The Physics Police

The Physics Police

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Electrolytes Plants Crave

Phosphate is a bad-ass little molecule. It plays the central role in plant and animal metabolism.

For example, plants use the sun's energy to stick a third phosphate onto ADP to form ATP, rightfully called the "molecular unit of currency". In animals, muscle contraction consumes a ton of ATP. All aerobic organisms, including humans, form ATP using chemical energy from caloric sources such as fat, protein, and sugar. Even anaerobic respiration, thought to happen in the most ancient bacteria, is just a different way to turn ADP into ATP by adding one more phosphate.

I would go so far as to define life on Earth as a very complex mechanism for making ATP by somehow gluing a phosphate molecule to the end of ADP!

Phosphate, the metabolism molecule.
Sodium phosphates are formed by sticking sodium atoms on those dangling oxygen atoms. When you have all three oxygen atoms paired up with sodium in this manner, it's called trisodium phosphate (TSP) which is used as a food additive (acidity regulator and emulsifier), cleaning agent, and was in the past an ingredient in some soaps and detergents.

That may sound like a scary chemical, but it's just the salt of phosphate, the metabolism molecule. Biologically, it's harmless. Table salt is more toxic than trisodium phosphate, presumably because it has higher molecular density of sodium!

In addition to having the electrolytes plants crave, TSP has been studied as a sports supplement.

TSP has the electrolytes algae crave, too. Prolific algal blooms can deplete the water of oxygen, killing fish and other animals. In an effort to reduce the risk of algal blooms, TSP was taken out of dish soap because it was thought the electrolytes might be causing too much algal growth by raising the biological supportive capacity.

People crave electrolytes, too. TSP is approved as a food additive by the EU, and is generally recognized as safe by just about everyone who passed High School biology.

Nick Brannigan and Vicky LePage of Health Conspiracy Radio seem to disagree. I'm not saying these two didn't pass High School biology, but such news wouldn't come as a big surprise.

They posted a man-on-the-street video shot on the Las Vegas strip where they hassled passers by about the (imaginary) dangers of this food additive.

This popular children's cereal also has an ingredient that is the main ingredient in degreasing paint, trisodium phosphate. We wanna know how many people know that this toxic chemical is in their favorite children's cereal... (0:08)

... it says "warning, harmful if swallowed." Does that look okay to eat? (1:57)
If you watch the video, you can see them liberally sprinkling crystalline TSP over a bowl of cereal. It's a white powder that resembles sugar. Mixed with water (i.e. when swallowed) high concentrations of TSP form an alkaline solution. Alkaline means high pH, whereas acidic means low pH. In other words, concentrated TSP can give you a chemical burn, not due to toxicity, but due to alkalinity.

I don't have to tell you that the concentrations of TSP found in cereal are small. Does cereal cause chemical burns? Does it bubble when you dump it into lemon juice? No, I didn't think so. The acidity of food is seldom of dietary concern. Lemons are highly acidic with a pH of 2.4, where a pH of 7 is neutral, and the pH of your typical TSP-based cleaning agent is 12.

Let's forgive the conflation of alkaline with toxic. The amount of TSP in cereal doesn't significantly change the pH of the food. Therefore, a tall glass of lemonade, being very acidic, poses a greater threat to your stomach lining than does TSP in cereal. Baking soda is also alkaline, with a pH of 9. Do you know what they use baking soda for...?

The alkalinity of TSP is an ironic complaint coming from Nick Brannigan who did an hour long show on the "alkaline diet" with some quack doctor! Aside from deceit, the only only explanation I can think of for Branniga's duel hatred and love for alkaline foods is that he doesn't know what alkaline means or how it matters to human health.

Anyway, here's the appeal to nature fallacy in all it's glory.
If you look on the ingredients in this, you can understand all the ingredients, you know what you're eating... It's a lot healthier for you, it's got no chemicals in it... These have all ingredients you can read... (2:36)
So long as airheads like Vicky LePage keep using the word "chemicals" as a synonym for "bad", I'm going to keep reminding people that everything is made of chemicals. Also, this idea that chemicals which you don't know how to pronounce are bad for you is one of the most blatantly ignorant things I've ever heard.
People have been asking us if we work for Nature's Path. We don't. (3:51)
No, but you work for NaturalNews, which is the worst anti-science website and supports Nature's Path because of their dedication to GMO labeling, all-organic ingredients.

Let's put on our Health Conspiracy glasses and take a closer look at these "healthier" ingredients in Nature's Path Leapin Lemurs Cereal:
Organic corn meal, organic whole grain corn meal, organic evaporated cane juice, organic peanut butter, organic molasses, organic cocoa, sea salt, organic soy oil, natural flavor, tocopherols. (Source)
All peanut butter, even certified organic, contains traces of aflatoxin, produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus. It's LD50 (a measure of toxicity) is 1.2 mg/kg, which is 6,167 times more toxic than TSP!

Whether it's certified organic or not, molasses can contain sulfur dioxide, which according to NaturalNews is not so good for most human consumption. Even worse,
When fed in large amounts, and incorrectly, molasses may be toxic... The remedy is to immediately give them a solution that is rich in phosphorus and sodium. (Source)
You read that right. Molasses is toxic sludge, and trisodium phosphate is the only cure!

Did you know that caffeine is a natural pesticide? It's LD50 is 265 mg/kg, which is 30 times more toxic than TSP. Do you still want to eat that cereal which has organic cocoa that's loaded with toxic pesticides?

According to NaturalNews, soy oil, even certified organic soy oil, contains traces of hexane, a constituent of gasoline! Eww!

Even the cinnamon in Cinnamon Toast Crunch contains the chemical coumarin, which has an LD50 of 275mg/kg, which is 27 times more toxic than TSP. Coumarin have been used as rodenticides, too! Ever heard of Warfarin?

See how easy it is to play this trite little game? Notice also how many contradictions pop up once you decide to vilify something against all reason?

TSP is an extremely safe food additive. Health Conspiracy Radio is aptly named, because Nick Brannigan and Vicky LePage have conspired to mislead people about TSP using fear tactics and the appeal to nature fallacy.

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