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After I first heard the results of the now highly-publicized Stanford study, I thought “Really? Who Cares?” I haven’t heard people claim organic food is significantly more nutritious than conventional, so what’s the big deal. The main arguments for choosing to eat organic primarily revolve around the fact that there’s less risk of exposure to pesticides, and other nasties, such as the hormone cortisol, and because organic food is generally much better for the environment.

However, weeks after the study was published, I continue to hear discussion and debate over the findings–so now I feel compelled to comment.

I won’t analyze all the findings and claims, but I will address a few summarized on Stanford’s website.

“While researchers found that organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination than conventional fruits and vegetables, organic foods are not necessarily 100 percent free of pesticides.” Right. Well, quite frankly, I’ll go with the “30 percent lower risk of pesticide contamination” regardless of whether the “not necessarily 100 percent” is 96 percent or 99 percent.

“… Researchers noted, the pesticide levels of all foods generally fell within the allowable safety limits.” Forgive me, but considering the U.S. still allows widespread use of Atrazine, an herbicide that has been shown to chemically castrate frogs and other amphibians, has been linked to breast and prostrate cancer in humans and has been banned in the EU for eight years, the U.S.’s “allowable safety limits” appear to hold little and questionable value.

“Two studies of children consuming organic and conventional diets did find lower levels of pesticide residues in the urine of children on organic diets, though the significance of these findings on child health is unclear. Additionally, organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but the clinical significance of this is also unclear.” Read heavy sigh here. Yes, the dramatic increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria must be attributable to the fact that we spend too much time on our personal electronic devices. And pay no attention to the documented cases of serious illnesses from pesticides, such as Roundup, that have contaminated the air or drinking water of communities located near application sites. “The significance is unclear?” Really??

As a reminder of why organic is better, please read (or reread) my original blog on buying organic. If you want to get the most nutrition out of your produce, buy local and organic where it counts (see the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen“). Many fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutritional value the second they’re picked. Buying local food–for example, at a farmer’s market, in which case the produce was picked that morning–offers the most nutritional punch. If you don’t plan to eat the food that day, keep it as fresh as possible in bags (where appropriate) that allow your produce to release naturally-occurring gases and retain the right moisture levels.

Toward the end of their report, the Stanford researchers do include mention of the other benefits, such as environmental, of eating organic food, but it’s disappointing that they didn’t have the foresight to construe how the media would oversimplify the primary conclusion of their study as it was presented.

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Maybe you celebrated Earth Day 2012 by putting some plants in the ground or picking up trash around your neighborhood. Perhaps you pledged to use less or recycle more. It could be the day passed you by and you didn’t give it a second thought as you were racing about doing the types of things most of us do on weekends–picking up supplies at your local home improvement store, entertaining the kids, etc.

I didn’t do much… I walked to a park I normally would have driven to. I planted six plants in my garden. I prepared all my meals at home, and used lettuce grown in my own garden for lunch. I also made a pledge to myself (and now to those of you who read this) to consume less. But perhaps more importantly, I took a few moments simply to reflect on the Earth.

What many people forget, or simply forget to acknowledge, is that the Earth sustains us. We don’t own it. We don’t run it. You can’t even say we manage it–or if you argue we do, you can’t argue we’re doing a sorry job.

The Earth has been entrusted to us, and provided we realize the role we play and the impact we can have–both positive and negative, we can enable this amazing party to continue for generations to come.

So whether or not you did anything to celebrate the Earth today, stop now or take a minute tomorrow and just think about how unpredictable and beautiful and wondrous this planet is, and how you–even as one small, seemingly insignificant person, can have an impact.

In case you’d like a few ideas, please see “25 Ways to Live Greener.”

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All of us—at least those of us with children—currently use or have at some time received or bought a piece of colorfully-decorated melamine dinnerware. Many consider melamine dishes the perfect choice for kids because they are practically unbreakable.

I have a set of melamine mixing bowls from Williams-Sonoma which I use regularly–although one did break in a freak accident last year, and until very recently, I used melamine dishes for most of my kids’ meals.

