Thursday, October 7, 2010

Edible Coatings for Produce, Coming to a Supermarket Near You

Scientists are making new advances everyday. The latest one I just read about is edible coatings on fruit. Why you ask does fresh fruit need to be coated with chemicals? Well, according to research done by scientists at Oregon State University, coating pre-washed fruit with an edible coating will make the fruit last longer. And in a world where convenience is king, berries that never shrivel up and rot are ideal. I think this is really freaky and question the safety of such a procedure for many reasons.

First, the fruit is washed in chlorinated water. Chlorine is a chemical that kills bacteria, but has also been associated with skin issues, allergies and even some cancers. I filter my water (and shower water) to get rid of chlorine, so I'd rather not have my fruit washed with chlorinated water. After the fruit is washed, the edible coating is applied. The scientists used a variety of coatings, most of them were some chemically-altered form of chitosan, a compound found in the exoskeletons of bugs (gross). And who knows what the scientists needed to do to create this chemical.

I try very hard to buy fresh, local and organic produce whenever possible. News like this further supports my belief that buying organic is the best choice. Even though conventional produce is less expensive, with little regulation, you never know what you're going to get.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What's the Big Deal About BPA?

We come into contact with hundreds of synthetic chemicals and toxins each day from second hand smoke to the cosmetics and fragrances we put on our bodies.  Most of us don't think twice about the fact that these chemicals are being stored in our bodies and can have potentially harmful long-term side effects. I know that it is hard to avoid exposure to every single chemical, but I do my best to control my level of exposure as much as possible by choosing the products I buy carefully.

Most people have heard of BPA, or Bisphenol-a, and know it's something to be wary of. Once BPA gets into your system, it can mimic hormones and can cause a lot of different problems from cancer to serious attention issues (ADHD). While there have been studies to evaluate the dangerous effects of BPA, the government has not made any action to remove this chemical.  And most people seem to follow the mantra, "what I don't know, (or see) can't hurt me." Everyday, I watch as co-workers microwave their lean cuisines with plastic liners, or leftovers in BPA laced plastic containers. Seemingly unaware that heating plastic with BPA in it allows the BPA to leach into your lunch.

So what can we do to avoid BPA as much as possible? Here's my list - please feel free to add!
  • Look at the number on your plastics. Avoid number 7. Plastics labeled wth the number 7 are FULL of BPA.
  • Use a stainless steel water bottle, like Klean Kanteen to avoid drinking out of plastic.
  • Use glass containers instead of plastic whenever possible and if you use baby bottles, try glass instead of plastic.
  • BPA is found in canned food linings. Buy fresh, frozen, dried or in a BPA free can whenever possible.
  • Don't heat or freeze plastic containers.
  • Avoid plastic/cling wrap.
  • Some reports have said BPA has been found in receipt paper. Don't take a receipt if you don't need one. (This is the hardest one for me).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Organic Alternatives to Your Favorite Unhealthy Snacks

Since I've made the switch to buying exclusively organic food, I've had to give up some of my old snack and junk food favorites. And with them, I've given up high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors/colors and preservatives.

Most of the time I try, very hard, to eat healthy whole foods. But there are times when I just want a cookie or a bag of chips - and while I try to limit these times, I don't deprive myself. Luckily for us, organic and natural packaged food manufacturers have heard our cry, loud and clear, and have created many products that are almost identical to the conventional brands we know and love. Here are a few of my favorites:

Instead of Nabisco Oreos, try:
Instead of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers, try:
Instead of Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, try:
Instead of Lay's Potato Chips, try:
Instead of Hershey's Chocolate Bars, try:
If you have other organic/natural junk food that you enjoy, please feel free to share!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Flipping the (Organic) Switch

Lately, I have had a few people mention to me that they want to start buying more organic food products, but they don't know where to start. This is completely understandable. Over time we become accustomed to purchasing the same familiar brand names at the store each week and making changes can be stressful. However, making the switch from conventional food to organic food is not as daunting as it may seem.

I've found the best way to start making a transition is to keep an open mind and do it slowly. Truth be told, organic products are always more expensive, so transitioning slowly will also help with the "sticker shock." Think of it as making an investment in your health. Spending a little bit more money now on products that are better for your health and better for the environment will hopefully give you a better quality of life in the long run. And deciding that you want to make the switch is the first step in the process. So you're already on step two!

Finding food that is truly organic can be confusing. Many manufacturers are doing their best to make it even more difficult to know what's organic and what isn't by jumping on the "organic" bandwagon and touting their products as "all natural" or  "made with organic ingredients." Be careful! Although these products are most likely better for you than most conventional products, they aren't organic unless you see the green USDA Organic seal. This is true with all products except for produce. Fruits and veggies have stickers with PLU numbers on them (the code the cashier types in when you buy your bananas). Organic produce has a 5 digit PLU number and it always starts with a 9, while conventional produce has a 4 digit number. Keep in mind the 4 digit conventional number could start with a 9, so it's important to pay close attention.

Obviously it's best to try and incorporate as much organic food into your diet as possible. But sometimes budgets and limited availability get in the way of that. The EWG publishes a fantastic list of the cleanest and dirtiest produce. You can print their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides here. Bring this guide to the grocery store with you to help you determine what you should definitely make sure to buy organic. Unfortunately, for dairy, meat and grains there is no printable guide. However, just as with produce, it is always best to buy organic whenever possible. It's scary but, factory farmed animals are fed pesticide/genetically modified ridden feed, antibiotics, growth hormones and other artificial drugs. All of these things follow them from the factory to your plate (or glass of milk). Pesticides, chemical fertilizers and genetically modified seeds are also used by farmers growing grains, so as with fruits, veggies, meat and dairy, buying organic grains is important too.

