Christmas wouldn’t feel the same without the holiday food that makes an appearance at every party, get-together and family meal. There are few other times of the year (hopefully) when you eat so much turkey and pie that you have to go lay on the couch with your pants undone, or an entire box of Quality Street chocolates disappears in one sitting. You’ll run it off in the new year, right? Overeating and too much sugar aside, some holiday favourites are actually pretty toxic and could have long-term effects on your health. Be warned: after reading this you might think twice about what you pile on your plate.
COCKTAIL OF DISEASE
Like shrimp? Does your mouth get watery seeing the little paisley-shaped fleshy crustaceans circled around a plastic plate with the sharp scent of horseradish wafting up from a bowl of seafood sauce planted in the middle? Well, you might not like them after you read this; and if you do, well, good luck to you.
Ninety percent of these little bottom dwellers that end up on North American plates hail from toxic sewage ponds in Asia and Latin America. In fact, the ponds these shrimp are farmed in are so polluted that most of them are out of commission after seven years.
Polluted with what, you ask, and would Canadian health officials really let us eat contaminated seafood? To answer the latter, yes, and to answer the former, here you go: the shrimp are sprinkled with any form of antibiotics the farmers can get their hands on to stop the spread of disease among them. Because there are so many shrimp crammed into a tiny living area their poo has nowhere to go but in and around them. Imagine sitting in a hot tub built for four with 10 extra people for a day, eating your lunch in there, dropping a piece of your sandwich, fishing it out, taking a bite, swallowing, and oops, you’ve been here all day and Frank has IBS and couldn’t hold it. You just ate shit. Well, shrimp have it way worse and you eat them. You eat shit.
In addition to antibiotics and diseased aqua life, the waters are teeming with pesticides, fungicides and chemical additives like chlorine. All of the above are banned on North American shrimp farms, but, as noted, most shrimp comes from countries where anything goes, or it is applied illegally to ensure a foreign farmer’s income doesn’t end up in the toilet—literally.
Public Citizen reports that ingesting this sewage cocktail can lead to “fetal and birth defects; miscarriages; weakening of the immune system; male infertility; brain damage; higher cancer rates in children and various forms of cancer affecting various organs, for example, the brain and lungs, prostate cancer in men, breast cancer and cancers affecting female reproductive organs; Parkinson’s disease; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders in children.”
GREAT BALLS OF CORN
Popcorn balls are classic, and stringing strands of popcorn around the tree is a great way to incorporate some retro Christmas decorating into your home. But those years we love to look back on with nostalgia were years when they didn’t have microwaves to do things the “easy” way. And if you haven’t heard, microwave popcorn is bad for you, and I’m not just referring to the high sodium content and the chemical butter smeared all over it. It’s all in the bag, baby.
The Environmental Working Group reports that the lining of microwave popcorn bags is full of chemicals including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that may be linked to infertility in humans. When tests have been done on animals, PFOA caused liver, testicular and pancreatic cancer. EWG says microwaving causes the chemicals in the bag to vaporize and become toxic when you breathe them in and they accumulate in the body for years.
There’s even a disease called popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) where breathing in too much of that vaporized chemical causes severe breathing problems. The chemical diacetyl that makes it taste like buttery, movie theatre popcorn is to blame as well.
But don’t despair. Popcorn is still an amazing and healthy snack if you pop it the old-fashioned way.
Plastic water bottles are so four years ago—no one likes BPA, bro. However, do you like soup? How about other things that come in a can, like pumpkin pie filling and cranberry sauce? Mmmm, cranberries with turkey dinner, gravy and mashed potatoes. But on second thought, hold the cranberries. And the pumpkin pie.
Bisphenol A, or BPA, loves metal food cans like Joanie loves Chachi. BPA lines cans to protect the food inside from contamination and it’s hard to say how much is in a particular can as studies of different cans of the same product have resulted in differing levels. In a 2010 study called ‘No Silver Lining’, 50 cans from Canada and the US were tested and over 90 percent had detectable levels of BPA.
And a little BPA goes a long way. At levels that a normal person would come across in a metal food can, the Breast Cancer fund says BPA can “increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in females, type 2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” It’s especially harmful for prenatal babies and very young children.
Some companies are switching to non-BPA cans now, but it’s very rare and you’d need to do your research to be certain about which ones are in the clear. How about making that pie from scratch this year?
Christmas is a colourful holiday: twinkling lights, bright packages, decorations and food. You might not have guessed it, but red food in particular is a cause for concern if it’s been artificially coloured.
Most red dye is made from the crushed exoskeletons of South American beetles. The females and eggs produce the red colour and are farmed for three months before being killed. It’s reported that it takes 70 000 beetles to make one pound of red dye.
This is not cool if you’re a vegan or have religious diet restrictions or really didn’t set out to eat any bugs today. The dye can also cause asthma attacks, allergic reactions and sometimes anaphylactic shock.
The red dye goes by a number of names like carmine, cochineal, E120, Crimson Lake and Natural Red 4.
Cranberry, pomegranate and ruby red grapefruit juices, pink yogurts and ice creams and candies, the pink fillings inside chocolates and the red food colouring you use to make icing for cookies and cakes are a few examples of where carmine can be found. Read labels if you want to avoid it.