Healthy Eating Tip #5 – Fruits & Veggies

“Vegetables and fruits are essential ingredients in almost every cuisine. If you let them play starring roles in your diet, they will reward you with many benefits besides great taste, terrific textures, and welcome variety. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will lower your blood pressure, decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, help protect you against a variety of cancers, guard against constipation and other gastrointestinal problems, and limit your chances of developing age-related problems like cataracts and macular degeneration, the most common causes of vision loss among people over age sixty-five. I’ve plucked potatoes out of the vegetable category and put them in the “Use Sparingly” category because of the dramatic effects on levels of blood sugar and insulin.”
              Dr. Walter Willett
              Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

          This quote highlights important advice that I think we’ve forgotten in today’s society. A reminder that the old dinnertime rule to “finish all your veggies” was not just a senseless act of parental authoritarianism. Yet it is easy to forget or downplay this important health message, particularly in the face of French fries, hamburgers, sugary desserts, and other mouthwatering foods, often processed to please our pallets. But let the message ring, because eating plentiful fruits and vegetables truly is a critical part of health and longevity. While pharmaceutical companies toil for the next magical pill and holistic doctors hail at the latest herbal remedy, the most repeatedly proven “pill” to better your health and extend your life remains good old fashion fruits and vegetables. These basic and abundant foods are packed with vitamins, antioxidant, fiber, and a number of other nutrients that protect against several forms of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic disease.
           Not long ago, a meta-study which analyzed and summarized a number of previous dietary studies found that people in the top tier of fruit and vegetable consumption (about 5 servings/day) were 15% less likely to have a heart attack than those in the bottom tier. This is after controlling for a number of other key variables such as gender, age, smoking status, etc. Additionally, among the more than 100,000 people enrolled in the Nurse’s Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, eating a similar amount per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of stroke. Eating just a single extra serving per day of fruits or vegetables decreased the chances of stroke by 6%. These are profound health benefits! Dr. Willett actually suggests eating about 9 servings/day. Admittedly, this is not easy, and I too fall short of this. But the general message is clear. Eat your fruits and veggies everyone!
              Keep in mind that while any given fruit/veggie has perhaps hundreds of useful vitamins and nutrients, no single fruit or vegetable contains everything your body needs for good health. This makes it important to eat from all the main fruit/veggie categories throughout the week. In my next blog, I will provide a list of these major categories, helping to guide your healthy eating! Also, the blending of fruits/veggies into shakes and smoothies has recently become a popular health trend. While delicious, there is an important disadvantage to delivering foods to the body in this way. This too will be discussed in my next blog. Stay tuned! And until then, happy holidays! 
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                                                                                 Shahir Masri, M.S. 


Healthy Eating Tip #4 – The Perfect Protein

“In the Healthy Eating Pyramid, red meat occupies the pointy tip to highlight the fact that something about red meat—its particular combination of saturated fats or the potentially cancer-causing compounds that form when red meat is grilled or fried—is connected to a variety of chronic diseases. In this pyramid, the best sources of protein are beans and nuts along with fish, poultry, and eggs. It separates vegetable and animal protein sources and makes the latter optional for people who want to follow a vegetarian diet.”

              Dr. Walter Willett
              Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

Red meat is associated with chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. That said, substitutes for red meat such as those described above will lead to substantial improvements in your health, thanks in large part to lower saturated fat. To clear up discussions of meat versus vegetarianism, YES you can get all your needed protein without consuming meat. And evidence does not suggest that meat protein is superior to plant protein. Meat is, however, a better source of complete protein. So if you’re a vegetarian, be sure to eat a variety of beans, nuts, grains, and vegetables alike to ensure that you complete your protein intake. Examples of plant protein combinations that complete each other are commonplace in society such as rice and bean, peanut butter and bread, and tofu and rice.

Meat eaters and vegetarians should both keep in mind the importance of eating seafood. Seafood is low in “bad” saturated fats and high in “good” unsaturated fats, especially a type known as omega-3s. Particularly if you eat red meat, a switch to fish will have profound positive effects on your cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. Seafood is a major source of two essential omega-3s called DHA and EPA that play an especially important role in the development of brain and eye tissue, as well as reducing cardiovascular disease and improving immune health. In other words, eat seafood! When you select seafood from the market, however, there are important factors to consider. In the section that follows, I have highlighted these considerations. For those who refuse seafood, you can skip out on the next section, but don’t skip out on DHA and EPA. At least take a fish oil supplement to obtain these essential nutrients.

