10 liters/day of Coca-Cola
  • A 19-year old man died after taking 25-30 No-Doz pills
  • A 17-year old woman nearly died after drinking 7 double espressos

Caffeine is more dangerous than most, if not all, the food additives that get a bad reputation in today’s media. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance on the planet. At least 85% of the population consumes caffeine on a daily basis, and it’s not just in drinks anymore. It’s in gum, candy, mints, bread, desserts, and other snack foods.

While some people metabolize caffeine quickly and feel none of its effects, everyone else can feel it affecting their body and mind. Caffeine’s positive effects include alertness, endurance, and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine’s negative effects include insomnia, jitters, addiction, headaches, anxiety, chest pain, acid reflux, gastrointestinal upset, and agitation. And these are just the effects we know about for sure.

There are over 100 different experimental studies on the effect of caffeine on heart rate, and still, we have no decisive answer. Most of those studies suggest caffeine has no effect, but other studies can’t agree on what the effect is. We can’t tell if caffeine makes the heart rate go up or down. It would be a win/win if we could say, “Either caffeine does nothing or it helps protect the heart,” but the research conflicts itself here.

Another aspect that makes caffeine more dangerous than other chemicals in our food is how caffeine affects different people. People with hypertension (high blood pressure) and people at risk for hypertension are advised against consuming caffeine because the blood pressure increases these people experience are stronger and longer than the increases experienced by everyone else.

Caffeine is at its worst when it’s combined with alcohol. Bartenders know the only thing worse than a drunk is a wide-awake drunk. At least when you’re drunk and passed out, you stop drinking, you stop harassing people, and you stop sharing your deepest thoughts with total strangers. When people drink caffeine and alcohol together, they are more likely to drink too much, more likely to take more risks like drive or ride with a drunk driver, and more likely to get injured.

Even without caffeine, alcohol is more dangerous for your health than scary chemicals like artificial colors or sweeteners, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), and azodicarbonamide (the “yoga mat” chemical in bread). Even at concentrations below the legal driving limit, alcohol impairs reflexes, changes brain function, and impacts behavior.

Heavy or binge drinking is associated with increased risk of liver cirrhosis, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, impaired immune function and increases the incidence of chronic inflammatory diseases like osteoporosis, sarcopenia, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Chronic alcohol abuse leads to increased susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections.

Your brain might be saying, “Of course caffeine and alcohol are dangerous, but that’s only when you have too much.” There’s the rub. Caffeine and alcohol are some of the worst chemicals in our diet. We know the risks, but we drink it anyway because we know there is an amount that is safe to consume. To paraphrase Paracelsus, the difference between a poison and a cure is the dosage. This lesson is ingrained in our brains for alcohol and caffeine. And yet, we forget this lesson when we become afraid of other food chemicals. We don’t stop and ask the same questions we would if it were alcohol or caffeine: “How much can I have and still be okay?”

If you want to consume a diet free of artificial sweeteners and colors, free of ingredients with long names you don’t recognize, that is your right. However, don’t forget to give your brain some time to weigh in – is your heart being manipulated before your brain has a chance to process the data? As technology advances, we will have more power than we can imagine. We might be able to detect arsenic in juice at microscopic levels that weren’t remotely possible 10 years ago. We might be able to discover or synthesize new ingredients that change the food industry just like William Henry Perkin’s discovery of food dyes. And just like the FDA did in 1950, we will need to reevaluate the safety of the old, the current, and the new. We would benefit from treating our discoveries like caffeine and alcohol, remembering that the quantity and context make all the difference.

Next week [on In Defense of Processed Food]: The elusive connection between health, safety, and food.

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Danielle Robertson Rath is a food scientist, consultant, speaker, and the founder of GreenEyedGuide.com. Her book “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks – How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely” is widely considered the ultimate resource for caffeine drinkers everywhere. Danielle aka “GreenEyedGuide” started studying energy drinks while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and master’s degree in food science. She has been fascinated by caffeinated beverages and their ingredients ever since.

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Energy Drinks and Figure Bodybuilding Training – Part One

My heart was pounding. I was out of breath, but I felt exhilarated. Something inside me was ready to explode with power, like an ocean wave the second before it crashes.

For me, energy drinks and bodybuilding have a lot in common. I’m not talking about the use of caffeine for a workout. To me, it’s much more than that: I’m a biochemist who studies energy drinks and trains for bodybuilding competitions.

One fine day in the gym I had just finished my warm-up when it happened. My competitive drive collided with the realization that my next bodybuilding competition was only 7 weeks away. Like a rubber band being pulled to the limit or the moment of transition after “for meeeeee” in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I knew I was about to unleash considerable power. I always have caffeine before my workouts, but this energy surge was something new. I turned my music up two notches, took a deep breath, then launched into my set.

[Internal energy = potential energy + kinetic energy = Yay for Laws of Thermodynamics!]

I was doing a long jump/sideways medicine ball throw circuit. I honestly can’t remember the last time my legs have jumped that far and that fast. At one point my legs were springing from one jump to the next so fast, I thought I’d fall on my face. But I kept pushing forward. During the sideways med ball throws I felt I could have punched a hole in the wall, so I used the metal post of the multi-station instead. This surge of energy stayed with me through my entire workout. I hit a new max for deadlifts and didn’t feel tired like I normally do after plyo-pushups.

 

Red Bull Super Power Figure Prep
Caffeine meets Figure Prep: GreenEyedGuide on Instagram

 

For me, hitting a new max in the gym and discovering a new level of strength is very similar to finding a new energy drink. In both scenarios, I feel like I’m acquiring superpowers and the confidence that comes from knowing I can do things that were previously impossible.

I remember the first few times I tried Monster for all-nighters in college: I felt calm and focused despite the fact I was memorizing metabolic biochemical pathways at 3 a.m. I also remember my left bicep would tingle sometimes – not all the time, and not consistently, just like an eye twitch (which I also got when I was stressed: correlation is not causation).

In the gym, a foundation of strength is a prerequisite to the exhilarating energy surge like the one I described above. With energy drinks, the prerequisite is trust in the brand and knowledge of the ingredients. If it’s a brand I know and trust, the science nerd in me gets excited before the caffeine enters my system. When I first laid eyes on Red Bull Purple and Lime sugar-free Editions, I was so excited I literally jumped up and down in the grocery store.

When it’s a new energy drink from a brand I don’t know, or when I don’t understand the logic behind the ingredients, that’s a different story. We’ll save that for Part Two.

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Let’s connect!

Cool Blue Revitalizer, Red Bull Purple Edition, Iconic Protein Coffee Drink, Monster Hydro Mean Green, F’Real Frappe Coffee, and West Coast Chill: June Recap of Quick Reviews – Science of Energy Drinks

Here’s a recap of the quick reviews posted this month for the “Science of Energy Drinks” series on the GreenEyedGuide Instagram and Facebook pages: Cool Blue Revitalizer, Red Bull (sugarfree) Purple Edition, Iconic Protein Coffee Drink, Monster Hydro Mean “Green” (more like yellow), F’Real Frappe Coffee, and West Coast Chill (caffeine free!) energy drink.

Cool Blue Revitalizer

  • Caffeine Content 100 mg = Fatigue Level 2

Science Behind Cool Blue Revitalizer

Science Behind Cool Blue Revitalizer: This drink makes a big deal about 3 natural ingredients but it’s UNNATURALLY blue.

✔1. “Real Sugar” – true, but it ALSO has sucralose.
✔2. “Natural Flavor” – I guess BLUE drink =BLUE-berries? To me this drink tasted like CITRIC ACID OVERLOAD!!! WOAH BUDDY!
✔3. “Natural Caffeine” – From where? The label doesn’t specify but it’s 100 mg caffeine [#fatiguelevel2]
🤓PET PEEVE: 1 container= 1.3 Servings? Really…you couldn’t change your formula or can size?
🔬SODIUM BENZOATE— Did you know that benzoate salts like this one prevents growth of microorganisms like yeast and mold; it’s used for preservation of sour food (pH 4 and lower) and is often used with other preservatives especially at low pH (acidic food).
🔬SODIUM BENZOATE SAFETY NOTES — Consumers can ingest up to 5mg per kg of body weight of benzoic acid and its salts according to European Commission – Scientific Committee on Food. There are safety concerns suspected but unconfirmed for benzene formation from benzoic acid with ascorbic acid. However, this risk “cannot be reliably assessed on basis of data available” per BfR Expert Opinion. [More Info on the “Panera KNOW-No List“]

Red Bull Purple Edition (sugarfree)

  • Caffeine Content 114 mg = Fatigue Level 3

Science Behind Red Bull Purple Sugar Free

The Science Behind RED BULL PURPLE EDITION: Red Bull has less caffeine and fewer ingredients than Monster and Rockstar. No guarana, carnitine, glucuronolactone, ginseng, or ginkgo; NO PRESERVATIVES! NO SUGAR!

🤓Since Red Bull has been around a long time there are mounting scientific studies testing its effectiveness
🤓Red Bull is not only the NUMBER ONE SELLING ENERGY DRINK BRAND  on the PLANET, they also set the standard for energy drink industry SAFETY GUIDELINES. Red Bull was the FIRST ENERGY DRINK Company to list caffeine content on their cans several years ago, paving the way for other companies to follow suit.
🤓FURTHERMORE Red Bull has been open about their commitment to food safety and quality – you can read all about that HERE: ⚡ Red Bull on Caffeine Safety and Transparency
✔This MAY NOT BE FOR YOU IF you are trying to avoid artificial flavors and/or sweeteners – This drink has Sucralose and Ace-K but I am more concerned about the KNOWN effects of high sugar intake than the DEBATABLE effects of these two sweeteners.
✔Ace-K has been USED AROUND THE WORLD for 15 years and used in the US since 1988.
✔Sucralose was approved by FDA in 1998, and it’s considered safe by government/regulatory agencies worldwide.
✔As far as caffeine interactions that (maybe?) make energy drink more dangerous than coffee, I enjoy Red Bull’s simple ingredients, sugarfree options, and moderate caffeine content. 🤓💚⚡⛾⚡🔬⚡

Iconic Protein + Coffee Drink

  • Caffeine Content 180 mg = Fatigue Level 3

Science Behind Iconic Protein Caffeine drink

If caffeine is best for PREworkout and protein is best for POSTworkout, what do you do with a CAFFEINE+PROTEIN COMBO?
🤓 DRINK IT!
But seriously, here’s what you should know:

✔ This drink has 180 mg caffeine per container. That’s as much as a Monster Energy (160 mg)
✔Caffeine doses of 3-6 mg caffeine per kg bodyweight are the best for pre-workout. That’s the range used in “[X] Til Exhaustion” studies (cycling, running, rowing…)
✔ Protein doses of 20-25 grams* protein taken in the 30 min window after workout is ideal for muscle growth but overall protein consumption matters too. *NOTE bigger protein doses don’t mean bigger results
✔ONLY 3 GRAMS SUGAR from Agave. Sweetness also comes from MONK FRUIT (aka Luo Han Guo) & STEVIA! I LOVE seeing these natural sweeteners used in caffeinated beverages 🤓💚🔬➕⛾➕🏋️‍♀️

Monster Hydro Mean Green

  • Caffeine Content 125 mg = Fatigue Level 3

Science Behind Monster Hydro

As the GREENEyedGuide I’m bummed “Mean GREEN” is yellow.

As a Food Scientist, I know artificial green is hard to keep green and natural green often involves spirulina, which has the slightest seawater taste. I don’t normally talk about taste in my reviews bc it’s subjective, but this tasted like flat Moutain Dew or old lemonade to me. 🤓💚🔬⛾

KEY Ingredients:
✔Sugar sources include sucrose (table sugar), glucose, and artificial sweetener sucralose. 23g! Not awful but <10g is my sweet spot (food pun!)
✔NO GUARANA OR TAURINE OR CARNITINE so really different than the typical Monster Energy Blend.
125 mg caffeine per bottle, compared to 180mg in most flavors of Monster Energy.

Is Monster Hydro a healthier alternative to Monster Energy?
YES in terms of lower caffeine content and FEWER Caffeine-(other ingredient) INTERACTIONS, which some people* think make some energy drinks more dangerous than coffee.
*I’m on the fence about this. Caffeine-Taurine-glucuronolactone combos are fine but no data for or against caffeine-carnitine combos yet.

F’real Frappe Coffee

  • Caffeine Content not disclosed – Unknown Level of Fatigue

Science Behind FReal Frappe Coffee

That Moment When you want to hide your CAFFEINE CONTENT so badly, you COMPARE yourself to something AMBIGUOUS. “2x caffeine as leading frozen coffee” 

Who is the leading FROZEN coffee and HOW MUCH caffeine do they have? It is FALSE to assume a cup of coffee has a standard amount. 1 cup at Starbucks doesn’t equal 1 cup at Pikes or 1 cup at your hotel.
Neat concept with the DIY F’Real Blender machine but if we’re going to GET REAL (or “f’real”) ABOUT CAFFEINE SAFETY we need EVERYONE to report caffeine content.

Have you ever seen a bottle of ALCOHOL that DID NOT disclose the %?
PS – sixty-one grams of sugar y’all. Sixty. One. But look at how clean and simple the ingredients are. Too bad simple doesn’t = healthy. 🤓💚⛾🔬

West Coast Chill (caffeine free energy drink)

  • Caffeine Content = ZERO! Fatigue Level 0-1 Energy Drink

Science Behind West Coast Chill

An energy drink with NO CAFFEINE?!? Does the term “energy drink” mean anything anymore!?!

Let’s inspect it: 🤓💚⛾🔬Active ingredients include:
🤓Ribose – a compound that participates in an odd (pun) energy producing reaction called the Pentose phosphate pathway. Promising science, just hasn’t caught on yet.
🤓Ginseng – be skeptical of benefits!
🤓Arginine – amino acid with important jobs in the body (Urea Cycle Waste Removal). HOWEVER the BEST way to supplement arginine is to TAKE Citrulline!
🤓B-vitamins AND minerals – minerals aren’t usually in energy drinks. Curious… 🤓💚🔬⛾📚

Click HERE to learn more about how to use the 5 Levels of Fatigue.

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Let’s connect!

GreenEyedGuide Caffeine Challenge Day 8/10 – Fatigue Level 3

For Day 8 we talk about Fatigue Level 3. Learn what distinguishes a Level 3 beverage from a Level 4 beverage. ***PLAY ALONG-share your favorite Fatigue Level 3 product on Instagram/ Facebook/Twitter and tag @GreenEyedGuide, or add your pictures to the Caffeine Challenge Event page at Facebook.com/GreenEyedGuide/events

Through this challenge, you’ll learn how to use the 5 Levels of Fatigue to reap the benefits of caffeine while avoiding addiction, dependence, tolerance, and toxicity.

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Energy Drink of the Month – Jan 2016: Cran-Energy

If your New Year’s Resolution is to consume fewer energy drinks, you may be looking for some healthy swaps. How healthy is fruit juice, really? Obviously, it’s not as healthy as whole fruit, but usually healthier than soda. This energy drink (alternative) of the month is a healthy alternative to the stereotypical energy drink, but it is also an example of how “healthy” and “good for you” is a matter of context and perspective.

The Energy Drink of the Month is Cran-Energy Cranberry Energy Juice Drink.

On their own page, Ocean Spray’s clever distinction, “energy JUICE drink” highlights the ambiguity of how to classify this product. Since this product walks the line between the JUICE category and the ENERGY DRINK category, we’ll compare how healthy this product is relative to other products in each category.

Is it Juice or an Energy Drink? Product Category Confusion

If it was your job to tally the annual sales of different types of beverages, would you put this in the “energy drink” category or the “juice” category? In their article “Juice Gone Wild”, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has effectively put this in the juice category. However, on their own site, Ocean Spray compares this product to “other energy drinks”. Furthermore, BevNet’s product assessment definitively puts this drink in the energy drink category as this product was specifically designed to give people energy.

Cran-Energy versus the stereotypical ENERGY DRINK

Since Red Bull is the number one selling brand in the ENERGY DRINK product category, we’ll compare Cran-Energy to Red Bull.

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Click here to open and download the Cran-Energy vs Energy Drink DATASHEET

Against a stereotypical energy drink, Cran-Energy IS a healthy swap. The 2015-2016 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends sodium intake not exceed 2300 mg per day. With such a low limit, the lower sodium of Cran-Energy is a healthier option than Red Bull.

Furthermore, the 2015-2016 DGA recommendation is to limit intake of added sugars (like those in the Red Bull) to less than 10% of total calories per day [Source – FoodInsight.org].  It’s also important to note that since the sugars in the Cran-Energy come from grape and cranberry juice, they’re not TECHNICALLY “added sugars” because they’re natural in grape juice. (Though grape juice isn’t naturally added to cranberry juice, is it? Hello, loophole!)

But what about the Sucralose in Cran-Energy? The 2015-2016 DGA agrees with leading global authorities including the European Food Safety Authority that sweeteners like sucralose are safe to consume, though the DGA does note that “replacing added sugars with high-intensity sweeteners may reduce calorie intake in the short-term, yet, questions remain about their effectiveness as a long-term weight management strategy.” [Source – FoodInsight.org].

Cran-Energy versus Cranberry JUICE

To the rushed shopper, Cran-Energy might pass as fancy cranberry juice. Comparing Ocean Spray’s Cran-Energy to Ocean Spray’s Cranberry 100% Juice, Cran-Energy IS NOT a healthy swap.

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Click here to open and download the Cran-Energy vs Cranberry 100percent Juice DATASHEET

While the Cran-Energy offers a cluster of B-vitamins, it also contains artificial colors and sweeteners that aren’t in the Cranberry 100% juice. Furthermore, consider the juice content itself! Looking at the front of the label, you might think Ocean Spray Cranberry 100% juice is 100% cranberry juice when in fact other fruits like grape, apple, and pear are also used to make this 100% juice. (When you can’t add plain sugar, grape juice is a very sweet natural source) Cran-Energy is only 23% juice and is mostly filtered water. If you wanted to reap the benefits of cranberry juice, Cran-Energy is not going to help you.

BOTTOM LINE

It’s short-sighted to call anything (even 100% juice) healthy because a term like this deserves context. With proper context, we can see that Cran-Energy IS NOT a healthy swap for 100% juice (let alone whole fruit), but it IS a healthy swap for the stereotypical energy drink.

~GreenEyedGuide

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