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Good foods that are bad for you

Politically Incorrect Nutrition has changed the way we eat by pointing out foods we thought were good for us that are actually harmful.  Like all of nutrition, the science surrounding these recommendations is a bit controversial, but I thought you'd like to see a rundown on the "healthy" foods Michael Barbee says you should be avoiding.

  • Soy milkUnfermented soy --- I used to believe that soy was a great meat substitute, but soy isoflavones are related to estrogen and can cause breast cancer, disrupt our hormonal balance, change our menstrual patterns, and trigger hyopthyroidism.  The use of soy in baby formula leads to zinc deficiencies and early puberty and has also been linked to diabetes and learning disabilities.   In both adults and children, soy protein is hard to digest and causes pancreatic disorders, and the type of vitamin B12 in soy can't be absorbed and actually increases our body's need for that vitamin.  Soy also causes deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D and has been shown to increase LP(a) in blood, which is a marker for heart disease.  In fact, it's simply a myth that healthy Asian diets are high in soy --- the average soy intake in China is only 2 teaspoonsful per day, and that is generally eaten in a fermented form like tempeh, soy sauce, miso, and natto.  If you want vegetable protein, you're better off mixing and matching other high protein vegetables to find a balanced set of amino acids rather than depending on soy.
  • Many vegetable oils --- Remember how butter is bad for you but vegetable oils are better?  Wrong!  Polyunsaturated fats like corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, and soy oils are easily oxidized and contain too few omega-3s.  Trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are even worse since they cause heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, allergies, asthma, and immune dysfunction.  More on the good fats tomorrow.
  • Omega 3 and omega 6Grocery store dairy and meat --- As I'll explain tomorrow, animal fats from pastured livestock are actually on the good list.  Unfortunately, typical supermarket meats and dairy are generally full of hormones, antibiotics, omega-6s, and are too low in the healthy conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3.  In addition, homogenizing milk makes it easier for our bodies to absorb the bad xanthine oxidase that can cause heart disease.  No wonder when I started listening to my body a year ago, I stopped drinking supermarket milk.
  • Fluoridated water --- Although topical application of fluoride to your teeth can be helpful, if you eat flouride, it acts like a cumulative poison.  Fluoride can cause brittle teeth and bones, tooth decay, thyroid problems, learning problems, joint pain, high cholesterol, depression, fatigue, weight gain, early sexual maturation, and breast cancer.  Fluoride also interacts with aluminum in such a way that our body takes up more of this problematic metal, so it's especially dangerous to drink any liquid out of aluminum cans.  I'm still pondering whether it's safe to use fluoridated toothpaste and would love to hear your thoughts on that.
  • Green and black tea --- We think of green and black teas as providing helpful antioxidants, but the drinks also provide a hefty dose of flouride.  The tea plant is a dynamic accumulator of fluoride, and a single cup of tea usually provides more than the maximum daily dose of fluoride recommended by the EPA.  Poor Mark has decided to live without his sweet tea, and after two weeks of withdrawal, he's starting to fell much healthier.
  • Chocolate muffinsAspartame --- Aspartame is often found in sugar-free foods consumed by folks hoping to lose weight.  Unfortunately, studies have found that people who eat artificial sweeteners tend to gain more weight since they crave carbohydrates.  Although somewhat controversial, many scientists also believe that aspartame can cause fibromyalgia, dizziness, vertigo, headaches, tinnitus, joint pain, depression, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, memory loss, and cancer.  We never were fans of artificial sweeteners, but we do have sweet tooths and have discovered that it's simple to recalibrate your sweet sensors so that your taste buds think that desserts with half the sugar are delicious.  Just double the cocoa content (or other primary flavor) and you can eat smaller helpings of delicious foods and feel sated.  The downside is that we can't eat restaurant desserts anymore since they now taste sickeningly sweet and give me a headache.
  • Vitamin pills --- Do you figure that you can eat whatever you want as long as you take a multivitamin pill every day?  Some studies are suggesting that even water-soluble vitamins can cause problems in your body in excess amounts.  For example, doses of vitamin C above 500 mg/day increase iron and decreases copper in your body.  There is also the question of whether your body can use vitamins in the synthetic form provided by vitamin pills.  To be on the safe side, it's probably best to eat a well-rounded diet and get your vitamins and minerals in your food.
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This post is part of our Politically Incorrect Nutrition lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Just curious if came across any sites on the pros/cons of fermented soy.
Comment by Mikey Sklar Wed Mar 30 13:46:24 2011

Having read your article, do you have any other source for the things you state than "Politically Incorrect Nutrition"? Your arguments about soy seem to be almost identical to those at This site comes over as the product of people with an axe to grind. There is also a lack of sources for their claims (other than their own articles and like-minded sites).

On a general note, wether a chemical compound or element is harmful to you depends on a lot of things other than the nature of the compound or element; the amount you consume and your body weight are important factors, as is the period of which it is consumed, and things like your general health also play a part.

For one thing, the picture w.r.t. phytoestrogens doesn't seem as clear-cut as you state it. W.r.t. vitamin B12, only bacteria have the enzymes required for its synthesis. B12 is commercially manufactured by fermentation. So B12 doesn't come from meat or soy proteins; those are more like a trasport vehicle. Also, B12 deficiency is rare, as the liver can store several years worth of B12.

To the best of my knowledge, all vegetable oils are easily oxidized when used for frying and baking, because of the high temperatures reached in those processes.

The level of antibiotics used in farm animals is indeed a concern. But not just because they end up in meat or dairy. Most ends up in the animals' waste, where it can still promote resistance in bacteria.

Your comments on fluorides suffer from lack of specificity. The term fluorides covers such a large array of compounds from beneficial (e.g. to inert (calcium fluoride, PTFE; both because of their extremely low solubility in water) to very dangerous (e.g. HF, sarin) as to be meaningless. It seems that the most prevalent cause of [chronic fluoride poisoning][] are caused by fluorides dissolving in groundwater from rocks.

One article about fluoride in tea caught my eye;

advanced skeletal fluorosis, a disease caused by excessive fluoride consumption and characterized by joint and bone pain and damage.... ...each person drank 1 to 2 gallons of tea daily for the past 10 to 30 years.

That is one heck of a lot of tea!

As for artificial sweeteners, I actually prefer sugar. :-)

As for vitamins, as long as it is the same molecule, chemical reactions cannot differentiate between "synthetic" and other forms, whatever you mean by that word. Every vitamin (or other molecule) is created somewhere. The word "synthesis" essentially means "to make".

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Mar 30 14:51:02 2011

Mike --- I didn't look specifically into the fermented soy issue. I've heard the distinction several times in different places, but haven't researched it myself.

Roland --- I knew you'd hate this post. :-) I didn't do any primary research on these topics, but I did look through his twenty pages of citations, and they were mostly from mainstream medical journals. The few topics that I have researched more exhaustively (like the effects of pasturing on the nutrition of eggs, meat, and dairy) have matched up with what this author said, which makes me trust his research. I agree that the effects of chemical compounds on our bodies are very complicated, but I also think it's best to change our diets to match the best evidence out there, especially if it lines up with how the food makes your body feel.

Your note about vegetable oils backs up what the author says, as far as I can see? If the vegetable oils are going to be oxidized when cooked with, it's best to avoid them and stick to fats like butter that are less prone to oxidization.

I also agree with you about the bigger issue about antibiotics, but I think that's way too much to go into here.

About fluoride in tea --- as noted in this post, a single cup of tea per day exceeds the recommended daily allowance. So, sure, some studies have been using amounts that exceed what most people drink, but a single cup already exceeds what is considered safe.

We prefer sugar too. And honey. I think that both are fine in moderation --- artificial sweeteners are just a way that people think they can get away with eating more sweets than is healthy for them.

About synthetic vitamins --- even if the pill has the exact same compound in it that is found in food, your body can take it up differently depending on the other chemicals found in the food. I've read that many vitamins in pill form pass right through us for that reason. At the other extreme, people tend to think that if a bit of a vitamin is good for us, more is better and take far more than the recommended daily allowance, which can lead to negative effects that are unlikely to occur if we stick to getting our vitamins in food. I doubt that anyone is going to eat 14 oranges in a single day, but I've been guilty of downing 1000 mg of vitamin C thinking I'm going to stave off a cold.

In the end, it's all about balance, and many of these foods kick you out of balance.

Comment by anna Wed Mar 30 15:15:16 2011

The smoke point of animal fats like butter (not counting ghee) or lard is significantly lower than most vegetable oils. So the former would be more prone to oxidation.

AFAIK, butter is also more prone to going rancid than vegetable oils. Oxidation is one of the mechanisms for rancidification.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Mar 30 16:54:47 2011

Good call! Now that I'm thinking of it, the one oil that he recommended for high heat applications was coconut oil, probably because of its high smoke point while still having properties more like animal fats than like most vegetable oils.

I think that people who are into taking care with their oil (which we hope to become :-) ) are very careful to use all oils when they're fresh for the rancidity reason.

Comment by anna Wed Mar 30 17:07:06 2011
On the fluoride in toothpaste issue - topical application of fluoride is good for your teeth, but you should rinse and spit the toothpaste, not swallow it.
Comment by Darren (Green Change) Wed Mar 30 17:18:37 2011
That's my gut feeling too --- that as long as you're rinsing and spitting, you don't actually consume enough of the fluoride to matter. But I'd love to see some statistics on how much fluoride the average person consumes accidentally while brushing.
Comment by anna Wed Mar 30 17:26:32 2011

Upper intake Level of fluoride (assuming this means F⁻ ions) : 10 mg/kg/day <1>

As with any food of natural origin, levels of nutrients and contaminants can vary wildly. In instant teas, level between 1 and 7.7 ppm (parts per million) were found. <2>

Let's go for the worst case and do the math.

Hydrogen has an avarage atomic mass of: 1.0079 g/mol. <3> Oxygen is 15.9994 g/mol. <4> So the average molar mass of H₂O is: 18.0152 g/mol. So, 1 mol of H₂O is 18.0152 g. The average mass of fluor atoms is 18.9984032 g/mol. <5> (1 mol is approximately 6.022140×10²³ atomes or molecules)

The density of tea (water) is 1000 g/liter, so 1 liter of H₂O is 1000/18.0152 = 55.50 mol, (or 3.34×10²⁵ molecules, in case you were wondering :-) ). Assuming that the water only contains F⁻ ions for simplicity, at 7.7 ppm fluoride, one liter would contain 55.50×7.7/10⁶ = 0.00043 mol, or about 0.00043×18.9984032 = 0.00817 g or 8.2 mg of F⁻ per liter of water/tea. Assuming an 80 kg person, the maximum safe dose would be 800 mg/day. To get this from tea alone, you would need to drink 97 liters (25 gallons) of it per day! Even if the fluoride level were ten times higher, you'd still need to drink 2,5 gallons of it per day for prolonged periods of time to get fluoride poisoning.

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu Mar 31 18:08:00 2011

I think you're making your fluoride calculations far more complicated than they need to be. I went right to the source and downloaded the DRI table from the USDA's website at Their DRI for fluoride is 0.7 mg/d for infants and 10 mg/d for adults. I'm assuming that "mg/d" is milligrams/day per person.

Browsing the internet, I've found values for fluoride in tea of 0.5 mg/L to 7.6 mg/L. So, that would mean an adult could drink 1.3 to 20 L of tea, or 5.5 cups to 5.3 gallons of tea per day without poisoning themselves. Given the variability of fluoride amounts in tea and the fact that fluoride can have negative effects with repeated exposure even if you haven't hit the daily maximum, I'd be leery of even drinking at the lower end.

So, you're right that a cup of tea probably isn't enough to send you to the hospital. But I'm not so sure that a couple of cups every day wouldn't have some serious negative effects.

Comment by anna Thu Mar 31 18:48:38 2011

I know I'm about a year too late for this discussion, but I have a couple questions. 1: What am I supposed to drink? I can't have tap water - it has fluoride. I can't buy bottled water - it might have fluoride and it's in disposable containers. I can't drink soy milk - unfermented soy is bad. I can't drink milk from the store - it's homogenized. I don't have a clean source of water near my house other than the tap. I don't own a dairy animal, or even know where the closest one is. Fruit juice is extremely expensive and probably also bad for me (they add water to that, and who knows where it comes from?). I can't drink tea - fluoride, plus where's that water coming from to brew it? I can't drink soda. I can't drink anything with artificial sweeteners. I can't drill a well. I'm not allowed to collect rainwater in my area, and we go through droughts often enough that that's not a reliable source of water anyway. I don't see any option that's cheap and/or easily accessible that's not going to send me to the hospital or make me miserable according to this book.

2: How many people around the world drink a cup or two of tea everyday plus fluoridated tap water who aren't in the hospital because of it? Probably most of those people.

Comment by Angela Tue May 1 14:23:39 2012

Angela --- I'm not so sure any of us should be drinking anything except water all that regularly. (Alcoholic beverages are an entirely different issue --- I'm just talking about milk/juice/soda/tea/etc.) With the exception of tea and coffee (if you drink them black), all of the options are pretty high in sugars with no fiber and little to no protein to round it out --- a bit like candy.

We're lucky enough to have fluoride-free well water, and I'm not sure I'd worry about it if I lived in town and had to drink fluoridated water. (I haven't in the past.) I suspect fluoride is more of a slow drain on your system than anything that's going to send you to the hospital. But I definitely won't go back to sugary drinks, in which I include natural sugars like fruit juices and milk.

Comment by anna Tue May 1 14:57:43 2012

Angela -

Have you looked into a Berkey water?

Comment by Gerry Fri Oct 19 14:36:45 2012

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