Wise Seafood Selection

Most important to selecting seafood at the market is mercury and omega-3 content. This is particularly important if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Fortunately, choosing seafood with low mercury is not difficult as many guidelines highlight the best species to eat. Unfortunately, guidelines that also specify omega-3 content are harder to come by. In an earlier blog, however, I constructed such guidelines, which can be viewed here. Also, as many fisheries are under extreme pressure due to overfishing, you should try your best to select fish that are caught sustainably. For guidelines on choosing sustainable fish, visit SeaFood Watch.

In Dr. Willett’s quote above, he mentioned the cancer-causing chemicals formed when cooking red meat. For more info on this, see my earlier blog titled "Barbequed Meat: A Health Tip."

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                                                                                               Shahir Masri, M.S. 


Healthy Eating Tip #3 – Whole Grains for Whole Health

“For almost twenty years our research team has been one of several groups studying the health effects of foods made from refined and intact grains. The result of this work is compelling. Eating lots of carbohydrates that are quickly digested and absorbed increases levels of blood sugar and insulin, raises levels of triglycerides, and lowers levels of HDL cholesterol [good cholesterol]. Over the long run, these changes lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In contrast, eating whole grain foods is clearly better for long-term good health and offers protection against diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and gastrointestinal problems such as diverticulosis and constipation. Other research around the world points to the same conclusions.”

                            Dr. Walter Willett
                            Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

Whole grains are such an important part of the diet, which most people don’t realize. Since I’ve written previously on the benefits of eating whole grains, however, I will avoid going into detail here and instead refer you to my previous blog post for more information! Check it out at: http://shahirmasri.blogspot.com/2011/11/whole-grain-whats-all-fuss.html

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                                                                                                        Shahir Masri, M.S.


Fats - Not Created Equal

To expand on Dr. Willett’s quote from my last blog, we’ve often heard that fat is bad. Simple as that. However, this is not true and is never what the science showed, but was rather a tragic oversimplification of the science. Saturated fat was the culprit contributing to increased disease and mortality. But other fats, such as mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, were, and still are, shown to be healthy for you. Importantly, I am not saying these fats are “not as bad” for you. I am saying they are in fact healthy for you. Like a fruit or a vegetable, they actually contribute in many ways to health and longevity. Such fats play integral roles in regulating cholesterol, protecting nerves, building hormones, controlling blood clotting, and more. Without diving too deep into the literature on fats, it is worth noting that the reputable Nurses’ Health Study has shown that replacing 5% of total calories as saturated fat with unsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease by 40%. This is no small reduction! Also, in the Seven Countries study from long ago, the country with the lowest rate of heart disease (Crete) had the highest average total fat intake, mostly from olive oil. This is because not all fats are created equal. There are good fats and bad fats. Saturated and trans-fats are the bad ones, so avoid them when you can!

To help you at the grocery store, I have provided a list below that includes the most common sources of good and bad fats. This list also appears in Dr. Willett’s book, which I described a couple blogs ago. Some of these items are probably obvious, while others may be surprising.

Good Fat (Poly- and Mono-Unsaturated Fat)
  • Peanuts, cashews, peanut butter, and most other nuts
  • Avocadoes, corn, soybeans, and olives
  • Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and corn oil
  • Fish
Bad Fat (Saturated Fat)
  • ·       Whole milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream
  •      Red meat
  •      Chocolate
  •      Coconuts, coconut milk, and coconut oil

Bad Fat (Tans-Fat)
*Mostly banned now, but may still pop up in restaurants from the following sources.
  • ·       Most margarines
  •      Vegetable shortenings and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
  •      Deep fried chips and French fried
  •      Many fast foods and commercial baked goods

While often favored for its multi-purpose uses ranging from cosmetics to cooking, note that coconut oil is actually lumped into the “bad fat” category next to cheese, butter, and red meat. So while they may be fine to apply as skin or hair cosmetics, from a dietary standpoint most coconut products are major sources of saturated fat and therefore should be eaten sparingly. An exception is coconut water sold at the store. Most of these drinks have been processed to remove the fat. Though if you’re unsure, you can always check the nutrition label on the back of the product.  

