Friday, April 29, 2011

Can Marketing Toward Children Be Tamed?

The marketing of junk food and fast food to our children is sinister and, some would argue, criminal. Whether it be via television, movies or online games, the incessant hawking of these unhealthy foodstuffs creates brand awareness and loyalty, which is exactly what the food companies want.

Click here
to read an article from today's New York Times ("U.S. Seeks New Limits on Food Ads for Children"), which chronicles the latest in this battle:
"The federal government proposed sweeping new guidelines on Thursday that could push the food industry to overhaul how it advertises cereal, soda pop, snacks, restaurant meals and other foods to children."
"The guidelines, released by the Federal Trade Commission, encompass a broad range of marketing efforts, including television and print ads, Web sites, online games that act as camouflaged advertisements, social media, product placements in movies, the use of movie characters in cross-promotions and fast-food children’s meals. The inclusion of digital media, such as product-based games, represents one of the government’s strongest efforts so far to address the extension of children’s advertising into the online world, which children’s health advocates say is a growing problem."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Choosing Organic Produce: EWG's "Dirty Dozen" List

Each spring, with the harvest season upon us, I post the Environmental Working Group’s list of fruits and vegetables that have the most and least pesticide residue.

Organic produce usually costs more, so allocating your shopping dollars intelligently is essential.

Click here to see the full list, but here are the “Dirty Dozen” and the foods that are the cleanest.

  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Bell Peppers
  8. Spinach
  9. Cherries
  10. Kale/Collard Greens
  11. Potatoes
  12. Grapes (imported)
  1. Onions
  2. Avocado
  3. Sweet Corn
  4. Pineapple
  5. Mangos
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Kiwi
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Watermelon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's Time to Update the Antiquated Life Insurance Quiz

While being interviewed for a new life insurance policy recently, I was asked a lot of questions. Some of them were relevant (Do you smoke? Do you drink? What’s your medical history?), but there were plenty not asked that, I believe, should be standard for these sessions.

No time was spent finding out how I keep myself healthy. Yes, family illnesses are important, but why no questions about what I eat or how much I exercise? To think there is no correlation between lifestyle and health is neolithic, yet, judging from my interview, the life insurance companies fail to see the connection.

As Mark Bittman wrote in his New York Times column two weeks ago:

"In the scheme of things, saving the 38 billion bucks that Congress seems poised to agree upon is not a big deal. A big deal is saving a trillion bucks. And we could do that by preventing disease instead of treating it.

"For the first time in history, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and others kill more people than communicable ones. Treating these diseases — and futile attempts to “cure” them — costs a fortune, more than one-seventh of our GDP.

"But they’re preventable, and you prevent them the same way you cause them: lifestyle. A sane diet, along with exercise, meditation and intangibles like love prevent and even reverse disease. A sane diet alone would save us hundreds of billions of dollars and maybe more."
With that in mind, here are some of the questions I think the insurance companies should be asking. Feel free to add others.
  • How often do you exercise?
  • How often you eat in fast food restaurants?
  • How often do you eat organic fruits and vegetables?
  • How often do you eat foods that contain genetically modified corn and soy, which have been sprayed with a ton of pesticides?
  • How often do you eat grass-fed meat and dairy products?
  • How often do you eat bleached white food products such as rice and breads?
  • How often do you cook dinner from scratch?
  • How often do you drink sodas and sports drinks?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Studies Show Pesticides' Role in Intelligence

Sure, our kids may be as adept as ever with video games, but Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the Department of Health and Human Services), published three independent studies last week showing that prenatal pesticide exposure can hinder kids’ later cognitive abilities.

Click on the below to read the recaps of the respective studies.

According to the Pesticide Action Network, organophosphates (OPs) “are some of the most common, and most toxic insecticides used today, adversely affecting the human nervous system even at low levels of exposure.”

Click here to read Tara Parker-Pope’s take on the studies in her Well blog on The New York Times website, which includes a discussion with Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Simple and Quick Cooking: Let Great Food Be Great

I am a fan of simple and quick cooking. And especially when high-quality ingredients are available, why would we cook any other way?

This weekend at the farmers' market, I bought asparagus
one of the earliest spring vegetablesfrom my friend Nevia No and did next to nothing to prepare them.

I put the pencil-thin asparagus in a toaster oven (at 325 degrees) for about three minutes, enough time to slightly soften them. With a minute or two of carryover cooking, the asparagus were perfectly cooked and bursting with a woodsy flavor I hadn’t tasted since last spring.

