All posts by Jaime Askew


About Jaime Askew

Jaime Askew is a Certified Nutrition Consultant, a freelance writer and a former forensic DNA scientist. She currently uses her writing to help others promote health and optimal wellness.

Titanium Dioxide: What Is It? And Is It Safe?

What is Titanium Dioxide?

Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring compound used as a coloring agent in cosmetics, personal care products, supplements, and processed foods.

It whitens and brightens as well as prevents discoloration. Titanium dioxide also blocks ultraviolet (UV) rays, which is why it’s found in many sunscreens.

The compound used in manufacturing is chemically processed to remove impurities. And it’s supplied in a powder form.

Powdered titanium dioxide generally appears to be safe. However, the widespread use of titanium dioxide “nanoparticles” has raised some concern.

What are Nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles form when titanium dioxide powder is further ground into microscopic particles. And while these microscopic particles are chemically identical to their larger counterparts, their behavior and reactivity may differ due to an increase in surface area.

Further, their minuscule size may increase absorption and circulation within the bloodstream.

What are the Potential Risks?

Research has shown that titanium dioxide nanoparticles have the potential to cause free radical damage (a.k.a. oxidative stress), which results in cell damage, DNA mutations, inflammation, and immune system activation.

When inhaled, these particles have the capacity to travel directly to the lungs and brain. As a result, neurological damage is highly possible. This is why it’s never a good idea to use spray sunscreens, especially on the face.

Further, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified titanium dioxide nanoparticles as “possible carcinogenic to humans” according to animal inhalation studies.

These nanoparticles are also considered an “occupational carcinogen” by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Human studies using sunscreens have shown that titanium dioxide nanoparticles don’t substantially penetrate the skin. However, long term safety studies have yet to be performed. In addition, the potential risks of oxidation caused by sun exposure are unknown.

Titanium Dioxide in Food

Titanium dioxide is found in the largest concentrations in candy and chewing gum. But it’s also found in cottage cheese, yogurt, condiments, processed meats, and snack foods.

However, it’s worth noting that only one third of the titanium dioxide used in food is in the nanoparticle form.

Nevertheless, we still don’t fully understand how titanium dioxide is absorbed, distributed, and excreted by the body. Thus, we couldn’t possibly understand its toxicity when consumed orally.

Although, one study found that oral consumption of titanium dioxide nanoparticles contributed to gut inflammation in those with inflammatory bowel disease.

How to Reduce Your Exposure

Unfortunately, food producers can use up to 1% titanium dioxide (food grade) without declaring it on the label. Or, it may be hidden behind terms such as “natural color” or “natural coloring agent.”  

Thus, the best way to avoid titanium dioxide in your food is to consume more whole foods and to choose organic whenever possible. Interestingly enough, titanium dioxide is not approved for use in organic foods. 

When it comes to medications there is little you can do. However, you can opt for supplements without added colors as well as sunscreens with non-nanoparticle zinc oxide only.

When it comes to cosmetics and personal care products, always read ingredient labels. And if you’re not sure, you can always check the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep Database.

In conclusion

The information we have thus far on titanium dioxide and more importantly its nanoparticles is concerning. And a lack of data in some regards doesn’t imply safety.

Thus, I recommend applying the precautionary principle and avoiding exposure whenever possible.

References
– Evans, S. M., Ashwood, P., Warley, A., Berisha, F., Thompson, R. P., & Powell, J. J. (2002). The role of dietary microparticles and calcium in apoptosis and
   interleukin-1β release of intestinal macrophages. Gastroenterology,123(5), 1543-1553. doi:10.1053/gast.2002.36554
– Skocaj, M., Filipic, M., Petkovic, J., & Novak, S. (2011). Titanium dioxide in our everyday life; is it safe? Radiology and Oncology, 45(4), 227–247.
   http://doi.org/10.2478/v10019-011-0037-0
– Weir, A., Westerhoff, P., Fabricius, L., & von Goetz, N. (2012). Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products. Environmental
   Science & Technology
, 46(4), 2242–2250. http://doi.org/10.1021/es204168d

What’s Really In Sport Drinks?