A word on fat-free products

It is important to realize that most non-fat products maintain good flavor by simply replacing fats with sugars. And this is not necessarily a good thing. It fact, it is often bad. First, you may be replacing good fats with empty sugars calories, as is often the case with non-fat salad dressing where healthy oils have been replaced with nutritionally deprived sugars. In other cases, such as milk and cheese, low- or fat-free options make sense. Second, non-fat products, while lower in fat, often contain the same or more in total calories. And importantly, carbohydrates (sugars) increase weight just as effectively as fats. Third, eating refined sugar leads to insulin spikes in the blood that don’t occur when eating fat. Finally, eating non-fat products can have the unintended effect of making the consumer think they can eat more of that product, since it’s fat free, ultimately resulting in higher calorie intake and weight gain. So be careful when you choose “fat-free.” 

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                                                                                             Shahir Masri, M.S.


Healthy Eating Tip #2 – Choose the Right Fats

“Fats from nuts, seeds, grains, fish and liquid oils (including olive, canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, peanut, and other vegetable oils) are good for you, especially when you eat them in place of saturated and trans fat. The all-fat-is-bad message has started a huge national experiment, with us as the guinea pigs. As people cut back on fat, they usually eat more carbohydrates. In America today, that means more highly refined or easily digested foods like sugar, white bread, white rice, and potatoes. This switch usually fails to yield the hoped-for weight loss or lower cholesterol levels. Instead it often leads to weight gain and potentially dangerous changes in blood fats—lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called good protective cholesterol, and higher triglycerides (a major type of blood fat). Substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats, though, improves cholesterol levels across the board. It may also protect the heart against rhythm disturbances that can end in sudden death. The bottom line is this: It is perfectly fine to get more than 30% of your daily calories from fats as long as most of those fats are unsaturated. The Healthy Eating Pyramid (below) highlights the importance of keeping saturated and trans fats to a minimum by putting red meat, whole-milk dairy products, butter, and hydrogenated vegetable oils in the “Use Sparingly” section at the top.”
                       Dr. Walter Willett
                       Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

I will expand on this quote by discussing more on fats in my next blog later this week! Until then, here is Dr. Willett's Healthy Eating Pyramid, an improvement from the outdated USDA pyramid. 

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                             Shahir Masri, M.S.


Healthy Living Tip #1 - Your Weight, More Than Just Appearance

       “When it comes to long-term health, keeping your weight from creeping up on you is more important than the exact ratio of fats to carbohydrates or the types and amounts of antioxidants in your food. The lower and more stable your weight, the lower your chances of having or dying from a heart attack, stroke, or other type of cardiovascular disease; of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes; of being diagnosed with post-menopausal breast cancer, cancer of the endometrium, colon, or kidney; or of being afflicted with some other chronic condition. Yes, it is possible to be too thin, as in the case of anorexia nervosa, but otherwise very few American adults fall into this category.” 
                           -Dr. Walter Willett
                            Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

     To expand briefly on this, an important metric for determining whether you are overweight is calculating your body mass index (BMI). You can easily do this by pulling up a BMI calculator on Google and entering your height and weight, or by calculating it manually (see below). Generally speaking, a BMI from 25 to 30 is considered overweight, while that greater than 30 is considered obese. These classifications are derived from numerous population-based health studies that enroll hundreds of thousands of subjects and show an increased risk of dying early as BMI increases, mainly from heart disease and cancer. According to the USDA’s 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy BMI is that between 18.5 and 25. However, don’t be misled by this “healthy range” as the cutoff is quite arbitrary. As can be seen in Figure 1 below, one’s risk of developing heart disease, type II diabetes, gallstones, and high blood pressure increases substantially (more than double) even as BMI increase from 18.5 to 25! The trend of greater disease with increasing BMI of course does not apply to really muscular body builders. But for everyone else, even those within the healthy BMI range, a tremendous health benefit can be realized by the loss of a few pounds.

        I will use an additional piece of evidence to help reinforce the message of this blog. In two long-term population studies conducted at Harvard, middle-aged men and women who had gained between 11 and 22 pounds after age twenty were up to three times as likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and gallstones as their counterparts who gained fewer than 5 pounds. If you are someone who falls into the higher weight-gain category, the message isn’t that “you’re screwed.” Rather, it is a reminder that your weight is not simply a matter of appearance, it is in fact an extremely important determinant in whether or not you live a long and healthy life, and therefore should be monitored as such. Be sure to check back next week for the second most important thing you can do to improve your health!

*To calculate BMI, simply divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches, divide that number by your height in inches, and then multiply that number by 703.

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                                                                                                                   Shahir Masri, M.S.


