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Can't Get Too Much ...

There are certain foods I could eat all day, every day, and really not get tired of them. I think. I hope. And then there are a few more that aren't so much foods as ingredients, those things that spice other things up. And then there are heavy metals. Alas.

Part I: Heavy Metal Fish
Given the option I might very well pop open a $0.49 can of tuna every day, toss in a tablespoon of mayonnaise, and sprinkle in ... no, more than sprinkle ... some red pepper sauce. Mix with a fork, forget the bread, and just eat it from a bowl.

I grew up with tuna sandwiches. We always said tuna fish sandwiches, as if there might be tuna bird or tuna fowl, or perhaps tuna four-legged sandwiches possible as well. But even better than tuna, and more rare on our plates due to price, was shredded ham. Ham in a can, and not SPAM™. Shredded ham in a can mixed with mayo (or perhaps Miracle Whip™) and put on sandwiches. It had more texture and more sweetness than the tuna, which itself achieved both through the addition of sweet pickle relish. When I went to Woodman's some time back with Jen I found a large can of Hormel shredded ham as well as a can of shredded, cooked turkey, which I also purchased, but that childhood delight could not be replicated.

I'll stick with my $0.49 cans of Shurfine tuna in water, but it's not an everyday sort of food, and for one reason: mercury. I really loved the novel Quicksilver, but my own desire to poison my nervous system with mercury is rather limited. According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) I shouldn't eat more than one can of chunk light tuna every three days (two and a third per week); the Environmental Working Group says I can have three and a half cans a week. Pick your poison.

Another study, hosted by the Mercury Policy Project gives even more dire numbers regarding pollution. Got Mercury? also has an interactive calculator, and from NOW via PBS you can read about mercury in fish.

Part II: Can't Get Enough
So it is that one—I—should limit tuna intake, which is a shame. I'm not even considering high quality tuna, the $5/can, $8/can stuff, not the stuff you buy in a half-dollar tin at the supermarket. But there are other, as of yet not too contaminated, items that fall under the heading “can't get enough.” And they're good for you.

Cinnamon: The “health benefits” of cinnamon can be found all over the IntarWeb. WHFoods and Eat This (at healthdiaries.com) are just two locations; one suspects they just parrot the same studies and information. To summarize and highlight:

(Red) Pepper: The capsaicin in peppers is N-Vanillyl-8-methyl-6-(E)-noneamide, it relieves pain, acts as an antioxidant, may help with bacterial infections, and is being studied for use in the treatment of diabetes and various types of cancers. I just like sprinkling—okay, pouring—hot pepper sauces on my food.

Capsaicin is a vanilloid, and thus related to vanillin, eugenol (allspice, cloves) and zingerone (ginger, mustard).

Cocoa: Need I really say anything about the seed of the cacao tree, about cocoa butter, about chocolate, about theobromine?

Theobromine is known to induce gene mutations in lower eukaryotes and bacteria. At the time of a 1997 report by the IARC, mutations had not been found in higher eukaryotes, such as humans.
(see: IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 51, Coffee, Tea, Mate, Methylxanthines and Methylglyoxal)

If I had it all to do over again there are times I think I'd have studied chemistry, or biology, or biochemistry, etc. ... if only so I could work on alkaloids.

Part III: Heavy Metal Water Supply
Cinnamon is a good way to get your daily dose of manganese, yet as is the case with many metals, excess manganese is toxic and a health risk. Water filters (Britta™, etc.) do not filter it. And a number of wells tested in Madison have reported higher than recommended amounts of manganese in the water. A former mayor has weighed in on the matter, but in the process used it primarily for his own political ends. To an extent the manganese situation has been blown out of proportion, and as the Madison Water Utility points out, “There is no federal regulation for concentrations of manganese in drinking water for health reasons. However, there is a federal secondary standard of 50 ppb [...] based on aesthetic considerations such as taste and color.” The main concern is how the water tastes or smells or looks—when it comes to “parts per billion” human sense organs fail us, when it comes to the neurological effects metal poisoning causes, for example, parts per billion is meaningless at the level of experience, even though it's logical and meaningful in a scientific sense, in a discursive sense.

That having been said, Madison city water tastes like crap, and unfiltered it makes terrible coffee. Pipes are old and the water itself, unfiltered, tastes off, which is why I filter my water. I was “lucky,” one might say; I grew up drinking relatively clean, cold, fresh, good-tasting water straight from a deep well in our front yard.

At least we don't have to worry about the mercury content of our city wells.


—April 3 2007