Do you read food labels? If you, a significant other, or your patient has a food allergy, the answer is most likely yes. If you have a specific dietary need or restriction, it's also a pretty safe bet that you pay attention to labels and know what to look for. But what about chemicals and mystery ingredients that make up flavors and food additives—or even artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and colors? Could they have a short- or long-term health impact? What's the level of objective, scientific evidence available to help you navigate the sea of ingredients to make the best food decisions?
Granted, there's a well-established association between certain food choices and the development or exacerbation of health problems such as diabetes, heart failure, and kidney disease, to name a few. But what about food components and their possible links to cancer or inflammatory, neurologic, and autoimmune diseases? We don't always have much to go on except various Internet blogs that typically lack legitimate science to back up claims.
This topic is personally relevant. I'll share why: If I consume aspartame, a blinding headache quite reliably follows, so I've learned to avoid it like the plague.
Recently, I also discovered an unfortunate allergy to carrageenan, a thickening agent made from seaweed that's practically ubiquitous in sauces, yogurt, salad dressings, whipped cream, and ice cream. My wake-up call involved consistent wheezing, tachycardia, and nasal congestion after my morning coffee. The culprit was a “heart healthy” fat-free creamer. In retrospect, I realized the same symptoms occur after I eat certain salad dressings and yogurt.
Thinking that I'd somehow developed asthma, I promptly scheduled a visit with my primary care provider. The coffee creamer connection solved the mystery, however. When I really started paying attention to ingredients and eliminated the offending agent, all symptoms resolved without the need for medications.
I wonder how many people are taking medications that they might not need or are suffering from a health condition that could be resolved if a dietary connection to symptoms could be firmly established? Research is needed—and not the type with a food industry sponsor that introduces inherent bias.
Diet and health are intrinsically linked. Advocate for integrity in food labeling so that all ingredients are clearly listed. Be curious and keep an open mind—there's much we need to learn.
Until next time—
Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM
Editor-in-Chief, Nursing2013 Vice President: Emergency & Trauma Services Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.