Your Health - What to Prioritize

             Though this blog mostly concerns chemical exposures, it is critical to keep in mind the more important role that our basic health tenants play in good health. That is, the importance of a healthy diet, exercise, and aversion of harmful habits. While avoiding toxic cosmetics, eating organic, and watching the fish you eat are things certainly worthwhile, and things I clearly advocate, their impact to health is relatively low compared to the impacts of eating well and staying active. This reality is often missed by those interested in health. More tragically, minimizing chemical exposures can give the false illusion of healthy living, when in fact a person is not leading a healthy life. You might say, what good is reducing your late-life cancer risk, albeit by a fraction of a percent, if you’re going down the path of a midlife heart attack?
              There was a time when environmental exposures represented a larger piece of total health. It was only decades ago that dirty factories filled our cities with thick plumes of smoke. Still today, while much improved, air pollution kills thousands each year. As it stands, though, the single greatest killer in America today is heart disease. And the best way to avoid heart disease is through eating right, exercising, and avoiding smoking. Even better, the perks to eating well and staying fit stretch well beyond a healthy heart. They reduce your risk of all sorts of chronic diseases, including many cancers. There are few chemicals one could avoid that would have such a broad and profound impact. In other words, eating well and exercising offer a whole lot of bang for your buck! And if you think you’re too overweight to benefit from the loss of a few pounds, think again. Studies looking at overweight people show that every 10 pounds of weight loss is associated with a substantial (10-20%) decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

              It seems in today’s society that fitness is often driven by dreams of a “sexy body” rather than long term health. This is fine in that “hey, if it drives you to be lean, then great!” However this overlooks an important piece. That is, your health is more than simply looking good. Further, the strict emphasis on a sexy body has led to all sorts of fad diets that promise weight loss without considering long term health. Most of these diets, I might add, are backed by little to no science while others, such as the Paleo Diet, can actually lead to worse health.
              Similarly crucial to good health is aversion of smoking. And not solely due to lung cancer. Statistically, smokers disproportionately flood the hospitals for all types of disease relative to non-smokers, probably due to compromised immune function. Smoking serves as a good example of what I mean by “keeping exposures in perspective.” That is, if you smoke, don’t worry about harm from urban air pollution, the smoking is far worse. Similarly, the benefit of avoiding a few toxic chemicals here and there is unlikely to amount to any meaningful improvement in health or longevity to someone who is unhealthy from a diet/exercise perspective. So if you’re serious about your health, prioritize your diet/exercise first, make sure you don’t smoke, and once these are under wraps, then worry about chemical exposures.
              Over the next two months I will be excerpting from an excellent book by leading nutritional scientist Dr. Walter Willett titled “Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy,” to bring you the seven most important things you can do to improve your health. Dr. Willett is one of the most respected scientists in nutritional medicine, and is also Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health as well as professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School. The recommendations you will read are drawn from decades of large-scale population studies and other scientific evidence, something that will hopefully be refreshing given the fad diets and spurious recommendations we often hear about in the media. So stayed tuned as I highlight the key takeaways for better health! 

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                                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S.


Arsenic in Rice – Tips to Lower Levels


           In my last blog, I discussed arsenic exposure and the largely unknown issue of arsenic in rice. Fortunately for rice eaters, which probably includes most of us, you can reduce your arsenic exposure without having to abandon your favorite rice dishes! That being said, if rice makes up the majority of your diet, it certainly isn’t a bad idea to mix in some alternative dishes (e.g. pasta, other grains). So what is the key to removing arsenic from your rice? Only a very simple adjustment of your cooking and food prep.  

