Month: July 2021

Why You Want to Scrub the Wax Off Your Fruit (Even If It’s “Food Safe”)

After the application of dye, fruit may be coated in a fine layer of wax or paraffin so that it won’t decay as quickly on the store shelf. There are many types of wax that are considered food grade and safe to eat. Conventional produce manufacturers apply petroleum-based wax to the fruit while organic suppliers apply beeswax or other natural waxes such as carnauba wax or shellac. Regardless of which type of wax is applied, pesticide residues can adhere to the wax layer. Read More

Understanding Artificial Food Dyes — And How to Avoid Them

artificial food dyes in citrus

Artificial food dyes are everywhere — and best avoided.

As many commercially grown apples and other fruits are picked before they ripen and achieve optimal color, fruits are commonly dyed to make them more appealing. In many instances, there is no way to tell if a fruit has been subject to artificial food dyes, although I do remember years back occasionally biting into apples and noticing red streaks extending into the pulp from the skin, an obvious indication of dye. Read More

Why Going Organic With Root Vegetables Matters

organic root vegetables

If you have been around a while, you may remember going to the market and seeing “eyes” in the potatoes that would sprout if the potatoes were left on the shelf for too long. For many years now, root vegetables such as onions, potatoes, and carrots have been sprayed during growth with an herbicide that functions as an anti-sprouting chemical, preventing the vegetable from continuing its life cycle after harvest. The chemical, typically chlorpropham or maleic hydrazide, prevents cellular division. Yes, this chemical can affect human cellular division, too. And residues of this chemical have been found on potato samples and even in potato chips! Japan and the EU have placed strict limitations on the usage of anti-sprouting chemicals, but there are no regulations for their usage in the US. For this reason, it is best to buy organic root vegetables. Read More

Everything You Need to Know About Pesticide in Your Produce

pesticides in produce - carrots, beans and cucumbers

Pesticides in produce is one of the most important problems faced by consumers today.

Perhaps the section of the supermarket that has gotten the most attention from food activists in recent years is the first section you typically walk into, the produce section. One of the biggest concerns in eating fruits and vegetables from a “conventional” market is the residue of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides applied during the growing process. Stabilizers and other processing techniques designed to improve shelf life and product appeal are also suspect.

Anyone who has tried to grow an organic garden or orchard will agree that fighting off Mother Nature’s creatures is a full-time task that can be daunting. Considering the ubiquitous presence of insects, weeds, and fungal diseases, it is no wonder that commercial growers have relied on pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in order to help produce healthy and sizable harvests. Without these chemical products, there would be a lot less fruit and vegetables for us all to eat.

There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of different types of chemicals on the market to help growers produce bountiful harvests. Some chemicals are considered organic, and others conventional, or nonorganic. Organic sprays are considered more ecologically responsible and safe, but both of these types of sprays need to be removed from the food before it is eaten. If the skin on the fruit’s surface is porous, the chemicals will be absorbed into the cuticle. For this reason, I prefer organic fruits and vegetables. Pesticide residues will adhere the most to fruits and vegetables that contain a soft skin or waxy surface and should be removed with the aid of a fruit and vegetable spray wash, as many pesticides are not water soluble. Peeling the fruit will remove the greatest amount of pesticide residue, and avoid some of the hazards of pesticides in produce.

There is a helpful resource produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental research organization, that categorizes produce into the varieties that contain the most and least pesticide residue during a given year. In 2017, the foods that contained the greatest number of pesticides in the highest concentration, also known as the “dirty dozen,” included:

Sweet bell peppers

The EWG found that nonorganic leafy greens, including kale, lettuce, and collard greens, as well as hot peppers, were frequently contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system and that only organic versions should be eaten.

In 2017, the foods that contained the least amount of pesticide residue included:

Sweet corn
Frozen sweet peas
Sweet potato

There have been many scientific studies linking pesticide exposure to all kinds of health problems, including hormonal and reproductive problems as well as many different kinds of cancer, particularly in children. Several long-term observational studies have indicated that organophosphate insecticides may impair children’s brain development. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report specifying that children have a “unique susceptibility to the toxic effects of pesticide residue.” Pesticides in produce — and elsewhere — are damaging to our health and care should be taken to avoid inadvertently ingesting them.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) present a unique problem in that the pesticides and herbicides in these vegetables cannot always be washed off. GMOs are typically grown in herbicide-laden soil, and may have their DNA engineered to produce their own pesticides, thereby killing any insects that try and eat them. Unfortunately for us, the same corn kernel or soy bean that we eat contains the pesticide internally, which cannot be washed off. These herbicide-containing and pesticide- producing plants, when eaten, may have negative health effects that we do not completely understand. There is concern that our microbiome can be severely damaged by ingesting pesticides. This may be causing a significant increase in digestive disorders, including obesity and diabetes.