We ate some plain and added a drop of lemon juice and a pinch of unrefined sea salt to the others.

The moral of the story? Search out top-notch ingredients, let the food speak for itself and you’ll be rewarded with sublime results.

Friday, April 22, 2011

More Myths in the World of Handwashing

Earlier this year I wrote about the myth of antibacterial soap and the marketing claims that come with it. (Plain soap is just as effective and antibacterial soap may actually strengthen the bacteria it claims to kill.)

However, there are other products that make even stronger (and as dubious) claims in regard to how they prevent potentially life-threatening infections from MRSA, E. coli, Salmonella, or H1N1 flu.

Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration recently sent warning letters to several companies that sold such products.

From an FDA consumer update released earlier this week:
FDA is cracking down on companies that break federal law by promoting their products as preventing MRSA infections and other diseases without agency review and approval.

“Consumers are being misled if they think these products you can buy in a drug store or from other places will protect them from a potentially deadly infection,” says Deborah Autor, compliance director at FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

One company claims that its hand sanitizing lotion prevents infection from the bacterium E. coli and the H1N1 flu virus. And another firm claims its “patented formulation of essential plant oils” kills the bacterium Salmonella. These claims are also unproven and, therefore, illegal.
“FDA has not approved any products claiming to prevent infection from MRSA, E. coli, Salmonella, or H1N1 flu, which a consumer can just walk into a store and buy” says Autor. “These products give consumers a false sense of protection.”
According to the FDA, in general, the best recipe for keeping hands clean is to:
[W]ash hands often, especially before handling food, to help avoid getting sick. Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. For children, this means the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Airplane Food Gets Even More Revolting

As if airline food isn’t awful enough, those still eating the carriers’ meals (when offered) now have unsanitary conditions on the aircraft themselves to worry about.

The following is an excerpt from a warning letter the Food and Drug Administration sent to Delta Airlines last week:

To comply with 21 CFR 1250.30(a), all places where food is prepared, served, or stored shall be constructed and maintained as to be clean and free from flies, rodents, and other vermin. However, our investigator observed the following evidence of rodent activity on your aircraft:
  • Approximately 8-11 rodent excreta pellets above the right door panel in the forward galley (G1) where food is prepared by flight personnel;
  • Approximately 10-20 rodent excreta pellets above the left door panel in the forward galley (G1) where food is prepared by flight personnel;
  • Approximately 9-15 rodent excreta pellets on the right aisle of the aircraft over seats C3-C7;
  • Rodent excreta pellets (too numerous to count) in three areas in ceiling panels located in the middle cross over galley G2, which is directly over places where food and drinks are stored in the aircraft; and
  • Mammalian urine in six areas on ceiling panels located in the middle cross over galley G2.
Our laboratory analysis of samples collected during the inspection confirmed the presence of rodent excreta pellets and rodent urine stains in the aircraft.
Instead of relying on the airlines' food, here are some ideas for easy-to-make meals that work great for air travel:
  • Sliced chicken breast sandwich with avocado, cheese, tomato, lettuce, mustard. Feel free to substitute sliced steak for chicken or leave out meat for vegetarian version.
  • Sautéed or raw vegetables and (pick a protein) over brown rice or quinoa.
  • Whole wheat pasta with meat sauce. (It’s better than you think at room temperature.)
What are your favorite carry-on airplane meals?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lodge Cast Iron: The Best Choice for Non-Stick Pots and Pans

I was in several houseware stores the other day and the majority of pots and pans for sale were synthetic non-stick, which have been marketed as an easier alternative for those not adept at using stainless steel. However, I don’t trust these synthetic surfaces, as many—especially the cheap ones—are made from dubious chemicals.

Even the more expensive pans eventually get scratched and worn out, which can lead to the possible leaching of toxins into food during the cooking process. And, despite the “green” marketing claims on the latest generation of these pans, how do we really know they are safe?

Sorry, but I’m just not buying it, especially because a great natural non-stick alternative—cast iron—exists. Cast iron is not toxic and allows trace amounts of beneficial iron to move into food.

The premier brand of cast iron is Lodge, an American manufacturer. I’ve been using Lodge for years and recommend it whenever I am asked which non-stick to buy.

Lodge products are readily available, will last for decades and provide for great cooking results. Also, cast iron is cheaper than most of the synthetic pots and pans available. For example, a 10-inch skillet costs between $15 and $20, an absolute steal considering
if it's cared for properlyyou'll bequeath it to your favorite grandchild.

Click here to learn more about Lodge pots and pans.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Gary Taubes: "Is Sugar Toxic?"

For those who didn’t see it, Gary Taubes wrote a great piece (“Is Sugar Toxic?”) in the latest New York Times Magazine. It’s a little long, but as is the case with almost everything Taubes writes, it’s well worth the time.

Taubes’s writing is no-nonsense and is backed by copious research. He doesn’t blindly accept the study results that often get regurgitated wildly until they morph into accepted societal belief. Instead, he looks at the scientific, political and economic factors involved in the issues being addressed to a degree that no other writer does.

This isn’t the first time Taubes has helped us question conventional belief. He has written several books, including “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” which may be the best book about nutrition, health and politics I’ve read. (I’ll discuss it in more detail in an upcoming post, b
ut it does a great job in debunking many of the myths about cholesterol, saturated fat and other issues.)

Click here to read “Is Sugar Toxic?” which, if anything, will change how you think about the way we think.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Putting Organic and Conventional Foods Side by Side

Since the markets where I usually shop are dedicated (or at least partly dedicated) to clean food, I’m always intrigued by how conventional supermarkets handle organic and “health” food.

This weekend I was in two markets that grouped organic goods in their own section, which seems to be the norm for the bigger chain stores.

One part of me feels that this is a good thing, as those looking for organic foods know exactly where to go. On the other hand, though, I feel this Balkanization stigmatizes and ghettoizes the food items that we all need to be eating, or at least, need to be more aware of.

Wouldn’t interspersing organic products with their conventional counterparts afford those who might never venture into the organic section the opportunity to learn about healthier alternatives?

And wouldn’t it allow for more engaged ingredient and price comparison? I would think that at least some parents would opt for better products for their children if they saw that organic foods don’t contain a plethora of unpronounceable ingredients and aren’t necessarily prohibitively more expensive.

Education is an important component of helping people make better shopping decisions. Placing organic and conventional food items next to each other would be a positive first step in making this happen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Some Interesting Food-Related Articles

There have been some interesting food-related articles in The New York Times this week.

First, Mark Bittman’s “How to Save a Trillion Dollars,” his take on the current budget mess:
"In the scheme of things, saving the 38 billion bucks that Congress seems poised to agree upon is not a big deal. A big deal is saving a trillion bucks. And we could do that by preventing disease instead of treating it."
I’m confident the drug companies aren’t parading around Bittman’s column, though. The last thing they want is for us to be healthy.

Second, an article looks at the bureaucracy and difficulty involved with starting community farmers’ markets in low-income neighborhoods in New York City. These markets are not affiliated with the main farmers’ market program, which tends to set up markets in more affluent areas.

Doesn’t this defeat Mayor Bloomberg’s goal of getting everyone to eat healthier?

Third, an aquatic and fishery sciences professor wrote an opinion piece discussing how the depletion of fish in our oceans may be overblown.

The only fish I’ve been eating lately are sardines and anchovies, so that may be the reason why. Kidding.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Some Thoughts on Soil, Health and Society

In my more naïve past, I viewed farmland as a nostalgic ideal linking us to a simpler time. Now, unfortunately, I realize that for most of this pastoral landscape, a hazmat suit is a more apt symbol than a pair of denim overalls.

We are only as healthy as our soil, yet we continue to treat our soil like a sewer. The toxic pesticides used on our crops have deprived our soil of its nutrients and made it sick; not surprisingly, we suffer from the same fate.

So much of our farmland is now dedicated to growing five crops: corn, soybeans, rice, cotton and wheat. Many farms are monocultural; the same crop is grown year after year, creating a nutrient imbalance in the soil. Intelligent rotational planting helps avoid this problem; nutrients taken from the soil by one crop can be returned by another the following year.

However, the love affair with corn (used for processed foods and biofuels) and soybeans (processed foods) precludes grand-scale polycultural farming. Skyrocketing commodity prices for corn (up 115 percent since June) and soy (up 50 percent) have only led farmers to dedicate even more land to these crops.

Our society’s eating habits don’t help our soil’s health. Our processed foods are made up primarily of corn and soy, most of it genetically modified to survive almost anything, including the toxic pesticides that sicken farm workers and those living near farmland.

Taxpayer dollars subsidize the overzealous production of these nutrient-poor primary crops, which find their way into supermarkets, schools, hospitals, prisons and nursing homes. The long-term costs of our short-sightedness will be staggering.