Steps to Lower Arsenic

            First, rinse your rice prior to cooking. Rinsing rice in water at a 2.5:1 water/rice ratio prior to cooking can reduce total arsenic levels by 10%. Second, and even more important than rinsing, cook your rice in excess water. You are probably used to cooking rice until all of the water boils off, at which point the rice begins to steam. This cooking method unfortunately retains all of the arsenic, which is not what we want. Instead, cook your rice with an extra cup or so of water and then pour off the excess water once the rice is cooked. This can reduce your arsenic exposure by a whopping 40%! With this method, much of the arsenic accumulates in the excess water, which is then disposed of down the kitchen drain.
            What if you prefer the steam process from the original cooking method? Well you don’t have to pour ALL of the water out. Simply pour out most of the excess right before the rice is done, then you can proceed to let the rice steam in whatever remaining water you left in the pot. This will do about the same for reducing your arsenic exposure.
            Keep in mind that cooking rice with excess water is inherently more wasteful of water and energy, as well as takes longer, compared to the normal method. So be sure not to overdo it with the excess water. If you’re cooking one cup of rice in about three cups of water, then just adding an extra cup of water should be fine.
            Through this blog I don’t mean to downplay the role of groundwater in arsenic exposure, particularly if you live in states such as New Hampshire which have high bedrock arsenic. In such areas, it is important to keep in mind that the Safe Drinking Water Act only regulates drinking water municipalities serving greater than 25 homes. So if you drink water from a small or private well, it is worth getting your water tested. For everyone else, the most likely source of your arsenic exposure is probably through eating rice.
            Finally, it is worth noting that brown rice reportedly has higher arsenic levels than white rice. Given the nutritional benefits of brown rice compared to white, however, I wouldn’t recommend abandoning brown rice in the name of arsenic. Rather, I would recommend employing the above cooking techniques, where you achieve the best of both worlds.
            If you’d like to read more on this topic, there is plenty of peer reviewed literature out there. I recently attended a lecture at Harvard by Dr. Margaret Karagas, who chairs the Department of Epidemiology at Dartmouth’s medical school. She is a leading expert on arsenic exposure and has conducted a lot of great research on the topic of arsenic in food.

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                         -Shahir Masri, M.S.


Arsenic in Rice - Cause for Concern

       Arsenic is an element with widely recognized toxicity. While most often associated with groundwater contamination, especially in places like India, it turns out that exposures in the U.S. are also not trivial. But how can this be, given that America has the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act? Because water isn’t the issue for most Americans, it’s the food. And currently no U.S. regulations exist for monitoring arsenic in food. What is the main food to watch out for, you ask? Unfortunately, a food that has become a staple in our diets; that is, rice. And among rice crops grown around the world, U.S. rice has the highest arsenic levels! In this blog I’ll talk about why that is and what specifically the health effects of arsenic exposure are. In my next blog, I’ll then highlight how one can reduce his/her arsenic exposure while not having to cut back on rice consumption. It’s really just a matter of cooking technique.   

Arsenic & Health Effects

      Arsenic is a semi-metallic element that, while naturally occurring, also enters the environment through pesticide spraying and other industrial processes. In its inorganic form, it is recognized to be a Level 1 human carcinogen by the U.S. EPA, linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. Non-cancer toxicity can produce discolored skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in the hands and feet, partial paralysis, and even blindness. In other words, arsenic is something you definitely want to avoid! And according to recent studies, there appears no safe level of exposure. That is, your risk of developing cancer is proportional to your arsenic intake.
       What’s more, the average person in the U.S. consumes about a half cup of rice per day. Given the arsenic levels in some U.S. grown rice crops, this equates to drinking 1 liter of water containing 10 ppb arsenic (10 ppb is the maximum arsenic allowed in U.S. drinking water). Clearly then, arsenic exposure through rice warrants some concern.
      Arsenic exposure is of particular importance to pregnant women as this toxicant can cross the placental barrier with ease. On the bright side, studies show that arsenic does not readily enter breast milk. So once the baby is born, one needn’t worry about exposure through breastfeeding. In fact, reports show breast milk to contain less arsenic than milk formulas.
       So how is arsenic turning up in our rice? First, due to the crops physiology as well as the biogeochemistry of the rice patty fields, rice itself tends to preferentially absorb arsenic relative to other crops. That U.S. rice has the highest arsenic levels, however, is largely thanks to the agricultural industry’s historic spraying of arsenic pesticides to cotton fields and orchards. Unlike many toxic agents which break down over time, arsenic is an element and therefore does not deteriorate. So once it is released to the environment, it’s there to stay. Not surprisingly then, many U.S. agricultural fields remain contaminated with arsenic.
       Be sure to tune in next week to learn how you can reduce your arsenic exposure and still eat your favorite rice dishes!

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S.


Happy Earth Day! - Save Energy, Save Money

           Happy Earth Day everyone! This day was inaugurated 45 years ago today, just at the height of what would come to be the environmental revolution. So how far have we come since the 1960s and 70s? The answer. Far! Reductions in outdoor air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, and lead represent some of the greatest advances. Those who lived in populated cities such as Los Angeles 30 years ago can attest to the improvements in visibility alone. Water quality, hazardous waste management, and wildlife protection similarly made tremendous gains in the ensuing decades.

