Nancy Dell: Fungus in oat cereal; Coffee and cancer risk

You may want to vary your breakfast to be safe

1. I eat a cereal made from oats almost everyday. A friend told me oat cereals have a fungus in them. Is this true?
Nick, Feeding Hills

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. According to a study at the University of Idaho, 70 percent of oat-based cereals purchased in the U.S. were contaminated the fungal toxin called ochratoxin  A.

This does not mean you need to stop eating your oat cereal but you may want to vary your breakfast to be safe. This toxin may suppress your immune system, increase your risk of cancer and may be toxic to your nervous and reproductive systems. Over the course of two years, researchers bought breakfast cereals from U.S. supermarkets. They tested almost 500 samples.

Overall, 42 percent of the samples were contaminated with the toxin. But the highest percentage – again 70 percent – of oat-based cereals were contaminated. Some wheat, corn and rice cereals were also contaminated but not as many. There was also no statistical difference between organic and conventional products.

The U.S. has no established limit for how much of this toxin can be in cereal. Europe does establish a limit.

On the positive side, while most oat cereals have the toxin, only 16 of the samples exceeded the amount established as a tolerable in Europe. The bottom line is this: the cereal is only a problem for people who eat the same thing everyday. So vary your foods in order to avoid too much of one food that may have a potential harmful ingredient.

How does the toxin get there? The grains can get moist and hot during production, storage or transportation allowing the fungus to grow.

2. I love my ice coffee.  Can it prevent skin cancer?
Linda, Springfield

Somehow, coffee still has a bad reputation but it can be healthful.

According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, drinking 1 to 4 cups of coffee a day can reduce the risk of melanoma by 25 percent. Researchers say the antioxidants in coffee interfere with the formation of cancer cells when UV light hits our skin.

So enjoy your iced coffee, but avoid adding too much cream and sugar.

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