Yet, if an honest person questions the system, he is deemed a wacko by Big Food, its lobbyists and the politicians whose pockets are warmed by the bright glow of corporate dollars.

The frustration mounts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Harvest Season Approaching: Join a CSA!

Home gardening is becoming more popular by the day, as people look to counter rising food costs and the unhealthy nature of our food supply.

But even if you don’t have the space or time to grow your own food, having farm-fresh fruits and vegetables is not impossible. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)—which directly connects farmers with consumers—is also growing steadily as small-scale farms regain a place in American agriculture.

While I opt for home gardening, I have many friends who are members of CSAs and rave about the weekly deliveries (or pick-ups) of in-season foods. Obviously, liking fruits and vegetables is important and knowing how to cook a bit is a plus.

For more information on CSAs, including a map to help find a participating farm near you, visit the LocalHarvest website. The harvest season is about to begin, so be sure you join soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

BPA & Phthalates Not in Popular Plastic Wraps & Containers

I have previously written about Bisphenol A (BPA) in aluminum cans. Readers, though, have had questions about BPA and phthalates (possible endocrine disruptors) in plastic wrap and plastic storage containers, since the leaching of BPA into food is of major concern.

Thankfully, BPA and phthalates are not found in the major national brands, according to the brands' websites.

Says Clorox, the maker of Glad products:
"Glad food containers, wraps, and storage bags and other food contact products are not made of phthalates or polycarbonate. Nor is Bisphenol A (BPA) used as a raw material in their production. For more information, you can read our official statement here."
And this from SC Johnson, the maker of Saran and Ziploc products:
"SC Johnson does not use BPA in its plastic products, Ziploc® brand bags and containers, and Saran™ brand wraps.

"Our Saran™ and Ziploc® products do not contain harmful plasticizers, including those associated with endocrine disruption such as adipates (DEHA) or phthalates (DEHP)."
I would be wary, though, of discount brands and the food-service plastic wraps and containers that many supermarkets and convenience stores use to wrap and store food.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What's the More Pressing Need? Food or Fuel?

Food prices are rising for several reasons. A recent article in The New York Times examined one: the expanding use of basic crops for biofuels.
"Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. Cassava is a relatively new entrant in the biofuel stream.

"But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability."
Click here to read the entire article, which takes an in-depth look at the food vs. fuel issue.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Jack LaLanne on Why We Are So Tired (aka "Poopedoutitis")

It’s been a while since I posted a Jack LaLanne video, but this one is a classic. While we won’t find LaLanne’s term “poopedoutitis” in any textbook, he definitely nailed its causes.

Also, watch LaLanne’s body and facial expressions around the 0:22 mark. His prop has gone missing and he absolutely wants to snap someone in half.

The production may be quaint, but LaLanne’s message is more heartfelt (and true) than just about any health advice being delivered these days.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Eden's View on Commonplace Vegetable Oils

When cooking, I almost exclusively use olive oil, coconut oil and butter for my fats. Many students ask why I don’t use the widespread vegetable oils (i.e. canola) that have become staples in the “healthy” eating regimen.

Since the unabridged answer is long and a little scientific, I usually respond with a combination of “I want the fats and nutrients from olive oil, coconut oil and butter” and “The way the vegetable oils are made isn’t the best of processes.”

Like most food items, the worth of these oils is determined by how they are made. And, unfortunately, like most food items, the oils are made poorly and cheaply, resulting in a product with little (if any) nutritional and health benefits.

Coincidentally, this month’s issue of EDENEWS from Eden Foods expertly addresses this topic. It gets to the heart of the vegetable oil issue and explains why the commonplace, industrially-made versions of these oils—seen by many in the health profession as the option—should be avoided.

Click here to read the entire article, but here’s the meat of it:
The truth frequently is not pretty; nevertheless, we offer the following: Commercial or refined vegetable oils are made by crushing seed to extract oil generating high temperatures under great pressure. The crushed seed meal is treated with toxic hexane or other petroleum solvents to gain further extraction. The oil is again heated well beyond the smoke point to drive off most of the solvents. This stuff cannot taste or smell very good at this point, so they treat the oil with caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) to reduce acidity and remove burnt free fatty acids and proteins. This also destroys beneficial antioxidants like the natural preservative vitamin E which is replaced with synthetic preservatives. Next, the oil is heated again, centrifuged, bleached, and sulfuric or hydrochloric acid treated to ‘wash’ it, then micro-filtered removing everything except fat, including color. Deodorizing and de-foaming chemicals and high temperature steam further destroy nutrients. The end product is shelf-stable with a high smoke point, but severely depleted nutritional content except fat, and, at best, dubious value.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Our Next Group Switch: Soy Sauce

Now that everyone has switched to organic ketchup, here’s my idea for our second group change: soy sauce.