           Concerns for public health and the environment, however, are far from resolved. In fact, today we are facing what is quite realistically our greatest obstacle to date. That is, climate change. The ramifications of inaction on this single issue are so overwhelmingly as to shadow many of the other issues myself and other health advocates are passionate about. It appears, at least, that governments are finally overcoming the private lobbies that have previously casted doubt on this issue, and have begun pledging and passing legislation to minimize carbon emissions.  The recent U.S./China bilateral announcement of carbon dioxide reduction goals is the most prime example of this. However, Hurricane Catrina, Hurricane Sandy, the California drought, and Boston’s 2014-15 snowiest winter on record all indicate that current actions are too little too late to completely avoid harm. And these are just examples in the United States. This does not mean that all is lost. Continued greenhouse gas emissions are projected to only make such events more extreme and more frequent, which is why it’s more important than ever to mobilize international efforts towards continued emissions reductions. This where YOU and I come in!

             If left to government action, change will simply not come soon enough. Fortunately, we can act independently to curb emissions. Carbon dioxide emission mostly come from three different sectors. Namely, transportation, industry, and residential/commercial building energy use. In the United States and European Union, the buildings sector accounts for approximately 40% of energy consumption! In the U.S., residential buildings account for the majority (54%) of this, producing 21% of the nation’s emissions. In other words, by making our homes more energy efficient, we as individuals can have an enormous impact on carbon emissions and help stabilize the climate. Below are a number of tips I put together as part of a climate action project for the Harvard Law School earlier this year. An official version will be published soon that you can print out as a brochure and pass around. In the meantime, making some of these simple changes in your home or apartment will not only reduce carbon emissions and other air pollutants, but will also save you money by reducing your monthly energy bill. 

Easy Tips for Lower Energy Bills

Washer & Dryer
·       Wait for full load before running washer or dryer
·       Use cold or warm (not hot) water when doing laundry
·       Put heavy loads through spin cycle twice before drying. This removes more water and shortens drying time. Or, put only clothes in the dryer while letting blankets/towels air dry.
·       Instead of using dryer, allow laundry to air dry by hanging
·       Clean lint filter from dryer after each load so machine doesn’t work as hard to circulate air

·       Use CFL or LED lightbulbs
·       Turn off lights in empty rooms

·       Unplug electronics not being used. Or, plug devices into power strip, which can be switched off. For instance, even when turned off, devices that are plugged are estimated to account for up to 15% of your monthly electricity bill!
·       When phone is done charging, unplug charger. It’s better for the charger & saves energy!
·       Adjust computer settings to energy-saving mode
·       Lower computer screen brightness
·       Purchase electronics with an Energy Star® label, this means they are energy efficient.

·       Take showers, not baths. 3-min showers use half the water of baths & reduce hot water waste
·       Keep showers short
·       Take lower temp showers on warm days
·       Turn off tap while shaving/brushing teeth
·       Use low-flow showerheads

·       Ensure full load (but not overloaded) before running washer
·       Use shortest water cycle that still cleans dishes properly
·       Turn off drying cycle on washer & open washer door to air dry dishes
·       If hand washing, fill sink with water & use stopper rather than washing under running water

·       Put lid on pot to boil water. It will boil faster and use less energy
·       Prepare meals in slow cooker or microwave when possible
·       Let frozen meats thaw before cooking

Heating & Cooling
·       Turn down thermostat when leaving for work/school, & turn it lower when leaving for vacation
·       Buy another blanket instead of running your heater higher at night, this will quickly pay you back in saved heating expenses.
·       Use a fan instead of an AC unit

·       Water heaters are factory set to ~140°F, which is costly and higher than needed. Reset to 120°F, and turn lower before vacation.
·       Seal cracks around walls & windows where outdoor air seeps in. Can be easily done with store-bought calking/insulation tape.
·       Ideal temp for your refrigerator is 38-40 °F, don’t overcool it.
·       If home is poorly insulated, consider splitting cost of weatherization with landlord. You will save on energy bills & be more comfortable overall.
·       Propose green lease with your landlord
·       If you use a Brita filter, store it outside of refrigerator. Cooling water takes a lot of energy!
·       Close heating/cooling vents in rooms that are infrequently used    

For More Info
·       Energy Rebate Opportunities: www.masssave.com (for MA residents)
·       Discounted Energy Efficient Appliances: www.energystar.gov

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!
                                                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S.