Remember, start slowly, and make the switch over time. Even changing one or two items from conventional to organic will help your overall health down the road.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Healthy Dose of Vitamin X (ray)

Eating healthy is becoming increasingly more difficult. There are tens of thousands of chemical additives in our food, and every day new ones are introduced. It seems like there is always something to worry about when it comes to food. And now, we've got something new to worry about: X-rays.

That's right, I said X-rays. You're probably thinking what I was thinking when I read this article earlier this week. X-rays are for broken bones right? Unfortunately, that's not true anymore. Now X-rays are for processing food too.  According to the article, "X-ray machine[s] can eliminate E.coli, vibrio, salmonella, cronobacter sakazakii, shigella and Listeria monocytogenes from seafood, dairy products and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce." And they are working on a way to use X-rays on tomatoes. Eliminating bacteria from food quickly and effectively is an attractive concept, but the scientists at Mississippi State that came up with this technology admit that "there is minor loss of vitamins A and C" as a result of this process. And minor wasn't defined.

I really hope this process doesn't get approved by the FDA, but it most likely will. The FDA approved food irradiation in 1963. The new X-ray technology is very similar to irradiation, so I see no reason why it would get rejected. Wikipedia defines irradiation as "exposure of materials to radiation to achieve a technical goal." In this case the goal is to kill the bacteria, but it also keeps produce fresher longer and causes fruit to ripen slower by altering the genetic make-up of the plant. No one really knows the effects of irradiation and that's why it's so freaky.

It seems like X-raying food is a quick fix solution with unknown results. If approved, it will let food handlers and farmers off the hook instead of forcing them to clean up their acts.  I am going to make sure to continue reading labels on food and stay away from anything that has been x-rayed or irradiated (hopefully they put that information on the food label) until we know for sure what the effects are.

What do you think? Would you feel comfortable buying and eating food that has been X-rayed or irradiated?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shake It Up

I've officially been a vegetarian for almost a year. Surprisingly, I don't miss eating meat at all, and have been able to find a bunch of really good veg-friendly recipes.  Lately though, I've been thinking that I might not be getting enough protein. And since the body uses protein to help sustain all of  its tissues and muscles,  I want to make sure I'm getting enough!

According to Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at U of Pittsburgh Medical Center, you should have 1 gram of protein for every kg of body weight (this works out to .4g per pound). Since this is sort of a complex calculation, she suggests taking your total body weight, dividing it in half and subtracting 10 to get the number of grams of protein you should consume daily. So for me this works out to be about 42 grams. And I'm definitely not consuming that much.

Enter the protein shake. I always picture people who drink protein shakes as big time workout buffs or  body builders with bulging muscles. So the idea of me drinking a protein shake makes me laugh. But being able to get 22 grams of protein from a morning shake is very appealing. I made sure to buy a soy-free protein. Since, I'm wary about eating too much soy because of the mixed opinions on whether or not soy can mimic estrogen. I bought Lifetime Life's Basics Plant Protein (vanilla flavor). It actually tastes great in a shake and is preservative and artificial ingredient free which is an added bonus.

This is the shake recipe that I've been making (modified from It is pretty addicting - you should try it!

1 cup frozen organic cherries

1 frozen organic banana

1 scoop protein powder

3/4 cup organic almond milk

1 cup filtered water

2 tbsp raw cacao powder

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Whatever Happened to Good Old PB&J?

Growing up, my brother and I viewed PB&J as a  slightly sweet and delicious lunch and my mom saw it as a quick-to-throw together, inexpensive and more or less nutritious sandwich or snack (especially if she made it on wheat bread). Over the years however, PB&J has been really going down hill. Let me break it down for you.

JELLY: Although jelly has always contained sugar, it hasn't been until recently that big food brands have replaced it with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) - a highly processed sugar/preservative.  I've been out to breakfast with friends/family over the past few weeks and noticed that Welch's and Smucker's Jellies contain HFCS. Not only that, it's the very first ingredient in Welch's marmalade. So what happened to the fruit? I visited the Welch's site only to find beautiful photographs of ripe purple grapes and a farm with rows and rows of fresh crops. I find this to be terribly ironic since HFCS is made in a lab. And Welch's doesn't list the ingredients in their products on their website, just the nutritional information.

PEANUT BUTTER: Schools across the country are questioning whether or not peanuts should be banned in the lunchroom. To my knowledge, no official bans have been put in place. On top of this question on what to do about peanut allergies in schools, peanut butter has been recalled twice in the last 3 years for salmonella contamination due to careless plant  processing. The first time was in 2007 when Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter was recalled and the second was in 2009.  And if recalls and allergies weren't enough, we've got added sugars and preservatives being added into peanut butter along with artery clogging hydrogenated oils.

By now I'm sure you think there is no hope for this classic sandwich, but I think there still is - IF and only IF you make sure to read the labels on your ingredients. Watch out for products that are loaded with sugar (40g total is the recommended amount for a full day) - many peanut butters available today have little or no sugar in them, you just have to look. And some grocery stores like Whole Foods have peanut butter machines. This is a fresh way to make peanut butter, chemical and preservative free! You should also do your best to stay away from products that contain HFCS, hydrogenated oils, preservatives and other additives too.