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Fat rats get cancer
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It’s holiday time and while Thanksgiving has passed, Christmas and New Year’s Day are just around the corner. That means all sorts of good tasting food – roast turkey, bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, wine and pumpkin pie.
What better time than during this festive period to give thanks for the most wholesome food supply in the world. Yes, Americans enjoy one of the best food supplies in the world not only in terms of abundance, variety and cost, but also in terms of safety.
A closer look at a typical dinner menu reveals that Mother Nature and her chemicals will be joining all of us who partake of the traditional holiday fare in this country. In a typical soup-to-nuts holiday menu, here are some of the natural chemicals which in large quantities could be hazardous to a person’s health, according to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Such effects would occur only if the concentrated substances were consumed in excess.
Saying this is not intended to frighten some who are already chemical phobic in our country. For centuries humans have eaten potentially toxic substances that occur naturally in food.
The natural and man-made toxins, carcinogens and mutagens in the U.S. food supply remain so small that they pose no known health hazard, the ACSH reports. A toxic dose of caffeine requires 96 cups of coffee and you would have to eat 3.8 tons of turkey this holiday season to deliver a toxic dose of malonaldehyde.
Mushroom soup, for example, contains hydrazines, which are potent animal carcinogens. A fresh vegetable tray is chalked full of nitrates. The main entrée, roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, contains heterocyclic amines and malonaldehyde, eugenol and furan derivatives, according to the ACSH.
It’s way past time for the American public to stop acting on the presumption that “natural” is safe and “man made” is always suspect. While both can be toxic in excess, present scientific knowledge indicates neither natural nor man-made food chemicals are hazardous in the quantities we consume on a daily, monthly or yearly basis.

Toxins, carcinogens and mutagens are everywhere in Mother Nature’s food supply. It is unwise to panic over minute levels of man-made chemicals such as the traces of pesticide residues occasionally detected.
According to ACSH, one mushroom has an estimated relative cancer hazard 167 times greater than the daily dietary intake of the chemicals PCB and EDB. The relative cancer hazard of alcohol in 8.45 ounces of wine is 78 times that of saccharin in diet cola and 1175 times the hazard from trichloroethylene in one liter of water from the most contaminated well in Silicon Valley California.
If there is a health problem we should be concerned about during this upcoming holiday season, it may be overeating. If you don’t watch yourself you can gobble down more than 2,000 calories easily at one sitting. It doesn’t take a food scientist from ACSH to tell you you’ll wind up stuffed like a turkey if you eat like that during the holiday season.
As most of us know, excessive eating has been called the “most striking” carcinogen ever discovered in rodent carcinogenicity studies. In other words, “fat rats get cancer.”
Remember, when you sit down at the holiday table this season, leave that last leg of turkey or piece of pie for someone else. You don’t have to eat every last roll on the plate, and yes, Fido, the family dog, might enjoy those last three or four spoons of gravy.
Eat moderate quantities of a wide variety of foods this holiday season and throughout the entire year. Despite the presence of Mother Nature’s toxins, they are not dangerous when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced, varied diet.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.