Chemtrails Part 3 - Geoengineering Our Sky


     To conclude this three-part chemtrail blog series, I would like to address geoengineering. Of the various issues raised by chemtrail proponents that I've heard, this is the only one that actually has some factual basis. Yet, people still run a bit too wild with it. While I don’t support the geoengineering of our sky, the idea is nothing new, and typically refers to one of two things. It can refer to the spraying of aerosols into the troposphere (lower atmosphere) in order to cause the formation of clouds (through condensation). While this could be a means of generating rain, it has most recently been proposed as a means of reflecting sunlight in order to offset the temperature increases from climate change. Geoengineering can also refer to the spraying of sulfate particles (or precursor gases) into the stratosphere (upper atmosphere) in order to reflect light, the purpose again being to cool the planet.
      In the first case, while some small-scale field experiments have probably taken place, for the most part we are talking about proposals, not actual spraying. And if such experiments have taken place, the relative risk to human health of such spraying would be negligible compared to other sources of chemical pollution in the environment, especially considering the altitude of spraying (as described in my last blog). That being said, we’ve all probably seen a condensation trail spread out across the sky and create a thin layer of cloud, or maybe grow into a cloud. This is not due to a special type of contrail (a “chemtrail”). Rather, it is the result of emitting water vapor and pollutants into an atmosphere that is already saturated with water. When an atmosphere is saturated, emitted water vapor will condense and hang around for a while (a visible contrail). When an atmosphere is supersaturated, not only will this vapor condense, but surrounding water vapor will be triggered to condense, spreading into a cloud-like layer. This is precisely the same physics that would make geoengineering possible, should such proposals be adopted. That is, under certain atmospheric conditions the release of particles into the air will facilitate the condensation of surrounding water vapor and in turn create cloud cover.
      In the case of condensation trails, however, such trails do not exist because they were designed to exist. Airplanes could release almost ANY mixture of particles and water vapor and it would cause the formation of trails under the right conditions. Such chemical mixtures, however, need not be special. They are collectively called “air pollution.”  So yes, airplanes do pollutant the skies. But they do so by releasing air pollutants characteristic of any combustion engine. And they sometimes do manipulate the weather, because releasing particle pollution and water vapor all over the atmosphere all day every day is bound to do so. This is unfortunate for those of us who enjoy clear skies, but it is not conspiracy. It is an inevitable byproduct of airplane traffic.
      As for stratospheric geoengineering, exposure to sulfate particles through this type of spraying is not realistic. Not only is the stratosphere over 30,000 feet above ground, but this region of the atmosphere is incredibly stable to vertical mixing. In other words, particles that are released there will stay there for long periods. This is precisely why the stratosphere has been identified as the target for such spraying. In addition, it is important to realize that sulfate pollution is already one of the greatest air pollutants in and around our communities. What is the major source you ask? Fossil fuel combustion! So if our concern is sulfate pollution, why in the world are we worrying about proposed sulfate particles being released 30,000 feet above earth’s surface when there are literally millions of tons of sulfur pollution being poured into our air at ground level by the fossil fuel industry each year? Instead of waving our fingers at the sky, how about we wave them at our utility companies and pressure them to adopt cleaner means of producing electricity? Or better yet, how about we pay slightly more for the green energy options that most electric companies already offer, and in turn shift demand? And what about putting solar panels on our roofs? That’s an option too!
      This third article concludes my blog series on chemtrails. If you still have unanswered questions relating to the topic, I welcome them in the comments sections below where I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner.  

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!
                                                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S.


Chemtrails Part 2 - Government Conspiracy or Public Chemspiracy?

       Before getting into Part 2 of this chemtrails blog series, I want to remind the reader that I write these articles as a public health advocate and proponent for the environment. There are sadly a number of public health and environmental atrocities that occur each day, and which we should most certainly be concerned about. That said, it is important that we don't get so carried away with pointing our fingers as to identify atrocities that don't really exist. This is a waste of energy that can be usefully directed to important issues. As for chemtrails, lets again dissect some of the claims one at a time, and decide afterwards if this is anything more than mere public conspiracy. Or as I've referred, "chemspiracy."

