Tag Archives: health

Do I Have to Eat Organic?

According to the Organic Trade Association, the average adult who does not eat organic is exposed to between 6 & 12 pesticides each day from food and beverages.

Organic foods have become very popular.  Sure there is a noticeable difference in price, but are organic foods healthier?  Are pesticides harmful?  How do I identify an organic food?

These are great questions.  Some that I wanted to find out.  There are certain items that I always buy organic, like strawberries, bell peppers, celery, apples, zucchini, and eggs.  But what about other items?  Is it worth getting the organic version?

Organic food is regulated by strict government standards.  These foods are grown without synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones or genetic engineering (GMO).  Apparently, organic is the “most heavily regulated and closely monitored production system in the United States”. 

For a food to be labeled organic, the ingredients must be at least 95% organic.  Food with ingredients that are at least 70% organic can use the “made with organic ingredients” label.  Foods that have less than 70% organic ingredients cannot use the organic seal or the word “organic” on the label.  One hundred percent organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are free of artificial growth hormones and antibiotics.  Fish isn’t controlled by the USDA, so look for “wild” caught rather than “farmed” to be safe.

So are organic foods healthier?  A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found that organic crops had higher concentrations of antioxidants and other potentially beneficial compounds.  But organic produce did not consistently contain higher levels of vitamins.

Another study also found that organic meat and dairy have a higher percentage (about 50% more) of omega-3 fatty acids than conventional.  Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial and have many health improving benefits.

One of the main reasons I choose organic produce is to avoid pesticides, but organic farmers still use pesticides.  The only difference is that they are natural vs. synthetic.  Natural pesticides are believed to be less toxic.  Due to lots of years of exposure, most people have a build-up of pesticide chemicals in their body known as “body burden” that can lead to health issues.  Children and pregnant women are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure.  Lowering my family’s exposure to harmful pesticides is worth it in my opinion.

Organic or Non-organic. Which should I buy? Click To Tweet

Can I wash and peel away pesticides?  Rinsing lessens the residue but doesn’t remove it all.  Peeling is helpful, but a lot of beneficial nutrients are in the peel, so you’d be losing those important nutrients.

Have you heard of the “dirty dozen” and the “clean fifteen”?  There are foods, that when conventionally grown, have much higher levels of pesticides and should be avoided.  Then there are also foods that are relatively low in pesticides and are fine to buy non-organic.

Here are the Dirty Dozen:

*strawberries * spinach * nectarines * apples * peaches * pears * cherries* grapes* celery* tomatoes * sweet bell peppers* potatoes*

Here are the Clean Fifteen:

*sweet corn *avocados * pineapple * cabbage * onions * sweet peas frozen * papayas *asparagus * mangos * eggplant * honeydew melon * kiwi * cantaloupe * cauliflower * grapefruit*   (to avoid GMO’s buy organic sweet corn and papayas)

These lists, which are updated annually, can be found on the Environmental Working Group website.

When looking to purchase organic foods, look for the USDA Organic label.  Produce at the grocery store has a label with a number on it.  If it begins with the #9, it is organic.  There are still plenty of “junk” foods labeled organic, such as baked good, snacks, and desserts.  Just because a product is organic, doesn’t mean it’s a health food!  Read those labels carefully.

So, do I have to eat organic?  When it comes to overall health, what we eat is more important than if it’s organic or conventional.  Most Americans don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits.  Any is better than none!

If you are wanting to reduce your pesticide exposure, buying the organic items on the dirty dozen list is a good place to start.  Farmer’s markets are a good option too.  Also, local farmers may be organic but do not have the money to make it “official”.  Just ask the farmer.  Buying in season helps with keeping cost down.  Shop around to get the best prices.  There are always budget friendly ways to buy organic.

Ultimately, it’s important to stay up to date and educated on organic foods to get the most value and nutrition for your money!

Are you concerned about pesticides?

Do you buy organic foods?

Portion Distortion: Be Aware!

Just how big should a brownie, bagel, or sandwich be?  Over the past 25 years, portions sizes have gotten bigger and so have we!  Restaurant meals are so large and are usually enough for two people (supersize me?).  Even items off the kids menu are sometimes more than an adult could/should eat.

According to the American Journal of Public Health, “Market place food portions now exceed federal standards.  Portion size increases began in the 1970’s, increased significantly again in the 1980’s and have continued to coincide with increasing body weights.”

A large serving of food pushes you to eat more and allows you to underestimate how much you’re eating.  This adds up.  One hundred extra calories per day equals ten extra pounds a year!  This can easily happen due to the increase in portion sizes offered by restaurants and prepared foods from the grocery store.

