7 + 3 Foods to Avoid

A patient reading a copy of Prevention in the waiting room brought to my attention an interesting article entitled “7 Foods That Should Never Cross Your Plate.” I would have to agree that these seven commonly eaten foods should be avoided, so I’ll rehash them here, along with 3 more of my own choosing to flesh out a New Year’s 7 + 3 = Top 10 list.

The lead into the article implores the reader to recognize that “Clean eating means choosing fruits, vegetables, and meats that are raised, grown, and sold with minimal processing.” Michael Pollan, the regarded author of The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food, puts it even more simply: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

So here are the food items to avoid, in no particular order:

1) Canned Tomatoes – the resin that lines the corners of tin cans usually contains bisphenol-A, a compound found to produce estrogenic effects in the body, linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and possibly neuro-developmental problems like ADHD. Tomatoes get picked on because their acidity increases the leaching of BPA into the food. Perhaps citrus foods and other acidic canned goods would have the same concerns.

2) Corn-Fed Beef – If you’ve ever watched the documentary Food Inc., you’ve probably been disgusted and appalled by the supply chain that brings meat to our tables and fast food restaurants. Bloated cows are being fed corn and soybeans, heavily subsidized crops controlled by Monsanto, to the detriment of their health. Eating their meat passes on the lower nutritional value to us, and perpetuates an immoral system of CAFO’s and cow concentration camps. Grass-fed beef, especially free range, is higher in vitamins, minerals, and has a healthier fat profile (better omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratios). Bison tends to be grass fed, free-range, and of a superior nutritional quality. Eat Wild can help you find local farms that raise animals properly and often need your support. Think of the higher cost returning dividends on your health and as a charitable support of a good cause.

popcorn

mmm... something

3) Microwave Popcorn – there are chemicals lining the bags which are linked to infertility and liver/testicular/pancreatic cancer. These chemicals, including perflourooctanoic acid, vaporize while the bag is being cooked and then migrate into the popcorn, ultimately accumulating in your body. Some of the chemicals will be phased out by 2015, but why not pop kernals the old-fashioned way in a skillet on the stovetop? Mmm. Butter.

4) Nonorganic Potatoes – most root vegetables, including the highly consumed potato, absorb pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides from conventionally grown soils. Organic potatoes should absorb fewer of these types of chemicals as none are added to the soil or in processing steps between farm and market. Whole Foods has several varieties, and perhaps your local farmer can vouch for her methods.

5) Farm-raised Salmon – or any other similarly-raised fish, are often crammed into pens and consume a frankenfood diet of soy, chicken litter and hydrolyzed feathers, pesticides, and antibiotics. Such fish meat consequently has been found to be less nutritional and higher in contaminants, carcinogens, and other chemicals. The Blue Ocean Institute has compiled a free guide on how to choose seafood that is sustainably caught by evaluating species’ life history, abundance in the wild, habitat concerns, and catch method or farming system. It is a must-read.

6) Milk Produced with Artificial Hormones – It seems like there are more and more “rBGH-free” milk options on the shelves, so this message is even getting through to Wal-Mart. Milk producers who still treat their cattle with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) increase problems for the health of their cows and milk consumers alike. Insulin-like growth factor is found in higher levels in such milk, and can increase risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers.

7) Conventional Apples – apple trees are propagated through grafting, reducing their genetic variation and ability to acquire adaptations against pests. As such they are among the most highly sprayed fruits, and while the pesticide residues are claimed to be not harmful by the industry, it makes sense to avoid them if possible. Some studies are suggesting a link between total accumulations of pesticides from all sources and Parkinson’s Disease. Organically grown apples and fruits will have lower burdens of these chemicals, and the processes used to bring them to market are more sustainable.

So here are three more to round out an even ten:

8. Hmmm. How about Scrutinizing Foods Promoted by Coupons? – in tough economic times, or with tight financial budgets, the appeal of saving money is obvious and understandable. The problem is that most items available for purchase with a coupon from your grocery store are highly processed and chock full of preservatives to extend shelf life. Hot dogs, Entenmann’s pastries, and Carvel Ice Cream come to mind. Read through the ingredients. A sale on fresh produce, or a coupon for some household cleaning item not withstanding, beware the allure of saving money as it may cost more in long term health. Coupons may be best applied to inedible things.

9. Peanut butter – get the kind with a slick of oil on the top. The hydrogenated oils of the conventional Jiffy and Skippy and other brands that sound like embarassing nicknames render the peanut butter less healthy. If the sole ingredient is “peanuts” you’ve found a better option. Or try almond butter, or even walnut butter. If you have a food processor you can easily grind up your own homemade variety.

10. Don’t Eat Fast Food or Highly Processed Foods – what kind of hamburger costs 99 cents? What kind of “inputs” go into such a thing? Cast behind each happy meal is a long shadow of animal misery, petroleum fuel, and heavy processing. The stuff will not harbor life as mold will not grow on it, so how can it sustain you? [addendum: perhaps this lack of mold is due to natural dessication common to all burgers left out in the open] Similarly, foods that sit on the shelves in the middle aisles of the supermarket may contain a zoo of chemicals and preservatives, and whenever the label reads “high-fructose corn syrup” or “mono and diglycerides” I usually put it back. Might be fun to see how long you can avoid the middle aisles all together. The best packaging ever designed for conveying nutrients to our bodies is in the inherent beauty of a vegetable or fruit, the subjects of countless still life paintings and recipes.