The GMO story began with the creation of a chemical called glyphosate by Stafford Chemical in 1960. This chemical was created to bind with metals and was used as a descaling agent to clean industrial pipes of mineral deposits. The chemical company Monsanto purchased the chemical in 1969 and re-patented it as a nonselective herbicide. Thus, Roundup was born. Any homeowner or lawn maintenance worker will tell you that it is a lot easier to spray a chemical such as Roundup on a plant to kill it than it is to manually remove the plant with its roots.

Monsanto subsequently spent many years in the field of biotechnology, creating seeds that could grow in the presence of glyphosate. The idea was that it would be convenient for growers (and hugely profitable for Monsanto) to kill all the weeds in a field with Roundup and then grow a crop on the treated soil without the need for weeding during the growing season. In 1996, Monsanto created soybean seeds and corn seeds that could do just that, known as Roundup-ready soybeans and Roundup- ready corn. Farmers could spray their fields with Roundup and then plant the Roundup-ready seeds for a productive and reliable harvest. This technology was incredibly successful. By 2014, most soy and corn grown around the country was genetically modified. In 2016, according to the USDA, 92% of corn and 94% of soybean crops planted in the US were genetically modified. Since the advent of Roundup-ready soy and Roundup-ready corn, Monsanto and other companies such as Dow and Dupont have created further GMO varieties, including sugar beets, canola, squash, and Hawaiian papaya. GMO varieties of wheat have also been the subject of experimentation, along with many other types of vegetables.

Unfortunately, as research has slowly accumulated, we are discovering that this biotechnology is not without significant health costs to all who eat these foods, including our cattle, chickens, and pigs, as well as our dogs and cats. Although the USDA declared GMO foods to be substantially equivalent to their non-GMO counterparts, the nutritional value of GMO foods is not equal to non-GMO food. This is at least in part due to the chelating properties of glyphosate. Glyphosate has been found to cause mineral depletion in the GMO soybeans and in other GMO plants.

Furthermore, GMO plants grown in soil treated with glyphosate absorb the chemical, depositing it in the plant’s cells. This means that there are traces of glyphosate in the soybeans and corn kernels used to feed our livestock and to produce processed foods—in other words, in the entire industrial food supply.

Glyphosate is an herbicide and has been found to be an effective antibiotic. In fact, in 2010, Monsanto received a patent for Roundup to be considered an antibiotic at concentrations as low as 1-2 mg per kg of body weight. But scientists have shown that glyphosate disrupts the microbiome. Eating foods laced with Roundup therefore can affect our digestion by killing off intestinal bacteria that produce nutrients and vitamins but also by binding to nutrients, making them unusable.

Damaging the microbiome does more to your health than affect your digestion or cause some diarrhea. A damaged microbiome has been associated with a hypersensitive immune system, resulting in asthma and increased allergies. The conclusion of some researchers is that celiac disease, also known as sprue, has little to do with gluten sensitivity, but more to do with a glyphosate-damaged microbiome. Know anyone with celiac disease? Twenty years ago, it was extremely rare. Today, it is unfortunately very common.

Perhaps one of the most concerning properties of glyphosate is that it does not get expelled with stool. After eating a vegetable or other food that contains glyphosate, some glyphosate will be absorbed by the intestine, where it can damage the intestinal lining. Glyphosate has been found in human urine and has been shown to bioaccumulate in the kidneys, liver, spleen, and muscles in animals. Once absorbed, glyphosate has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system. It has also been shown to induce breast cancer growth. Studies have shown that higher levels of glyphosate residue have been found in the urine of chronically ill people. In fact, the EPA website states that people drinking water containing more than 0.7 ppm of glyphosate may develop kidney problems and infertility.

