Sunday, January 19, 2014

MYTH-BUSTED: Why your grandparents didn’t have food allergies…but you do- It's not true!

    On January 6, a post titled, Why your grandparents didn’t have food allergies…but you do via Butter Nutrition went viral. Gluten-Free pages across the internet wasted no time in re-posting this link. The post lists 7 reasons as to why our grandparents didn't have food allergies alluding that 21st century lifestyle is the cause. There's nothing like the good ol' days as this post congers an era of nostalgia among it's readers. Nostalgia has often be used as a tool to mislead the public, and there's no exception when it comes to this post. It is littered with several historical inaccuracies. It's time to shed some light on Butter Nutrition's list and let the facts speak from themselves.  

We'll be Myth-Busting this list in order of most to least inaccurate:

6) They didn’t go to the doctor when they felt sick or take prescription medications. Doctor visits were saved for accidental injuries and life threatening illness. When they got a fever, they waited it out. When they felt sick, they ate soups, broths and got lots of rest. They did not have their doctor or nurse on speed dial, and trusted the body’s natural healing process a whole lot more than we do today. Their food was medicine, whether they realized it or not.

Fact:  The 6th reason on that list is probably the worst one. Most of the medicines that we use today didn't exist back the early 20th century.

Of course people waited out a fever, because they had no choice! Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen) commonly used to treat fevers and flu symptoms weren't invented until 1953 and 1969.  The only exception is aspirin, which has been around for centuries and first manufactured in the late 1800’s.  Unfortunately, aspirin isn’t safe for children.

Prescription medications, including over the counter (OTC) were very different the early 20th century. OTC medicine in the early 20th century, contained cocaine, alcohol and other dangerous substances which were often used to treat aliments such as: pain, PMS, and fevers. It was thanks to avocation of a chemist, Harvey Washington Wiley; that in June 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Food and Drug Act, also known as the "Wiley Act" to protect the public.  

The famous antibiotic known as penicillin was discovered in 1928, by Sir Alexander Fleming, yet it wasn't until 1945 that it was mass produced. 

Since this post is about food-allergies, epinephrine was discovered in 1901. It was one of the first hormones to be discovered. It was original used to treat asthma, cardiac issues (heart attacks, low blood pressure) [ref:]

Benadryl (diphenhydramine), the first generation of antihistamines to treat allergies was discovered in 1943 by George Rieveschl, and was approved by the FDA for prescription in 1946.
The lifesavingEpiPen, was invented by biomechanical engineer, Sheldon Kaplan. It was patented in 1977, and made public in 1980.

FYI- Anaphylaxis  is a life threatening, and it requires you to go to the hospital no matter what era your from.

5) They ate the whole animal that included mineral richbone broths and organ meats. Animal bones were saved or bought to make broths and soups, and organ meats always had a special place at the dinner table. These foods were valued for their medicinal properties, and never went to waste.

Fact: This statement seems to conveniently forget about Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle, which exposed health hazards in the meat industry. Eating meat was unsafe, in fact human body parts were often found or mixed in- giving a whole new definition to the term finger food. The book caused uproar, in 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

4) They didn’t eat GMO’s, food additives, stabilizers and thickeners. Food was not yet treated with additives, antibiotics and hormones to help preserve shelf life and pad the pockets of food producers in the early 1900′s at the expense of the consumer’s health.

Fact: Okay, theirs is truth to this statement, but not in the historical sense. Yes, GMO’s food additives, stabilizers and thickeners aren’t good for you. Historical speaking the antibiotics/hormones that are given to animals weren’t invented in 1900, nor where modern additives, stabilizers or thickeners. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was first in the food industry in 1960. In the 1970’s it began to replace the primary sweetener sucrose (sugar from beets or cane) because it was cheaper.

Remember Wonder Bread, invented in 1921, it was the first packaged sliced bread, and it also retained its shape- thanks to preservatives. In 1940 vitamins and minerals to Wonder Bread as part of a government-sponsored program of enriching white bread which was notoriously deficient in vitamin and mineral content, to combat certain diseases, beriberi and pellagra. This leads us to our next point…..

1) They ate seasonal real food.Food came from farms and small markets in the early 1900′s, and because food preservatives were not widely used yet, food was fresh. Because of the lack of processed food, their diets were nutrient dense allowing them to get the nutrition they needed from their food. For babies, breast milk was valued and it was always in season.

Fact: This is false! There were several vitamin deficiency diseases back in the 1900’s, the most famous would be Pellagra, which is caused by a vitamin B3 deficiency (niacin).  In a nut-shell the disease mostly plagued the southern states of the US. Originally it was thought to be caused by a germ. Dr. Joseph Goldberger proved that it was caused by a vitamin deficiency, that a well-balanced diet was the cure. The average diet in 1900’s was rich in corn and meat. The food that we take for granted weren't widely available.

2) They didn’t diet, and play restrictive games with their body and metabolism. They ate food when food was available.Our grandparents did not fall victim to fad diets, food marketing, calorie counting, and other detrimental dieting habits that are popular today (in part because the marketing infrastructure didn’t exist yet). Because of this they had a healthy metabolism, and ate according to their body’s needs and cravings.

Fact: Sorry, but diets have existed throughout history, take a look at this article from CNN.
Here are few:
1820: Lord Byron popularizes the Vinegar and Water Diet, which entails drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar.
1903: President William Howard Taft pledges to slim down after getting stuck in the White House bathtub.
1925: The Lucky Strike cigarette brand launches the "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet" campaign, capitalizing on nicotine's appetite-suppressing superpowers.

