Pesticides in Food

          Since the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s best selling book, Silent Spring, which essentially launched the environmental movement, the use of synthetic pesticides to control pests has been a major issue to the public as well as various heath and environmental groups.  Today, the toxicity of various pesticides is well recognized to reach beyond specific target organisms, affecting both wildlife as well as human health.  Specifically, exposure to pesticides has been associated with a variety of health problems, ranging from mild headaches and fatigue to more severe cancers, birth defects, reduced fertility, and nerve damage.  In spite of the damage caused by pesticides, however, the use of these toxic chemicals remains rampant in both the United States and abroad, and in some cases is even increasing.  Consequently, pesticides are found everywhere in the environment and can be measured in the blood and urine of nearly every human being on earth!

          While it is virtually impossible to completely eliminate pesticides from your grocery bag, an extremely simple and effective way to reduce your exposure to such chemicals is through the consumption of organic rather than conventionally grown produce.  In the United States, organic products can be easily identified at your local market by a label which reads “USDA Organic.,” indicating that the product has been grown and handled in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.  This Act applies not solely to products bearing this label, but to all food products sold or label as organic in the United States.  Provisions of the Act require that organic produce is grown and handled without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.  This is not to guarantee organic produce will be devoid of synthetic chemicals since synthetic chemicals can still appear in old soils as well as drift between fields.  Instead, because the Act ensures organic food be grown according to specified practices, we can expect far less synthetic contaminants in organic produce.  It should be noted that consuming organic produce, while reducing your direct exposure to pesticides via consumption, can also reduce your indirect exposure as organic farms are less likely to contaminate the waters we use for drinking and recreation.
            Studies investigating the link between produce consumption and pesticide exposure have shown significantly reduced levels of pesticide residues in people consuming organic produce compared with those who consume conventionally grown produce.  One study based in Seattle measured organophosphate pesticide residues in the urine of preschool children and found that levels were 6 times higher in children whose diets consisted of conventionally grown produce compared with children whose diets consisted of organically grown produce.  When the diets of highly exposed children were shifted from conventional to organic, their pesticide levels dropped dramatically.  Upon reverting back to their original diets, levels of pesticide residues in their urine once again increased.  Another study reviewing various food pesticide databases reported that organically grown products contained one-third the amount of pesticide residues as found in conventionally grown products.  Additionally, the study concluded that organic foods were about 10 times less likely to contain multiple types of pesticide residues in a single product.

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                                                                                                -Shahir Masri


Honey: Where’d All the Pollen Go??

          According to a study conducted for Food Safety News, most honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t true honey.  This is because of a process known as ultra-filtration which filters out the pollen.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that any honey that has been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey.  That said, the agency has been slow to test honey and prevent false labeling.  Of all the samples tested from major stores such as Costco, Safeway, Sam's Club, Walmart, and Target, over 75% did not contain pollen.  What’s more, of the honey sampled from drug stores (Walgreens, CVS, Right-Aid) as well as small single-use packets at fast food restaurants (McDonalds, KFC, etc.), 100% did not contain pollen.

Why is honey ultra-filtered?
There is no reason for ultra-filtering honey except to mask its identity (removing pollen makes it virtually impossible to detect where honey came from).  For the most part, it’s believed that ultra-filtered honey comes from China.  By masking its origin, China can avoid paying expensive import tariffs and indirectly sell cheap honey to the U.S.  This is bad news for local U.S. honey producers, who are supposed to be protected by such tariffs.

Why is pollen important?
Probably due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, raw honey and pollen has been shown to improve certain stomach ailments and is also believed to improve certain allergic conditions. 

How Do I Buy Real Honey?
Results of the study showed that 100% of honey purchased at farmers markets, co-ops, and "natural" stores like Trader Joe's had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.  In general, honey labeled as “organic” is more likely to contain pollen.  Of the organic honey analyzed in this study, over 70% contained heavy amounts of pollen.

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                                                                                                -Shahir Masri


Canned Food Study

            A couple months ago I blogged about the toxicity of plastic water bottles due to BpA and other chemical exposures.  It’s important to be aware, however, that plastics are not the only major source of BpA exposure.  People are also exposed through consuming canned food and beverages.  This is because BpA is used to line the insides of these cans prior to packaging.  As a reminder, BpA can interfere with metabolic processes and cause reproductive health problems, and is therefore important to avoid.  Together, by reducing your consumption of canned foods and soft drinks, and by avoiding certain plastics (see previous article), you can successfully avoid the two greatest sources of human BpA exposure!
            I can personally attest to the effect these exposures have on BpA levels in the body.  About six months ago, I participated in a Harvard study assessing BpA exposure through canned soup consumption.  For two separate weeks during the study period, us “subjects” were fed either fresh soup or canned soup for lunch.  Our urinary BpA levels were then analyzed for comparison.  Average BpA levels were 1000% higher following canned soup consumption compared to fresh soup consumption.  My personal BpA levels were about 25 times higher during the week that I consumed canned soup!  These valuable study results were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  By sharing this information, I hope I’ve demonstrated that small changes in your daily habits can in fact translate to enormous reductions in the amount of harmful chemicals to which your are exposed.

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                                                                                                -Shahir Masri