Kentucky has long standing medical issues related to the unhealthy foods we eat. Serious medical conditions like colon cancer, heart disease and stroke are the result of poor diets. Food concerns in central Kentucky are expanding into a new territory.
Doctor Jim Roach, who practices holistic medicine in the central Kentucky community of Midway, is a student of nutrition pioneer Weston Price. In the 1930s, Price, who was mainly concerned with oral health, studied tribal societies where only natural foods were on the menu.
“The incidence of Cancer was almost unheard of, the incidence of Alzheimers almost unheard of, cardiovascular disease, diabetes. Very rare to have those types of disorders,” said Roach.
But, when preservatives were introduced in those tribal villages, Roach argues, everything change. Within a generation, he claims such ailments surfaced.
The preservative attracting the most worry are the nitrites added to meat products. Markey Cancer Center Clinical Dietician Karina Christopher says nitrites are known to cause cancer in mice.
“If you didn’t put nitrites in hot dogs for example, they wouldn’t have that really pretty pink color. They would be a grey ugly color. Who would want to eat a grey hot dog. So, they are making foods that don’t have as much. But it’s still not something that they have completely eliminated,” said Christopher.
However, Christopher adds no definitive link has been found between nitrites and cancer in humans. There’s also a question of concentration. If nitrites are a health concern, is there a safe level? At what concentration are nitrites risky?
Joe O’Leary, who’s a veteran professor in animal science at the University of Kentucky. O’Leary notes nitrates are quite common.
“But if you are worried about nitrites, you also should not swallow your saliva because it’s much higher in nitrites than processed meat. We also find them, if you that new car odor, it’s in the air in those,” added O’Leary.
O’Leary argues the elimination of preservatives such as nitrites from a diet is no guarantee cancer can be avoided. He says there are strict regulatory standards for preservatives.
O’Leary adds preservatives also delay spoilage, which is also a human health concern.
“It’s a way of preserving food, just like heating, fermentation, drying. So, it allows us to get a longer shelf life out of that food, so it doesn’t spoil before it gets to the consumer”
Still, the long list of chemical ingredients found on packaged foods can still leave consumers wondering. And an increasing number of Kentuckians seek out organic food when grocery shopping.
At Lexington’s Good Foods Coop, which specializes in organic groceries, store manager Dan Arnette says sales have increased about ten percent annually. However, Arnette admits those sales increases are not based on strong science. No researcher has yet concluded organic foods reduce the risk of cancer.
“You know there’s not been a study on somebody eating totally organic. I don’t know if there is a big enough population sampling eating totally organic that’s been doing it long enough to be studied. Now there could be,” said Arnette.
Arnette says organics tend to be more nutrient dense. He adds not every piece of organic produce is chemical free. Sprays are sometimes used in a very limited and regulated manner.
Lexington’s Amy Blake was loading groceries into the back of her vehicle recently with her child and two nieces in tow..
“I have a picky two year old. It’s whatever they are gonna eat. But, we do a lot of fruits and vegetables. Sometimes organic, sometimes just regular fruits and vegetables. But we do try to stick to the outside aisles but occasionally get Cheetohs or some of those things that do have preservatives in it,” explained Blake.
And cost can be a factor as well. In the summer, Blake says organic foods are more affordable, but price can be more of an issue during the winter.
So, the verdict on the healthfulness of preservatives is far from in and dietary decisions remain in the hands of shoppers. And, don’t think for a second the debate over the best foods to put on the table will be resolved anytime soon.