A friend who visited recently said, “I’m surprised YOU (meaning you who professes to be a health and safety fanatic) are serving food to your kids on melamine!”

I confess that while I had heard of health issues concerning melamine, I thought the issues were around the improper care and use of melamine (i.e., they should never be used in the oven or microwave) and as a food additive. I made a mental note to do more research, hence this blog posting.

First, what is melamine?

Melamine is an “organic,” nitrogen-rich industrial compound, created from one of three materials: urea, dicyandiamide or hydrogen cyanide. The hard and sturdy melamine resin is created by combining melamine with urea and formaldehyde. Melamine resin is fire and heat resistant, durable, and versatile. It is used in the manufacture of floor tiles, whiteboard and numerous kitchen items, including melamine dishes.

By all appearances, melamine dishes seem incredibly practical and convenient. They are dishwasher safe, light, nearly unbreakable and can be molded into various shapes and designs, which can be brightly colored or printed.

Potential dangers

Some of the first dangers concerning melamine appeared in 2007 and 2008 when it was reported melamine had been added to certain brands of pet foods and infant formula as a cheap filler. There were reports of illness and deaths from renal failure in the animals and babies that had consumed melamine-contaminated food. Shortly after this melamine “scare,” the first concerns were raised about whether melamine could leach into food from dinnerware made from melamine resin.

Melamine resin is fixed and unchanging unless it is exposed to excessive heat, which is why you should never put your melamine dishes in your oven or microwave. Excessive heat can make the plastic unstable and allow the resin to decompose back into its original elements, several of which are highly toxic.

What also is poorly understood is “synergistic toxicity” or the combined effects of consuming a product, for example bread, made from wheat that was grown with a melamine-based fertilizer (remember, it’s nitrogen-rich!), served with milk that has added melamine (increases protein levels), on melamine dinnerware which has possibly become unstable due to improper use or handling.

Note: The levels of melamine in dinnerware are considered safe by the FDA, but this does not account for others sources that can build up melamine in the body.

Recommendation

Although melamine dinnerware seems incredibly convenient—with it’s bright colors and nearly unbreakable design, why risk your or your children’s health?

If you and your family use melamine dishes, but eat only organically grown food, then presumably your sole concern lies with the condition of your dishes. However, as I stood examining my own melamine dishes for hairline fractures or scratches, knowing I have never put them in the oven or microwave, I quickly decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Bamboo, BPA-free plastics, stainless steel and glass or china are safer alternatives. I found some nice-sized, colorful china dishes at Crate & Barrel (link).

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One of my favorite skincare lines, and the maker of my absolute favorite all-natural, mineral sunscreens, is offering two Valentine’s Day specials.

Enter promo code roses to receive 20% off your entire order, or spend $100 and receive a 2 oz. bottle of Marie-Veronique’s Anti-Aging Body Oil ($36 value) using promo code valentine.

To order Marie-Veronique products click favorite.

To read my initial review of Marie-Veronique Organic’s Kid Safe Screen SPF 25 and their Moisturizing Face Screen SPF 30, click here.

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If you’re like me, you’ve thought about making a few New Year’s resolutions, but haven’t necessarily nailed them down precisely. Your resolutions might include losing weight or exercising more, or maybe you’re looking to start a new hobby or pursue and old one. Well, why not help Mother Earth by throwing in a resolution to live greener this year?

No one I know lives completely “green.” Most of us fall somewhere along a very broad continuum. And that’s OK. If everyone picked just one or two things from the following list, our world and everyone in it would automatically live healthier lives.

I certainly don’t live super “green.” For example, I can be a bit of a clothes horse, and I love fashion too much to stop buying trends. But I’ve committed to buy less this year, and I keep a worm bin and chickens to feed my kitchen scraps to, and I haven’t acquired a single plastic shopping bag in too many months to remember.

Let’s be straight, since there are some people who won’t manage even one thing off the following list, why not take up their slack and commit to three or four?

