Pollutants and Food

Potentially harmful chemicals can enter the food supply during growing, processing, and packing. These include pesticides that are applied to crops; antibiotics, hormones, and other substances included in animal feed; and environmental pollutants, such as heavy metals, asbestos, PCBs, and vinyl chloride. While many contaminants pose no threat with short exposure, larger doses of such contaminants and accidental spills often carry severe risks, leaving residues that persists in the environment for a long time. These days harmful chemical additives used to preserve fish, ripen fruits and colour vegetables are being used in Bangladesh causing slow,or even rapid poisoning, once ingested.

Even if foods are regularly tested, though not yet a common practice in Bangladesh, it is impossible to totally eliminate pollutants. What's more, all fruits and vegetables produce natural pesticides; one example is nicotine, which protects tobacco plants from pests. Many of these pesticides are more potent cancer -causing agents than synthetic chemicals, at least in the doses that government allows in foods.

Luckily, the plants also have cancer -fighting substances that cancel out the potentially harmful effects of others.

Whether a contaminant is harmful or not depends on how long it lingers in the body or the environment. A substance that resists chemical or biological breakdown accumulates as it is ingested by one species after another, steadily building up as the food chain progresses from small, weak species to the large and dominant. The highest levels of pollutants, therefore, are ingested by large animals at the top of the food chain. If the body rapidly excretes a substance or metabolizes it into a harmless compound, brief exposure may do no harm.

But when a contaminant interacts with body systems, it may be dangerous. Most chemical carcinogens are relatively harmless in themselves. They become dangerous when the body transforms them into reactive compounds that can damage its DNA. Most of this transformation, called metabolic activation, takes place in the liver. Some toxins are stored in fatty tissues and remain out of harm's way until the fat is mobilized for energy.

That's why trimming the fat from animal products can help to reduce the amount of pollutants you consume.

To ensure sound nutrition while guarding against exposure to high levels of pollutants and pesticides, the wisest course is to eat a wide variety of foods and avoid consuming too much of a few items that may carry a heavy contaminant load. For contaminants we can't avoid, our bodies are remarkably well equipped with preventive mechanisms to detoxify them.

Submitted By
Stethoscope Dietitian

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