Category: Nutrition

“Organic Pesticide” Feels Like an Oxymoron

North Carolina was in the top ten states (we were number 10, but still) of certified organic commodity sales in 2016. People purchase organic because they believe that it is healthier and safer. How true is this? Admittedly, this is an overwhelming question. My primary response is that more research is needed. Until then, here is a general synthesis of what we know so far.

Nutritionally speaking, some research has found higher levels of nutrients/vitamins in organic while other research has found no significant different to nutritional quality. The jury is out on that—did I mention the need for more research?

Pesticide wise, just because something is “natural” does not mean that it is safe. Arsenic is natural. Here is an excerpt from the National Pesticide Information Center:

Organic foods are not necessarily pesticide-free. The pesticides that are allowed for organic food production are typically not manmade. They tend to have natural substances like soaps, lime sulfur and hydrogen peroxide as ingredients. Not all natural substances are allowed in organic agriculture; some chemicals like arsenic, strychnine and tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate) are prohibited.

Well thank goodness they don’t allow arsenic, I would’ve thought that went without saying.

The EWG’s Dirty Dozen list we talked about a few weeks ago only noted the presence of residue, not the amount or the type. In 2011, Winter and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Toxicology in response to these lists. Their conclusion was that exposure to the 12 most commonly detected pesticides in conventional farming pose negligible risks to consumers and that substituting organic pesticides does not decrease this negligible risk.

After trying to make sense of this issue of whether organic is objectively (and empirically) better than convention, my sentiment is mixed. Organic farming methods have been shown to be better for the environment, they have not been confirmed to be better nutritionally, and they have not been shown to be safer. A common notion I came across in researching this was that the dose amount of pesticide is what makes the difference in toxicity. The naturally-derived substances seem to have the capability of being toxic just like the conventional ones.

So what should the takeaway be? Rinse your produce, just rinse it no matter what you buy.

A Beginner’s Experience with Container Gardening

We’re often encouraged to eat fresh veggies as part of a healthy diet (1), but the produce section can be expensive (2). Container gardening may be a cheaper alternative (3).  This is my second year attempting to grow plants in containers, and I have found that plants require a little more than just sun, dirt, and water.  Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: Choose the Right Plants
Make sure to choose plants that will grow in your area at the time you’re trying to grow them.  For the second year in a row, I’ve had the vision of growing my own tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro for salsa, but I’ve planted all of these plants outside at the same time.  After planting, I learned tomatoes grow in the summer (4), but cilantro turns to seed in the heat (5).  This means I won’t be able to make salsa from my garden again this year.

Once you’ve decided what to plant, you’ll need to decide between plants and seeds.  If you’re using seeds, start them in small containers and then transfer them to your larger container once they’ve grown several pair of leaves (6).  It’s hard to tell how many seeds will survive from the original planting (6).  If you try to start them directly in the final container, you could end up like me with way too many peas to trellis and no surviving spinach.  If you are buying plants from the store, make sure the leaves look whole, green and healthy, and the plant is compact and full (7).

Lesson #2: Choose the right containers
Most plants come with a tag stating how far apart they should be spaced.  This spacing allows plants to get enough nutrients and keeps them from casting too much shade on each other (8).  Your containers should be large enough to accommodate this spacing and allow for proper planting depth.  This year, we almost planted tomatoes in a 5” high pot when their roots need to grow 12” deep.

Lesson #3: Location, Location, Location
Even if you have space for containers, make they get enough sun.  Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight each day (9).  However, sun may not be your only location issue.  Unless you want to rub your plants with cotton swabs (10), you may want to consider how your plant gets pollinated.  Carrots and spinach typically rely on the wind to help pollinate them (11).  This means they need to be far enough away from the building that the wind can reach them.  Other plants like cucumber and squashes like insects to help pollinate them (11).  Therefore, there needs to be enough flowers in the area to attract pollinators (12).  Last year, my tomatoes were too close to the house and I didn’t have any flowers around my garden.  I only harvested 4 tomatoes, and I didn’t get a single pepper.

Lesson #4: Beware of Dog
Your pets may be curious about the new smells and fresh dirt.  Especially, if your fertilizer has a strong scent or your containers are light, watch pets around fresh plantings.  I have had to re-plant some plants and clean up overturned buckets.

Container gardening can be a cheap way to get your veggies.  Hopefully, my lessons learned will help you have fresh veggies all summer.

References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Why is it important to eat vegetables? ChooseMyPlate.gov. [Online] January 12, 2016. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health.
  2. Increasing Access and Affordability of Produce Improves Perceived Consumption of Vegetables in Low-Income Seniors. Abusabha, Rayane, Namjoshi, Dipti and Klein, Amy. s.l. : Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 111, pp. 1549-1555. Research and Professional Briefs.
  3. Cancler, Carole. How to start a vegetable garden on the cheap. Living on the Cheap. [Online] https://livingonthecheap.com/ideas-for-starting-a-vegetable-garden-on-the-cheap/.
  4. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Growing Tomatoes. The Old Farmer’s Almanax. [Online] https://www.almanac.com/plant/tomatoes.
  5. Burpee. All About Cilantro. Burpee. [Online] https://www.burpee.com/gardenadvicecenter/herbs/cilantro/all-about-cilantro/article10222.html.
  6. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Starting Seeds Indoors. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. [Online] https://www.almanac.com/content/starting-seeds-indoors.
  7. Ianotti, Marie. How to Choose Healthy Plants. The Spruce. [Online] 2 17, 2017. https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-choose-healthy-plants-1402467.
  8. The Importance of Plant Spacing. Grow Great Vegetables. [Online] http://www.growgreatvegetables.com/plantinggrowing/plantspacing/.
  9. Banks, Shawn and Bradley, Lucy. Vegetable Gardening: A Beginner’s Guide. NC State Extension. [Online] September 4, 2015. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/home-vegetable-gardening-a-quick-reference-guide.
  10. VegiBee. Garden Pollinators. VegiBee. [Online] http://vegibee.com/index.php/hand-pollination.
  11. University of Georgia Extension. Pollination of Vegetable Crops. University of Georgia Extension. [Online] November 30, 2014. http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=C934&title=Pollination%20of%20Vegetable%20Crops.
  12. Admin. Attracting Bees To The Vegetable Garden. VeggieGardener. [Online] April 8, 2010. http://www.veggiegardener.com/attracting-bees-vegetable-garden/.
  13. Jones, Gardening. Vegetable Crops That Do Not Need Pollinators. Horticulture Magazine. [Online] January 21, 2014. http://www.hortmag.com/plants/fruits-veggies/vegetable-crops-that-do-not-need-pollinators.

 

“Is it organic?”

No those aren’t transformers you’re not about to be Michael Bae-ed. Last week we talked about the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists of produce with the most and least amounts of pesticide residue found on them. And as promised, let’s take a closer look at what exactly that USDA organic label provides (does peace of mind count).

Below is a very useful breakdown from the Mayo Clinic.

What is organic farming?
The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to meet the following goals:
• Enhance soil and water quality
• Reduce pollution
• Promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm

Materials or practices not permitted in organic farming include:
• Synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil
• Sewage sludge as fertilizer
• Most synthetic pesticides for pest control
• Irradiation to preserve food or to eliminate disease or pests
• Genetic engineering, used to improve disease or pest resistance or to improve crop yields

Organic crop farming materials or practices may include:
• Plant waste left on fields (green manure), livestock manure or compost to improve soil quality
• Plant rotation to preserve soil quality and to interrupt cycles of pests or disease
• Cover crops that prevent erosion when parcels of land are not in use and to plow into soil for improving soil quality
• Mulch to control weeds
• Predatory insects or insect traps to control pests
• Certain natural pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides approved for organic farming, used rarely and only as a last resort in coordination with a USDA organic certifying agent

Me again. So what are those benefits? Organically grown crops have been shown less likely to contain pesticides and 48% less likely to test positive for cadmium (toxic heavy metal). The jury seems to be out on whether organic compared to conventionally grown impacts the level/quality of nutrients in the produce. As mentioned last week it’s a good idea to give produce a good rinse before consuming; it may also be a good idea to peel/remove the outer layer of conventionally grown produce that made the Dirty Dozen to limit pesticide injection. This may in turn then decrease the level of nutrients the produce provides. Next post, let’s explore the research on pesticides.

Dirty Dozen, Clean 15

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released the 2018 iteration of their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report.

Dirty Dozen:
These produce were more likely to contain pesticide residue, though the data does not specify which pesticides or the amount. This begs the question—should you go USDA certified organic for these produce in particular? That is the focus of next week’s post but for now, organic or not, fruits and vegetables are healthy and nutritious. It is always a good idea to give a good rinse before consumption!

1. Strawberries
2. Spinach
3. Nectarines
4. Apples
5. Grapes
6. Peaches
7. Cherries
8. Pears
9. Tomatoes
10. Celery
11. Potatoes
12. Sweet Bell Peppers

Clean 15:
Of all the samples tested, 22 percent had no detectible levels. These produce were least likely to contain pesticide residue.

1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbages
5. Onions
6. Sweet Peas
7. Papayas
8. Asparagus
9. Mangoes
10. Eggplants
11. Honeydews
12. Kiwis
13. Cantaloupes
14. Cauliflower
15. Broccoli

Spring Has Sprung

Despite the random snow Chapel Hill was bestowed with Saturday night, it is spring! And with springtime comes budding flowers, active squirrels, and longer days of sunshine. Winter blues, be gone.

Kickstart your spring renewal with the produce that comes into season:

Fruits

Apricots (May—July)

Blackberries (May—October)

Blueberries (May—August)

Cherries (April—July)

Nectarines (May—October)

Peaches (May—October)

Plums (May—November)

Raspberries (May—November)

Rhubarb (April—July)

Strawberries (March—November)

Vegetables

Artichokes (March—June)

Celery (April—December)

Fava beans (March—July)

Peas (April—November)

Purslane (April—November)

Shallots (May—July)

Harvest yourself some fun with a healthy spring day activity. Check out your local farmers’ market:

Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market

Carrboro Farmers’ Market

Durham Farmers’ Market

South Durham Farmers’ Market

Perkins Orchard

Spring clean:

  • Swap heavy blankets and flannel bedding for breathable cotton sheets
  • Vacuum (spring allergies may start acting up)
  • Remember to treat pets with tick/flea/heartworm medication
  • Schedule those appointments you need to schedule
  • Organize your desk to dominate this last half of the semester

Happy spring!

Curbing Food Waste in Schools

Perhaps one of the best-known pieces of legislation that the Obama administration passed was the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act [1]. This set of laws which increased the number of children who were eligible for free and reduced lunch also modified the nutrition standards for meals served by schools that receive federal reimbursement for school lunches. The food requirements include providing whole grains, fruit, vegetable, protein, and dairy at every meal. There are also restrictions on trans fat, sugar and calorie content.

While this act has reduced the risk of hunger among vulnerable children and provided children with healthier options, it is not without scrutiny. In recent years, both this legislation and the National School Lunch Program have been criticized for their association with food waste. Many say that when children are forced to take standard food items, they may simply throw the foods they don’t like away. Some believe that the required fruits and vegetables that school meals must now include could end up in the trash. This issue could highlight challenges in our efforts to make school lunches healthier, but they could also highlight a larger issue in this country surrounding food waste.

In the US, it is estimated that 31% of all food is wasted. This applies to school lunches, grocery stores, etc. Food items are found in the trash due to spoilage before consumption, dislike for the products among many other reasons. According to new research from Ohio State University, the secret to reducing food waste could be eating at home and choosing your own food items.

Researchers from Ohio State University found that individuals waste less food when they eat at home. This could be due to increased control over food choices and the amount of food that makes it to their plates. This is not the case in restaurants and school environments where many foods and amounts served come standardized for everyone regardless of age, need, or personal preference.

Perhaps the key to reducing food waste and helping children eat healthier at school involves allowing them more interaction with food production processes at an early age. Children might be more likely to select fruits and vegetables if they have opportunities to see where their foods come from and see the adults they look up to eating them. While serving healthier lunch might be part of the solution to increasing obesity rates in our country, we must also teach children to make healthy choices. Only then will they have learned the necessary tools that will last into adulthood.

SNAPFresh Without the Fresh

This week the Trump administration released their proposed change to the longstanding SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which some would equate to delivery meal services such as HelloFresh, Blue Apron and Purple Carrot. These new delivery meal services have been tremendously popular and my first reaction was this might actually be a good idea. This type of service is more convenient and having groceries delivered without the hassle of going to a grocery store would be a nice perk for program shoppers. I further explored the details of this program and my mind quickly changed when I read about what was included in the boxes and more importantly what was not. These boxes would not contain fresh foods (milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables) and instead would provide canned fruits and vegetables and shelf milk. To be honest I had to do a quick web search to see what was actually shelf milk. Additionally, these Americans would have little to no say over what is included in the boxes versus the current program where they are issued a card and can purchase what they choose to at participating stores. While I could see benefit in this type of service as an OPTION for SNAP shoppers there is a lot of improvements that should be made before bringing this proposed idea into actual implementation particularly thinking about the foods included and would this truly be something that current SNAP shoppers find feasible and/or pragmatic.

References

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/02/12/585130274/trump-administration-wants-to-decide-what-food-snap-recipients-will-get?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social

Raw Water: from the wellspring of life or death?

While most people struggle to drink enough water, there is now the added challenge of knowing what water is safe to drink.  This is due to a growing raw water trend that is drenching the nation.  Unprocessed, “raw”, water refers to water that has not been filtered, sterilized or treated.  Drinking raw water is equivalent to drinking rainwater or water from creeks, rivers, and streams, but today you may also find it in your local grocery store.

Raw water, which fits right in with the larger natural food movement, is applauded by many as more healthy than traditional tap and bottled water. Many say that its health profile beats treated water because of its natural properties.

Let’s review a couple.

More Vitamins and Mineral

Lovers of raw water claim that it is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals because processing has not filtered out these beneficial components. While unfiltered water may contain more vitamins and minerals, more is not always better. People in our country generally consume all the vitamins and minerals that they need and it is possible to consume too much of a good thing. Excess iron for example can cause nausea, vomiting and death in extreme cases. Our government is required to remove harmful compounds from drinking water and to add beneficial elements that keep us healthy. This includes elements like fluoride, which keeps our teeth cavity free.

Essential Probiotics

Raw water is said to contain probiotics, gut bacteria that support intestinal health. These microorganisms are often found in fermented drinks and yogurt. While raw water could contain probiotics, in many places it also contains harmful bacteria like Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, and Shigella dysenteriae. These bacteria can cause conditions like cholera and dysentery which result in extreme vomiting, diarrhea, and death. Proper hygiene and water sanitation are effective ways of preventing these conditions. In other words, drink treated water.

Final Thoughts

The damaging properties of raw water far outweigh the possibility of benefits. Unfiltered water retains many harmful elements. The U.S. Geological Survey found that in some parts of the United States unfiltered water contains mercury and dioxin. These compounds are toxic to humans and often accumulate in our bodies over time resulting in conditions like cancer and infertility [1]. When given the option of filtered or unfiltered, opt for filtered water and let’s hope this trend is on the way out.

Additional References:

[1] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/

Crash or DASH- choosing the right diet

February is heart month.  We’re often told that in order to keep our hearts healthy we should maintain a healthy weight.  Many people try to do this by dieting, but do diets really make us healthier?

New research has emerged that meal replacement crash diets (typically consuming only 600 to 800 calories each day) can temporarily worsen heart function [1].  This means that if you have heart problems, these diets could actually make your health worse instead of better.  If you’re looking for a healthy way to lose weight, you may want to check out the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute’s DASH diet.  In January, U.S. News and World Report ranked the DASH diet as the best overall diet plan for the eighth year in a row [2].  The DASH diet also claimed first place in the healthy eating and heart disease prevention categories.

If you feel like dieting, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it.  If you’re trying to get your heart in shape, you may want to rethink that overly restrictive diet.

 

References

[1]   European Society of Cardiology (ESC). “Crash diets can cause transient deterioration in heart function.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180202123836.htm

[2]  National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2018, January 3). DASH ranked Best Diet Overall for eighth year in a row by U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2018/dash-ranked-best-diet-overall-eighth-year-row-us-news-and-world-report

 

Bare cupboards and full bellies: Food Purchasing patterns change over time

Food purchasing patterns are a pretty good indicator of what people eat on a regular basis.  If you purchase healthy food, it’s presumed that you eat healthy food.  Recently, research from the United States Department of Agriculture revealed that food purchasing habits are changing over time. The grocery carts of younger food shoppers’ look vastly different than previous generations’. According to one report, they may even be empty.

Millennials, anyone born between 1981 and 1996, tend to purchase more premade meals and eat away from home more than older generations [1].  Restaurants have become more popular among youth and time spent preparing meals at home is decreasing.  Overall, older generations consume food in restaurants and bars about 70 percent less than millennials. Millennials spend a large portion of their income on pasta, sugar/sweets, and prepared foods, and as they acquire more disposable income they purchase more vegetables to prepare at home.  These findings could indicate that although millennials are more likely to eat out as they move farther into their careers and acquire more household income, they could gravitate toward purchasing more fruits and vegetables.

While millennials gravitate toward healthier foods, we should pay attention to nutritious food options and the food available to lower-income millennials.  Foods prepared by restaurants and bars and premade foods are often high in sodium and sugar.  Fast food restaurants are notorious for these types of foods (think cheeseburgers, deep-fried French fries, milkshakes, and slushies) and found more often in lower-income communities.  These foods put people at risk for hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.

Nutritionists could encourage eating and cooking at home more often because hello it’s cheaper, made just the way you like, and you know what’s going into your meals that’s not always feasible with busy schedules.  We can, however, consider the following tips for healthier meals away from home:

  1. Choose less processed foods. Foods that are less processed often have less sodium and sugar added. If you can choose between apple slices and an apple turnover, the apple is always a better option. Less sugar. More fiber.
  2. The more fruits and vegetables the better. Fruits and vegetables add a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to a diet. They also provide fiber, fill you up without so many calories and help you hydrate.
  3. Ask for nutrition facts. Nutrition labels which include sodium, calories, sugar, vitamins, etc let you know exactly what’s in your food.  If you need to cut back on sugar intake, you’ll know exactly how much you are getting.

References:

[1] https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/86401/eib-186.pdf?v=43097