19 Jul

Healthy Food Options to Avoid Harmful Chemicals and Risks

Posted by Norman F

Last Update: 9/4/2018

organic oranges

Is this Okay to Eat?

Every year it seems that a new study comes up telling us that another popular food is unhealthy or causes cancer. The latest controversy in 2015 was over processed meats and the WHO declaring that bacon, hot dogs, etc cause colorectal cancer. It seems what is good this year, is bad the next.  Is Kale next?

Everyone knows about the major food groups, eating a balanced diet, and following USDA’s My Plate. Here are some healthy  food options that we have read about that help people avoid harmful chemicals.

Food Labeling

Here are some food labels that actually have meaning:

  • Organic
  • No antibiotics used, raised without antibiotics, never ever added antibiotics
  • American grass fed
  • Food alliance certified grass fed

Labels that are possibly meaningless

  • Natural
  • No antibiotic residues, no antibiotics growth promotants
  • Antibiotic free

Why are Antibiotics Misused and Overused?

Antibiotics are widely used in the livestock sector. Most can be purchased over the counter without any veterinary prescription. Ranchers place these chemicals in water and feed their animals these medicines because:

  • Faster growth
  • Reducing illness and death
  • Allow more crowding of animals
  • Cheap counterfeit drugs

Use of Antibiotics is a kin to placing small amounts of antibiotics into your kids sandwich every day, in order to prevent sickness and promote wellness!

Why is this Use of Antibiotics Harmful?

  • Overuse has caused bacterial resistance costing over 20 billion in medical expenses and lost lives (Over 23,000 people die annually from antibiotic resistant infections)
  • Killing off beneficial bacteria
  • Improper use
  • Contaminated Feed
  • Unnecessary
  • Inhumane

In September 2018, Consumer Reports tested:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Turkey

They found traces of the following banned drugs:

  • Chloramphenicol
  • Phenylbutazone
  • Ketamine
  • Nitroimidazoles

Some amounts exceeded their experts cutoffs and even the higher Food Safety and Inspection Service’s cutoffs.

Drinking Water Toxic Threat from Teflon and Scotchgard

In July 2018, ProPublica released research showing that the EPA and Pentagon downplayed the toxic threat from PFAS or perfluoroalkyl substances that are used in Teflon and Scothgard.

Based on Eaton’s higher-resolution detection rates, scientists at the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that researches the dangers of PFAS compounds, have generated new estimates of contamination linked to the chemicals.

They now think more than 110 million people have been exposed to the compounds through their drinking water, more than five times as many as the group had previously estimated.

Organic Food

Over $30 billion worth of organic food was sold in 2012. Many people purchase it to avoid chemical pesticide and fertilizer. Some also believe that it is healthier. More and more products are being sold with the organic label. Mainstream grocery stores now stock more and more organic products. Previously you had to visit a specialty retailer to buy these products.

Benefits of Organic Food

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2006 showed that within 5 days, a mostly organic produce diet caused pesticide residues from being measured in a child’s urine.

Organic fruits and vegetables are an obvious option and our post concentrates on buying just the ones that have the most pesticide residue. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that even after you wash certain fruits and vegetables, they still contain much higher levels of pesticide residue than others.

Super cancer fighter vegetables per a Stanford Doctor include: soy, onions, broccoli, tomatoes and blueberries.

Organic Milk – Milk and Heart Disease

Buy milk that is USDA organic to avoid hormones like bovine growth hormone (rBST or rBGH), antibiotics, pesticides, and other additives.

  • No GMO Feed (IE Corn, Soy)
  • Organic Feed

Most industrialized nations and all 25 members of the EU have not approved rBGH because it can sicken cows. Organically raised cows are also given access to pasture.  Some believe that these benefits are not real because milk is tested for antibiotic and pesticide residue.

Others believe that these hormones produce milk with higher-than-normal levels of the insulin-like growth factor called IGF-1. Where is my milk from shows where your milk is from.  Did you know that skim, whole, reduced fat milk all have similar amounts of protein,  calcium, and vitamin D?

Still others believe that butter, cheese, and full fat milk will clog your arteries an cause heart disease. The Annals of Internal Medicine recently concluded that “high levels of saturated fat intake had no effect on coronary disease” Despite the fact that full-fat milk and butter are packed full of calories, people consuming full-fat dairy were no more likely to be obese than those drinking semi-skimmed milk.

