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The way our food is produced has undergone a revolution over the last 100 years. New methods of farming, processing, refining, bleaching, coloring, and preserving have changed the way many people eat. But one of the downsides to these new industrial methods is not yet widely understood.
According to Renee Joy Dufault, author of Unsafe at Any Meal: What the FDA Does Not Want You to Know About the Foods You Eat, these processes can leave behind trace amounts of toxic metals, including mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead, that never make it to the nutrition labels. She believes these contaminants in our food play a major role in the increased prevalence of diseases such as diabetes, dementia, and autism. In this book, she explains how the toxic metals end up in the food supply, why that’s a problem, and how we can avoid being exposed to them.
The introduction reads like an investigative crime novel and provides the backdrop for what would become a multi-decade journey for answers. Dufault shares her personal story of how, while working at the FDA, she stumbled on the fact that chemical companies were missing several tons of mercury every year from the manufacture of chemical products used by the food industry. These products were used in making food ingredients such as artificial colors, citric acid, and high-fructose corn syrup. At that time, she speculated that the missing mercury ended up in the final products we eat. Unfortunately, she was all too correct.
These findings led Dufault down a path that would ultimately end with management staff at the FDA stopping her investigation. She took an early retirement in order to legally continue her research. Over time, her initial findings of mercury in the food supply led her to uncover the presence of other toxic metals, including lead, cadmium, and arsenic, in common foods and food ingredients, from corn sweeteners and vegetable oils to preservatives such as carrageenan and sodium benzoate. She also found pesticide residues in wheat, corn, and other grains – and the processed foods made from them.
Dufault contends that even though the FDA regulates the amount of these toxic metals and pesticides allowed in food products, they are not consistently testing the food supply or effectively studying how the accumulation of these substances in our bodies affects us over time. She makes a strong case that we now have enough clear scientific evidence to conclude that toxic metal and pesticide exposure from food is unsafe at anylevel. She shares exactly where that exposure is coming from and explains that the accumulation of these substances in our tissues is changing our gene expression in specific ways that are directly linked to autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and likely many other diseases and disorders.
In the final chapters, Dufault provides suggestions to consumers on how to create a safe food environment within their homes. In addition to discussing the foods to avoid, she lists some that are beneficial – for example, whole foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and ones that are high in both zinc and protein. She also makes strong recommendations that policy makers in government ban food-processing ingredients known to contain heavy metals, just as they banned trans fats, and improve labeling requirements for food products.
I started reading this book with some suspicion. There is no shortage of books touting the dangers of modern food, and I wondered, will this one be based in real science or focused on hype, conspiracy, and speculation? I was pleasantly surprised to find my fears to be unfounded. While Dufault pulls no punches here, presenting the scathing argument that federal agencies are not doing enough to protect the public, she stays grounded in the data and positive with her recommendations. She manages to avoid cynicism and provides specific, achievable solutions to this public health crisis – both for consumers and the government.
In the world of nutritional science, data isn’t always as clear as one would like it to be. However, Dufault does a remarkable job at connecting the dots between the presence of heavy metals and pesticides in our food supply and the prevalence of human disease. She supports her claim that these substances are causing disease by sharing the research that led her to that conclusion, including peer-reviewed studies that have only been available in the last few years.
While I found this book highly readable, it doesn’t spoon-feed information to readers. In making her case, Dufault uses more scientific language than many popular books on nutrition and sometimes provides details the average reader may not care much about, such as the difference between a “toxin” and a “toxicant.” While this book will be of value to people with all levels of interest in nutrition, it is important to note that it focuses mainly on food safety. It is not a quick “how to” book of what to eat. The majority of the book chronicles Dufault’s research findings, their connections with disease, and her opinion about how food labeling laws need to be improved.
Unsafe at Any Meal is a unique and convincing contribution to the field of nutrition science and to the discussion on the industrialization and politicization of the food supply. While most books on this topic address the importance of avoiding toxic metals and pesticides, Dufault goes one giant step further and takes the reader on an investigative journey to uncover exactly how these substances get in our food, where they are lurking, and what the latest research reveals that they do over time.
Dufault’s passion for and understanding of this topic bleed through the pages, and because of her personal experiences, she presents it in a way few others could. If you are interested in health and nutrition, it’s worth going beyond a basic knowledge of nutrients to learning about the dangers inherent in industrial food processing. Even if you already eat a whole-foods, organic diet, there is much new and critical information to be found here.
About The Author
Zachary R. Taylor, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and clinical herbalist specializing in integrative mental healthtreatment. He lives in Charlottesville, VA. He can be contacted at www.TaylorPsychology.com or followed on Facebook and Twitter @ztaylorwell.
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Published in the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing
Winter 2017 – 2018 | Volume 41, Number 4
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