Since over 90 percent of the soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified (and sprayed with pesticides), it’s safe to assume that the popular domestically-produced non-organic soy sauces are using GM crops.

Remember, organic foods cannot contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and are grown without pesticides.

Similar to ketchup, I find that a bottle of soy sauce lasts a long time, so I have no qualms about spending a little more in order to avoid the GMOs and pesticides.

By far the best deal I found—organic or conventional—is at Whole Foods, where the store’s house brand (365 Everyday Value) of organic soy sauce is $2.49 for a 10-ounce bottle.

Conventional soy sauce from Kikkoman (the leading national brand), sells for $2.89 and higher (10 ounces) in other markets. Kikkoman also makes an organic soy sauce, found at Whole Foods for $3.99 (10 ounces) and $4.99 (15 ounces).

San-J makes quality organic soy sauces which can be $1 to $2 more expensive than conventional soy sauces, depending on where you shop. Cheaper options from San-J are its conventional soy sauces, which—good news—also don’t contain GMOs (but use soybeans grown with pesticides).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

EPA Statement: Update on Ongoing Radioactivity Monitoring

Below is a press release I received last night from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been monitoring radioactivity on the West Coast for the past several weeks. For Japanese products, though, I’m not taking any chances; I stocked up on the Japanese soy sauce I use.
WASHINGTON – As a result of the incident with the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, several EPA air monitors have detected very low levels of radioactive material in the United States consistent with estimated releases from the damaged nuclear reactors. EPA has stepped up monitoring of precipitation, milk, and drinking water in response to the Fukushima events. The detections in air, precipitation, and milk were expected, and the levels detected have been far below levels of public-health concern.

Today, EPA released its latest RadNet results, which include the first results for drinking water. Drinking water samples from two locations, Boise, Idaho and Richland, Washington, showed trace amounts of Iodine-131 – about 0.2 picocuries per liter in each case. An infant would have to drink almost 7,000 liters of this water to receive a radiation dose equivalent to a day’s worth of the natural background radiation exposure we experience continuously from natural sources of radioactivity in our environment.

Earlier precipitation samples collected by EPA have shown trace amounts of radioactivity, so EPA has expected to find results such as these in some drinking water samples. Similar findings are to be expected in the coming weeks.

In addition, results of EPA’s precipitation sampling and air filter analyses continue to detect very low levels of radioactive material consistent with estimated releases from the damaged nuclear reactors. These detections were expected and the levels detected are far below levels of public-health concern.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Easy Cooking 101: How to Make Croutons

You can also bake croutons, but these taste better and are quicker to make.

Friday, April 1, 2011

F.D.A. Panel Comes Up Doughnuts (with Colored Sprinkles)

To no one’s surprise, the Food and Drug Administration panel that met Wednesday and Thursday decided that petroleum-based artificial colorants are safe and that warnings are not needed on foodstuffs that contain the synthetic dyes.

Jane Hersey, the Director of the Feingold Association, which raises awareness of the potential role of artificial colors, preservatives and other synthetic additives in behavioral, learning and health problems, predicted this outcome when I spoke with her in early March.

Yet, we shouldn’t be completely disappointed. That the F.D.A. actually held a hearing on the issue and that The New York Times and other media outlets covered it will only heighten the public’s knowledge about artificial colors and their possible link to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

It’s obvious that our modern food supply is full of broken and unnecessary parts, whether it be artificial colors, pesticides, antibiotics, refined sugars, BPA, GMO's, etc. As awareness grows about these issues and their connection to our collective poor health and lowered intelligence, the pushback from a concerned population will become stronger and stronger.

The bottom line is the bottom line, and most of the food companies understand the power of public sentiment. Reformulation of products is not unheard of, as Pepperidge Farm proved by moving to natural colors for its colored goldfish.

I wholeheartedly believe that if we—as individuals—make better purchasing decisions (and tell a friend to do the same), we—as a group—can force public policy changes that no F.D.A. panel has the balls to make.