Although the EPA acknowledges glyphosate as a food contaminant and has established legal residue limits, the FDA has been criticized for failing to disclose that they don’t test food for residues from glyphosate and many other commonly used pesticides. In addition, maximum residue levels (MRLs) have increased considerably over the years in the US and in other countries utilizing GMO technology in order to accommodate the new reality that glyphosate residue is ubiquitous within the food supply.

Some researchers have concluded that the widespread usage of herbicides and pesticides in produce has caused epidemics of inflammatory and degenerative diseases, as well as all kinds of cancer, autism, and obesity, which have developed over the past twenty years. Although many types of environmental toxins have been on the rise, the manipulation of our food supply has most likely had profound effects on society’s overall health.

See all our posts on food safety here

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Digesting Food

how food is digested

Ever wonder how food is digested?

We eat it every day, but you may not have asked your why your body actually needs food. Yes, food can taste good, especially processed foods that have been designed to tweak your salt and sweet taste buds. (Do you think the flavor “salted caramel” is an accident?) But food has much more importance to us than the sensual pleasure of taste.

The food industry developed to feed people who were unable to grow their own food. As populations grew and more people moved to cities, the need to feed larger numbers of people increased. With increasing competition, food companies began to develop strategies to gain market share. Markets and supermarkets opened, providing all the food that had previously been purchased from individual vendors like the milkman, the farmer’s market, the butcher, etc. The results of this evolution are delicious, visually appealing food products that last a very long time on store shelves. The industrialization and “perfection” of whole foods like fruits and vegetables has also occurred over time. The oversized, perfectly shaped, shiny bright apple is by human design, not by natural selection.

But as biological organisms who developed in a natural world, our digestive systems are adapted to eat foods in their natural state or processed through heat or fermentation, not by industrial chemistry. Organs such as the pancreas have evolved to produce specific proteins called enzymes, which are secreted into the intestine to help us digest the food we eat. Chemically altered food may or may not be able to be digested by this set of enzymes and instead may be evacuated partially digested or undigested. Synthetic chemicals can create havoc on the beneficial bacteria lining the system. In addition, depending on the integrity of the cells lining the tract, some of these manmade molecules may be absorbed into the bloodstream.

How Food Is Digested: The Anatomy/Physiology

The system responsible for how food is digested is called the digestive system. The digestive system typically begins as food enters a long tube at an orifice in your face called a mouth. From there, food passes through many compartments, including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Waste material typically exits your body through the anus. Surgical techniques can alter this arrangement at any step along the way. The digestive tract is not pretty, but its basic function isn’t too complicated to understand.

In your mouth, the mechanical process of chewing grinds and macerates food into smaller bits. While chewing, food is moistened with saliva, which not only softens the food, but also begins the digestion of starches. Your tongue, given the presence of numerous taste buds all along its surface, is able to provide sensation to your brain about the quality of the food in your mouth before you swallow it. Is it sweet? Sour? Salty? Bitter? A combination of these?

Once swallowed, the food travels through the esophagus and into the stomach, where it usually sits for several hours while it contracts and churns, mixing with acid and enzymes to begin the digestion of proteins. A muscular ring, called a sphincter, which separates the top of the stomach from the esophagus, is normally tightly closed during this process to prevent refluxing of the acids and food material back into the esophagus.

Once the food is sufficiently mashed up, the chyme, as it is now referred to, passes out of the stomach, a bit at a time, and into the first portion of the small intestine, called the duodenum. As this happens, two different fluids, bile and pancreatic juice, empty into the duodenum through a duct. Both fluids mix with the chyme to help further digest it. Bile emulsifies fats, breaking them down into their components, fatty acids and glycerol. The pancreatic enzymes work on breaking down proteins, fats, and starches into their building-block components. Lactase, the enzyme able to break down the milk protein lactose, is one of the pancreatic enzymes released.

The resulting mixture passes through many feet of small intestine, which provides plenty of time and surface area for the food materials to break down into their molecular components. Once these molecules are small enough, the resulting peptides (or amino acids), sugars, and fatty acids are able to pass through the lining of the small intestine and into a bloodstream that leads directly to the liver.