Some examples of increases in portion sizes/calories in common foods 25 years ago vs. today:

Bagel:  3-in diameter 140 calories vs. 6-in diameter 350 calories

Cheeseburger:  330 calories vs. 530 calories

Spaghetti & meatballs:  1 cup 500 calories vs. 2 cups 1,025 calories

Soda:  6.5 oz. 85 calories vs. 20 oz. 300 calories

French fries:  2.4 oz. 210 calories vs. 6.9 oz. 610 calories

As you can see, it is too easy to overeat and not even realize it due to today’s portion sizes.  I thought this quote was hilarious……..

Here are some examples of serving sizes offered by popular restaurant chains and what a typical serving size should be:

Panera Bread Sierra Turkey Sandwich is 11 oz and a serving should be 5 oz.

Olive Garden Lasagna Classico is 2 cups and a serving should be 1 cup.

McDonald’s Small Chocolate Shake is 12 fl. oz and a serving should be 8 fl. oz.

IHOP Harvest Grain ‘N Nut Pancakes is 9 oz and a serving should be 4 oz.

California Pizza Kitchen Margherita Crispy Thin Crust Pizza is 13 oz and a serving should be 5 oz.

As you can see, you can be eating larger portions only because the restaurant sells a serving in super sizes!  My husband always reminds me that most people don’t know or understand what a serving size should be or how to read a nutrition label to determine the serving size.

In the past, I thought it was crazy to blame fast food restaurants or food companies for the rise in obesity.  Now I can understand, especially for individuals who eat out all the time.  Also, the increases in portion sizes has followed the increase in obesity rates.

However, I do believe we need to take responsibility for our actions and not blame the food industry.  We need to be aware of what we’re eating and what a proper portion size is.  An easy way to figure out proper portion sizes is to visually compare food portions with common household items.  Eyeballing these amounts is much easier than breaking out the food scale or measuring cups!

1 cup = a baseball or clenched fist

1/2 cup = half a baseball or 2 golf balls

1 teaspoon = tip of thumb to first joint

1 tablespoon = 3 thumb tips

1.5 oz. of cheese =  4 stacked dice

3 oz. of cooked meat or poultry = deck of cards or roughly the palm of your hand

3 oz. of grilled/baked fish = checkbook

Portion Distortion: BE AWARE! Click To Tweet

Awareness is key.  Next time you eat out, be aware of your portion sizes.  Don’t convince yourself that it’s an appropriate, healthy serving.  Downsize your portions to help put an end to portion distortion!  It will bring valuable benefits for your life and health!!

Have you noticed the growing portion sizes?

Do you think restaurants play a role in the rising obesity rates?

Should I Eat That?

When we eat whole, real foods, such as a banana, a sweet potato, or beans, we know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies.  But, when we consume items that have a large ingredient label, it’s hard to know if all those additives are safe to eat or if they might pose a risk to our health.

I know some people probably don’t care to look at food labels or ingredient lists while at the grocery store.  Maybe they don’t have time or they trust that all the ingredients are safe.  But being health conscientious, I read over the ingredient list before making a purchase.  It may drive my husband and kids nuts, but I like to know what I’m eating!

Years ago it was much easier to decide on what foods to buy, as there weren’t as many processed foods available.  Today, food “products” are so widely available and chemical additives have become a large part of one’s diet.  According to Science Daily,  “highly processed food makes up 60% of the calories in food we buy.”  

Of course, there are hundreds of chemical additives that are used, so I am only going to go over some of the more common ones.  Let me add that most additives are considered safe but there are some that can be of risk and are best to avoid.


  • Citric acid:  Flavoring and adds tanginess.   It is versatile, cheap and widely used.
  • Erythritol:   Low calorie, sugar free sweetener.  The only safety concern is that eating too much may cause nausea.
  • Maltodextrin:  Improves texture.  Made from starch usually from corn, potato, or rice.
  • Mono and diglycerides:  Emulsifier (prevents ingredients from separating).  Although safe, most of the foods they are used in are high in refined flour, sugar, or fat.
  • Polyglycerol polyricinoleate:  Emulsifier used in chocolate candy and margarine.
  • Stearic Acid:  Antioxidant, chewing gum base, flavoring, and anti-caking agent.  This is a fatty acid that is in virtually all fats.

CUT BACK: Not toxic but large amounts may be unsafe or promote bad nutrition

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup:  Sweetener.  It’s cheaper and easier to use than sugar.  Large amounts promote tooth decay and also increases triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood.
  • Invert Sugar:  Sweetener that is a mixture of half fructose and half dextrose.  This supplies “empty” calories and leads to tooth decay.
  • Polydextrose:  Bulking agent. Poorly digested.  Eaten in excess may have a laxative effect in sensitive people.
  • Sorbitol:  Sweetener, thickening agent, helps maintain moisture.  It occurs naturally in fruits and berries.  It is absorbed slowly and doesn’t cause a rapid increase in blood sugar.  Large amounts may have a strong laxative effect.
  • Xylitol:  Sweetener.  It’s the sweetest of the sugar alcohols.  It doesn’t promote tooth decay, but large amounts can have a laxative effect.  While xylitol is safe for humans, even small amounts can be fatal to dogs!

CAUTION:  May pose a risk and needs to be better tested. Try to avoid

  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT):  Antioxidant.  Delays the rancidity in oils.  Small amounts occur in human fat.  BHT isn’t really needed and can be easily replaced with safe substitutes.
  • Carrageenan:  Thickener, stabilizer, and fat replacer.   It comes from certain seaweeds and is indigestible.  Could cause gastrointestinal issues in some people.
  • Polysorbate 60, 65, and 80:  Emulsifier.  It keeps baked goods from going stale and prevents oil from separating out of artificial whipped cream. It’s possible that it may disrupt the gut.  To determine long term effects, more research needs to be done.
  • Transglutaminase (“meat glue”):  Enzyme to bind proteins.  This is never found on ingredient labels as it’s mainly used by restaurant chefs.  It’s a natural enzyme, but it’s used to trick consumers.  It is used by chef’s to “glue” together scraps of meat to sell as a steak, bind bacon to meat, and improve cheese texture.

CERTAIN PEOPLE SHOULD AVOID:  May trigger an acute, allergic reaction, intolerance or other problems

  • Artificial and Natural Flavoring: Hundreds of chemical are used to imitate natural flavors and are pretty much solely used in junk foods.  It is not required for companies to list the identity of these flavorings on food labels, which is not good for people with certain sensitivities to flavorings such as MSG or HVP.
  • Guar Gum:  Thickening agent and stabilizer.  Gums are made from natural sources and are most likely safe, but are insufficiently tested.  Also, they are not absorbed by the body.  Gums are often used in ice creams, salad dressings, and baked goods.
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP):  Flavor enhancer that consists of vegetable protein, usually soybean.  It contains MSG and can cause harmful reactions in sensitive people.
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG):  Flavor enhancer.  Companies that use MSG are able to lessen the amount of real ingredients in their food.  Studies show that some people are sensitive to MSG and can have symptoms such as headache, nausea, weakness, changes in heart rate, and difficulty breathing.
  • Sulfites:  Preservative that prevents discoloration (dried fruit) and bacterial growth (wine).  Sulfites impair vitamin B-1 and can cause serious reactions to sensitive people and people with asthma.

AVOID:  Unsafe in amounts consumed or is very poorly tested and not worth any risk

  • Artificial Colorings (blue 1 & 2, red 3 & 40, yellow 5 & 6):  Synthetic food dyes are pretty much only used in junk foods (no nutritional value) so it’s best to avoid all dyed foods.  Synthetic dyes have been know to cause hyperactivity in sensitive kids.  Red 3 was actually recommended by the FDA to be banned but was overruled.  Red 40 is the most used dye and is tested the most.  It can cause allergy- like reactions.  Yellow 5 is the second most commonly used and can cause allergy like reactions mostly in people who have a sensitivity to aspirin.  Yellow 6 can also cause hypersensitivity reactions.
  • Aspartame:  Artificial sweetener (Equal, NutraSweet).  There has been several studies on aspartame.  It has been know to cause headaches and dizziness in some people.  The ultimate conclusion is that three studies have shown aspartame causes cancer in rats, and one study found  that it can increase cancer risk in men (due to higher levels of a certain enzyme).  It’s also recommended that pregnant women and children avoid this sweetener.
  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA):  Antioxidant that delays the rancidity in oils and fats.  The US Dept. of Health and Human Services consider BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen“, but the FDA still allows BHA to be used.
  • Mycoprotein:  Meat substitute in Quorn brand foods. This is made from processed mold and can cause serious, even fatal allergic reactions.  The product’s label states that it is made from a mushroom protein, but this isn’t the case.  It is made from a mold that is grown in a liquid solution.  Apparently, many people have visited the ER to be treated for reactions from Quorn products.
  • Olestra:  Fat substitute that isn’t absorbed and has no calories used in snack chips.  It has been known to cause diarrhea, cramping, and loose stools.
  • Trans Fat (Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil):  Fat, oil, shortening.  Trans fats promote heart disease.  In 2006, nutrition facts labels had to start listing the amount of trans fat per serving in the product.   Foods labeled with zero grams of trans fats are allowed to have .5 grams of trans fat per serving.  So, consumers must read the ingredient label and if partially hydrogenated oil is listed, then the food does in deed contain trans fat.  In 2015, the FDA gave the food industry three years to remove trans fats from its products after concluding that it’s not safe.
Should I eat that? Find out which food additives are safe! Click To Tweet

This is a short list of chemical additives that can be our food.  To see a complete list you can go to the Center for Science in the Public Interest website.  It’s really eye opening!  I think its fair to say that just because an additive is used in a food product, it doesn’t mean that it is totally safe to consume.  We need to be diligent about checking food labels so we know exactly what we are eating and determine for ourselves if it is safe to eat.

Do you check ingredient lists?

Did any of these additives surprise you?


*Reference:  Center for Science in the Public Interest website*