Sunday, March 28, 2010

I'll have some sodium with a side of preservatives and trans fat

Last week, I watched Jamie Oliver's new reality show, Food Revolution. The premise of the show is simple yet genius. He travels to Huntington, West Virginia - which has been called the unhealthiest city in America - to try to get better foods into schools, homes, and individuals. He spends time working in an elementary school cafeteria (where he is met with much resistance) as he cooks, educates, and works to open their eyes as to how they are slowly killing their children. That city, along with most of the rest of the country, is in dire need of CHANGE, and he is trying to help facilitate that change.

What I loved about the show, besides his earnest desire to make a difference, is the fact that what he's advocating isn't a "diet" with crazy rules and restrictions. All he's advocating is eating real food. What a concept!

No one is eating real food anymore. Even worse, no one is feeding their kids real food anymore.

I have to admit, it hurts my heart a little bit every time I'm at the grocery store and see overweight and/or generally unhealthy children walking alongside a grocery cart filled with what amounts to nothing more than sodium, preservatives, sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and trans fats. And the worst offenders seem to be the products that are specifically aimed at children! What are we doing to our children?

A friend of mine recently related to me how many parents had packed Lunchables for their kids during a school-sponsored trip. I think a lot of what parents feed their kids leaves a lot to be desired, but Lunchables are in a class all their own. Here are the ingredients in a basic pack of turkey and cheese Lunchables:

Ingredients: Roast White Turkey – Cured, Smoke Flavor Added: White Turkey, Water, Potassium Lactate, Modified Corn Starch, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Dextrose, Carrageenan, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Ascorbate, Smoke Flavor, Sodium Nitrite, Natural And Artificial Flavor.
Pasteurized Prepared Cheddar Cheese Product: Milk, Whey, Milk Protein Concentrate, Milkfat, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Lactic Acid, Sorbic Acid As A Preservative, Oleoresin Paprika (Color), Annatto (Color), Cheese Culture, Enzymes, Whey Protein Concentrate, With Starch Added For Slice Separation. Contains: Milk, Wheat
Crackers: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2],Folic Acid), Soybean Oil, Whole Wheat Flour, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Calcium Phosphate), Whey (From Milk), Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier)

That's not food!! Neither are the chicken nuggets, hotdogs, tator tots, boxed macaroni and cheese, and Goldfish crackers that make up the standard kids' fare. People are feeding this stuff to their kids day in and day out, and whether they see it immediately or not - its health consequences are huge and far-reaching.

And I can never help but wonder if they honestly don't know any better, or if they just don't care?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top Foods to Buy Organic

In a perfect world, I'd have jillions of dollars to spend on food. I'd buy only the finest and freshest organic foods possible. Or better still, I'd have a big beautiful organic garden of my own - and someone to lovingly tend it for me, as plants tend to die in my care - and I'd personally grow everything I needed.

Alas, this is the real world. I have a finite grocery budget, and all that currently grows in my backyard is grass (and honestly not a whole lot of that.) Eating well and eating within the parameters of a budget requires some compromise, and it helps to have some knowledge of where its prudent to spend a little extra money, and where its okay to be more frugal.

Here is a list of the foods that are most important to buy organic whenever possible, because of heavy contamination; followed by a list of those foods that are generally "clean," and which you can feel good about buying non-organic if money is a concern.

Buy these foods organically grown:

Meat - If you're buying conventionally raised meat, you're also buying the hormones they were given for growth, the antibiotics used to resist disease in their poor living conditions, and the pesticides and fertilizer used to grow the grain they're fed. Additionally, it uses much more water and energy to raise a meal's worth of meat than it does one of grain. Meat that is Certified Organic is raised on organic feed, and was not given hormones or antibiotics. Your best choice when it comes to meat, both for health and the environment, is meat that was grass fed, and preferably local.

- I don't regularly purchase milk, or any dairy, but if your family (and especially your children!) drink a lot of it, it is worth the extra expense to buy organic. Traditional cow's milk is going to contain the pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals that they've ingested. Organic milk comes from cows that are not fed grains grown with pesticides, nor given antibiotics or growth hormones. Again, your best option is to find a local, organic dairy where you can actually SEE their operation, and see how the cows are treated. Know where your food comes from!

Coffee - Most of the coffee we buy comes from countries that don't regulate the use of chemicals. Look for the USDA Organic label to ensure that the beans were grown organically. You can also look for a Fair Trade Certified marking, which ensures that the farmers are paid - and treated - fairly.

Apples - Apples are treated with a lot of chemicals to ward against everything from insects to fungi. Scrubbing, and even peeling doesn't get all of these off the fruit.

Peaches, Nectarines, Pears
- These are treated with lots of pesticides, and their very thin skin is easily permeated.

Celery - Celery has NO skin to protect against the poison they're grown with

Strawberries - Like celery, they have no skin to act as a barrier. Avoid conventionally grown strawberries, particularly if you're buying out-of-season when they're most likely to be shipped from other countries with less regulations on pesticides.

Sweet Bell Peppers - Peppers are typically very heavily sprayed, and they are very thin-skinned.

Cherries - Treated with many chemicals.

Kale - While this green provides lots of health-boosting vitamins and minerals, it is also traditionally grown with a lot of chemicals.

Leafy Greens - Like Kale, these are an important part of the diet, but are also found to have high levels of residue. Our health food store has very reasonably priced organic mixed greens, grown without any chemicals, that are washed, packaged, and ready-to-go.

Grapes - Imported grapes grown in countries with lax regulations are the worst offenders, but grapes grown in the United States are typically high in residue as well, due to the heavy use of sprays and their very thin skin.

Carrots - Europe will be banning the use of pesticides on carrots, parsnips, and other similar foods in the next decade, but the United States currently has no such plans.


The Clean List:

The following foods have thick and/or tough skins, so any chemical residue is discarded with the skin. Of course you should always rinse your fruits and vegetables before you eat them, whether you're consuming the skin or not.


Sweet Corn



Sweet peas





And these have little threat of pests and other problems during their growth, so the use of chemicals during the growing process is generally unnecessary and slight:





And finally, two vegetables that were previously on the "dirty" list and were recently found to be clean (for reasons that the Environmental Working Group are not sure of) are potatoes and tomatoes.

When in doubt, and if money is no object, of course buy the organic versions! But if you're like me, and sometimes have to choose between making the healthiest choice and, well, paying the mortgage, then being careful and informed can go a long way to ensuring that you're taking the best path possible.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Homemade Vegetable Stock

I love homemade soup. It's comforting, nourishing, and pretty hard to screw up. I love that I can make it with just about anything I have on hand, and I love that it's an excuse to use up vegetables that might otherwise go to waste.

Which is why I have absolutely no idea why I haven't made my own broth until now! It makes no sense to use fresh vegetables, organic whole wheat pasta ..... and canned stock?!

So this weekend, I finally decided to make my own. It is so easy, almost embarrassingly easy. I used garlic, onions, celery, carrots, and parsley, but you can use almost anything you have on hand - skins, peels and all.

Put it all in a big pot with a gallon of water and plenty of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and simmer for a couple of hours. Drain, adjust seasonings, and voila! Healthy and delicious vegetable broth.