It seems these days you must think about everything that you eat or drink. Back in the day, you ate most meals at home, and, when the family went out for dinner, the last thing you worried about was if you’d come down with botulism, E.coli or listeria symptoms before the evening was over. Now, you must consider everything you put into your mouth. And, then there are the recalls or bulletins about “undeclared allergens” that come to light, long after the product’s expiration date, or after you’ve already ingested them.
To be healthy, we are encouraged to eat whole grain products and colorful produce. First Lady Michelle Obama has done a very good job of introducing the benefits of fruits and veggies taking up the largest portion of your food pyramid, and even kids have jumped on that bandwagon.
Healthy eating is one thing, but your daily health tip is to be mindful of the hidden dangers that come with supposed healthy eating.
With our produce
We are all aware of the dangers of pesticides settling on our fruits and veggies and must be careful to wash all residue off produce before ingesting it.
But, you also must be mindful of ingesting pesticides or harmful substances in unlikely foods that we have always understood to be good for our health. Take honey for instance – you couldn’t get a better natural food, right? Honey is the perfect addition to children and adult’s diets because this natural foodstuff contains nutrients such as protein, water, energy, fiber, sugars and various vitamins, plus minerals such as iron, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and calcium. Honey is also a good source of vitamins that include foliate, niacin, riboflavin, Vitamin C, and Vitamin B6. Legend has it that Cleopatra used honey to maintain her beauty; today we use raw honey for its anti-oxidant properties which is good for wrinkles and aging skin. Its anti-bacterial properties will help heal acne, unplug pores and heal wounds. Whew! Is there anything honey cannot do? Well, there is something you CANNOT do with honey? Did you know that you should not feed honey to an infant? It is because a contaminant that causes infant botulism, known as lostridium bacteria, usually thrives in soil and dust. That bacteria can also contaminate certain food – honey is one of those foods. If an infant ingests honey, it can cause muscle weakness, with signs like poor sucking, a weak cry, constipation, and an overall decreased muscle tone (a/k/a “floppiness”).
There are many types of herbal supplements so you must take great care to read all labels before just taking them. A few years ago, suddenly everyone started taking ginkgo biloba, which was touted as the go-to supplement for memory improvement and to keep Alzheimer’s Disease at bay. The public also believed it would improve blood circulation, which in turn might help the brain, eyes, ears, and legs function better, and its seeds contain substances that may kill the bacteria and fungi that cause infections in the body. Is there any reason why not to try this wonder supplement for yourself? Well… what people didn’t realize, as they hurried to the store to buy ginkgo biloba, was that the seeds, an edible delicacy in Japan and China, also contain a toxin that can cause side effects like seizures and loss of consciousness. Once this fact was circulated, the sales of ginkgo biloba plummeted dramatically – in the U.S. alone, sales fell by about 46% between 2007 and 2012 (or nearly 1.4 million fewer adults used this supplement in 2012 than in 2007.)
Likewise, many diet aids contain orange bitters… it is a substance that is used to control the appetite, but it is also a chemical that affects the nervous system. Ingesting the pills to lose a few pounds can result in your introducing chemicals into your body that can squeeze blood vessels, increase blood pressure and cause the heart to beat faster.
All this leads to the conclusion that to stay healthy, you have to pay attention. Most people have the internet at their disposal – if you’re not sure, don’t just Google because you’ll come up with the product itself and reviews (which may be legitimate or not), so go here to verify toxicity, side effects, compatibility with drugs or medications you may be taking to stay safe: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/webresources
You must read labels
As mentioned above, pesticides are problematic in our produce. Here are some suggestions for eating properly, enjoying produce, but keeping the problematic pesticides out of your food:
- Purchase only unsprayed or organic produce. Commit to organic and unsprayed produce – it is usually marked with stickers or some type of inscription. Organic products are slightly more expensive since they have a significantly lower or zero pesticide load. You should wash them thoroughly anyway before eating them to remove any bacteria that may have deposited on the fruits and vegetables during handling and transportation.
- Always wash produce before eating it even if it came from your own garden. Rinse the produce to ensure there is no dust, dirt or chemical residue found. If you plan to consume the product in raw form, rather than cooking it, don’t just rinse with water, but use your fingers or a cleaning brush to remove all the residue and the bacteria.
- Never rinse fruits and vegetables with soap. Never use detergents (dish soap), special rinses or soaps of any kind, as this will only do more harm than good. Unless the soap is entirely made of natural and organic materials, it tends to contain harmful components that easily penetrate the skin of the fruits. This actually causes more harm than the actual pesticides after you ingest them.
- Peel the outer layers away. After washing the produce, throw away the outer layers of leafy greens and other vegetables, or gently peel it away since pesticide compounds enter the peel of the produce.
- Dry the produce well before consumption. Washing your fruits and veggies is not adequate to reduce the pesticide load; it is important to remove any traces of residue by using disposable paper towels.
- Consider growing your own fruits and veggies. This way you can guarantee you are getting 100% natural products, and you know what repellents/pesticides, if any, were used so you know the pesticide load you and your family are exposing yourselves to. You might wish to use organic-only, soybean-based pest repellents. They are just as effective as regular repellents, except they do not use DEET, which is a known contaminant for humans.
- Familiarize yourself with the produce with the highest pesticide load. Identify the products that pose a higher risk of pesticide residue and require attention versus those have a lower pesticide load and are safer for human consumption. See the below alphabetical lists:
“The Dirty Dozen” – apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, kale/collard greens, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries and sweet bell peppers.
“The Clean Fifteen” – asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, cauliflower, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papayas, pineapples, sweet onion, sweet peas and sweet potatoes.