Chew the Facts™ Blog

Share this:

Is Organic better than Conventional Milk?

Are you overwhelmed sometimes when you go to the grocery store? Maybe you heard a news program that said that organic food is better, or lemon juice is going to lower your blood sugar levels, or that you need to find Non-GMO food.

Well, these details don’t matter much at all compared to the big picture – all of the foods and beverages you consume, how much you consume, where you consume it, how you prepare it, and how varied your diet is.

Strawberry banana smoothie made with conventional 1% milk, a banana and a cup of strawberries.

What fascinates me about the current landscape of diet and nutrition, is how labels matter to a lot of folks, and yet not a lot has changed about what sort of diet is actually good for you. Consumers are often led to choose foods based on the claims on the label, or even the style of the packaging. They are also led to make purchases based on what they may hear in soundbites on television or social media.

For instance, have any of these MYTHS led your decisions?

  • Buy organic milk to avoid hormones
  • Look for the non-GMO label for the safest food that’s best for the environment
  • Gluten-free means it’s better for me
  • High fructose corn syrup is worse than cane sugar
  • Grains make you fat

FACTS on Organic VS Conventional Milk

There’s no difference in the safety, nutrition or health benefits of organic cow’s milk versus regular cow’s milk. The difference with any Certified USDA Organic product is with the farming practice, not the end product.

  • Organic milk claims to have more omega-3 fatty acids than regular milk, and it does. But, the amount is not significant. Fatty fish is still your best bet to get a healthy dose of omega-3s.
  • Perhaps you live alone and want your milk to last longer? Organic milk often has a longer shelf life because it is ultra-pasteurized at a higher temperature than conventional milk. Why? Since it’s a smaller market, it needs to have a longer shelf life as its shipped longer distances all over the country.
  • Organic milk is rBST-free. But guess what? All milk is rBST-free. Organic milk comes from cows that have not been treated with supplemental hormones or given antibiotics, but BST (Bovine somatotropin or sometimes called BGH – bovine growth hormone) is a hormone naturally present in all cows. Farmers used to use a small amount of the plant-based synthetic hormone (smaller than the human hormone dosing in birth control pills) to boost milk production, but this is no longer common practice (due to consumer demand based on misinformation). This hormone is a protein, and 90% or more of it is destroyed during pasteurization, while any remaining amino acids are digested like any other protein. (this hormone is not active in humans).
  • Also, all milk is antibiotic-free. While conventional dairy operations are permitted to use antibiotics on sick animals, those cows are quarantined during that time, until they are healthy and the antibiotic is no longer in their system. I side with allowing farmers to responsibly use antibiotics to treat animals when needed. It’s illegal to package milk that has any trace of antibiotics.

So depending on your budget, taste, or how often you consume milk, choose what you like, but understand that organic milk is no safer or more nutritious than conventional. And both will help lower your blood pressure!

Share this:

Food Trends: Is the Future of Food Drinkable Nutrients?

I just returned from the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo where registered dietitians have a chance to get some of their continuing education requirements met and also learn about new foods and products coming into the market. It’s a large conference, with about 11,000 in attendance this year.

Food Product Expo

In addition to attending lecture sessions, I always enjoy walking the Product Expo floor because it’s a chance to see what’s new, and get immediate information about the emerging product market. As I walked through the Expo, it appeared that like years before, products touting protein and gut health benefits (probiotics and prebiotics) were hot, but drinkable products were taking up a large portion of the floor.

Tropicana® orange juice with 1 billion live probiotic cultures per serving

Good Belly® probiotic drinks contain live and active lactobacillus cultures.

A few years ago, activist groups were up in arms that “Big Food” was on the Expo floor, and put pressure on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to remove those brands as sponsors. The result was definitely apparent this year where many smaller, Certified Organic brands with “free-from” labels were showcased. This doesn’t mean however, that this made the Expo any better, especially since so many of the brands showcased are only available online or at Whole Foods Market (which only serves metropolitan areas), and at a high price point. After all, it’s not nutrition until you eat (or drink) it. And if foods aren’t available to a large part of the population, they don’t help improve health.

Fairlife Smart Snack® – milk with added oats and honey, boasting 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

Like so many other issues we discuss in our country today, food goes to extremes.

  • On the one end there are many animal-free products fashioned to meet the “plant-based philosophy” and vegan markets, while on the other there are high protein products meeting the Paleo market.
  • The Organic packaged food space is definitely expanding, with more processed and individually-packaged products than ever. Many of these are marketed as “alternatives to Big Food” brands, but most are no better nutritionally, nor for the environment.
  • The liquids, probiotic products, and supplements, in the Expo definitely outnumbered the whole foods or beverages that support the DASH Diet market (dairy, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, a few whole grains, and unsaturated oils).

Folks Want Convenience

There were some interesting products designed to make eating healthier easier. The drinkable oatmeal from Fair Life? Quick oats are pretty easy, and while I love Fair Life milk, I don’t see the appeal of this oat product. I also sampled these frozen sweet potatoes and cauliflower products. The Caulipower® products are serving the market who is either gluten-free or trying to reduce carbohydrate in their diet. The sweet potato toasts (slices) are to be served as you would a cracker (topped with something), and the cauliflower pizza crust is self explanatory. However, I can also see the sweet potato slices serving as a time-saving way to add vegetables to your diet, even if you still also want to eat crackers or crostini on occasion. I sampled a bottled soup product, that tasted good, was low in sodium and high in vegetables – another on- the-go, and drinkable, nutrition item.

Pureed soup in an on-the-go bottle.

Drinking Your Diet

The number of bottled products was astounding. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to drink my diet. I have teeth, I want to chew. Supplemental foods in liquid form can have their place (people with poor dentition, people who can’t eat and need nutrients for illness or recovery), but to replace sitting down to regular meals with drinking food from a bottle?

Some of these liquids tout themselves as supplements in the “functional foods” category, and others just alternative beverages. The “dairy alternative” category continues to grow.

All of these products, in my opinion, add to the confusion of “what’s good for me”, or as some may perceive it, “what’s good for the planet”.

Let’s start with dairy alternatives. Unlike cow’s milk that is a high protein, high calcium, high potassium nutrient-dense beverage, most plant alternative are not (but may be fortified – or have nutrients added to them). Have you been to the dairy case lately? It’s mind-boggling. Almond milk. Soy milk. Coconut Milk. Cashew Milk. Hemp milk (stay tuned – the dairy industry is fighting to maintain the identity of cow’s milk, and feel they have dibs on the term “milk”).

And now, enter Banana milk. (Whaaaat?)

Banana milk? Well it’s not milk. And it’s not nutrient rich. But it’s only 60 calories a cup and it’s certified organic. Big whoop.

Many brands continue to use the term “milk” when marketing their products, but this product really had me asking myself “Why?”. It’s nut-free, organic, and dairy-free, yet calls itself “milk”, even using the term “mooala” (aka, cow sounds). They even have the audacity to use a cow-look-alike image on their packaging.

This product really annoyed me. They take a high potassium banana, dilute it with water, and serve it as a drink (milk substitute no less) in a plastic bottle. But since you’ve diluted it, there’s less potassium per serving. I even asked if they use brown bananas (perhaps this product helped reduce waste?) but she said no, they use bananas that are yellow but just slightly green (in other words – perfect bananas!).

This isn’t banana-flavored milk. This would be better termed “Banana Water” because it’s basically pureed bananas with water added (and a few sunflower seeds). Not only does this water dilute the nutrition of the banana, but it also doesn’t taste great. I asked the vendor representative if this drink would benefit those who need more potassium (like those with high blood pressure), or if could act like a potassium supplement. Since it’s been diluted, the answer is – no. Interestingly she said the company was considering fortifying the product with potassium next year. Are you shaking your head yet?

(You may be asking yourself – Why not just eat bananas? I’m pretty sure they are a universally tolerated food, and if you don’t like bananas because of taste, you probably aren’t going to like banana water either).

Another product that left me scratching my head was Drink Simple® Maple Water. This is a product that takes the water (maple sap) from maple trees and purifies it and bottles it. This water claims to offer some electrolytes and minerals including manganese. I think it’s a waste of good pure maple syrup ingredients.

How’d it taste? Like water, with a teeny tiny drop of maple flavor. Oh and yeah, it’s non-GMO (because they want to be in Whole Foods stores. There are no GMO maple trees FYI).

Maple water. Yeah, it’s a thing.

Both the dairy industry and milk-alternatives were present at the Expo. Chocolate milk is still popular and marketed as a sports recovery drink (which works well for many athletes). There were some goat milk products, and many types of yogurts featuring probiotic cultures.

Dairy free milk alternatives

Artisan goat milk kefir and yogurt. I don’t know why, but at a glance this graphic appeared as a unicorn to me.

What About All of the Plastic?

What really impressed me was the sheer number of beverages in single serving bottles. Remember the environmental crusade to reduce plastic by producing reusable, BPA-free water bottles? It appears to me that we are replacing whatever plastic we’ve saved with more single serving beverages touted as functional nutrition.

I find it interesting that there seems to be a “cool hipster factor” when it comes to being drawn to these types of products. Often those who are drawn to milk alternatives (dairy-free, plant-based products) or the health halo of the Certified Organic and GMO free labels, are also interested in the environment, reducing food waste, and conserving resources. It’s ironic to me that so many who would purchase all of these single serving bottled products, yet may also feel that reducing animal agriculture (hence, milk-alternatives) is an answer to controlling climate change. Something to think about.

While there may be a market for them, we need to consider reducing single-serving product packaging.

In any case, I really can’t think of a single good reason for banana water or maple water in a bottle.




Share this:

No Tricks: Facts on Reducing Peanut Allergy and Early Introduction of Peanuts

My favorite candies includes peanuts.

Halloween is right around the corner, and it’s a time for children to have fun dressing in character, trick or treating, and having festive classroom parties at school. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, cousin, aunt or uncle, you may know someone who is allergic to peanuts. Your school district may have even gone “peanut free” as a result of the incidence of allergy or reported allergy.

Did you know that early introduction of peanuts to infants will reduce the chance of future allergy?

A study called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP Study) found that introducing peanut protein at four to six month of age can help reduce the chance of babies developing a peanut allergy by about 75%. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, has created new guidelines for introducing peanut products to children.

Your pediatrician will assess the best age to introduce peanut protein to your child, although it’s typically between four to six months. It doesn’t have to be a big portion, but just an introduction of a small amount of peanut protein. This can be done with just a teaspoon or two of peanut butter. (Whole peanuts however are a choking hazard, so they should be avoided). You can even start with just a tiny bit of peanut butter (the size of a pea) on your (clean) finger to serve to baby.

 Here are some easy ideas to begin incorporating small amounts of peanut butter or peanut powder into your child’s beverage or meals through the week:

  • Add 2 teaspoons peanut powder to oatmeal or rice cereal.
  • Make your own teething biscuits – like these from the National Peanut Board.
  • Stir two teaspoons of peanut butter into pureed meats or a pureed vegetable your child already enjoys.
  • Once your child is able to handle whole, soft fruits you can spread a thin amount of peanut butter onto pieces of apple, pear, or banana (or at an earlier age, you can mash the banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter).
  • Incorporate Peanut Puff snacks into your child’s diet. These are a treat – not something to eat every day, but a they are tasty and fun way to get some peanut into the diet. 
  • Stir two teaspoons of peanut butter into chopped, hot noodles, stir until blended. Cool before serving.

By introducing peanut products to your child as part of their first foods, there’s a better chance you’ll avoid the challenge of allergy. Talk to your pediatrician and dietitian about introducing new foods to your baby, and for more information about early feeding.

Share this:

Vegetarian Moussaka

You don’t have to “go vegan” to enjoy a meatless meal as part of your weekly meal planning. Even meat-eaters can incorporate a vegetarian dish once a week. You can also modify vegan recipes (for instance, use dairy cheese in place of the vegan cheese) to suit your taste. The goal here is to add more vegetables to your diet, and incorporate more complex flavors, so they really satisfy.

A traditional Moussaka dish includes both eggplant and ground meat, and topped with a Bechamel sauce (white cream sauce). But this recipe is an meatless way to enjoy my favorite flavors in the dish. It eliminates the meat and adds whole grain, high protein quinoa, and is topped with a high protein, creamy custard topping. Yum. Of course, it’s DASH Diet friendly.

Share this:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

Sometimes, previous breakfast-loving-teenagers may wake up one day and decide: “I can’t eat this early in the morning”.

