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Diet For a New America January 29, 2009

Filed under: Nutritional Wellness — aprasek @ 11:58 pm

Here’s an ironic follow to yesterday’s post… 

John Robbins, the only son of the Baskin Robbins ice cream empire, was raised to be the next man-in-charge. For most people, this career choice would have been automatic. Robbins could have easily lounged the rest of his life in ice cream-shaped pools. But, Robbins shocked everyone when he walked away from the lucrative family business. 

Robbins wanted to “…pursue the deeper American Dream…the dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms. A dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem.” 

It was actually John Robbin’s book, Diet for a New America that started my interest in nutrition. The book is absolutely fascinating.  

This guy is pretty amazing. His website discusses more about his philosophy and some cool initiatives he’s involved with. I’m wondering how he feels about the new BR Cookies ‘n Cream shake


2,600 Calories. 135 Grams of fat. 263 Grams of Sugar. 1 Large Shake. January 28, 2009

Filed under: Nutritional Wellness — aprasek @ 11:55 pm


Men’s Health just released their “Worst Foods in America” list… drumroll please…

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Baskin Robbins Cookies ‘n Cream Shake.


Watch out now. No, seriously, watch out. This shake should come with its very own Automatic External Defibrillator (AED). If you check the nutrition facts on the BR website, you’ll see they’re reporting info for the medium size shake. Just for fun, let’s play with the nutrition facts from the large size shake:

2,600 Calories= 5 Quarter Pounders with Cheese

135 Grams of Fat= just over 1/2 cup of vegetable oil

59 Grams of Saturated Fat= 24 strips of thick bacon

263 Grams of Sugar= 20 Pixie Stix

To burn off all those calories, you would have to walk for about 6.5 hours at a brisk 3.5 mph. This insane amount of calories, fat and sugar in one food could be justified by that rare, luscious and decadent dessert made by a renowned chef. However, the ingredients in this caloric monster don’t look all that decadent or tempting:

Ingredients: oreo cookies n cream ice cream (cream, nonfat milk, oreo chocolate cookies pieces (sugar, enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid) vegetable shortening (partially hydrogenated soybean oil), cocoa (processed with alkali), high fructose corn syrup, corn flour, whey, (from milk) corn starch, baking soda, salt, soy lecithin (emulsifier), vanillin – an artificial flavor, chocolate), sugar, corn syrup, whey, n&a vanilla flavor,cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, carrageenan, polysorbate 80, annatto color), milk, simple syrup (sugar, water, citric acid, potassium sorbate as preservative), oreo cookie pieces (sugar, enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate {vitamin b1}, riboflavin {vitamin b2}, folic acid), palm and/or high oleic canola and/or soybean oil, cocoa (processed with alkali), high fructose corn syrup, baking soda, cornstarch, salt, soy lecithin (emulsifier), vanillin – an artificial flavor, chocolate), hot fudge sauce (sugar, corn syrup, water, partially hydrogenated coconut oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, cocoa (treated with alkali), nonfat milk solids, modified food starch, salt, sodium bicarbonate, potassium sorbate as preservative, natural and artificial flavors, lecithin, propyl paraben as preservative), whipped cream topping (cream, milk, sugar, dextrose, nonfat dry milk, artificial flavor, mono & diglycerides, carrageenan, mixed tocopherols (vitamin e), to protect flavor, propellant: nitrous oxide).


Considering my Never list and the appreciation I hold for my beating heart, I think I’ll pass on this one…


My Never Never List January 27, 2009

Filed under: Nutritional Wellness — aprasek @ 11:24 pm

As promised, here’s my NEVER list (this goes for food I would buy for a pet as well):


Acesulfame-K: (potential: cancer, thyroid issues); More info: Expert quotes, Elmhurst chembook

Aspartame: (potential: cancer, neurological problems); More info: Mercola, CSPI cites new research

BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA): (potential: cancer, liver & kidney problems); Preservative found in beverages, ice cream, candy, baked goods, cereal, sausage and other foods.

Carbon monoxide: Added to meat to bring out the “red” color.

