Friday, January 28, 2011

Pesticide & herbicide residues in food - what to do

According to the Environmental Working Group, people can greatly reduce their exposure to pesticides by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the cleanest ones. Eating organic produce avoids these problems, but is usually more expensive. Even if you generally rely on organic food, you may eat conventionally grown foods in take-out or in restaurants. Here is the 2010 list of foods with highest pesticide residues, based on testing by the US Department of Agriculture and the FDA. The list reflects measurable pesticide residues after a food is washed and peeled.
The Dirty Dozen:
*Celery – with no protective skin it is hard to wash off the 64 pesticides found in residues on this vegetable.
*Peaches – conventional orchards use multiple sprays - 62 pesticides have been found on peaches.
*Strawberries – 59 pesticides found. If you buy out of season, they may come from countries with less regulation of pesticide use.
*Apples – 42 pesticides found. Peeling an apple removes many beneficial nutrients, and still there is residue.
*Blueberries – 52 pesticides found. This fruit is new on the list in 2010, possibly due to it popularity and intensive cultivation.
*Nectarines – 33 pesticides found.
*Bell peppers – 49 pesticides found.
*Spinach – 48 pesticides found.
*Kale – generally considered resistant to pests, but high pesticide residues were found in 2010. (Note – it is easy to grow your own organic kale almost year round in our climate.)
*Cherries – 42 pesticides found. Cherries grown in US had more pesticide residue than imported.
*Potatoes – 37 pesticides found.
*Grapes – only imported grapes made the ‘dirty dozen ‘ list in 2010. Wine can also harbor many pesticides.
Salad greens, carrots, and pears have been on the ‘dirty dozen’ list in recent years; when possible, look for organic varieties.

Organic Foods –If you don’t want to eat foods on the ‘dirty dozen’ list, and are able to pay more for organic varieties, what are the benefits? Organic agriculture is better for the environment, avoiding the problems of monoculture. The ocean, rivers and lakes are not contaminated with chemicals and high nitrogen fertilizers that promote the rapid growth of algae, reduce oxygen levels and create ‘dead zones’ in oceans and lakes. The soil is treated with healthier fertilizers and crops are rotated to enrich nitrogen retention. You will probably benefit from greater amounts of beneficial plant compounds that the plant makes to fight off insects, fungi, viruses and bacteria. Farm workers are not exposed to dangerous chemicals, which have resulted in high pesticide blood levels and serious health problems. You and your family will also have lower levels of pesticides and herbicides in your body. The role of such chemicals in disease promotion is under study, and is controversial. With a rapidly growing population the world needs more food, and its production probably requires a mix of industrial and organic agriculture.
This leads us to the question of choosing safer, ‘cleaner’ conventional foods:

The Clean 15: These foods have fewer pesticide residues. They should be washed, and peeled if applicable:
onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus (fewer pests/diseases ergo fewer chemicals used), sweet peas, kiwis, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomato (used to be on the ‘dirty dozen ‘ list, but is no more), sweet potato.

Note that the grains and beans used as fill-up foods by most of humanity are not on this list. Unless they are grown organically, they also have chemical residues. Corn and soybeans are increasingly genetically modified to be ‘Roundup ready’ , with a potential problem with ‘super-weeds’ needing more Roundup (glyphosate ) spray. What will happen to super-weeds and the results of increased use of Roundup is yet to be known.

Global food prices have currently reached a record high, because of food shortages. This has recently caused riots in several North African and Middle Eastern countries. At such a time, it may seem elitist to be concerned with chemical residues in food. However, the problems of industrial agriculture, climate change (droughts and floods impeding food production) and population growth are interrelated. These and other crises facing humanity are daunting. Among the many proposed solutions are several that seem extremely important to this writer: limiting population growth with voluntary and accessible family planning, the spread of regional and sustainable food systems, and working to diminish global warming. Think globally, act locally
Sadja Greenwood MD, MPH Back issues on this blog

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Walk, Dance and Eat Your Way Through 2011!

