six key foods to avoid due to scandalous practices and effects on the environment, the world, our health, or some combination of all three. Here are seven more foods to add to your "NO EAT" list - it's like the Terrorist "No-Fly" list, but for your fridge. Due to all of the toxins and chemicals in the foods listed here (which, interestingly enough, have NO overlap with the other list), stick this up under the heading: "NO EAT" - your body will thank you.
Prevention Magazine asked a group of food experts who actively research levels of chemicals and toxins in foods and packaging used to contain those foods: "What foods do you avoid, and what is a better option?" Here are their answers.
1. Canned Tomatoes. Go with tomatoes in glass bottles or tomato sauce.
2. Corn-Fed Beef. Don't eat beef. Or make sure it's grass-fed beef.
3. Microwave Popcorn. Pop it the old fashioned way.
4. Non-organic potatoes. Buy organic.
5. Farmed salmon. Buy wild-caught Alaskan salmon, but buy it sparingly or else it will all be gone.
6. Milk with rBGH. Buy organic, rBGH-free, or rBST-free milk.
7. Conventional apples. Buy these organic too.
For more, including all the details on why these foods are chock-full-'o' terror, click below!
1. Canned Tomatoes
This is a hard one for me, knowing that cooked (i.e., canned) tomatoes releases the important cancer-preventing bioflavanoid lycopene, resulting in easier absorption by the body, meaning that canned and stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc. are all healthier for you than raw tomatoes. However, Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, who studies the evil bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen linked to reproductive problems, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, says the linings of tin cans contain lots of BPA. You may be familiar with BPA, as it's achieved widespread coverage in the news over the past couple of years due to its prevalence in many products, including almost all plastics, and its resulting deleterious health effects. Apparently, one of the key qualities of tomatoes, acidity, facilitates leaching of BPA into food. Even more alarming, "studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals: 'You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young,' says vom Saal. "I won't go near canned tomatoes."
Better Option: Buy tomatoes in glass bottles or Tetra-Pak boxes like those at Trader Joe's. Natural brands and natural health food stores supposedly carry these, though I just returned from Whole Foods and found no tomatoes in glass jars, unless you count pasta sauce (I don't). If you can find 'em, I'm sure they're more expensive than regular tomatoes in the toxin-leaching cans, but frankly, the statement: studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals has been burned into my brain, and I'll never buy another can of tomatoes, that's for sure, even if it means getting Grandma on the phone and asking her to walk me through the finer points of home canning (remember that? I don't!)!
2. Corn-Fed Beef
If you watched Food Inc. (and if you haven't, I highly recommend it), you'll know that cows evolved to eat grass, not grains. Farmers today care more about their bottom line, and staying afloat in a "competitive" cow-farming industry, than about what cows are supposed to eat. As a result, cows are fed corn and soybeans to fatten them up faster. A USDA study found that grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, calcium, magnesium and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats.
Better Option: In my opinion, the best option is to completely eschew buying and eating any beef at all. But the global and individual benefits of vegetarianism is a topic for another day. However, if you have to buy beef, make sure it's grass-fed beef, which is found at specialty grocers, farmers' markets, and nationally at Whole Foods. It's usually labeled, but if you don't see it, ask your butcher. Again, if you've seen Food Inc, you'll know that you do have power as a consumer. If you ask for it, your local grocery store will start to carry it.
3. Microwave Popcorn
Again toxins lurking in the interior part of the packaging are to blame. Horrible chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid, in the lining of the bag, are linked to infertility in humans, according to a UCLA study. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Apparently, microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize - and migrate into your popcorn, where, when they get into your body, they stay for years and accumulate.
Better Option: Buy old-fashioned kernal popcorn and pop it the old-fashioned way. In a skillet, or air-popper. Remember those? It seems to me there is a trend to get back to old-fashioned ways and traditions in many areas... (Or you can wait until 2015 to buy your microwave popcorn, the date manufacturers have promised to phase out the toxin by, under a voluntary EPA plan. No hurry necessary or anything...!)
