Friday, February 27, 2015

EWG's 2015's Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce: Which Fruits and Veggies Should You Definitely Buy Organic and Why?




It is that time of the year again when the Environmental Working Group publishes its annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ 

 Two lists are released to help you know what fresh produce you should be buying organic ( those with the highest levels of pesticides or the ' Dirty Dozen') and which produce you can save some money on and buy conventional ( the 'Clean Fifteen' list). 

Why buy organic? Why are pesticides bad for my family? 


I constantly hear "my grandmother never ate organic and she lived to be 96 years old". That is wonderful - however your grandmother never lived at a time when so many untested pesticides were being used on crops. 

This year EWG found that nearly two-thirds of the fresh produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and analyzed by EWG contained pesticide residues. 

One recent analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law, found 82 instances of pesticides allowed in the United States but barred or restricted in Europe. 

 The reality is that when our grandparents were growing up few, if any, pesticides used today were used on food.   Additionally, in the United States, chemicals like pesticides are allowed to be widely used without ever having been tested for safety (as opposed to the European Union where a chemical company must first proove that a chemical is safe for human use BEFORE that chemical is allowed to be sold and used). 


What are some of the dangers of exposure to pesticides ( especially during pregnancy and early childhood?) 

Let's start by saying that pesticides are designed to kill living things (pests) - by definition something that kills living things can't be great for you or your kids.

Pesticides have been linked to cancer, acute and chronic nervous system and injury and dysfunction of the endocrine, reproductive and immune systems

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued an important report that said that children have "unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues'] potential toxicity." They cited research linking pesticide exposures in early life and "pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems." It advised its members to urge parents to consult "reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables." 

Also bad news?  Pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables tested by USDA, even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

DIRTY DOZEN
Apples
Peaches
Nectarines
Strawberries
Grapes
Celery
Spinach
Sweet Bell Peppers
Cucumbers
Cherry Tomatos
Snap Peas (imported)
Potatoes

CLEAN 15
Avocado
Sweet Corn
Pinapples
Cabbage
Sweet Peas, frozen
Onions
Asparagus
Mangos
Papaya
Kiwi
Eggplant
Grapefruit
Cantaloupe
Cauliflower
Sweet Potatoes

MORE FINDINGS
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.
  • Although not on the list, Leafy greens - kale and collard greens - and hot peppers were frequently found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.  Buy organic!

 Want to know what is in all of your food?  






Wednesday, February 25, 2015

An Apple (apple cider vinegar that is!) A Day Keeps the Toxins Away


Whenever I can, I try to go back to nature for the most non-toxic option possible; especially for the kids.  Baking soda, vinegar and lemons for cleaning, mint for ant control, brown sugar for exfoliating etc.   The sad reality is that with outdated chemical laws in the US and a ridiculously lax federal approach to regulating chemicals (The EU requires chemical companies to prove their chemicals are not harmful before  allowing them in the market.  In the US, the pressure is placed on regulators that must show ample evidence of danger before taking a chemical that is already being used out of the market ) the safest option will always be to choose products that come straight from nature.  

Sometimes, these natural alternatives work just as well or better than products you buy at a store, but, sometimes, they don’t work perfectly ( ie: almond oil for moisturizing.  I used it during my pregnancy, but it leaves me too oily for daily use now) .... BUT it really never hurts to try.

My new favorite product? Organic apple cider vinegar (ACV)

I have always had apple cider vinegar at home to cure sore throats.  At the first sign of a sore throat I start gargling with pure ACV (newbies might want to water it down with some water).  However, through the years, I have been told of countless uses for ACV that really work wonders, among them a friend from Chicago who's husband has been using it as a hair conditioner for years.  After inspecting the husbands healthy and shiny locks I decided to try it out on my hair.

So, for the last 3 weeks, almost everyone in my family has been using apple cider vinegar as our hair conditioner.   Instead of traditional hair conditioner I simply mixed 50% water and 50% ACV into a spray bottle and apply liberally after shampooing. Supposedly, this safe non-toxic alternative makes hair shinier, reduces frizz and seals your hair’s cuticles. Additionally it detangles and it is said to promote hair growth.  After 2 weeks, my hair looks just as healthy as it did with conventional conditioner.   Even though I was already using ‘non-toxic’ conditioner, I feel so much more comfortable applying ACV... I mean I KNOW there are no chemicals being sneaked in.   

THE DOWN SIDE 
My oldest son hated it.  I was especially looking forward to using ACV on my his curly (read:  very tangled) hair, however he absolutely freaks out every time I get the spray bottle near him, so I have given up for now (he just turned 5 - I will try again in a couple of weeks).  I suspect the smell got to him, or perhaps the vinegary fumes might have bothered his eyes.  ACV, however,  is ideal for young kids; there is absolutely no  need to apply chemicals on their hair, plus it helps detangle... I suggest start young or perhaps water down the ACV concentration so that the smell and ‘fumes’ are not as strong for little noses.  My 20 month old loves it since he gets to play with the spray bottle afterwards (obviously, no spraying in the eye area)  

Organic Apple Cider Vinegar::  MORE USES!

  •  Skin toner:  apple cider vinegar helps reduce skin inflammation, which is especially helpful for people who suffer from Psoriasis 
  •  Mouthwash:  similar to my sore throat cure, you can use a water and ACV mixure as a mouthwash to break down plaque and bad breath-causing bacteria.  The taste is strong and will burn:  start using a more watered down version and then work your way up to 50/50.
  • Lower blood glucose levels;  a (small)  study cited in the American Diabetes Foundation’s publication Diabetes Care1 found that taking vinegar before meals dramatically reduced the insulin and glucose spikes that occur after meals.  In the study, those with pre-diabetic symptoms benefited the most from the vinegar, cutting their blood glucose concentrations by nearly half.
  • Weight loss:  another small study showed that taking two tablespoons pure ACV before each meal, aids in weight loss after a couple of weeks.  
  •  Acid Reflux:  a couple of pregnant Non-Toxic Munchkin followers have sworn that organic cider vinegar has helped them deal with third trimester acidity.   A tablespoon of pure organic apple cider vinegar in the morning should do the trick.  (Before trying this, talk to your doctor since organic apple cider vinegar is unpasteurized).
  • Toilet cleaner:  Just place about a cup of organic apple cider vinegar in your toilet bowl, let it sit and after at least half an hour scrub with a brush.  When you use organic apple cider vinegar you are not only cleaning but disinfecting!

* make sure you rinse with water after using vinegar to eliminate acidity

WHY  ORGANIC APPLE CIDER VINEGAR?
Apple cider vinegar comes from aged crushed apples.  

Just like apples, ACV contains a whole lot of beneficial vitamins and minerals including magnesium , potassium, phosphorus, calcium, copper and iron

The difference between organic and non organic apple cider vinegar is that the non organic version has been pasteurized.  The heat in pasteurization destroys the enzymes that provide the health benefits, so it is best to buy the organic type.

Visually, it is easy to tell the difference since non organic version is bright and clear, whereas the organic version is a cloudy amber color (this cloudiness is usually referred to as “The mother of vinegar”).  When in doubt, read the label:  it clearly will be labelled as organic or not.

When using organic apple cider vinegar make sure to shake the vinegar well before using!

PLEASE NOTE:   apple cider vinegar is also said to be a blood thinner.   Before starting any new alternative regime it is always a good idea to consult a physician.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Stop Messing With My Hormones: why and how to reduce endocrine disruptors, and why not even "BPA free" is a safe alternative


A new study by the University of Washington in St Louis found that women with high levels of endocrine disruptors - experience menopause 2-4 years earlier

You might be years away from worrying about menopause - so why should this worry you?

Well, the problem is that the list of endocrine disrupting chemicals is long and their effects are not just limited to early menopause.  In fact, because of there prevelance, these might be the worse kind of chemicals especially for babies and developing fetuses.   You cannot just eliminate one endocrine disruptor from your daily routine and call it a day - because chances are you are still exposing yourself and your family to a list of other endocrine disruptors, sometimes unknowingly.

Even worse news?  This ‘gang’ of toxic chemicals have been linked to various types of cancers, hyperactivity, fertility problems, obesity,  and the list goes on.


WHAT ARE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS AND WHY ARE THEY BAD FOR US

Endocrine disrupting chemicals are chemicals that mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body.  Examples?  estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones. Basically, they trick the body into believing and acting as if it has an over (or under) production of these hormones.

The thing with hormones is that they need to be balanced.  When you have too many (or too little) of an important hormone, like estrogen, it can create havoc inside your body and the repercussions can be quite severe but might not show up until years later.  
  
The researchers in this particular study identified 15 chemicals — nine PCBs, three pesticides, two phthalates and a furan (a toxic chemical) — that the author’s  found warrant closer evaluation because they were “significantly associated with earlier ages of menopause.”  The danger of an earlier menopause?   It can affect fertility  and lead to earlier development of heart disease, osteoporosis and other health problems.

For younger women and babies, the effects that endocrine disruptors may pose when exposure occurs during pregnant and in the first year of infancy, when organ and neural systems are forming, can be even worse.

So, what chemicals are part of this ‘gang’? Here are a couple 

BPA
  • Bisphenol A imitates estrogen
  • BPA has been linked to everything from breast and others cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease.  According to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies. 
  • The National Toxicology Program has stated they have “concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A."


BPS
  • The main alternative to BPA in “BPA-free products”, bisphenol S is just as bad as BPA as it causes the same ill effects by also mimicking estrogen.  
  • Specifically, it has been linked to altering brain development and causing hyperactive behavior. 
  •  BPS is so prevalent today that it has been found in  81% of  Americans - no doubt people thinking they were purchasing less toxic products by choosing BPA free.  


DIOXINS
  • Unwanted by-products of a wide range of manufacturing processes including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides
  • Affect both estrogens and androgens (male sex hormone). 
  • Recent research has shown that exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can both permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men. 
  •  Dioxins live long lives and build up in your body and are considered carcinogens.


ATRAZINE
  • A herbicide
  • It has been found, even at low levels, to turn male frogs into females that produce completely viable eggs. 
  • Atrazine is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently it’s quite commonly found in drinking water. 
  • Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals, and some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.


PHTHALATES
  • Chemicals that make plastics more flexible and harder to break.  They are used as lubricants in cosmetics and to bind synthetic fragrance to products
  • Studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities



FIRE RETARDANTS
  • Another thyroid mimicking chemical.
  • Chemicals found in fire retardant  (PBDEs), are incredibly persistent.  They have been found in humans and animals (including polar bears) around the globe. 
  • These chemicals have been associated with thyroid hormone disruption, permanent learning and memory impairment, behavioral changes, hearing deficits, delayed puberty onset, decreased sperm count, fetal malformations and, possibly, cancer. 
  • Some PBDEs research has shown that exposure to brominated fire retardants in-utero or during infancy leads to more significant harm than exposure during adulthood, and at much lower levels



 WHERE ARE THESE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS FOUND AND HOW CAN I AVOID/REDUCE MY EXPOSURE TO THEM?



Bisphenol A (BPA): 

WHERE
Found in harder plastics.  Toys, plastic plates and cups, water bottles, toys, canned food, store receipts all can contain BPA

HOW TO AVOID
  • Avoid pastics - switch to glass or stainless steel
  • Go fresh instead of canned – many food cans are lined with BPA
  • Never microwave plastics
  • Never place plastic dishes/cups in hot dishwasher (it would be wise, as mentioned earlier to stop using plastic cups and plates entirely)
  • Decrease plastic use in house and especially in toy room and kitchen
  • Avoid recycling label #7
  • Avoid touching store receipts (saves paper and doesn't expose you to BPA) opt for the store to email you instead.