When this happens in my house I don’t like it. I’m a big fan of breakfast and think it’s important to fuel your brain before you do important work. The idea of a student trying to focus and do his best, on an empty stomach for 3-4 hours before lunchtime, does not appeal to me. And I am “The Mom” after all, so I have some say.

Enter: Liquid Breakfast.

I’m personally not a huge fan of smoothies or drinking my meals. I make time to eat, and have never had an issue with lack of appetite in the early morning. Smoothies do however have their place in providing nutrition when there otherwise would be none (and are also a great way to add more vegetables and fruit to your diet). They are great for anyone from age 4 to 84 who may not have a great appetite when they do in fact need to eat.

This easy smoothie is made with a secret ingredient: JIF® Brand peanut powder. This unsweetened protein powder is made from peanuts (as the sole ingredient). Three tablespoons offers 8 grams of tasty protein at only 70 calories. I also love the pouch it comes in (with a velcro seal – Cereal brands! Take note!). If you are a fan of peanuts and peanut butter, try it out.

Share this:

Sneak some Healthy into Your Tailgate Party

Tailgate season is in full swing. If you have high blood pressure you may think that you can’t enjoy special events, or that you’ll “have to cheat on your diet” if you do. This is just not true if you take an active role in making healthy choices happen.

Since many parties or picnics I attend don’t have DASH Diet foods available I usually make sure that I bring them to the party myself. This doesn’t mean I’m bringing “the healthy dish” and everyone else eats all of the other stuff, this means that I’m adding a side dish that can either substitute as a main dish, or just be a great compliment to the spread. For instance, if the host isserving salty processed meats, you can just have one frankfurter, and then load up on the veggie sides.

Here’s what you can either bring to a tailgate party, or choose, but this is certainly not an endless list.

  • Chicken Wraps with Spicy Peanut Sauce (page 244 in DASH Diet For Dummies®)
  • Veggie tray – easy to put together, use baby carrots, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, and cucumber slices. If you bring it, they will eat it!
  • Fruit tray – this can be as easy as watermelon slices or a big bowl of grapes.
  • A Seven Layer Dip is always a crowd-pleaser!
  • Salad on a stick. Cut tomatoes into cubes, 1/2-inch thick cucumber slices, spinach leaves, and chunks of iceberg lettuce. Skewer onto long wooden skewer sticks and pack into plastic storage container. Keep chilled, and serve with your favorite dressing.
  • Deviled eggs. A classic appetizer, and full of nutrition.
  • Fruit crisp. This is an easy make ahead dish to share. You can use apples or pears.
  • Black bean brownies. Nobody will know this dessert is full of fiber and extra nutrients!
  • Bean salad. Beans are loaded with fiber and B vitamins. You can basically toss a can (rinse first) into any salad recipe you like. Or try my easy garbanzo bean salad.
  • Sparkling water. It’s always a good idea to have some non-alcoholic beverages available.

Don’t miss out on the fun. Make smart choices at your next tailgate or picnic.



Share this:

Is Your Weight Loss Stalled By Too Many Healthy Calories?

You may end up wondering why you still aren’t losing weight when you’ve made all of these healthy changes to your diet.

Our food supply is abundant. With the popularity of the “healthy snack” niche on the market, you may get fooled into consuming too many calories from snack choices. There is always a new bar popping up, or a new product in the organic food section, that leads you into believing you’ll have ‘instant health’ by consuming it.

Sneaky Healthy Calories

  • Are you loving hummus or hard cheese as a snack? These are good for you, but they also add up. A typical 2 TB of hummus offers up 50 calories, and its easy to consume four times that amount, adding up to an extra 200 calories. A one ounce chunk of hard cheese provides 150 calories.
  • And how is the hummus or cheese getting into your mouth? Via cracker? While a nice whole grain wheat cracker is great, these can sneak too many calories into you too. Six crackers provide about 120 calories – so keep count. Or better yet, use vegetables to scoop your hummus. Slice up a red, orange or green bell pepper into strips, or try cucumber slices.
  • Nuts, granola or trail mix. Nuts are healthy right? Right! But they are also high in calories. Just a small handful can add up to 250 calories – as much as a candy bar. Enjoy a few nuts every day, but count them out (1/4 cup trail mix, 20 almonds, 25 peanuts, 50 pistachios).