3) They cooked food at home, using traditional preparation methods from scratch.Buying processed food was not an option, and eating out was a rare luxury. Lucky for our grandparents these habits actually increased their health.

Fact: This statement in confusing, it’s hard to tell whether it references to 1900’s version of home cooked meal or the 1950’s. It’s also an unfair statement, to make a meal from scratch in 1900 was a lot of work. Our grandparent would probably tell us that we are lucky. Inventions such as canned, frozen foods, and even refrigeration have been made life better. Try and imagine life without them?  

Frozen foods invented by in 1929 by Clarence Birdseye, gave people the opportunity have fruits and veggies when they weren’t in season. Today, Frozen Foods not only make cooking a meal easier, they’re considered a health alternative to their fresh counterparts, because they contain more fiber.

Also, cast-iron cook pans commonly used in the 1900’s, while they do add extra iron to food, there not ideal for people with food allergies; because allergens can stick to the pan.

7) They spent lots of time outside.Our grandparents didn’t have the choice to stay inside and play on their phones, computers and gaming systems. They played on the original play-station:  bikes, swing-sets and good ol’ mother nature!

Fact: Yes, the great outdoors is good for you. The many benefits include exercise, and vitamin D from sunshine. In regard to developing allergies this is a half-truth. There are studies that suggest that exposing children to outdoor activity at a very early age can help their immune system and prevent seasonal allergies. There was even an article in the NY Times stating that children who grew up on farm are less likely to develop food/seasonal allergies. That because we aren't exposed to pollen or harmless microbes, this cause our immune system to become hyper-sensitive resulting in allergies. 

What about genetics? If 1 parent has allergies your child has a 70% chance of developing a food/seasonally allergies. Children can out-grow their allergies, but a person who’s never had an allergy can also develop them in adulthood.
Some people develop seasonal allergies when they move. For example, if you grew up in North Africa, and then moved to France, you can develop seasonal allergies, because your immune system will not recognize the regional tree pollen.

Latex allergies can develop if you’re constantly exposed to the substance; this is common among medical personnel and people who work in rubber factories.

Personally, my mom cooked from scratch, I spent lots of time outdoors; even went to farm on weekends as a kids. I inherited the seasonal allergies from my mom along with her latex allergy. Within the past 5 year I have developed 18 food allergies.

The reality is allergies are complicated, and there are no easy answers.

 As far as this post is concerned, You've just been BUSTED!


  1. Here are some more factors that the Butter Nutrition post misstates or simply fails to consider:

    1) Infant mortality rates. Astronomically lower today. ~100 years ago, roughly one in six infants died before the age of 1; today that has dropped to about 1 in 150. Perhaps many of those babies would have developed allergies had they survived to childhood.

    2) Child mortality rates. Though there wasn't as stark a difference between then and today, they were higher nonetheless. As you say, many of the medical advances we take for granted today simply didn't exist. As in point 1, some of the children who died of infection, flu, and other ailments could have developed food allergies had they survived. What's more (as you imply), many of the children who DID have food allergies would not have been aware of them, nor would they have had treatment available in the case of a severe reaction. Who knows how many deaths of 'unknown causes' were actually due to undiagnosed allergies?

    Imagine 20 of your friends or acquantances. Now imagine if 4-6 of the least healthy among them had died as an infant or child. How many of the remaining ~15 have food allergies? This is more the sort of picture that would have existed in your grandparents' day.

    3) The flipside of the 'all-natural', preservative-free, unprocessed, local diet extolled by the post as unequivocally 'better for you' is that you often would have eaten spoiled food (risking food poisoning, diarrhea, etc), contaminated or otherwise poor quality food (less rigorous food inspection), and a less balanced or varied diet at certain times of the year since you would be at the mercy of what food is in season - the 'seasonal real' diet seems less appealing at the end of winter when your vegetable options are limited to a handful of different preserves for weeks on end. Would you still enjoy those pickled beets and mashed turnips after 20 straight days of them?

    4) Most North Americans would have been exposed to much fewer varieties of food back then. Maybe your grandparent in rural Minnesota, Kansas or Ontario 100 years ago would have had or did have a peanut/shellfish/soy/whatever allergy, but they simply never ate it!

  2. The original article is only partly right. Food allergies are definitely connected with vaccines but not because food are eaten at the same time as vaccines are in the system. Vaccines cause food allergies because there are minute amounts of food protein in the vaccines. Prior to the final culture medium which appears on the package insert, food waste is used. Every food known to man can be used. Even more alarming is the fact that pharmaceutical companies can self-affirm Generally Recognized As Safe ingredients. What this means is that a pharmaceutical company can decide that it wants to use GMO soybean oil as a GRAS ingredient in pharmaceuticals. They do a study, have the study reviewed by experts they hire, then they are free to use GMO soybean oil and nothing ever gets submitted to the FDA or the public. Nothing appears on the package insert. It is against the law for anyone who works for the pharmaceutical company to divulge any information about GMO soybean oil being used as an ingredient. It is a protected trade secret, protected by international law. These minute amounts of protein are not uniform in any vial of vaccine so not every shot contains the food protein.

  3. GMOs are not bad for you. Course, you can believe what you want, but the science is pretty much in.