4. Non-organic Potatoes
Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board says potatoes are treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides. Then potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. Traditional potatoes won't sprout - try it at home! They're essentially completely dead. When you think about eating "live" - ingesting living nutrients to sustain your own vitality - how can such a "vegetable" robbed of all of its life-giving nutrients be anything you'd want to put into your body. Apparently, Moyer talked with potato growers "who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate [farm] plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."
Better Option: This is one vegetable that's pretty critical to buy organic. Washing or peeling potatoes isn't good enough when all of the chemicals have been completely absorbed into the heart of the potato. Keep this in mind also, anytime you order a side of fries, mashed potatoes, or baked potatoes when you dine out. Maybe it's better (for many reasons) to get the rice or steamed veggies instead!
5. Farmed Salmon
David Carpenter, MD, published a study in the journal Science (2004) on contaminated fish which got wide media attention. He says fish were never meant to live crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, hydrolyzed chicken feathers (let alone the overwhelming amount of fish feces that results from living in such crowded conditions, and high doses of antibiotics to counteract all of the resulting illnesses and bacteria.... ewww). Just give that a thought for a minute before you never order or buy salmon again without knowing where it's from.
...Need more reasons? Farmed salmon contains carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT.
Better Option: Switch to wild-caught Alaska salmon, and only eat it once in a while, as all of our oceans are becoming overfished. If the package says fresh Atlantic, it's farmed. There are no commercial fisheries left for wild Atlantic salmon. For more on sustainable seafood, download and print out the handy pocket-size Seafood Watch Guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program.
6. Milk Produced with Artificial Hormones
Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been in the news a LOT over the past few years, all for very bad reasons, and I'm happy to report that rBGH-free milk is now widely available (though rBGH is actually BANNED in most industrialized countries; the FDA has still approved it for use in the U.S.). Milk treated with rBGH increases udder infections and even pus in the milk. As a result, rBGH-treated dairy cows are given high doses of antibiotics to counteract the rBGH-resulting infections, which has contributed to the many antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains of infection in humans, among other problems. If you still are debating whether or not ingesting growth hormones and antibiotics is worth the extra money it will cost to switch to organic milk, rBGH also leads to higher levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers in humans.
Better Option: Make sure you check labels for rBGH-free, rBST-free, produced without artificial hormones, or organic milk. rBGH has gotten so much press, and consumers have wielded their power so effectively, that even Wal-Mart carries non-rGBH milk under their Great Value brand. (Update: 2/12/10: The "Great Value" brand by Wal-Mart may not in fact be truthfully organic, as a major USDA investigation into the factory farms supplying the milk for private-label brands such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and Safeway found that 14 tenets of federal organic regulations were "willfully" violated. Large factory farms have been able to get away with murder because to date, there have been rather lax stipulations around what, specifically, "organic" means when referring to dairy cows and livestock. The good news is that as of today, February 12, 2010, the USDA has now passed more stringent regulations, ensuring that abuse of the 'organic' label and its associations is halted.)
7. Non-Organic Apples
Conventional apples are among the most "doused in pesticides" of any fruit. In addition, they are sprayed with colorants and waxes to increase their visual appeal. Though the industry still maintains the pesticide residues aren't harmful, why ingest pesticides if you don't have to? Also, more evidence is piling up which points to a correlation between a higher "body burden" of pesticides (from all sources) with Parkinson's disease.
Better Option: Buy organic apples. Or, if the price differential is just too great to bear, wash and peel the apples, but keep in mind the majority of the apple's nutrients reside within the peel!
Conclusion: The more natural and locally-sourced your food is, the better it will be - for your health, for the local farmer, and for the environment. These foods may seem more expensive or more difficult to find at first, but isn't your (and your family's) long-term health worth the effort?