Mycotoxins in Food – How to Avoid Exposure

Mycotoxins in Food – How to Avoid Exposure

Question:

I’m hearing a lot about the dangers lurking in certain foods and keep seeing mycotoxins on the list. What are these, where are they, and what’s the risk? I’m going crazy trying to avoid contaminants! It seems nothing is safe.

– Karen H.

Answer:

No foods are truly 100% safe or non-perishable. Although we typically think of spoilage and rotting from visible bacterial growth and pest infestation, contamination of food can also be hiding from the naked eye. It’s said that mycotoxins are present practically everywhere in trace amounts and are unavoidable. 

According to the World Health Organization, “mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced by certain types of molds (fungi).” Health effects from these toxins range from acute poisoning to immune deficiency and death. Mycotoxin-producing molds can grow on numerous foods such as cereals, dried fruits, corn, peanuts, coffee beans, nuts and spices. Fox News reported in 2015 that “in the United States aflatoxin contamination is most common is the Southeast in peanuts and corn products.” Aflatoxins are a type of mycotoxin known to cause liver cancer. Other major mycotoxins include citrinin, deoxylnivalenol, fumonisins, ochratoxin, patulin, trichothecenes and zearatenones. 

The good news: Contaminated foodstuffs (either visibly or tested) are not permitted in developed countries’ marketplace. The FDA has set very strict tolerance levels for certain mycotoxins present in crops. 

The bad news: In the U.S., agricultural products kept within state lines and animal feeds are not subject to FDA limits. Additionally, through the food chain, the consumption of even tiny amounts of mycotoxins can have a cumulative effect. This is evident in livestock, eggs and dairy products. 

How to avoid mycotoxins, then? You can reduce mycotoxin exposure by obtaining your raw food (whether conventional or organic) from trusted sources that adhere to federal and state safety testing and from local farmers’ markets (short storage periods). Of course, it could also be that reducing consumption of animal products, corn and peanuts may reduce your chance of exposure. 

Additional sources: 

  1. Alshannaq A, Yu JH. Occurrence, Toxicity, and Analysis of Major Mycotoxins in Food. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(6):632. Published 2017 Jun 13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5486318/ doi:10.3390/ijerph14060632 
  2. Bennett JW, Klich M. Mycotoxins. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003;16(3):497–516. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164220/  doi:10.1128/cmr.16.3.497-516.2003 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Hair Loss and Nutrients for Regrowth

Hair Loss and Nutrients for Regrowth

Question:

Hello! I would really like to know what I can do to keep my hair from falling out. I seem to have had thinning hair that falls out easily for as long as I can remember. What is the best nutrient for hair regrowth, and how can I prevent it from falling out in the first place? Thank you!

-Melanie K.

Answer:

There are several nutrients necessary for healthy hair, the fastest growing tissue in the body. What action to take for regrowing hair would depend on the cause of the hair loss. Rarely due to a nutritional deficiency, alopecia often results from stress, medications, hormonal changes, and certain medical conditions. Thinning of head hair is associated with genetics and aging. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends seeing a clinician to determine the cause of hair loss and offers tips on preventing loss.1 

If a nutritional balance is to blame, the likely culprits are a deficiency of iron, zinc, or protein. Additionally, niacin deficiency, sudden weight loss, over supplementation, and essential fatty acid deficiency may be suspect.2 The best sources of problem nutrients include beef, pork, lamb, shellfish, fatty fish, poultry, eggs, beans/legumes, oatmeal and avocados. See our previous Healthy Living Blog article on targeting certain foods for hair growth. 

Providing adequate essential nutrients will help stimulate hair follicles but focus on food first.3 Don’t supplement without first knowing that you need to. Toxicity of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins more readily occurs via supplements than from food. You can actually promote hair loss with too much vitamin A! 

References: 

1) “Hair Loss: Tips for Managing” https://www.aad.org/managing-tips 

2) Guo EL, Katta R. Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology Practical & Conceptual. 2017;7(1):1–10. Published 2017 Jan 31. doi:10.5826/dpc.0701a01 

3) Jessica Levings. Hair Growth Supplements. Today’s Dietitian. Sept, 2017; 19 (9): 40 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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How to Remedy Constipation Naturally

How to Remedy Constipation Naturally

Question:

It’s a little awkward to talk about but I need some remedies for constipation. We all have it at some point but for me it seems ongoing! What can I do? I’ve heard that papaya enzymes can help. Thank you for your time.

– Andre F.

Answer:

What goes in must come out! Even people on temporary liquid diets still create poop. For chronic constipation be sure to get checked by your physician to rule out any underlying medical cause. Home remedies for constipation include: 

Drink adequate fluids – target 0.5 fluid ounces per pound of body weight minimum per day. Strains from both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genuses are employed for constipation relief, as are Activia® yogurt and Yakult® drink. Consuming adequate fiber, both soluble and insoluble, helps to promote regularity.1  

Aim for 25-30 grams total dietary fiber per day from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts/seeds. Exercises that may benefit the gut include yoga, squats, lunges and aerobic workouts. Reducing stress may also help improve intestinal flow. 

Enzymes such as in papaya and pineapples, help to break down amino acid strands thus promote efficient digestion of proteins. Theoretically digestive enzymes would reduce the amount of waste to your large intestines, but they’ve not been proven effective to relieve constipation. 

Resources: 

  1. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. “Overview of Constipation Treatments.” https://www.aboutconstipation.org/treatment-overview.htmlSeptember 29, 2017. Accessed 10.25.2019 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

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What’s Good for Gut Health?

What’s Good for Gut Health?

Question:

I have a question about gut health. How good are probiotics and is it safe to take Acidophilus every day? How does it help the body? Is it better than taking a laxative? Thanks!

– Myra

Answer:

I count lots of questions, so we’ll tackle them one at a time! 

1. Probiotics’ benefit: True probiotic microorganisms are very beneficial, provided that they are in adequate amounts of verified strains shown to have effect. That means certain probiotic sources/foods are good1, while others might be duds whose bacterial colonies simply don’t form significantly stable populations in the human gut2. The term “probiotic” is often misapplied to products.  

Positive effects on health may include immune stimulation, prevention of infection, promotion of regularity, relief of inflammatory bowel disease, cancer suppression, and modulation of brain activity, promoting mental wellness2,3. See www.USProbioticGuide.com for a list of commercial products and the level of evidence for their probiotic strains’ application in certain conditions. 

2. Acidophilus safety: Lactobacillus acidophilus is a type of bacteria found in your intestines and in several fermented foods such as yogurt, keifer, sauerkraut and tempeh. As a supplement, daily consumption is considered generally safe1,4, but may contribute to constipation4 and other digestive complaints, so monitor for side effects. 

3. Acidophilus effectiveness: L. acidophilus supplementation may protect against traveler’s diarrhea, have anti-fungal activity, and prevent bacterial UTI and vaginal infections3,4. Those wishing to take this probiotic in supplement form should find one with at least one billion CFUs per serving 

References: 

  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Probiotics: What You Need to Know.” https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm August 22, 2019. Accessed 10.25.2019
  2. Fijan S. Microorganisms with claimed probiotic properties: an overview of recent literature. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014;11(5):4745–4767. Published 2014 May 5. doi:10.3390/ijerph110504745 
  3. Zawn Villines. “Is Lactobacillus acidophilus good for health?” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324194.php January 12, 2019. Accessed 10.25.2019  
  4. Mayo Clinic. “Acidophilus” www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-acidophilus/art-20361967 October 13, 2017. Accessed 10.25.2019

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Is it Healthy to Replace a Meal with a Shake?

Is it Healthy to Replace a Meal with a Shake?

Question:

Hello, I have breakfast (almond milk, walnuts, pecans, almonds, banana and oats) and dinner (salad of tomato, onion, potatoes, pepper, cilantro, rice puffs). Can I replace my everyday lunch with meal replacement shakes? I work out in the gym 3 times a week and run twice a week. I have been in good shape but can’t get a 6-pack. I would like to get there in 3 months before my vacation. Thanks in advance for your help. 

-Dean

Answer:

You certainly can replace your lunch with a meal replacement shake, although I don’t know if that would help you with your goal. Dinner already sounds super light and you’ve not described your current lunch so it’s hard to tell what’s missing from your day. The items you described are all plant-based so I’ll stick with like foods in recommending quinoa, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, berries, flax & chia seeds, spinach, lentils, and green tea for your mid-day meal. It’s best to chew your calories, allowing your digestive system to do its job over time, thus allowing a slower uptake of energy than from a shake. 

Be sure your workouts include lots of ab-defining exercises as highlighted elsewhere on our Living Healthy Blog. 

Resources: 

  1. Brazier, Brendan. “Best Foods for Building Abs, Six-Packs.” Men’s Journal, 5 Apr. 2018,
    www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/best-foods-for-building-your-abs-20130910/green-tea/.
  2. Willitts, Chris. “Build Muscle with Whole Food, Plant Based Diet.” Muscle and Fitness,
    www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/gain-mass/build-muscle-whole-food-plant-based-diet.
  3. Says:, Moonlit. “Vegan Foods That Can Help Give You Great Abs in No Time!” One Green Planet, 31 Mar. 2015,
    www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/vegan-foods-that-help-give-you-great-abs-in-no-time/%C2%A0.
  4. Willitts, Chris. “How to Get Abs Fast – Just Eat These 10 Fat-Burning Plant Foods.” Vegetarian Bodybuilding, 18 Sept. 2017,
    www.vegetarianbodybuilding.com/how-to-get-abs-fast/%C2%A0.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Ask our Dietitian

Have a nutrition question? Our registered dietitian is ready to help!

Email nutrition@lafitness.com or submit your question below and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

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