Bisphenol B  (BPS): 
WHERE
  • Think you are making a safe choice by buying “BPA-free” products?  Think again. BPS is the
    main substitute for BPA in most plastic items that claim to be BPA free
  • It can be found in most plastic products that claim to be "BPA free"


HOW TO AVOID
  • Do not purchase BPA free items thinking it is a safer alternative
  • Switch to glass or stainless steel


ATRAZINE:  
WHERE
  • Found in herbacides used in the majority of corn crops in the US.  
  • Atrazine is one of the most common contaminants of drinking water; an estimated thirty million Americans are exposed to trace amounts of the chemical.

HOW TO AVOID
  • Buy organic
  • Purchase a water filter that is certified to filter out atrazine



PHTHALATES
WHERE
Commonly found in plastic food containers, children’s toys (although some phthalates are already
banned in kid’s products), and plastics with the recycling label #3.  All products (beauty , cleaning etc) that list added “fragrance”  contain phthalates.   Basically, anything that smells artificial has phthalates


HOW TO AVOID
  • Avoid air fresheners
  • "Fragrance" or "parfum" on a label almost always means phthalates. Instead, choose "no synthetic fragrance" or "scented with only essential oils" or "phthalate-free."
  • Avoid hand me down (soft) plastic toys.  Most phthalates have been banned from children’s toys today, however these laws are new and old soft toys probably still have phthalates
  • As usual, avoid plastic when possible:  obt for wood, glass or stainless steel


PBDEs/ FIRE RETARDANTS

WHERE
  • Used to prevent the spread of fire and are likely to be found in dozens of products in your home.
  •  They are most commonly found in polyurethane foam products and electronics.
  • Because fire retardant chemicals tend to migrate out of the products they accumulate in the dust we breathe and touch in our house, 


HOW TO AVOID
  • New laws in California have made purchasing upholstered furniture without fire retardants easier.  Many large companies are already selling or have promised to sell fire retardant free furniture:  if you are purchasing new furniture ask the company if they offer items without fire retardants.
  • Older furniture is likely to contain PBDEs.  Show caution if reupholstering and never leave ripped foam out in the open 
  • It is important to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and mop frequently to clean the dust that contains PCBEs

  • Choose organic/ nontoxic baby products (car seats, playmats, strollers, bedding, and pijamas etc)
  • Remove your shoes upon entering your home
  • Wash your hands several times a day, which has been shown to reduce PBDE levels in your blood significantly.
  • Purchase PBDE free electornics (Certain PBDE-free products are now available from Canon, Dell, HP, Intel, Erickson, Apple, Acer, Nokia, Motorola, LG Electronics, and Sony)


DIOXINS
WHERE
  • More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish.
  • Dioxins tend to accumulate in the fatty issue of these animals


HOW TO AVOID
Trimming fat from meat and consuming low fat dairy products



FINAL NOTE ON "BPA FREE"
I wanted to stress how important it is to try to switch out plastic all together- even when it states the plastic is "BPA or Phthalate free".   So many parents (including me for my first child) purchase items labeled "BPA free"  for their children thinking they are making a healthier choice, but unfortunately recent studies are shwing that this might not be the case.  A study last year found that many of these products are still leaching estrogen mimicking chemicals... among products tested?  Baby bottles from:  born free, Avent, Green to Grow,  Evenflo and Weill Baby, and Sippy Cups from : CamelBak and Weil Baby.

At the end of the day, your safest option will always be opting for glass or stainless steel when you
can.  The good news is that most of these brands also sell glass baby bottles.  Born Free and Evenflo  sells glass baby bottles protected with colorful silicon, as does LifeFactory.   Pura and Kid Kanteen are 2 of many options that sell stainless steel baby bottles and sippy cups.