Liquid Calories

Sure, a glass of red wine could be good for your health, and coffee and tea has been shown to be beneficial, but chances are you may ignore the calories that could be coming from your beverage choices.

  • Coffee and tea are calorie-free, but the things added to them may not be. Creamers, flavored syrups, chocolate, whipped cream and milks, all add calories. It’s great to enjoy a latte once in a while since the milk provides both calcium and protein, but watch out for the extra sweet drinks and the larger “Grande” and “Vente” sizes. A 16-ounce Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks® will add 380 calories to your day. Go with a Short instead (8-ounces) and you’ll get 7 grams of protein at a reasonable calorie intake (180). A 16 ounce Chai Latte has as many calories as a candy bar (240).
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking plant-based drinks are doing you any favors in terms of calories and health. A 16-ounce Starbucks® Almond Protein Blended Cold Brew offers up 270 calories.
  • Every 5-ounce glass of wine contributes about 150 calories. Today’s pours are often over 5-ounces, so keep track. And, the health guideline for alcohol is one glass for women, and up to two for men per day. Don’t overdo it too often.
  • Smoothies are still popular, and even the ones you create at home may be adding calories to your diet than you realize. If you are picking up a smoothie between meals, pay attention. A medium Strawberry Banana Smoothie from McDonalds® is 240 calories. At home you can use nonfat Greek yogurt, smaller amounts of juice, and fresh fruit to reduce calories from sugar.

If you enjoy a latte, or a smoothie as a meal replacement once in a while or occasional snack, it’s fine. But if you are randomly guzzling these kinds of liquids thinking “It’s healthy!”, think again. Homemade smoothies made with yogurt, juice, vegetables, and then topped with protein powders, can be upwards to 500 calories a serving. If you are consuming this as a supplement to regular meals, you may be going overboard without knowing it. Liquids typically don’t fill you up. You may be better off eating a more satisfying 500 calorie lunch (turkey sandwich on whole wheat, a cup of watermelon, and an 8-ounce glass of 1% milk or maybe a beef-veggie stir fry with rice) for the same calories but more fiber and protein.

Rethink your drink. Pay attention to your liquid calories this week.



Share this:

Family Meals: Pleasing Picky Kids

September is Family Meals Month – a chance to focus on the importance of regularly eating meals together. Eating with others can have great impact. I often talk about what you should be eating, but how and where you eat matters to your overall wellness too. Studies have shown that children who eat meals with family fare better in their school and social life.

A simple roast pork tenderloin and roasted potatoes that can all be baked on the same sheet pan.

Having more meals at home together can also help raise healthy eaters that will try a variety of foods. Remember – it can take several exposures of a new food before a young child will try it. Don’t force it, just offer. Everyone has different preferences, so it’s okay to allow your child to be choosey at times (just don’t cater to their every whim). Keep it simple and nutritious for younger diners, and gradually introduce new flavors or textures. Even the way foods are arranged on a plate may impact their willingness to try new foods.

As my mother always said, “Cook what they like.” This way, there’s no waste, everyone eats, mealtime is pleasant, and you get the opportunity to set the table, be together, and share a meal.

Raising children is hard work, and it’s easy to get into the rut of picking up take-out food or going through the drive-through on busy days, but reframe the idea of eating at home. While there are no guarantees, eating meals together as a family is something you can do to help lower the risk for risky behaviors.

Consider what benefits the time and effort spent on a family meal can do for you and your family:

  • Allows more together-time. Don’t think of cooking a quick meal as “one more thing to do”. Instead, think of it as a stress-free break, that’s not rushed, and can even be fun!
  • Is an opportunity to learn about nutrition and how eating well helps you feel better, grow, and stay strong and healthy/
  • Is a time to share your day with everyone at the table and learn more about each other.
  • Provides opportunities to learn basic, lifelong cooking skills.
  • It can save you money.
  • It provides opportunities for children and teens to develop responsibility (setting the table, cooking on their own, cleaning up, doing dishes, organizing a kitchen).

I do recommend setting the table – whether it’s a kitchen table, countertop, or coffee table – make it special. It doesn’t matter what your definition of “family is. What’s important is that you get together, relax, and enjoy a nice meal.

Here are some quick meal ideas to help you get the family to the table:

  • Pick up a roasted chicken, and add your own healthy side like these Apricot Glazed Sweet Potatoes and a quick bagged tossed salad.
  • How about Taco Tuesday? Taco night is a super simple way to get everyone involved and it’s easy to prepare and clean up.
  • Save money with our Mama Mia Meatball Pizza is lower in sodium and calories than anything you’d pick up on your way home. Like Taco Night, Make-your-own-pizza-night is an easy and fun family dinner idea that is suitable for everyone to participate in from age 3 to 13 to 83!
  • Dinner isn’t the only possibility for family meals. Try these egg cups for breakfast or simply pour a bowl of cereal and sit together! School mornings may be too busy, but try these pancakes on your day off when everyone’s home. Make extra, and you can put them into freezer bags, and heat them in the toaster on weekdays.
  • Of course, “breakfast for dinner” is always a crowd-pleaser and an easy go-to.

Share your ideas about family meals in the comment section! Happy Family Meals Month!

Share this:

Product Review: Good Idea™ Drinks

From time to time I receive free product samples from companies and may write a review. Good Idea Drinks™ sent me some drinks to try over the summer, but the feedback shared here is my own and I have no affiliation with the product and I was not compensated in any way.

Functional products are a growing sector of the supplement market and are also appearing on traditional grocery store shelves in the form of foods, snacks, and beverages. Good Idea™ (the Swedish Sugar Buster® Dietary Supplement) is marketed as a supplement to aid blood sugar control. It’s a sparkling water beverage supplemented with a special mix of amino acids and a chromium that could have a beneficial effect on the blood sugar spike following a meal. Their Swedish researchers found that when the beverage is consumed with a meal rich in sugar and simple carbohydrates, it reduced blood glucose by 20-30%. Their research is founded on the idea that the consumption of whey (a milk protein) before or during a meal, along with chromium picolinate, may reduce blood sugar spikes (this is also why consuming milk or dairy aids is associated with better weight control).

Chromium has been shown to have an impact on glucose control in people with diabetes. Studies over the years have shown that 200mg of chromium daily may be of benefit, but those with more impairments in sugar tolerance and diabetes usually require more. You’ll find chromium in common foods such as egg yolks, whole-grain products (including bran breakfast cereals), coffee, nuts, green beans, broccoli, meat, and brewer’s yeast. You also may find it in your typical vitamin-mineral supplement, or at higher doses (of 200-600 micrograms) in a chromium picolinate supplement. The US National Academy of Science recommendation for chromium is only 50-200 micrograms per day, but there’s no upper limit. Studies seem to show that the effectiveness of chromium in controlling blood sugar may have to do with the type, and the dose. The Good Idea™ drinks contain 250 micrograms of chromium picolinate.

The drinks are packaged in slim 12-ounce cans, and come in a variety of flavors. Consumers are directed to drink one before or during a carb-heavy meal. I tried each flavor, with my lunch meal. I don’t have diabetes, and was not able to monitor my blood sugar after consumption, so can only evaluate these products based on their taste and the science behind them.

Some scientific studies on chromium supplementation is suggestive of improving both glucose control and insulin sensitivity in some people with or without diabetes. These sparkly beverages may be an easy way to meet that need. The effectiveness of the amino acids is not as clear cut, but some research does show there could be benefits in terms of glycemic control.

Good Idea™ (the Swedish Sugar Buster® Dietary Supplement) did have a slightly metallic taste to me but I was able enjoy them nonetheless. I am intrigued by the preliminary research but can’t say that I could feel any impact in a short period of time in terms of weight or energy level. I also think the price point may be too high for many consumers if they are to include at least one beverage daily into their meal plan. Nonetheless, with the popularity of sugar-free sparkling waters, these beverages could easily be appealing to someone who prefers to drink and eat their meal, over taking a pill or a meal replacement bar. So stay tuned, and check them out here for more information.

Share this:

Common Sense Goes Back to School

Two words I hear often, “Fear sells”.