I’m going to be blunt. Under no circumstances would I recommend commercial sport drinks. Period.  Well, maybe if you are dehydrated (literally) and no other liquid exists for miles. 

Sadly commercial sport drinks such as Gatorade and Vitamin Water are nothing but liquid sugar and chemical additives. The cons far outweigh any benefit. Most young children simply need water. Teenage and adult athletes may need extra support, but there are much healthier alternatives. And I guarantee professional athletes are not drinking Gatorade despite the advertisements you see on TV.

A Closer Look at the Ingredients in Sport Drinks

While there are minor differences in different sport drinks, many of them have the similar ingredients. Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in Gatorade…

Gatorade sport drinks nutrition label

Water: Good!

Sugar: And lots of it! An entire 16-ounce bottle contains a little more than 13 teaspoons of sugar. It’s counterproductive to encourage our kids to play sports to be healthy, but then load them up with sugar. Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the primary source of added sugars in the standard American diet. And several studies have linked SSBs to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease [1].

Dextrose: Just another form of sugar. Unfortunately this form of sugar is made from corn and therefore most likely to be genetically modified (GM).

Citric Acid: A flavoring and a preservative. It may seem harmless because it is naturally found in fruit, but the citric acid found in foods and beverages is chemically produced from black mold secretions.  It’s also another product that comes from corn and another source of GM contamination.

Natural Flavor: Don’t let the name fool you. The “fruit punch” does not get its flavor from real fruit. These are flavors made in a laboratory. And no one really knows how or what is used to make them.

Salt: Salt is one of the electrolytes (the other major electrolytes are calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and phosphate) however sea salt would be a better option here because it actually provides minerals. 

Sodium Citrate: A “sodium salt of citric acid” this chemically processed food additive is used to regulate acidity. It has a potential to cause allergic reactions, dizziness, or restlessness. 

Monopotassium Phosphate: This ingredient is a potassium salt that has the potential to cause abdominal discomfort. It’s a common food additive as well as a fertilizer and fungicide. 

Modified Food Starch: Another chemically processed food stabilizer.

Red 40: Artificial dyes are linked to behavior disorders and hyperactivity in children. Some kids are more sensitive than others. For those that are sensitive, it can be disastrous for them and their families. These dyes are made from petroleum and coal tar and are banned in several other countries. [2]

Glycerol Ester of Rosin: A food additive designed to keep oils suspended or evenly mixed in water. It is produced from pine tree wood rosin using a long list of chemicals.

Caramel Color: Another artificial coloring additive. Unfortunately it contains 4-methylimidazole which has been linked to cancer.

Unfortunately the “zero-calorie” options typically contain the exact same ingredients. However instead of sugar, they use artificial sweeteners. While many people turn to artificial sweeteners to consume fewer calories, studies have actually linked them to weight gain. [3]

Healthy alternatives

There are more “natural” brands on the market today, but they’re mostly made of concentrated fruit juice (another form of liquid sugar). And they still have a few unnecessary additives. Therefore, why buy over-sugared drinks when water is a much healthier, and cheaper, option.

And from an environmental standpoint, we’d use much less plastic if every team player brought a reusable water bottle filled from home. Further, you’ll also your reduce exposure to the harmful aspects of plastic by using a glass or stainless steel container.

While one sport drink won’t cause permanent harm, drinking them routinely is another story.

When you or your children truly need a source of electrolytes after an intense or prolonged period of physical activity, try one of these options instead:

  • Make your own electrolyte drink by combining water, lemon, raw honey and sea salt
  • Make an agua fresca
  • Choose coconut water, a well balanced electrolyte beverage (but, be sure to read the label and avoid harmful additives)

 

* * * * * * 

Resources:

[1] Sugar Sweetened Beverages: Over time, too much liquid sugar can lead to serious disease
[2] Food additives and hyperactive behavior in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-0ld children 
[3] Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings 

 

Clean Label Starches: Better For You Or Just Another Bait & Switch?