Clover announced in Fall 2016 that their conventional milk will be from non GMO feed cows. They are even absorbing the extra cost to farmers. Technically all milk is GMO free. GMO are not in milk regardless of GMO or non-GMO feed. Angering some folks, especially farmers. This is more a marketing move than anything else, but a step in the right direction.

Clover organic milk costs almost twice what regular milk costs. Their Organic Milk has the following certifications:

  • USDA Organic
  • Non GMO Project Verified
  • American Humane Association
  • North Coast Excellence Certified

Other dairy products including yogurt are also moving towards non-GMO.

Organic Eggs

Organic Eggs have better flavor and the chickens laying them have been feed organic feed. Eating them is a good way to  help minimize risk of exposure to antibiotics, or synthetic hormones and pesticides while obtaining a healthy dose of nutrients.

Eggs need to be fully cooked properly to prevent food poisoning and salmonella contamination. Bacteria can exist inside an uncracked, uncooked whole egg. Avoid eating raw cookie dough with egg or making ice cream with egg or Caesar salad dressing with raw eggs. Cook eggs until the egg yolk and the egg white are firm. Cook egg custard used in eggnog, homemade ice cream, and quiches to at least 160 degrees. Bake egg meringues at 350 degrees for at least 15 minutes on the lower rack of your oven.

Eggs were once thought to clog our arteries in cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. There may be some truth in these claims, but provided you are otherwise healthy, eating up to seven eggs a week.

Buying Local Food

There has been a movement to purchase food grown locally, in order to support local farmers as well as combat global warming. While this practice does help nearby farms, transportation from a farm makes up a tiny, roughly 4%, amount of the emissions generated from food production.

Hormel Natural Choice Deli Meat

Processed Meat Safety

Noticed a new product at the grocery store last week. Hormel Natural Choice Natural Deli Meat is now available with no nitrates or nitrites, no preservatives, no MSG, Raised without added Hormones, and Gluten Free. We need to salute a mainstream manufacturer for moving in the right direction. Ask your local supermarket for it. Did you know that some products that advertise no nitrates, switch to using celery root, which has nitrates.

Processed meats like cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon, and sausages have lots of sodium and nitrates which may cause heart risks or cancer.

The World Health Organization announced in October 2015 the connection between bacon and other processed meats and colorectal cancer. They lumped bacon in with tobacco as far as cancer causing.

Cancer Research UK examined these headlines and found a 5.6% risk of developing colorectal cancel over your lifetime.  If you eat bacon and ham every day, the risk rises to about 6.6%. For every 100 people who stop eating bacon, only 1 will have avoided cancer. To put that in perspective, consider the figures for tobacco: for every 100 smokers who give up, 10-15 lives may be saved. Don’t smoke and just don’t each bacon everyday.

Organic Deli Meat

We primarily buy an small local brand’s Heidi’s Hens Organic deli meat that also has no nitrates, antibiotics, growth hormone, etc.. They have them at Whole Foods but not mainstream markets like Safeway.

Meat Consumption and CO2 emissions

NY Times had an interesting article in 2008 about the rise in CO2 emissions as more people eat meat. I knew that meat consumption affected the environment, but did not understand the magnitude.

From the chart, you can see what the alternatives to meat cost. Time to eat more chicken instead of beef. Yes becoming a vegetarian helps, but that is a difficult step for most to make.

Research has shown that cattle waste can cause nitrogen to seep into the ground and contaminate ground water. Sometimes the drinking water becomes undrinkable. Dairy manure is the largest source of animal waste in California, generating 200,000 tons of nitrogen annually. Almost 10% of California’s public water wells have more nitrogen than the government deems acceptable.

Beef Production’s Toll in America

  • 24% of Greenhouse Gases
  • More water and energy than agriculture
  • 9 Billion Animals killed annually
  • 47 Billion Sea Animals killed annually

Animal agriculture uses 30% of all land, over 25% of all freshwater on Earth, and creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all of the world’s cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes combined.

Plant Based Meats – Impossible Burger

Plant based meats conjures up thoughts of dry crusty veggie burgers or gross fake meat a like products. No wonder plant based meats represent 0.25% of meat sold.

With more technology applied in this area, many breakthroughs are happening.  Impossible Foods of Redwood City, California has a plant based Impossible burger that even bleeds.  It is made from wheat, coconut oil and potatoes. Compared to cows beef, the Impossible Burger uses:

  • 95% less land
  • 74% less water
  • 87% less greenhouse gas emissions
  • 100% free of hormones, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients


Impossible Burger Review

We ate the Impossible burger at Cockscomb in San Francisco. One of only 2 places serving it in SF. It costs $19 and is served only at lunch. Photo courtesy of foodnut.com

Wow, we were impressed. A lot better than anticipated.  They cooked it with a crispy top and served it with a strong sauce under the bun.  For a 1.0 effort, we would give it an 80%.  Couple more years and it will fool most people!

The Impossible burger did cost $19 while a hamburger (Twice the size) on the same menu went for $15.  It will take some time to get the volume up and cost down. We have seen Impossible burgers costing less than half this in other parts of the US.

By late 2017, more restaurants throughout the US have added this to their menu.

Full Ingredient List

Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

Soy, Wheat

Egg Replacement Products from Hampton Creek

After cattle, poultry comes to mind.  Hampton Creek is best know for their Just Mayo vegan mayonnaise replacement product. They use a mixture of plant products to make this fake mayo.  We’ve tried it an find it is pretty close to the real thing.

Why? They claim it uses

  • 65% less water to product
  • Emits 24% less greenhouse gases
  • Humanely produced

Their next product was Just Scramble, a liquid egg replacement. In December of 2017, they rolled it out at a restaurant in San Francisco, Flore.

The big plus for their product, when compared to other substitues is the fact that it cooks like eggs and does not take longer.

Food technology continues to grow.

Beef Safety

80% of antibiotics sold in the USA are used on animals. They are utilized to increase growth rate and prevent disease. Because many of the animals we consume are raised in unsanitary conditions, these drugs are used as stop-gap measures. Antibiotics are either placed in animal feed or water. Some veterinarians and cattle folks argue that small amounts of antibiotics cuts the risk of animal sickness by 25% – 50%. Scientists believe that feeding animals antibiotics when they are not sick, causes more drug resistant super bugs or infections. 99,000 people died in 2002 due to hospital acquired infections, most of those from super bugs.

Avoid hormones and antibiotics in Beef and Poultry buy purchasing Organic products and grass fed beef. American livestock routinely get antibiotics to promote growth and to prevent possible illness. The problem is that this practice to germs to mutate and possibly generate antibiotic resistance in humans. In Denmark, they track livestock antibiotics and require a prescription before any is applied. Perhaps the United States should join this approach. The United States is six times more antibiotics than Denmark to produce meat. An additional problem with antibiotics is that they can wipe out almost all bacteria in a person gut, leaving them more susceptible to an infection.

A recent public health study from Harvard University found that eating one additional serving of processed red meat each day can increase your risk of death by 20%. When examining this statistic, it equates to two more deaths per 1 thousand people per year or an actual increase of 0.2% points. A BBC analysis said that this is equivalent to a 40 year old person living to 79 instead of 80.

Organic Meat

Organic Ground Beef Safety

Is organic ground beef any safer?  This package again stated that the meat was from several sources. A recent E. Coli outbreak in organic meat means that organic beef is not any safer.

Consumer Reports in the Summer of 2015 tested 300 samples of ground beef, both conventional and organic from 26 American cities. 18% of beef samples had anti-biotic resistant strains of bacteria while 9% of sustainably raised beef had it. Tests were done for several strains of E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus aureus. They reinforce the desire of preventing use of unnecessary use of antibiotics in cattle.

NY Times has a scary article on the dangers of ground beef and burgers.  A 22 year old lady had a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.  In the end, she was left paralyzed. This is a rare occurrence but the article raises several facts that we all should be aware of.

Hamburgers are often a mixture of different parts of the cow, possibly from different slaughter houses. By using several sources, meat packers can save 25% on their costs. These low-costs pieces of meat and fat typically come from areas where feces may have come in contact. Bacteria are not easily killed during cooking.

It is so bad that many large slaughter houses will only sell to meat grinders who agree not to test for E. Coli!

Cooking meat thoroughly to at least 160 degrees, and careful washing is not enough to prevent sickness from this issue. Following safety instructions, E. Coli still remained after preparing contaminated meat.

Examine your cutting board, looking for groove marks when your cutting board is worn, it becomes more difficult to remove all contaminants from it. Consider replacing it or buying a glass cutting board.

Many people think they should rinse meat before cooking, but the latest food safety guidelines do not recommend this. Running water can spray bacteria and other contaminants from the meat all over the sink and counter top. Bacteria will be destroyed during cooking. A professor suggests that people should use bleach to sterilize cutting boards.

Costco is on the cutting edge of pushing for more testing. They are one of the few large grinders to test ingredients for the pathogens as they arrive at its plant. Costco recently reached an agreement with Tyson to do more testing.

It might probably safer having your local the butcher grind up some chuck than buying this pre-packaged meat.  The USDA advised against griding meat yourself. Bacteria on the outside of a piece of meet could get to the inside of a patty, making it hard to kill bacteria. Make sure you observe USDA meat handling guidelines.

Friends Don't Let Friends eat meat with Drugs, organic meat, organic beef, whole foods, beef with antibiotics

Saw this amusing sign at Whole Foods. Friends Don’t Let Friends eat meat with Drugs. Whole Foods is the only large supermarket chain to carry meat raised without antibiotics.

Carnitine in Meat

In 2013, a study from the Journal Nature Medicine, indicated that the compound carnitine was causing significant health issues. This is used by the body to transport fatty acids into cells, for use as energy. The problem was that some bacteria in the digestive track converts it into TMAO. This metabolite causes thickening of the arteries or atherosclerosis.

It appears that this compound changes how cholesterol is metabolized. They are now trying to figure out ways to block formation of TMAO.

Feel like having a burger tonight?

Sodium is another culprit, at least burgers have less sodium than hot dogs

Organic Poultry Safety

chipolte Mexican Grill, chicken

We like Chipotle Mexican Grill and their food, but noticed that our local location has had a “We are not serving Natural Chicken” sign on the counter for a number of months. They advertise that they attempt to use meats without hormones or antibiotics. We decided to investigate and found some interesting details. Chipotle endeavors to use as much natural chicken as possible, but does not guarantee this. We have seen figures showing that 66% of the chicken meets the standard. This is sort of false advertising, when pure, natural ingredients are promised, but rarely used. What are the issues behind this, supply, profits?

One interesting issue is the fact that they only use chicken dark meat and not chicken white meat. Local vendors have trouble just supplying dark meat, as demand for natural chicken has waned with the economy. Granted, Chipolte serves up a lots of chicken, given its numerous locations and high demand, but needs to upholds its principles. How about switching to white meat or better yet, a blend of white and dark meat, which is how chickens come!

Pink Slime Beef

The TV celebrity Jamie Oliver recently brought to light the common ground beef filler now known as Pink Slime or lean finely texture beef. This material is made from beef scraps left over in the cutting process, fat is removed from these trimmings and in many cases, ammonium-hydroxide gas is used to kill bacteria.

This Pink Slime is mixed in with ground beef, often to make it more lean. The controversy has caused many supermarkets to stop use of this filler product. This just shows another food production techniques are not known to the general public. If we knew how all our food was grown and processed, we would demand more healthy products.

Positive Aspects of Pink Slime

  • Less cattle is slaughtered (1.5 million more animals would have to be used)
  • Leftovers from slaughter do not need to be burned, disposed of, or used as pet food
  • If not used for pets, food equivalent to feeding 42 million people would be required
  • Hamburger is more lean because of this
  • School hamburgers are less likely to have E. Coli

Perhaps the ultimate answer is to require every manufacturer to label products containing pink slime or lean finely textured beef. While pink slime is definitely gross, consider that sausages and hot dogs are made from a slimy, slurry solution also. This whole controversy has led to more restaurants stating whether their beef contains pink slime or not.

Coffee Safety

Many of us love that morning cup of joe. Some worry that coffee will cause a heart attack.   In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on the health of 400,000 Americans over the course of 13 years of study. The scientists found that people who drank between 3 and 6 cups a day of coffee were around 10% less likely to die during the 13-year period, with lower rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and infections.

Cooking Oil Safety

Canola oil, made from heating and then crushing rapeseed, was linked to dementia in a recent study in Nature. Although it is too early to draw a definitive connection, there are many other reasons to steer clear of canola oil.

  • Much of the plant is genetically modified
  • It is heavily processed
  • Canola oil may contain hexane residues

I’ll stick to the 100% extra virgin olive oil instead.

Antibiotics Ban put off

Creative Commons License photo credit: shimgray

Keep Antibiotics Working covers the quiet FDA withdrawal of a ban of extralabel use of an antibiotic used for animal production. Industry has once again prevailed. We’ve all read about superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

It is estimated that 70% of antibiotics in the United States, are used on livestock. This is an economic positive for farmers as it can save pennies on  the cost of each pound of meat.

