Archive for December, 2010

Kitchen Talk

Let’s do an exercise. Take ourselves now to the kitchen and have an examination of all the items there. Take notice of how many items are made from the traditional materials  like ceramics, clay, glass, wood, or bamboo, and isolate the  items that are made from modern materials like plastic, nylon (a form of plastic) and coated with on-stick coating. Are you surprised? Take another look at those items that are made from synthetic materials, how many of them are chipped , scratched, melted? Have you ever wondered where those missing bits have gone? Not to mention the chemical molecules released from those synthetic materials when they are heated, stressed and soaked without being detected by our naked eye. Maybe that bowl of delicious pasta you made last night was laced with plastic from your melted nylon turner? Or that piece of tender steak was seasoned with polytetrafluoroethelyne molecules scratched from the non-stick coating of your fry pan?

If we truly believe in “we are what we eat”, then our kitchen is the most  sacred place that we must fiercely protect.

Consider this: food is not merely food as we eat it unless the food preparation process is contamination free. And I am not concerning about kitchen hygiene or bacteria. At least bacteria is biodegradable  and most people recover well from food poisoning. I am talking about toxin that is not of natural origin, toxin that is not biodegradable, toxin that creeps in our food when we least expect it. Modern toxicology is increasingly focusing on chronic exposure of multiple toxins in low doses rather than acute poisoning from an individual toxin at a highly toxic level because of the ever presence of numerous chemicals in their dilute forms now in our environment. Research has  indicated that multiple chemicals in low doses have the ability to work together to create toxic effects that are not seen in individual toxin at a similar level. Modern day living has become a balancing art of minimizing toxin exposure while still enjoying what life has to offer.

Kitchen is one of those few places left where we still have some control over the toxins we may be subjected to.

During food preparation, food comes in contact with food containers and kitchen utensils constantly. Bear in mind that heat is an unavoidable  element in the kitchen and the temperature in the kitchen could go considerably high during cooking. Wear and tear are the other constant elements in the kitchen. So  kitchen wares must be made of materials that are natural, inert, heat-resistant, acid resistant, salt resistant, and light resistant to preserve freshness of food. Our ancestors knew too well of this principle. Kitchen wares many decades ago were made from stone, glass, ceramic, wood, bamboo, etc, all of which are naturally occurring substances, biodegradable,  and extremely stable. You can be reassured that food remains food after preparation and if any molecules that accidentally come away from the pot and get into our food, they are safe to be ingested.

As time went by, other modern materials were introduced to kitchen ware manufacturing. Among the many new materials in the kitchen , plastic and non-stick coating represent the most revolutionary changes in kitchen ware products, in that both of them contain synthetic (non-naturally occurring) molecules.

Since the invention of plastic, there has been a phenomenal increase of plastic food wares creeping in our kitchens. Plastic drinking bottles, plastic food containers, foam cups, cooking oil and sauce bottles, plastic ladles, plastic spoons, plastic turners, plastic liners for tin food containers, plastic storage bags, plastic food wrap… Every time you turn, you would find something made from plastic.

Plastic is synthetic materials derived from petroleum.  As plastic ages or is exposed to heat or stress, it releases traces of its molecules to the content that happens to come in contact with it. With the extensive  usage of plastic wares in food industry and  in domestic kitchens, there have been so far very little human studies that I know of conducted to evaluate the possible  impact of plastic on health. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducts ongoing yearly assessment of the levels of environmental chemicals in the US population(each sample size representing about 2400 individuals). A recent report has indicated the ongoing presence in more than 90% of the population of Bisphenol-A (an ingredient in plastic bottles) and phthalates (substance added to soften plastic,eg in plastic bags) in human blood samples and urine samples. Bisphenol-A is associated with breast tumor development in animals and is a potent mitochondrial toxin (mitochondria are the power houses of your cells); Phthalates are estrogen like molecules in animal studies that have the potential to disrupt human endocrine system. These are the only two molecules that are being tested and have come to our attention, I believe many other  plastic molecules are waiting to be  found circulating in the human blood as time goes by.

Non-stick frying pans and non-stick bakery products are loved by many. They have helped to reduce cooking time and improved the appearances of the end products significantly in the kitchen. It requires an enormous amount of will power to stop using one. I hope I could persuade you to do so. The primary component of non-stick coatings on cook wear is a group of chemicals called perflorocarbons. These chemicals form toxic fumes when they are being heated. There is debate about at what temperature these gas fumes would form, but it is likely that during cooking temperature could go up to as high as 300-400 degree Celsius which exceeds the manufacturer’s safety limit for gas emission. And there is the wear and tear of your non-stick cookware where small piece of coating gets scratched off and mixed into food. Studies show 98% of the population has perflorocarbons in their blood or urine. The health effect? No one knows so far, except that perflorocarbon is carcinogenic (cancer causing) in animals. While scientific research is lacking at present about the negative effect of perflorocarbons, I am a great fan of common sense and believe that what goes in our mouth (and lungs) must be non-toxic!

Choose carefully your kitchen wares would go a long way in protecting your family. Some simple changes in the way of handling of our food  maybe life saving.

1. Use glass or ceramic food containers where you can for food storage. Consider taking your own food container or cup to take away outlets.

2. Use ceramic coated cookware, corningware, cast iron cookware or stainless steel cookware for cooking

3. Use ceramic, wooden  or stainless steel  cutlery

4. Chose glass bottled sauces, oil, dressings when you shop

5. Never heat up food in plastic containers in microwave ovens

6. Never leave any plastic bottles or plastic wears near the stove.

7. Use glass or stainless steel drinking bottles

And spread the message!


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