25 Ways to Live Greener:

  1. Buy organic.
  2. Buy local.
  3. Carry a collapsible/reusable bag at all times so you never have to take another shopping bag home.*
  4. Power down all your electronics when you’re not actually using them.
  5. Drive less, walk more.
  6. Grow your own herbs or veggies in a garden or garden box.
  7. Recycle everything you can.
  8. Buy less to begin with.
  9. Rinse out jars (e.g., applesauce, pickles, etc.) and use them to store food instead of buying plastic containers.
  10. Turn your thermostat down at least 2-4 degrees.
  11. Don’t buy anything containing synthetic fragrance (anything other than essential oils).
  12. Don’t buy products containing sulfates or parabens.
  13. Only buy cleaning products that are biodegradable and phosphate-free.
  14. Switch to LED light bulbs. They’re the most energy-efficient.
  15. Make sure your freezer is filled to capacity. It’s more energy-efficient than a half-filled one.
  16. Only run the washing machine when you have a full load, and never wash on hot.
  17. The same goes for the dishwasher; fill it up before you turn it on.
  18. Shorten your shower and make sure you’re using a low-flow showerhead.
  19. Don’t wash your car at home. Find a car wash that recycles the water.
  20. Stop buying bottled water. Use/install a filter and use stainless steel or glass bottles.
  21. Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive. Visit http://www.DoNotMail.org.
  22. Sign-up for on-line bill pay.
  23. Don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides on your lawn.
  24. Have less lawn.
  25. Eat less meat, particularly beef!!

Happy New Year, and happy greener-living!

* I carry a ChicoBag in my purse at all times since it holds a ton and easily stuffs down to the size of my fist!

Photo: Bruce Irving, Flying Singer

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If you get a chance, watch the new made-for-TV movie, Harmony (link) I saw it this past weekend at a pre-screening party put on by Forest Ethics (link). It features His Royal Highness (HRH) Prince Charles, and discusses the importance of sustainable farming.

I’m guessing most Americans aren’t aware that HRH Prince Charles has owned and operated a large, organic farm and been a huge proponent of sustainable farming for decades. I first became aware of his “goodness” while living in London. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised one day to discover that the organic biscuits I’d been buying all along had been made from ingredients sourced from HRH Prince Charles’s organic farm.

In all his worldly travels–which I suppose any good prince makes–he saw first hand the horrific damage being done to our Mother Earth by unsustainable practices. (It ties back in to one of the first articles I posted here titled, “Why Eat Organic?”, link) The film discusses the difference between sustainable and organic farming vs. conventional farming–the later of which results in nutrient-poor soil, less tasty food and the overall degradation of the environment.

The film aired on NBC last Friday, but I suspect it will run again. In the meantime, you can watch the entire film on-line using the Harmony link provided above.

Happy viewing!

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Photo: Dave77459

A friend recently asked my opinion about nonstick pans and their potential dangers. The issue has been in the news sporadically over the past several years, and I thought it was an excellent topic for this blog.

In past years, the concern was that non-stick coatings in cooking pans would eventually flake, and that the material would end up in our bodies. Warnings were released about the potential health hazards of ingesting nonstick coating material. We also were advised to avoid using metal utensils in the pans, which could damage the non-stick coating. The FDA’s response was that the pans were perfectly safe to use because the chemical coating is inert and passes right through our bodies.

Newer generations of nonstick pans have all but eliminated the peeling/flaking problem. Ceramic, stainless steel or titanium powders are now included in the mix making the coating much more durable. In addition, the coatings are applied much more thickly.

That said, DuPont has acknowledged that the fumes emitted by non-stick coatings can sicken people, an effect known as “polymer fume fever,” a temporary influenza-like syndrome. The effects on humans of long-term exposure are as of yet unknown.

DuPont has also acknowledged that the non-stick coatings begin to deteriorate at high temperatures (approximately 500 degrees F), but that those temperatures are higher than those typically used in cooking. The company has also admitted birds may be harmed by the fumes emitted by the heating of non-stick pans. Exposed birds have been known to hemorrhage in their lungs leading to death by suffocation.

