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What are environmental chemicals doing in breast milk?

Posted on January 19th, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

What is free, cheap, non-processed, fresh, highly nutritious, perfect for babies, and readily available? Well, there are no prizes for guessing the answer is breast milk. It truly is a wonder food. Around 1% protein, 4% fat (including the omega-3 fats), 7% carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins all in a readily available form. Not only does it have all of the nutrients that are required for growth, it also contains factors that protect infants from infection and help educate the babies immune system.

The composition of breast milk can vary significantly from woman to woman. One important factor in this variability is the diet of the mother. For example, the fat composition of the breast milk is dependent on the types of fats in the mother’s diet. So, if the mother’s diet is rich in the special omega-3 fats in fish, or takes fish oils during lactation, the levels of these fats increase in the milk. Conversely, if the mother’s diet is deficient in vitamin A, an important nutrient, her breast milk may contain insufficient amounts of the vitamin to ensure optimal growth and development of her baby (1).

So, what is present or missing in the diet of the mother can affect the composition of their breast milk and in turn, have an impact on the health of the baby. Unfortunately, there are other substances often present in the maternal diet which are not normal components of food but are either contaminants in food, or deliberately added to food at some point. There are also many pollutants that can enter the mother’s body in other ways – for example through environmental exposure, skin contact, or through the lungs. Examples of contaminants detected in food include the pesticides used to control pests both before and after harvest, plastics components such as phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) and industrial waste products. The latter include the polychlorinated hydrocarbons (or PCBs), the polybrominated hydrocarbons (PBDEs), and heavy metals such as mercury. There are literally thousands of other substances we are exposed to in our daily lives and theoretically at least, many of these can be taken up. Read the rest of this entry »

Food Labelling – A consumer minefield?

Posted on January 5th, 2011 by Alf | No Comments | Print | RSS

If Rip Van Winkle, waking up after his 20 year sleep, wandered into a 21st century supermarket he would be astounded at the range and diversity of goods, the colorful packaging, and the staggering choice available to the consumer. He would gaze uncomprehendingly at the labeling with its kilojoules or calories, serve size, list of additives etc. While there is now a degree of public awareness of many of the terms used on labels, the whole area is quite literally, a minefield. Part of the problem is what is on labels serves at least two separate functions – to inform the consumer so they are better able to make a choice, and to entice the consumer into buying a particular product in preference to another. These two conflicting interests understandably create some difficulties for consumers. Read the rest of this entry »