Walking one & 1/4 miles daily, or 9 miles a week, can protect the grey matter of your brain. This was the finding of a study at the University of Pittsburg which looked at older adults over a 13 year time span. Those who walked 9 miles a week had half the risk of cognitive impairment of more sedentary subjects. You know the other benefits of walking – weight control, reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, reduced risk of falls and fractures, and mood improvement . There are also studies showing a lower risk for cancers of the breast, uterus, colon and prostate with physical activity. Here are some strategies to make regular walking a part of your life.
*get a pedometer – I suggest the Digiwalker SW-200, available from Amazon for $22.50 or from Step into Health. Get it with a strap that secures it to your pants. This simplest pedometer only measures steps – for most people a walk of 3200 steps would be one & 1/4 miles. Some people wear a pedometer all day long, and work up to 10,000 steps a day, which is the amount popularized in Japan by research showing better health at that level of activity. If you get a digiwalker, a booklet on the 10,000 step philosophy will come along with it. It’s a great motivator. You’ll be surprised at the number of steps you take in the house and yard, and you may find you want to take more trips to the compost pile.
*find a walking partner – a person or a dog who will motivate you to keep going. If you like to talk and socialize, choose a compatible person – if you want to tune into your own rhythms, try a dog. It could be your neighbor’s dog.
*dance at home to your favorite upbeat music on rainy days. You can get endless amounts on Pandora radio (on your computer or smart phone). I favor Cajun and Zydeco to keep me moving. Don’t wait for a dance partner – go free form. For ballroom dancing, Cenize Rodriguez and Don Jolley run great classes at the Stinson Beach Community Center, and Carol Friedman teaches at the Dance Palace. You can go to these classes with or without a partner. They are fun! If you don’t live in West Marin, find a class through the yellow pages or a community college.
*For the arms and spirit – try conductorcise. Maestro David Dworkin leads classes of older people , standing or seated, through the exercise of conducting classical music. Watch him at and put on your favorite symphony. Using the upper body this way is invigorating, and moving to the music is thrilling.

Eat for Your Brain A French study showed that older people who took good care of their brains had a lower risk of developing dementia. Taking care of the brain meant avoiding diabetes and depression, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Here is a list of fruits and vegetables with the highest antioxidant values. Prunes, which lead the list have the greatest ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity): prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, kale, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, Brussels sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, oranges, red bell peppers. Many other vegetables and fruits not on this list are also valuable sources of antioxidants and other nutrients. We are so lucky to have great organic produce at the Bolinas People’s store and our local farm stands.

Update on citrus peel After my column last week on the benefits of hesperidin in citrus fruit and peel, a friend told me that her daughter had become violently nauseated after putting a whole orange in a blender drink, and had to go to the ER with intractable vomiting. This will not happen to you when you make or eat marmalade, but avoid too much peel in blender drinks.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH Back issues on this blog

Monday, January 3, 2011

What’s new in school food, food safety, arsenic, and hesperidin

An important bill on child nutrition was signed by President Obama in December. It gives schools extra money for meeting nutrition standards for breakfast and lunch, requires the USDA to develop new meal/snack patterns based on current science, allocates funds for school gardens and farm to school programs, enables the USDA to establish national nutrition standards for all food sold on school grounds (including vending machines), funds state and local organizations that promote healthy eating and fitness, funds projects to research and end child hunger and child obesity, promotes breastfeeding, and helps foster children get free meals. While food in our local Stinson-Bolinas schools is already healthy, and even organic, this bill bodes well for the rest of the country. Nutrition activists, parents and students will need to be vigilant in insisting that changes take place rapidly. $8 billion will be available over 10 years. Possibly Stinson-Bolinas schools could benefit from the farm to school programs.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was also signed by Obama in late December. This bill gives the FDA power to directly issue a food recall – previously a company could stall because the recall was voluntary. Companies must develop plans to prevent contamination, share them with the FDA, and show the FDA how effectively they carry out their plans. Any whistleblower in a company will be protected when providing information to the FDA. Inspection of foreign food facilities must happen more frequently. There is a long lead time for important provisions to go into effect, and the ability of the FDA to enforce the law will depend on funding. This funding could well be cut by the next congress. However, major industry groups are in favor of the bill because of the harm that recalls can do to sales. Stay tuned.

Arsenic in poultry and pig feed: A compound called roxarsone, containing arsenic, is routinely added to feed for poultry and hogs to control intestinal parasites and thereby promote growth. There have been a few media stories on this practice, including a recent one about two children in Utah who developed arsenic poisoning by eating eggs from their backyard chickens. Some large poultry producers, including Perdue Farms and Foster Farms, have stated that they do not use arsenic (however they may well use other antibiotics in their feed). Arsenic is a poison, and also a carcinogen. Until there is more action on roxarsone, I advise readers to buy organically raised poultry, and to feed backyard chickens organic feed. Also, be careful about the use of chicken manure in your garden, unless you are sure about the source. I find it disgraceful that the media and the FDA have paid so little attention to the widespread use of arsenic in our food supply. Vast amounts of chicken manure from confined animal feeding operations are spread on fields throughout the US, endangering workers and the public. Roxarsone is banned in the European Union.

Some good news – Hesperidin: When I watched a friend eat a whole organic Meyer lemon, peel and all, I felt she might be on to something. A recent study looked at the effects of orange juice on blood pressure, and found that both o.j. and a compound called hesperidin found in citrus fruits and peel lower diastolic pressure. The juice and hesperidin both resulted in dilation of blood vessels, compared to a placebo. Hesperidin, also found in green vegetables, is an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory agent with some effect in lowering cholesterol. You can get more hesperidin by making your own marmalade - cut oranges, tangerines or lemons into small pieces with the skin, soften them by boiling in a little water, then add honey or maple syrup and cook until your favorite consistency. Yum.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog