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WalkerSpeak: Canned Tomatoes Haven’t Killed Me Yet

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In November, on Yahoo’s “Shine”, I read an article that mentioned canned tomatoes as something  food experts avoid. That is because of a substance in the resin linings of tomato cans, a synthetic estrogen, that in even very minute amounts can impact our health, especially in the very young.

The scientist quoted is Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D.,  an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri, who has researched the topic for years. The substance is called bisphenol-A, or BPA. Vom Saal was quoted as saying “I won’t go near canned tomatoes.”

Because I am not a scientist, I don’t instantly scoff at this sort of thing without reading further.

I found an interesting article on PBS Frontline that ran in 1998, when the endocrinologist was already making warning sounds about bisphenol-A.

It made me wonder if it makes any sense for me now to make a major change in my lifestyle and avoid canned tomatoes. If I am to do that, there are certainly other choices out there these days. We can select tomatoes in boxes, such as Pomi. We can find tomatoes in glass jars, especially canned pasta sauces. We can put up our own tomatoes in glass jars in the summer when they are so plentiful.

But we have to also consider all the canned tomatoes that go into our fast food addictions such as pizza, salsas, spaghetti sauce and more when we eat out. Is this another item that we need to ask the waiter about, sending him or her back to the kitchen to query an irritated chef?

I probably won’t.

It was good news some years ago when we heard that tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene. That’s when I figured that canned tomatoes were probably responsible for keeping me alive. (Tomatoes, plus not smoking cigarettes or eating liver, which I’m convinced is toxic – otherwise why would it taste like that?)

It might be tempting to think that maybe the lycopene content cancels out the bad effects of bisphenol-A, but we know that science doesn’t work like that.

All I can say is, canned tomatoes haven’t killed me yet.

When I was growing up, my mother gave piano lessons every night, so the task of making dinner fell to me. Dinner often included the instructions to “open a can of tomatoes.”

When we made baked Swiss steak it was made by pouring a can of tomatoes over the browned steaks and baking it. Many of the casseroles we made (this was in the ’60s) contained a can of tomatoes.  I remember one in particular called “Shipwreck.” Neither I nor my mom can remember exactly what it had in it, except for that can of tomatoes, a layer of ground beef and a layer of chopped potatoes.

When we ran out of soup for lunch, and we always had soup for lunch, we’d open a can and make tomato soup. Canned tomatoes went into lasagnas and pizza sauce, salsa and spaghetti sauce.

One childhood dish was simply tomatoes out of a can, heated up, then piled with strips of buttered toast. We called it “stewed tomatoes.”

Those innocent days are gone. We now have been alerted to so many ways we can toxify our bodies that it seems a full time job to keep up with the research and make the necessary changes.

But since by a rough calculation I have consumed a minimum of 5,000 pounds of canned tomatoes in my lifetime, I am not going to worry about this, though I might start buying more tomatoes in glass jars. At this point, if I die from canned tomatoes, it will more likely be that someone launched a 32-ounce can at my head — and that’s a different sort of problem altogether.

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