Are clean label starches a healthy choice? Well, the answer depends on whom you ask. If you ask the food manufacturers, clean label starches are definitely a better choice over more traditional modified food starches. Not because clean label starches are actually better for you, but because they allow processed foods to have a cleaner looking list of ingredients.

What are Food Starches?

Both starch additives are derived from ingredients such as corn, potato, tapioca and wheat. Both are modified from their original native state to withstand extreme food processing conditions, such as ultra high heat and homogenization.

So what’s the difference? It all comes down to HOW the starches are modified.

Modified versus Clean Label Starches

Chemicals (usually acids) are used to make modified food starches. As a result, the FDA requires them to be labeled as “modified” food starches.

On the other hand, clean label starches are produced by physical means, such as purification and heat treatment. Since no chemicals are used, a clean label starch may simply be referred to as “starch.”

Why use Food Starches?

Modified food starches and clean label starches both act as thickening agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers in many processed foods. Both are added to improve “mouth-feel” as well as maintain a desired texture and taste.

clean label starch in yogurtModified food starches are found in a wide variety of foods.  One example is yogurt. Take a look at the list of ingredients of this popular brand of fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt:

INGREDIENTS: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Cane Sugar, Non-GMO Corn Starch, Organic Natural Vanilla Flavor, Organic Carob Bean Gum, Organic Vanilla Bean Specks, Gellan Gum

One of the biggest hurdles manufacturers face with fat-free products is texture. This is where starch additives come to the rescue. They produce a thick and creamy yogurt in the absence of fat.

“Corn starch” sounds cleaner and more natural than “modified corn starch.” But from a health standpoint, clean label starches are no better than their chemically treated counterparts. Clean label starches are just another bait and switch in my opinion.

Potential Health Concerns

Both starches are nutritionally void. And it’s not always clear what ingredient the starch was originally derived from. In most cases it’s genetically modified corn, but not always.

There are also concerns regarding cross-contamination during the manufacturing process. So be extra careful if you have any food allergies and/or sensitivities.

Some argue modified starches are difficult to digest and there is some scientific evidence to support this. Scientists in this study found certain modifications decreased the rate of digestion in vitro. However, they put a positive spin on it. They suggest modified starches may act as a good source of resistant starch.

The truth is resistant starches aren’t all bad. Our bodies can’t digest them, but they do feed the good bacteria in our digestive tract. And a healthy gut flora is essential to optimal health. However, moderation is still necessary, especially for those with digestive conditions. And most importantly, there are much healthier sources of resistant starch available, such as whole grains, legumes, seeds and cooked then cooled potatoes.

Other Potential Hidden Ingredients

Lastly, there’s buzz about modified starches containing up to 10% maltodextrin, a complex sugar and a common hiding place for monosodium glutamate (MSG). But without access to industry formulations, we’ll never really know!

Healthy Alternatives

When it comes to Greek yogurt, there are several truly clean options available. But, only if you buy it “plain” and spice it up at home.  Or you can make your own Greek style yogurt by straining 32 ounces of plain, organic, whole milk yogurt in a lined colander overnight.

For a treat, top your yogurt with fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. If a little sweetness is needed, add a drizzle of raw honey or pure maple syrup. A little bit goes a long way!

In Conclusion…

As always, you need to read the ingredient lists to know what’s in your food. But even then manufacturers keep coming up with new ways to trick consumers. When it comes to food starches, both the chemically modified and clean label versions are nothing more than highly processed additives manufacturers use to make foods highly palatable.

To stay in the know about other clean label ingredients food manufacturers are using, sign-up for Mira’s newsletter today! As a thank you, you’ll receive a free copy of Mira’s eBook “Eating Out, Eating Healthy”. It’s packed with tips for making healthy choices when eating out.