In April 2012, the FDA finalized plans to ask drug companies to limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Two hundred drugs used to promote cattle growth will be used only to treat and prevent diseases. A veterinarian would have to prescribe these items. This is a win although the FDA could have just banned the use of antibiotics to help cattle grow.

They have a good page on how to help end misuse of antibiotics. Buy organic meat or poultry raised without routine use of antibiotics.

Stick to whole wheat bread and bread products.

Wheat Safety

Some folks worry that wheat can help cause Alzheimer’s. A study at Columbia University Med Center found that celiac patients are at no increased risk for dementia. Humans have been eating wheat for at least 10,000 years, and unless you have a food allergy like the 1% of people, you are probably fine.


Foods to avoid

Avoid microwaved popcorn because to the inside of a microwave popcorn bag is usually coated with a perfluorinated chemical (PFC) called a fluorotelomer that can break down to form perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals and preliminary epidemiological studies suggest that a pregnant woman’s exposure to PFOA may reduce her baby’s birth weight.

Get as much fiber in your diet as possible.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are some great sources.

Cooking your food Safely

Be sure to watch the sunscreen and cosmetics you use.

Healthy Wheat Bread

Wheat bread is another one of those meaningless terms because most bread is made from wheat. Some wheat bread is ‘faked’ by using brown packaging or dyeing the bread with molasses or brown sugar. White bread is made using refined grains that are not as healthy.

Most people should equate whole wheat to including both the inside wheat germ and outer wheat bran. USDA Certified Organic wheat is even better. This type of bread will have more fiber than other breads. Look for whole wheat, whole oats, or 100% whole wheat as the first ingredient on packaging, not wheat flour. Some items have the Whole Grains Stamp making whole grain products easier to identify.

Fast Food grilled chicken – Carcinogen PhIP

Dinner - Burger King
Creative Commons License photo credit: VirtualErn

I read an article about Doctors suing KFC over the carcinogen PhIP in grilled chicken and decided to look into the situation. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine accused KFC of violating California’s Proposition 65. This law requires businesses to warn customers if they are being exposed to substances that cause cancer or birth defects.

“A PCRM scientist visited six different KFC stores, obtained two samples from each location, and sent them to an independent testing laboratory. All 12 samples were found to contain PhIP, a chemical classified as a carcinogen by the federal government, the state of California, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. PhIP, part of a chemical family known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs), has been linked to several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, in numerous scientific studies. No safe level of ingestion has been identified. Every sample also tested positive for at least one additional type of HCA.”

““Grilled chicken can increase the risk of cancer, and KFC consumers deserve to know that this supposedly healthy product is actually just as bad for them as high-fat fried chicken,” says Neal D. Barnard, M.D., the president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). “KFC should post warnings because its aggressively marketed new product harbors a chemical that increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other forms of this lethal disease.”

This issue is not limited to KFC, other fast food places have the same problem.

It is great that someone exposes this area. We have covered the health problems with grilling meats at high temperatures in the past.

This study from the NIH concluded: “Our results suggest that dietary interventions targeted at lower consumption of grilled red meats may reduce prostate cancer risk via the PhIP prostate carcinogenic pathway.”

Clearly there are issues with PhIP. We would rather not get exposed to it.

Sulfuryl Fluoride Fumigation and Food

termite fumigation, house tenting

Fluoride Action Network is a site that is building public awareness of problems with the EPA’s approval of using Sulfuryl Fluoride to fumigate raw and processed food commodities like barley, bran, wheat. Dow AgroSciences seeked approval because methyl bromide was being banned because of ozone depletion problems. Fluoride residue can result on the food that is consumed. There are no labeling requirements. This fumigant is also used when tenting building to kill termites. Science Daily reports that it is also a potent Greenhouse Gas that stays in the atmosphere for at least 30-40 years.

Stay tuned for more information.

Go for orange oil instead of Sulfuryl Fluoride when fumigating?

Staying healthy and avoiding harmful food and other activities is not easy. Hopefully the tips we talked about will help you improve your lifestyle. Time to eat mostly organic?

Do you have other tips to eat better and avoid harmful chemicals? Leave a comment below.

Posted on July 19th, 2018
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5 Responses to “Healthy Food Options to Avoid Harmful Chemicals and Risks”

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    […] meat products to kill any bacteria. These outbreaks of contamination revive the debate over whether too many antibiotics are used in livestock. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can be promoted. The FDA is investigating the […]

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