Is fear guiding your food choices? Whether it is an environmental issue, a political topic, or the safety of our food supply, fear-mongering has become a common technique used to sway you into believing one side of a story. Usually it’s done by sharing some facts either out of context, or without full background.

photo credit: Rosanne Rust source: Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Poison Exhibit, Pittsburgh, PA

Much of the worry about chemicals used in food processing, or chemical residues that may occur within our living environment, is viewed without consideration for the amount of exposure, nor the safeguards already in place. There is no possible way we can live in our modern society without exposure to chemicals in the air, water, or soil.

Exposure doesn’t mean toxicity.

photo credit: Rosanne Rust source: Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Poison Exhibit, Pittsburgh, PA

When I was in grad school, I had to take a toxicology class. It was a fascinating class, and helped put in perspective the basic toxicology principle of “The dose makes the poison”, and how it applies to almost any chemical substance in our environment.

How to Spot a Fear-Monger

There’s been a lot of news of late about the issue of pesticide residue in our food supply, and the headlines are generally created to worry you. As you read the headlines about food or nutrition, there are a few questions you may ask yourself:

  • Does this news sound overly shocking?
  • Are pictures or emotional images used? If there are no pictures, it’s likely the news is more fact-based. If an image is used (such as a sad child, cross bones, or food with needle in it), read closely. Images like these are often used to create emotion and divert you from all of the facts.
  • What facts might be missing? Does it seem like this is only “one side of the story”
  • Are you knowledgeable on the subject at hand. For instance, if it’s an article about genetically modified plants – are you familiar with plant biology? If it’s about chemical residues in our environment – are you familiar with toxicology principles?

Recent News about Pesticides in Cereals

A lot of Americans enjoy cereal for breakfast. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently published a misguided report suggesting that your morning cereal could contain pesticide residue. The EWG is an organization that is expert in using the fear-mongering technique. They want to live in a world where all farms are small and organic, and where households only use vinegar as a cleaning agent. They also perpetuate a lot of myths about cancer, lifestyle and diet and offer misguided advice about pesticide risk in produce, and mercury levels in seafood.

While the EWG has criticized the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans for being “influenced by the food industry”, the EWG itself has clear ties to the organic food industry (they collaborate closely with the Organic Voices Action Fund, which represents organic brands including Stonyfield®, Earthbound Farm®, Organic Valley®, Nature’s Path® and Annie’s®). Kinda hypocritical no?

The latest EWG report titled “Breakfast with a dose of Round-up” is a prime example of how to use fear to make your case or sway your audience. Despite the fact that their report contained residue samples from 21 food products, they chose to highlight the products from “Big Food” companies – General Mills®, Quaker® (PespsiCo®) and Kellogg’s® – in their headlines and “call to action” (even though other brands such as Bob’s Red Mill®, Back to Nature® and Great Value® were also reviewed). Worse, they used the popular brand Cheerios® as their poster child for this misguided report, seemingly intentionally to scare mothers of young children.

Science, Standards, and Common Sense

The EWG tends to use their own science, and in this case, the state of California’s guidelines, about pesticides. So let’s look at some facts.

  • The products tested were oat-based. The EPA has a system in place to determine safe levels of pesticides and other residues that occur in our environment, including safe tolerance levels for grains.
  • The tolerance level of glyphosate residue (including its metabolites) in grains (including oats) is 30 ppm (parts per million), or 30,000 ppb (parts per BILLION). The results from the EWG testing were in parts per BILLION. So doing the math puts this in perspective as you compare a safe level of 500 ppb to the 30,000 ppb threshold set by the EPA.
  • I see some inconsistency in the EWG report. Why were some products tested once, others twice, and only four tested three times? Instead of averaging the results, they used the highest result to report (poor quality control in testing?).

This is where common sense comes in. The dose makes the poison – the presence of a “potentially toxic” substance does not equal “toxicity”. When healthy foods are taken off the table, family nutrition is going to suffer. Whole grain foods such as oat cereals, provide fiber and important nutrients to the diet. Fresh produce is also an important part of a healthy diet. Both are important to heart health. The EWG instills fear leading some consumers to not purchase these healthy food items. I encourage you to use The Alliance of Safe Food and Farming calculator and guidelines to you can enjoy adding more produce in your weekly grocery cart. In regard to enjoying grain foods, the Whole Grain Council is an excellent resource for facts.


Share this: