I live in Belgium and like to eat around four apples a day. Recently, our agriculture ministry decided to prohibit the use of wax to make apple shiny. Other countries in Europe have not done this. Is there any danger to health from eating apples with wax? Should I clean them with soap, water and a brush to remove it?
Dr. Olga Raz, head of the clinical nutrition department in the Health Sciences Faculty of Ariel University in Samaria, Israel, replies:
Apples naturally develop a coat of wax when they are growing to help protect the fruit and to keep them moist and firm. Once they are picked, the apples are cleaned, removing this natural coat of wax. Often, a food-grade wax is applied to replace the naturally occurring wax to provide the same benefits, including a nice glossy shine.
There are two main types of food-grade wax products that are used to coat apples – one based on carnauba wax and the other on shellac. Because of their excellent properties in making food look shiny, carnauba and shellac are also used in other food products, including chocolate and confectionery.
Shellac comes from a secretion of the lac bug – a beetle that is found in Thailand and India. Shellac is not actually part of the beetle itself – so you’re not eating beetles when you eat shellac – it’s a secretion from the beetle that the females use to protect her eggs. Food-grade shellac produces a really shiny finish on apples. Around 85% of the apple waxes used in Australia are shellac-based.
Carnauba wax comes from the palm tree Copernicia prunifera that is grown only in Brazil. It comes from the dried leaves. While it is not as shiny as shellac, it is more stable under a wider variety of humidity and temperature conditions.
The waxes with which apples are coated are almost invisible to the eye. Only one or two drops of wax are used to cover a whole apple.
Both products are also approved all over the world including in the US, Britain and Europe. In a 2012 review of the safety of carnauba wax, the European Food Safety Authority stated that: “the use of carnauba wax as a food additive with the currently authorized uses [including the waxing of apples] would not be of safety concern.”
The European Union is refusing to accept apples treated with a wax containing morpholine or other amines, which means U.S. packers exporting to Europe need to switch to other types of wax or no wax at all.
It may be that the Belgian government prohibited the import of waxed apples about seven years ago when an independent laboratory test revealed morpholine residues of two parts per million on waxed apples exported from Chile. The European Food Safety Authority classifies morpholine as an unapproved food additive and the fruit was recalled from supermarkets.
Morpholine, an emulsifier, helps make wax glossy and is approved as a wax ingredient in other parts of the world, including the US, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. The total ban of waxing apples could a matter of cultural biases.
You can wash the wax off apples by very gently rubbing them under lukewarm water with a soft brush. Don’t use hot water or detergent because they will ruin your apples. In fact, there is no reason to remove the wax from your apples because all the waxes are food grade – so they are totally edible.
There is no need to peel waxed apples, as the skin contains valuable nutrients that are only present in this layer. If you peel your apples you miss out on all this goodness. If you don’t want wax, you can buy unwaxed apples.
My sister-in-law prepared curried chicken in coconut cream, and it was delicious. I looked at the can and found that the cream contained 24% saturated fat! My husband is diabetic, and I am a bit overweight. I was wondering whether eating foods with coconut cream (or coconut milk) occasionally would harm our health. B.P., Ramat Gan, Israel
Dr. Olga Raz also answers this query:
Coconut cream is indeed a very fattening and not very healthful food. If you eat it once in a time, your body will “forgive” you, but I don’t recommend that you cook with it often.
I know that there are commercial sites on the Internet that claim coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut cream “treat” all kinds of diseases, including cancer, but no such thing has been proven, so I recommend that you treat this idea with a skepticism and a grain of salt.
My three children aged four to 12 frequently get colds. My mother believes in all kinds of folk remedies and insists that I give them to the children, but I don’t believe that anything can really prevent them except washing hands with soap and water, airing out rooms and keeping onc’s distance from others with colds. I also don’t believe that anything can stop a cold. Who is right? V.T., Helena, Montana, US
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich comments:
You are correct. At least half of parents try non-evidence-based cold prevention methods for their children, according to a new survey conducted at the University of Michigan. They still believe “folklore strategies” or use vitamins or supplements for cold prevention that are not scientifically supported.
Things like taking vitamin C to keep the germs away and never going outside with wet hair to avoid getting a cold have not been proven effective.
Over half of parents, according to the survey, give their child an over-the-counter vitamin or supplement to prevent colds, even without evidence that they work. Fully 71% of parents also say they try to protect their child from catching a cold by preventing them from going outdoors with wet hair or encouraging them to spend more time indoors.
Colds are caused by viruses spread most frequently from person to person. The most common mechanism is from mucous droplets from the nose or mouth that get passed on through direct contact or through the air by sneezing or coughing and landing on the hands and face, or on surfaces such as door handles, faucets, countertops and toys.
There is no evidence that giving a child Vitamin C, multivitamins or other products advertised to boost the immune system is effective in preventing the common cold, the researchers said. On average, school-age children experience three to six colds per year, with some lasting as long as two weeks.
If you want an Israeli expert to answer your medical questions, write to Breaking Israel News health and science senior reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at email@example.com with your initials, age, gender and place of residence and details of the medical condition, if any.