Chemtrails as a Government Conspiracy

       It is first important to note that chemtrails do not need to be visible to be toxic. In fact, most chemical air pollution is invisible in the environment (i.e. ozone, carbon monoxide, pesticides, CFCs, nitrogen dioxide, VOCs). In other words, if you want to believe that airplanes are intentionally spraying chemical agents into the sky, the presence of a visible trail is entirely unnecessary. 
       Second, it is critical to realize that if the government or industry were trying to target the poor (as I’ve heard) or any other “experimental” populations, that there is no such thing as a “target” from ten-, twenty-, or thirty-thousand feet up. Perhaps bombs can hit targets from these altitudes, but a fine chemical spray cannot. Even at altitudes of one- or two-hundred feet air pollutants do not readily descend to the ground and onto local communities. This is the concept behind smokestacks on factories. They disperse pollutants. And this is why the Environmental Protection Agency’s law some years ago to require even higher factory smokestacks (to reduce local pollution) is recognized by scientists to have increased the regional (as opposed to local) pollution problem in the country. Because the pollutants, while missing local communities, were still carried by winds to other states and regions. Having said that, when it comes to “chemtrails,” particles of such size released at such altitudes would not have a shot in hell of landing on any target community, but rather would enter large-scale jet streams and other winds, spreading homogeneously around the globe and not settling to the earth for weeks to come. This is not a hypothesis. This is particle physics, which is well understood in atmospheric chemistry. So if the government were trying to control the public by mind-altering chemicals or poisonous gases, or otherwise affect the population through chemtrails, it would necessarily be inflicting the same consequences on itself. 
       As to the claim that “chemtrails” are simply a government/industry way to dispose of hazardous waste, I can assure you that there are much more cost effective ways of disposing of such waste than putting it on a jet engine and flying it around the sky. And there are also much more secretive ways of doing so that do not involve advertising it over the public in broad daylight. Finally, when proponents of the chemtrails theory are asked why scientists aren't talking about this, the explanation is usually that they are "in" on the conspiracy. I will try to refrain from mockery, but really?? Thousands of scientists from all over the world are all successfully keeping chemtrails a secret? Watergate leaked in months with only a few people involved, yet thousands of people have kept chemtrails a secret for decades? Something as large as a global chemtrails experiment wouldn't remain secret for a day! And would so many scientists really be willing to accept secrecy and complacency at the expense of their own health and the health of their families and loved ones? These are the very same people who have blown the whistle on government and industry countless times in the past. Need I say more..?

Aluminum in the Soil

       It has been alleged that high aluminum concentrations in surface soils are proof of heavy metal atmospheric spraying. As an air pollution researcher, I can tell you that if you want to learn about chemicals in the air, then you measure the air. Not the soil. That said, there is more than an ample amount of scientific air pollution literature, including a soon-to-be-published study of my own, that documents the types of pollutants we measure in the atmosphere. And true, aluminum is one of them. So is vanadium, nickel, mercury, cadmium, iron, zinc, lead, etc. Metals are all over the atmosphere. They are kicked up from the soil by winds as well as emitted directly into the air by human activity. In fact, I can’t think of a single pollutant in the sky that can’t be traced back to a known human or natural source.
       Pollutants don’t get much more neurotoxic than mercury, nor do they get more carcinogenic than dioxin. Yet, waste incineration and fossil fuel burning are constantly injecting these chemicals into the air we breathe. And NOT at twenty or thirty thousand feet, but at ground level in and around our communities! This brings us to a troubling realization regarding the previous topic; that the government doesn't need to conspire to pollute our air, because our own actions and the actions of industry are already doing it…and not in secret, but in the wide open, and with citizen approval (or lack of protest). That is, the cars we drive, the trash we burn, the types of foods we eat, and the types of industries we support through our purchasing decisions are the real players driving air pollution. My earlier blog (http://shahirmasri.blogspot.com/2011/10/conserving-energy-for-better-health.html) provides some tips on reducing pollution through energy conservation.
       In the 1960’s, a grassroots movement was initiated by Americans who were sick of pollution and environmental destruction. This movement translated to the sweeping environmental laws of the 1970’s and the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, our air and water quality improved dramatically. If today we are sick of the latest chemical threats to our health and environment, then we need to once again mobilize and put pressure on our government and industry. Or at least identify and get involved with groups such as the Sierra Club that are already doing so. It is critical, however, that we focus our passion and energy on issues that are truly threatening our health, of which there are many (i.e. fossil fuel combustion, agricultural pollution, unregulated use of chemicals in cosmetics and other products). NOT “chemtrails.”
       As is hopefully becoming clear, when chemtrail claims are broken down and scrutinized at face value, the theory breaks down as well, becoming little more than unfounded conspiracy. The only claim surrounding chemtrails that I have found to have any merit whatsoever is that related to geoengineering, which I will discuss in my final chemtrails blog next week. Until then, stay green!

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S.