Eating healthy is expensive, but so is not eating healthy. And I am not saying that we should eat Amanita muscaria mushrooms because they are “natural.”

Thanks to the writers at Prevention for this list to spur a conversation. Any other thoughts? I’m off to eat an air-sandwich with flax seeds and celery butter.

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10 thoughts on “7 + 3 Foods to Avoid

  1. Elissa Fazio

    Sorry but so much of this is just not true. I’m so disappointed that you are just repeating old canards with no skepticism. Especially that last bit about the McDonald’s hamburger – it’s been debunked by a number of people. The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe crew covered this at length in their podcast a few weeks ago – sorry but I don’t have time now to reference which show. Please look into these more thoroughly before spreading this food fear.

    drc – thanks for the (albeit disappointed) comment. I did look into the project, and it was not a hoax, but one blogger did state that the lack of mold was more of a dessication issue, common to all hamburgers left out to rot or not. I think I’ll have to do my own experiment. I’ve updated my post. Otherwise, I’m sorry you feel fearful about the rest… perhaps you can at least take home some knowledge through the links to eatwild and blue ocean institute.

  2. Susan Weissman

    And I wasunder the impression that canned tomatoes might be better because they are cooked and that releases the lypocene? Seems there are down sides to so many foods….

  3. robin andrea

    My grandmother, who died at the age of 84 in 1976, used to say that “they” were killing us with the food. She was not paranoid, she was well-read. She knew all those years ago that the quality of food was changing, and that the stuff that passes for food had very little relationship to the real thing. I noticed an ad on one of the websites I was reading this morning, it had photos of vegetables and a note to parents to teach their children early on how to eat well. Made me wonder what kind of species doesn’t know how to feed their precious offspring?

  4. David Harmon

    For popcorn, I suggest an air popper — sprinkle the butter on top afterwards! Or other toppings — I like parmesan cheese or soy sauce, often with various spices. Nutritional yeast is great, if you’ve got it around.

  5. Intransigentia

    I immediately thought the same thing as Susan – cooked/canned tomatoes for the lycopene win! I wasn’t aware that there was BPA in the tins, and this is really disappointing because a number of my favourite quick/healthy meals involve dumping tins of beans and tomatoes together in various combinations and proportions.

    How about home canning? Is there BPA in the rubber that seals those jars? I’ve got enough salsa to last a decade; maybe if this year is a good one for tomatoes I could just can them plain.

    Incidentally, will you be tomato-blogging this summer?

  6. Cynthia Bailey MD

    I completely agree with these recommendations. I’m glad that we physicians are now putting this sort of diet and nutrition advice out to our patients and the public. People want us to use our background and expertise in science to filter through all the pseudo-scientific hysteria in alternative health and find what has merit. Right on!

  7. Dream Mom

    What about GMO foods? I suggest avoiding any foods made with the top four genetically modified crops: corn, soy, cottonseed and canola.

    As for BPA, I just went through my entire kitchen last year, getting rid of plastics (not all plastics have BPA but I got rid of them anyway) and switching over to glass and stainless steel. (And of course, you shouldn’t be heating anything in plastic bags or plastic in the microwave or the plastic will leach into your foods. )Instrasigentia…The Fresh Preserving Store sells Ball glass jars with BPA Free Plastic Lids-they were the only place that I could find plastic lids that were BPA free (The jars will come with canning lids and you’ll have to purchase the BPA lids separately. You can also find these jars at Walmart and you can purchase the BPA free lids there-it will say BPA Free on the box now. Of course, most infant formula and canned formula (for kids like mine that are on gtube feeds) come in cans lined with BPA; there aren’t really any alternatives. BPA is also found in the plastic of blenders, food processors and many other kitchen appliances. To date, I don’t think there are any food processors that come with a glass versus plastic jar.

    Eden Organics is the only manufacturer that makes cans that aren’t lined with BPA. I purchase Eden Organic black beans at Whole Foods. As for tuna in BPA free cans, there is one manufacturer for that but the canned tuna is high-something like $7.50/can.

    As for beef/bison, it’s tough to purchase grass fed/pasture raised off the shelf at a grocery store. I shop at Whole Foods and often their beef and bison will say “vegetarian fed” which means they feed them soy. I go online to learn about the farms. You can purchase and have the beef/bison shipped but you have to do your homework. I saw Food Inc as well and I wrote one place that sold organic beef/bison and asked them if their soy feed was organic since most soy is GM. Many farms have websites and photos so it’s important to do your research. But it’s not just the grass fed and pasture raised that makes a difference in the meat-things like the distance to slaughter (longer time equals more stress to the animal and chemicals are released which can alter the flavor of the beef) and a multitude of other factors play into the taste and nutrition.

    Nourishing Traditions is a great book for guidance on what to eat, etc.

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