Carmine and cochineal: (Potential: allergies); I put this in my “never” list because it’s just gross (and I’m an industrial vegan). These names (carmine and cochineal) describe quite a different ingredient: dead bugs. Carmine and cochineal are used to bring the red color to products like candy, yogurt, ice cream and beverages. The red color is extracted from the dried body of a dead cochineal bug.

Recipe: Kill, dry, smash and eat. Yumm!

Recipe: Kill, dry, smash and eat. Yumm!

Food Dyes (artificial): (e.g. Blue 1, potential: cancer; Blue 2, potential: brain tumors; Red 3, potential: thyroid tumors; Yellow 6, potential: adrenal and kidney tumors); Food dyes have also been associated with behavioral problems in children. Many countries are removing these dyes from foods.  However, many of these same food products sold in the U.S. still use these dyes (because they are cheaper). Consider this comparison from the CSPI:

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFC): There’s little credible research to link HFCs with a particular health condition. However, HFCs are void of ANY nutrition and are generally found in poor quality food products that usher in more dangerous additives.

Industrial meat and dairy: All of the steroids, concrete dust, antibiotics, growth hormones, saw dust, etc. that is fed or injected into the animal WILL end up in the meat and milk. Add this to the unethical treatment of the animals and the wide-spread violation of safety and quality standards during slaughtering makes for some seriously unhealthy food. Hormone disruption, cancers, antibiotic resistance… the list of possible side-effects from industrial meat and dairy is a long one. See earlier WG posts on this for healthier meat: Chief of Steak, Food Inc. & The Meatrix, Chicks Raised “Without Antibiotics”, CSI McDonald’s

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): MSG has many of the same concerns as HFCs. MSG is an amino acid that brings out flavors in food. This allows manufacturers to put more MSG in and less real ingredients. MSG in a food product is a good sign that it’s full of other additives. It’s also possible to have a sensitivity or allergy to MSG (fatigue, migraines, joint pain and other symptoms can result).

Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (trans fat): (potential: heart disease); More Info: FDA

Potassium Bromate: (potential: cancer); Japan and the U.S. are virtually the only countries that haven’t banned this additive. It’s used in processed flour-products and chips.

PROPYL GALLATE: (potential:  cancer); Here’s a bit of the definition from the National Toxicology Program (NTP): “As an additive, it may be found in edible fats, oils, mayonnaise, shortening, baked goods, candy, dried meat, fresh pork sausage, and dried milk, and it is used in hair grooming products, pressure-sensitive adhesives, lubricating oil additives, and transforming oils.” Fresh sausage? Hair gel? Glue? Ewww!

Rebaudioside A (rebiana, brand name PureVia, Truvia): (potential: cancer, reproductive problems); Rebaudioside A comes from the stevia plant. Tons of controversy on this one- I’ll be posting on Rebaudioside A and stevia in the future. Here’s an earlier WG post on stevia.

SACCHARIN: (potential: cancer); Here’s a nice FDA summary. In my opinion, the FDA got hassled into bringing this product back to market.

SODIUM NITRITE, SODIUM NITRATE: (potential: cancer); Used to cure meats (bacon, ham, etc.)- check labels.

Sucralose (Splenda): Check an earlier WG post on this.


If you want more info on food additives, CSPI has a great list (which has been a huge help in creating my own list).

Honestly, following my list is NOT difficult. I just purchase everything “All Natural”, check the label quickly and then get more specific when I have to (organic, grass-fed, etc.). However, I’m not gonna lie, going off conventional soda took a full month before I was free of intense cravings (I was obsessed with Diet Coke with lime).

I encourage you to also make your own list. In addition to getting rid of toxins, it’s a helpful practice to bring more attention and mindfulness to the food you eat.

Give it a try… what are some important ingredients that you might put on your list?


Tainted Food, American Style. January 26, 2009

Filed under: Nutritional Wellness — aprasek @ 12:25 pm

Whoa. I didn’t think China would hand down the death penalty to two men involved in the Melamine milk scandal. And the Chinese courts didn’t stop there; three others got life in prison, one got a suspended death sentence and 15 others were given prison terms that may stretch 15 years.

NYT has more about the melamine scandal and the punishments from Chinese courts.

This scandal was definitely a big deal; at least six children were killed and another 300,000 suffered kidney stones and other ailments. As I read the NY Times article, my mind drifted off to the fact that imported foods entering the U.S. (and the stomachs of citizens) receive almost zero inspection. That’s not a good thing considering almost 15% of the average American diet is imported. 

However, China isn’t the only country troubled with their food. Oh no, we in America do a particularly fabulous job of tainting our own food supply. Consider an especially gross example:

Swill Milk Scandal: New York City & San Francisco, 1858. At least 8,000 children were killed.

In 1858, about 90,000 quarts of milk entered New York City daily. This didn’t match the 120,000 quarts that were delivered to customers. Investigation discovered:

Some of the increase was due to New York dairymen padding their milk with water, and then restoring its richness with flour – just like their latter-day Chinese counterparts, who increased the protein levels in watered-down milk by adding the noxious chemical melamine. But the greater part was swill milk, a filthy, bluish substance milked from cows tied up in crowded stables adjoining city distilleries and fed the hot alcoholic mash left from making whiskey. This too was doctored – with plaster of Paris to take away the blueness, starch and eggs to thicken it and molasses to give it the buttercup hue of honest Orange County milk.

Ewww… I know, you may be thinking “That was 1858. Today is different.” The swill milk scandal was pretty blatant. And companies did learn their lesson. Today, companies are a lot smarter about how they alter their foods to increase profits.

Of course, some of these ingredients end up in our food on accident (inappropriate handling, dirty equipment, failing factory conditions, poor agricultural practices, etc.). We’re amidst one of these accidents right now (way to go, peanut butter). Here’s what the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has to say about our tainted food: 

The food safety system in America is broken. As a result hundreds of thousands of Americans may require hospitalization and as many as 5,000 may die this year from preventable foodborne illnesses. Foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have caused a number of recent national outbreaks and recalls:

  • August and September 2006: E. coli in bagged spinach sickened 204 people in 26 states, killing three.
  • June 2007: Ground beef contaminated with E. coli caused 14 illnesses leading to a recall of ground beef that had been shipped to 11 western states.
  • September 2007: The second largest beef recall in U.S. history (21.7 million pounds) began after E. coli contamination was found in Topps Frozen Hamburgers and Patties.
  • September 2006: Salmonella found in tomatoes sickened 183 people in 21 states.
  • December 2006: Iceberg lettuce contaminated with E. coli at Taco Bell and Taco John restaurants sickened 152 people.
  • February 2007: Peter Pan peanut butter contaminated with Salmonella sickened 425 people in 44 states.
  • February and March 2007: One hundred brands of pet food distributed nationwide were recalled after the FDA received thousands of complaints of illnesses and deaths among cats and dogs due to melamine contamination.
  • June 2007: Veggie Booty snacks caused 65 illnesses in 20 states from Salmonella.
  • July 2007: Canned chili and meats containing Clostridium botulinum were recalled after causing eight illnesses in three states.
  • August 2007: Almost one year after the September E. coli outbreak a nationwide recall of fresh spinach followed discovery of Salmonella in a test batch. Foods regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have also triggered many nationwide outbreaks and recalls:
  • January to October 2007: Illnesses were reported in 31 states before Banquet Turkey and Chicken Pot Pies carrying Salmonella were recalled in October.

Check out the full report: Building a Modern Food Safety System: For FDA Regulated Foods. It’s very interesting. Also, CSPI has an outbreak database where you can search by food, pathogen or state to find lists of reported outbreaks.   

As I mentioned earlier, companies have smartened up when it comes to altering their food products. They now depend on biased research studies to confuse the public about the ingredients that they use. This is the same exact technique that Big Tobacco used to deceive the public about the safety of cigarettes. And unfortunately, the FDA looks over many of these ingredients because they have financial motives to support the industries.

Tomorrow, I’ll post my “Never” list. These are ingredients in foods that I will not consume because of strong research to support adverse health effects or a lack of research to support the ingredient’s safety.

