True story: a friend of mine told me she was in the grocery store and overheard a child asking his mom if he could bag some fruit. Yes, she says, but make sure it has an “O” on it. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to realize she meant “O” for organic, the only type of food many people are eating these days. If it’s not organic, then it needs to be gluten-free, free-range, farm fresh, full of probiotics and certainly none of that horrible other stuff found on grocery aisles. Suddenly we should only eat Greek yogurt and green tea has been trumped by black and white tea. It’s as though we’re living in a world of “food fright” and it’s scaring me to death!
“Health nuts feel silly one day lying in hospitals dying of nothing?” Red Foxx
Just tonight I saw a news story on the whooping cough epidemic-in-the-making in which a mom was interviewed after making sure her children were only using organic foods in a juicer. This mom, however, refuses to vaccinate her children. Instead, she’s counting on a probiotic-rich diet to prevent them from contracting certain diseases. Sadly, it’s many of those unvaccinated kids who are getting whooping cough and spreading it in schools coast-to-coast. Hmmmm…
The Organic Craze
So you want to “go organic” but get a serious case of anxiety just walking into any natural foods store? Don’t worry, there’s a lot of confusion out there, mostly about the difference between organic and natural.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable. You may see “all natural” and other terms such as “cage free,” “free-range” or “hormone-free” on food labels, but don’t confuse them with the “organic.”
Organic foods must adhere to strict standards that prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics or GMOs. In addition, “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process their products. “All natural” on the other hand, is somewhat meaningless as the FDA doesn’t regulate the claim.
So, is organic better for you and worth the high prices? Most experts agree that two groups who benefit most from organics are pregnant women and kids, but keep in mind that “organic” junk food like cookies, chips, and candy still have lots of sugar, fat, and calories, they just don’t have artificial ingredients. In addition, “organic” seafood isn’t required to meet any specific standards (most recommend eating only fish caught in the wild rather than farm-bred or farm-raised fish) and many organic labels are owned by giant corporations that also manufacture other foods. (If you want to avoid anything having to do with non-organic foods, you’re best off only buying locally grown items.)
Since organic food is often much more expensive than non-organic food, here’s a simple check list of what most experts agree you should buy organic, and what you can feel safe knowing non-organic is just fine:
Buy organic: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, summer squash, and leafy greens like kale and collards.
Okay to buy non-organic: corn, onions, pineapples, avocadoes, cabbage, sweet peas, papayas, mangoes, asparagus, egg plant, kiwi, grapefruit, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms.
But I’m Allergic to It!
So, if we are eating so much healthier, why is there such an increase in food and skin allergies?
When I started my job some 10 years ago working at my church’s preschool, allergies amongst our students were rare. Today, they are common. Some experts go so far as to call it an epidemic of food allergies. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allergies rose in kids alone 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. In addition, 15 million adults and children in the U.S. have a food allergy and an increasing number of kids have more than one.
I find it mind boggling how many allergies little kids have…and I’m talking kids no older than five…especially because I see what those buddies are eating for lunch: mostly organic and healthy foods! But yet, we have egg allergies, peanut allergies, wheat allergies, and dairy allergies, just to name the most common.
It was once peanut and tree-nut allergies that were the biggies, nowadays it’s also gluten. Commonly referred to as Celiac Disease, which is actually a hereditary autoimmune disease and not a food allergy, gluten sensitivity resulted in a $4.2 billion market in 2012. Sadly, in some cases, “gluten free” is slapped on items that didn’t contain gluten to begin with!
So why are the allergy alarms going off? There are as many hypothesis are there are allergies, from how food is processed to an imbalance of folate in our diets. One leading theory is the fact that society is perhaps overly hygienic.
“We live in too clean an environment so our immune systems are not being exposed to and stimulated by bacteria the way they once were,” Dr. Robert Wood, chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, told “Family Circle” magazine. Amazing, right?
Could it be that our obsession with being germ-free is causing a backlash, and not just an increase of allergies? Federal regulators are right now actually deciding whether triclosan, the germ-killing ingredient found in 75 percent of antibacterial soaps and washes is harmful. It’s been around for more than 40 years, but recent studies have announced precautionary approaches regarding safety issues and the use of it.
Parents today are also reporting more and more skin allergies in their children. Again, many experts suspect today’s kids are growing up in such clean environments they are more sensitive to things that can trigger allergies.
Is Anything Safe?
Go to any dinner party and you’ll run into people who are all about healthy foods and healthy eating…some might even be (gasp!) vegan. If these are people who have always been health nuts, are extremely fit, don’t have an eating disorder, are not doing it just to lose weight, or are simply jumping on the organic bandwagon, I applaud them. It’s all the other Dr. Oz wannabees that are beginning to annoy me…the ones who make everyone else feel totally fat, unhealthy and just downright dumb!
Take quinoa. As recent as one year ago you probably hadn’t even heard of it. Today, it’s the hot “super food,” somewhat replacing poor little but equally difficult to pronounce endamame. But what exactly is “ke-nwa,” and is it really all that super? What about soy milk? Let’s take a look.
Although referred to as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed from a vegetable related to Swiss chard, spinach and beets. It was forever a main diet staple of the ancient Incas, and contains an amino acid called lysine, which makes it a complete protein. (The World Health Organization equates the protein levels in quinoa to the amount found in milk.) Quinoa will also give you a daily dose of vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, potassium, and riboflavin and is a great source of copper, zinc, magnesium, and folate. It is a complex carbohydrate with low glycemic index, making it good for weight management, and since it’s not related to wheat or grain, it is gluten-free.
It’s a bit tough to cook and it’s somewhat bitter taste takes getting used to. In addition, quinoa is coated with toxic chemical called saponin so be sure to rinse it thoroughly. Finally, moderation is key, even with so-called superfoods, so it shouldn’t be eaten every day. A few times a week is said to be plenty.
Then there are all the milks: soy milk, coconut milk, skim milk, organic milk. Truth be told, a recent study found that drinking any kind of skim milk, organic or not, is your best bet. Still, many are going the soy milk route.
Soy milk is the liquid residue of cooked soybeans. However, many types of soy milk are not made with real soy beans. Fresh soy milk is best, as is whole-bean soy milk. Avoid soy milk made from soy protein or soy isolate and you should also check the label for hidden or added sugars such as “brown rice syrup” or “evaporated cane juice.” One cup of this kind of soymilk can easily wind up being 100 calories more than a cup of skim milk. Your best bet: eat endamame instead and drink skim milk.
Coconut milk is another popular drink today and is often a staple for anyone following a Paleo diet. From a nutritional perspective, it’s an excellent choice. It’s high in saturated fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides, which are easily burned as fuel by the body. However, coconut milk often contains somewhat dangerous Bisphenol-A (BPA), guar gum, Fructose malabsorption…look them up if you’re big on coconut milk.
Let’s go back to The Paleo Diet, also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, since it is based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that cavemen ate during the Paleolithic era. It consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.
Whew! So much info and so much to choose from and all I really want to do is eat! I like to think of my mom as being a health nut before being a health nut was cool. She drinks whole (non-organic) milk, uses real butter, eats meats in moderation, loves breakfast, drinks hot tea, brews her coffee, and uses half-and-half in it or drinks it black. She’s always prescribed garlic for colds and her green chile will cure the worst of your aches and pains. But, she’s not a vegetarian nor does she shop at Whole Foods. Still, she is a healthy 83-year-old who enjoys a nice meal and good glass of wine. Maybe we can all learn as much from “Dr. Ama” as we can from Dr. Oz.