On DuPont’s own website, the company carefully states that non-stick cookware “should not be allowed to reach extreme temperatures. Additionally, cooking should not be conducted in poorly ventilated areas.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has recommended that people phase out nonstick cookware. In a study conducted by the advocacy group it was found that non-stick pans could reach temperatures as high as 700 degrees Fahrenheit in 2 to 5 minutes, releasing more than a dozen harmful chemicals and gases, including two carcinogens.

Studies have shown that there are toxic chemicals from the use of non-stick pans that persist in the environment. A 2005 study by the EWG found perflouroocanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical commonly found in non-stick coatings and a known carcinogen, in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. A similar study by John Hopkins Medical Center in 2006 found PFOA present in the umbilical cord blood of 99% of the 300 infants tested. And in 2004, the chemical giant, 3M, shocked the rest of the industry by announcing they would no longer produce PFOA.

But we can’t place all the blame for PFOA’s existence on non-stick cookware. PFOA and similar chemicals are also commonly used in other applications, such as the non-stick coating on other household appliances like irons, in the coating of water- and stain-repellent clothing and furniture and in regular carpeting.

There is a non-stick coating on my panini maker and my waffle machine. I have gotten rid of all other non-stick pans.  Instead, I primarily use cast iron. It is incredibly durable (incredibly heavy, too, depending on the size of the pan!) and resists sticking beautifully if properly maintained. The friend who asked me if she should get rid of all her non-stick pans also wondered if it was going to be an expensive question. Luckily, it’s not. Cast iron is unbelievably cheap, and the pans will last a lifetime. Note: my non-cast iron pots are anodized aluminum or steel.

My recommendation, which also happens to be the EWG’s:

  1. Start to phase out your non-stick cookware (and appliances).
  2. Use the pans on low or medium heat only.
  3. Never heat an empty pan on a burner.
  4. Always use an exhaust fan or open a window.
  5. Always carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.

Happy cooking!

 

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Hurray!

As an update to my earlier blog, “The Best Natural Sunscreens for Kids,” the maker of my favorite sunscreen for adults has just released a sunscreen for kids.

Marie-Veronique–a mother-daughter team producing completely natural skincare in Berkeley, CA–is now selling Kids Safe Screen, SPF 25 ($24 for 2.7 oz). Just like her “adult” sunscreen products, this product uses non-micronized (i.e., non-nano) zinc oxide, which is considered the safest, most-effective broad spectrum blocking ingredient available. (Note: Marie-Veronique is a former chemistry teacher and her daughter is a physicist.)

Because it is brand new, I have just ordered a bottle and cannot comment on its formulation, application, etc. However, the Marie-Veronique Moisturizing Face Screen, SPF 30 ($40 for 2 oz), which I use daily, is by far the best natural sunscreen I have found (and I have tried nearly everything out there!). Regarding the later, it is quite liquid so you don’t need a huge dollop, and it leaves a elegant matte finish. There is a slight “casper” factor when you first apply it, but within 10-15 minutes (i.e., by the time I finish my morning routine and head to the kitchen for breakfast), it has completely absorbed.

I cannot say enough good things about this line, and can’t wait to try this new sunscreen for kids.

Safe sunning!

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The next time you reach for that bottle of lotion, make sure you know what’s in it before you slather it all over your body.  After all, your skin is your largest organ. Hence much of what you put on it has the potential of being absorbed into your system.

Most of us are too busy to scrutinize every ingredient in every cosmetic or skincare product we use. Even if we had the time, for some, the task of learning the hundreds of potential ingredients—and  their possible dangers or benefits—is just too daunting.

And you’re not necessarily “safe” buying products labeled “natural.” Many products with “natural” or “botanical” in their names or descriptions contain potentially harmful ingredients. You might be surprised to know that currently there are no regulations on what products can be called. For example, products with “natural” or “organic” in their name may not contain many, if any natural ingredients. And products labeled “made with organic ingredients” may contain many unnatural, nonorganic and synthetic ingredients.

Even products certified “organic” require a closer look. Under the current regulations, a product can be certified “organic” even if not all of its ingredients are organic. Current regulations for “organic” labeling require that only 70% of the product must be organic. The rest can be just about anything. To date, the purest products are probably those that adhere to The Natural Standard for Personal Care Products. If you do have the time or inclination, educate yourself on the FDA’s Definitions of Organic and requirements for using the USDA Seal.

