Month: May 2014

How does the FDA’s new approved artificial sweetener, Advantame, fit into a wild food diet?


Source: FDA

Well, it doesn’t.

And if you’re not familiar with the latest news coming from the Food and Drug Administration, let me fill you in.  On May 19th, 2014, the FDA publicly approved the release of its 6th artificial sweetener into America’s food supply.  Advantame, as they call it, is derived from aspartame and vanillin, and is 20,000 times sweeter than sucrose.

The FDA has concluded that advantame is safe for use as a general purpose sweetener and flavor enhancer in food, based on 37 studies using animals and humans.  While that statement may provide solace to Americans ingesting this chemical, there are a few things to still keep in mind:

  1. There are no studies detailing advantame’s long-term effects on the human body.  In fact, the long-term study is being conducted now on every human consuming this artificial sweetener.  It may be a few decades before we see the real results, however.
  2. There are no studies documenting the beneficial effects of advantame on the human body.  Sure, researchers may not have witnessed any negative effects experienced by the participants (though remember, most were short-term studies), but what benefits were seen?  With a name like “advantame,” you’d think we’d die without it.  What’s in it for consumers?
  3. Most, if not all, foods containing advantame will be nutrient-poor junk foods.  According to the FDA, advantame can be used in “baked goods, non-alcoholic beverages (including soft drinks), chewing gum, confections and frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams and jellies, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups” (1).  Put another way, the word “advantame” will be an indicator ingredient – a sort of red flag – for junk food.
  4. Aren’t five FDA approved artificial sweeteners enough?

There are two questions I ask when presented with a novel food.  First, is there a physiological need for this food (i.e. are there proven benefits)?  If no, then is there any evidence of use by traditional cultures?

Advantame fails on both accounts.

My advice?  Consume sugar in its complex package (for example, as fruits), or use sugars that have traditional relevance, such as honey, maple sugar, and maple syrup.

And don’t buy into the hype of advantame … some people are just looking to make a few extra dollars (at the expense of our health, of course).

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-Adam Haritan


7 Natural Tick Repellents From The Plant Kingdom

deertickwildfoodismForaging for food in the supermarket is just a bit different from foraging for food in the wild, wouldn’t you say?

While both scenarios present a set of challenges (in the supermarket:  beating the weekend rush, using coupons before their expiration dates, enduring the dreadful parking lots, etc.), wild food foraging may be known to pose the more immediate threats (misidentification, embracing the elements of nature, etc.).

One of the challenges of being a wild food enthusiast in Pennsylvania is exposure to ticks.  These small arachnids, particularly the deer ticks (i.e. blacklegged ticks), are no small threats, as they are vectors for illnesses including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis.

Typical precautionary measures include wearing long sleeved pants and shirts, wearing light colored clothing to easily spot the presence of ticks, and using repellents.

But which repellents are effective and safe?

DEET is one of the most popular tick repellents, yet researchers question its safety not only on human health, but on the health of the environment as well (1).  Permethrin is another synthetic repellent recommended for protection against ticks, and even though it is indicated for topical application, the EPA classifies this insecticide as a weak carcinogen with toxic effects on fish and aquatic invertebrates (2).

Fortunately, researchers have analyzed alternative (i.e. more natural) ways to protect oneself against deer ticks.  Let’s take a look at some of them:

An extract of Alaska cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis) has been shown to be effective at killing nymphal ticks, with effects lasting up to 21 days after treatment (3).  This is important, for the reason that most humans are infected through the bites of these small and barely detectable nymphs. Chinese weeping cypress (Cupressus funebris) has also been shown to effectively repel deer tick nymphs.

Junipers are coniferous plants in the cypress family (Cupressaceae).  The same study that analyzed the repellent activity of Alaska cypress found that an extract of Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) was effective at repelling larval ticks.

Additionally, the oils of common juniper leaves (Juniperus communis) and Chinese juniper wood (Juniperus chinensis) are effective repellents against deer tick nymphs. In one particular study, common juniper leaf oil was just as effective as DEET (4).

Balsam torchwood
Balsam torchwood (Amyris balsamifera) is an aromatic bush whose oil has been used traditionally as an antiseptic.  An essential oil from the plant has been researched and shown to be an effective deer tick repellent (5).

Osage orange
Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) is a small tree in the mulberry family known for its “monkey ball” fruits.  In the same study that analyzed balsam torchwood’s activity against ticks, researchers found that a primary constituent of the essential oil of Osage orange, known as elemol, effectively repelled deer ticks.

Tauroniro tree
The compound isolongifolenone, derived from this Neotropical tree (Humiria balsamifera), has been shown to be an effective insect repellent.  In one study, isolongifolenone repelled deer ticks as effectively as DEET (6).

Geraniol is the main compound found in the oils of rose, palmarosa, and citronella.  It is also a component of geranium oil and lemon oil.  As part of a plant based repellent, geraniol has been shown to be effective against deer ticks (7).

Lemon eucalyptus
Lemon eucalyptus (Corymbia citriodora) is an Australian tree whose oil contains a compound known as menthoglycol.  While no research has looked at its effect on deer ticks, a prospective cross-over field trial showed that application of the oil reduced the number of castor bean ticks attached to human participants by about 63% (8).  The castor bean tick is a European hard-bodied tick that, like the deer tick, can transmit the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.

And there we have it … seven natural tick repellents that have been scientifically researched for their effectiveness.  Many products derived from the aforementioned plants can be found commercially (i.e. sprays, creams, essential oils).

If you live in an area known to be at high risk of harboring Lyme disease (check out this U.S. map to see if you are), consider implementing safe, yet effective strategies to protect yourself during your time spent in the wild.

Of course, there are many more plants that have the ability to repel ticks; if you have a particular strategy that works well for you, please share with us!

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Want to connect with naturalists in your area?  Some of them may even be tick-fighting experts!  Check out Learn Your Land to learn more!

Thank you!
Adam Haritan