Iron and meatless meat, dioxins in plastics, and how much sodium is in Kosher salt

Q: Am I likely to have problems getting all the iron I need as I move to eating meatless meals more often?
Q: I heard that freezing plastic water bottles and microwaving in plastic releases dioxins, which are cancer-causing chemicals. Is this true?
Q: Is it true that Kosher salt is lower in sodium than conventional table salt?


Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Am I likely to have problems getting all the iron I need as I move to eating meatless meals more often?
A: Not necessarily, as long as you make healthy food choices. All meat and fish, but especially red meat (beef, pork and lamb), provide a particular type of iron called heme iron that is more easily absorbed by the body than the non-heme iron in many other foods. However, absorption of non-heme iron is strongly influenced by factors in our diet that enhance or limit its absorption. One of the most important steps you can take when eating meatless meals is to include plenty of vegetables and fruits, especially at least one that is a good source of vitamin C. This vitamin, along with other compounds in vegetables and fruits, can approximately double non-heme iron absorption. Tea can bind to non-heme iron, blocking its absorption, so many experts suggest waiting at least two hours after a meatless meal before drinking tea. Although iron stores tend to be somewhat lower among vegetarians, studies suggest that incidence of iron-deficiency anemia and other health problems are not any higher among vegetarians that follow a healthy diet. Premenopausal women and teen girls have the greatest iron needs, but they still can enjoy meatless meals. If necessary, iron-fortified cereals or a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement can help.

Q: I heard that freezing plastic water bottles and microwaving in plastic releases dioxins, which are cancer-causing chemicals. Is this true?
A: No. There is a lot of false information circulating about this. There are no dioxins in plastic. Another group of chemicals, called phthalates, is sometimes added to plastics to make them flexible. However, contrary to circulating myths, phthalates have not been used in making plastic wrap in the United States for quite a few years. According to the American Chemistry Council, a group of phthalate manufacturers, phthalates are not used in any U.S. plastic food containers or beverage bottles. Freezing plastic bottles poses no risk. Plastic containers labeled “microwave safe” are made of plastics that have passed FDA guidelines for safety, even for repeated microwaving. (Plastic tubs for margarine or other refrigerated foods are not included in this group.) “Microwave safe” plastic wrap is tested for use in the microwave, though experts recommend following manufacturer’s instructions that it cover dishes without coming in contact with food during microwaving.

Q: Is it true that Kosher salt is lower in sodium than conventional table salt?
A: Kosher salt is sodium chloride, with virtually the same amount of sodium in the same weight of table salt. However, table salt is finely ground in order to dissolve quickly, whereas kosher salt is in larger granules. A teaspoon of table salt holds more salt granules than a teaspoon of kosher salt, making the same volume of table salt higher in sodium. If using kosher salt helps you minimize the amount of salt you add to food, then it can be a helpful tool toward the recommendation that we limit sodium consumption. However, remember that kosher salt is not “lite” salt, which is table salt with less sodium. Since processed food supplies the vast majority of the sodium in our diets, the most important step to limiting sodium consumption is to use less processed food, or look for canned vegetables and sauces with little or no added salt.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research www.aicr.org

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