In the meantime, here is my list of the top 12 ingredients to avoid.

Sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate – These harsh and potentially irritating detergents are found in most drugstore hair care products and facial and body cleansers.

Parabens (Methyl-, Propyl-, Ethyl-, Butyl-) – These are perhaps the most commonly used synthetic preservatives found in all forms of cosmetics and personal care products. The EPA recently determined parabens cause questionable estrogen activity, and numerous studies have linked parabens to breast cancer and male reproductive disorders.

Oxybenzone – This common sunscreen ingredient enhances skin absorption which has raised issues of bioaccumulation in human tissue. Studies have also suggested it may be an endocrine disruptor and potential neurotoxin.

Hydroquinone – the FDA recently issued a warning regarding this commonly used skin bleaching chemical after it was determined it can cause a serious, disfiguring skin disease called ochronosis.

Formaldehyde – commonly used in nail polishes, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, allergen and skin, eye and lung irritant.

Placenta – found in some hair care products, can give you an unwanted dose of hormones.

Lead – a potent neurotoxin banned by the government for use in gasoline and house paint, but still found in some cosmetic and hair care products.

Phthalates – These chemicals found in many plastics and products containing “fragrance” (e.g., many perfumes/colognes on the market) have been linked to infertility in men and developmental reproductive issues in baby boys.

Petroleum byproducts (petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin) – To begin with, why would anyone want to put a product derived from the same source as gasoline on his or her face? In addition, these ingredients carry a high risk of contamination with cancer-causing toxins.

Phenoxyethanol – This is a known allergen and common irritant.

Imidazolidinyl urea – Has been linked to immune system disorders, specifically, skin sensitizing.

“PEG” and “-eth” – May contain toxic contaminants and studies have linked it to developmental and reproductive disorders.

Be well and happy shopping!

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I recently attended a talk and cooking demonstration given by Diana Stobo, local author of “Get Naked Fast.” The little morsels that got passed around at the event were delicious and seemingly simple to make. I bought her book on the spot, and started cooking from it the very next day.

Because I believe in balance, and because I have heard too many theories suggesting an entirely raw food diet can be unhealthy, I have never considered going completely raw. That said, incorporating a raw food approach into your existing diet can only be good for you as far as I’m concerned. Not only is your body free from foods that are difficult to digest and potentially aggravating (e.g., animal protein, processed wheat, etc.), but you are virtually always guaranteed your body will receive all the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables and then some as well as an incredible range of nutrients.

In case you’ve never read up on it, a purely raw food diet typically consists of fruits and vegetables, sprouts, seeds, seaweed, nuts, beans and some grains. Food is eaten raw (i.e., uncooked, hence no animal or animal by-products, such as diary). It is believed that heating food above 116 degrees destroys a food’s “lifeforce” and the beneficial enzymes which aid the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Diana doesn’t advocate going completely raw, which is what I like so much about her book. For example, she cooks her quinoa (which might later be cooked in a pancake), and her lentils. She appears to be much more about lightening the load on your digestion and your body as a whole.

The six or so recipes I have tried from Diana’s book are really tasty. Even my meat-eating, meat-loving husband agrees! And what I especially like about a more raw food diet is that in addition to feeling lighter, it actually curbs my cravings for naughty things, such as cheese, cookies and pies. It actually makes me–dare I say it–dread putting something in my mouth that I know will take hours and hours to digest.

I’m striving for a 30-50 percent raw food diet. Since I haven’t eaten mammals for the past two decades, scaling back on fish and fowl is easy. My biggest hurdle is baking less.

In case you’re looking to drop a few pounds before summer is fully upon us, you might consider modifying your diet slightly toward raw food. Because of its balanced approach, I highly recommend Diana’s book as a great introduction to raw. To order, go to http://www.dianastobo.com/.

(Note: My favorite recipes from Diana’s book are Portobello Mushroom Fajitas and Spicy Lentil Tostadas.)

Happy and healthy eating!

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