The liver is a very complex organ with hundreds of functions, but you can think of it as a gatekeeper that regulates the amounts of sugar, fat, and protein that are allowed to pass into the bloodstream. From the components it receives from the small intestine, the liver assembles various proteins, fats, and cholesterol. Along with the pancreas, the liver is also involved with carbohydrate metabolism, or the storage and release of sugars into the bloodstream. The liver also very importantly acts as a toxin waste dump for those materials that pass through the lining of our intestines but aren’t supposed to gain access to the rest of our body. We can survive without portions of the liver, but our bodies cannot survive without some functioning liver tissue.

Materials that are not able to pass through the wall of the small intestine collect in the large intestine, also referred to as the colon. The large intestine has three main functions. One is to act like a sponge and absorb excess water so we don’t dehydrate. When the colon is irritated and not functioning properly, it doesn’t absorb as it should and we can end up with diarrhea. Billions of bacteria also live in the large intestine, making it a very important part of the microbiome (the individual collection of bacteria that lines our guts, airways, and skin). These bacteria consume the food residue that passes by, and in exchange provide us with important minerals and vitamins including vitamin K and biotin. The third important function of the colon is to absorb these vitamins, which are important for good health. The colon creates a solid material from the undigested remainder, referred to as stool, which passes into the rectum, where it is stored in preparation for evacuation through the anus.

In short, the answer to the question of how food is digested is this: Our digestive systems, by utilizing chemical and mechanical processes, enable our bodies to break down foods into their components, absorb the nutrients, and expel the waste. Nutrients from the food we eat are absorbed through the small intestine, and the large intestine absorbs water, along with the vitamins and minerals released by bacteria.

Our bodies are composed of trillions of cells which are continually performing their daily functions: making proteins, reproducing, and dying. Nutrients, including fatty acids, cholesterol, amino acids/peptides, sugars, vitamins, and minerals, are needed to create more DNA and the material to build more cells. Without the influx of nutrients, our cells cannot function or reproduce and will eventually die. With prolonged starvation, organs fail and eventually, the whole body will die. Dietary sugars, fats, and proteins are all important foodstuffs we need for normal metabolism.

See all our posts on food safety here

Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Benefits of Aromatherapy

benefits of aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is not used to hide unpleasant odors. Rather, it is a form of alternative medicine that uses plant extracts and aromatic plant oils to alter one’s mood and improve cognitive, psychological, and physical well-being. Among the other benefits of aromatherapy, it allows the body’s immune system to strengthen and improves one’s ability to heal. Aromatherapy has become a large field of study, with the goal of creating balance of the body, mind, and spirit.

Many companies capitalizing on the “fad” of aromatherapy have created synthetic fragrances and infused their oils and candles with them, instead of using genuine plant material. Chemists may tell you that the active ingredient in the synthetic variety is the same as in the plant extract, but those who use these products will tell you that the physiological effects are not the same. Not only are the benefits of the aromatherapy reportedly lost in synthetic production, the synthetic varieties generate VOCs, which can degrade air quality instead of enhancing it!

Medical research on the benefits of aromatherapy is limited, but growing. These products are not regulated by the FDA, so if you decide to try out aromatherapy for your home, make sure you purchase genuine plant extract materials and essential oils. Aromatherapy oils can be placed on dryer balls, placed into diffusers, mixed with beeswax in candles, or dripped onto potpourri.

The Lampe Berger is a unique form of diffuser which has been around since 1898, when it was first created by a Parisian pharmacist named Maurice Berger. According to its manufacturer’s website, this diffuser was initially conceived as a way to limit the spread of sepsis within hospitals by purifying the air. These products are not used in hospitals anymore but are mainly used in businesses and in homes, where they rid a room of undesirable odors and produce a subtle relaxing fragrance. I have enjoyed using a Lampe Berger for many years. Different fragrances can be used to create different moods in different rooms. These diffusers have not been found to produce benzene, styrene, naphthalene, formaldehyde, or acetaldehyde. They do produce some ozone, but at safe levels.

I’d recommend investigating the benefits of aromatherapy. Choose an appealing fragrance and pick a method of dispersion. Try it and see how you feel with its use. With clean, optimized air, your home will truly become a refuge, a place to relax.

See all the posts in this series on airborne toxins in your home:
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Basics of Indoor Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding How We Breathe
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor Air Toxins 101: The Dangers of Candles
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Reducing Indoor Black Soot
Indoor Air Toxins 101: VOCs, Asbestos and Lead
Indoor Air Toxins 101: Understanding Mold & Health