But, for today, let’s share some stories about tainted food. The CDC reports that each year, 76 million Americans get sick and 325,000 are hospitalized from foodborne hazards (and 5,000 die yearly as stated above). If you’ve had a “tainted food” experience, share it here. What happened, where were you, how did you feel?


Nothin’ Like an Eco Game Hosted by Tom Green January 22, 2009

Filed under: Environmental Wellness — aprasek @ 4:00 pm

I haven’t seen Tom Green in much lately. However, with the eco-movement and his marketable last name, the comedian may be back to work. Green (well, his voice and a Tom Green puppet) is hosting Planet Green’s online quiz show. It’s entertaining and surprisingly difficult. Click here to go for the green!

I have to admit, I’ve never been a big fan of his, but if his flavor of comedy mixed with eco-facts can bring some environmental change, then bring on the Green…


Tarte Mascara January 21, 2009

Filed under: My favorite things! — aprasek @ 6:20 pm

There ARE toxic chemicals in our cosmetic products (see earlier post on personal care products, visit the Cosmetic Safety Database, check out Not Just a Pretty Face– book and website).

For many years, finding a healthy makeup that actually performed was practically impossible. Thankfully, there has been a lot of progress in the development of quality products that aren’t full of chemicals. This development is making the switch to healthier products much easier for consumers.

Here’s my mascara recommendation:

This is Tarte Mascara. It’s very nice…

It gives those fabulous, fat lashes without all the synthetic crap that other mascaras are full of. Tarte mascara is: paraben free, phthalate free, mineral oil free, sulfate free, preservative free, synthetic dye free, talc free, propylene glycol free, it uses natural fragrances and the packaging is eco-conscious. Only drawback is the price: $18. But, even for me (I’m ultra thrifty), it’s definitely worth the price.

Click here to find a store that carries Tarte.

If you give this mascara a try, comment back on your experience and opinion on the product! 


Please Pass the Peanut Butter Without Salmonella or Aflatoxin. January 19, 2009

Filed under: Nutritional Wellness — aprasek @ 9:23 pm


I would imagine everyone is aware of the salmonella outbreak in peanut butter. The outbreak has been traced to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) plant in Blakely, Georgia. As you can guess, with a name like PCA, this company handles a whole lot of peanuts.

Of course, they make A LOT of peanut butter for cafeterias and care facilities (you can even buy a 1700 pound case of PB). They also make peanut paste, a product that gets added to everything from cakes, cookies, crackers, candies, cereal and ice cream. Warnings from the FDA are suggesting we stay away from ALL commercially-prepared peanut butter products until further notice. Click here for more info on the recall and here for specific products that have been recalled.

It may be helpful to explain how salmonella gets into foods. Salmonella is an enteric bacterium, which means it hangs out in the intestinal tracts of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and humans. As you can guess, getting that enteric bacterium out requires a pooping process (the story is a little different for salmonella in eggs). Nothing to be embarrassed about, we all poop. However, if safe hygiene practices, food handling procedures, farming practices, or, in the case of a 2007 outbreak, important building inspections are ignored, feces can make its way into a food product.

We could discuss the issue that the recall raises about our inability to quickly trace food to its source. This is a huge security and food safety issue. If anyone wants to share their opinion on this, please do. However, I think I’ll stick to the fluffier topic of healthy nut butters…

Thankfully, the recall hasn’t affected our house because we tend to mix up the nut butters (I know, peanuts aren’t a nut, they’re a legume, but ‘bean butter’ just sounds weird). We mainly eat raw almond butter and then switch in some cashew butter and walnut butter to liven up our choices. Different nut butters have very distinct tastes and different nutritional benefits. Some are higher in antioxidants, while others give more protein, still others boast a better fatty acid profile, trace minerals, vitamin E, etc., etc.

Peanut butter with tons of preservatives, added oils, sugars and salt are the cheapest and most commonly consumed. But these products are wasted calories. They are NOT healthy. There are other choices out there. Here are some tips for buying healthier nut butters:


  • Buy natural. Whatever you get, check the ingredients. Stay away from products that have artificial anything in them. Hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, salt and sugar just take away from the flavors of the peanuts and the nutritional benefits.


  • Buy pre-packaged. Pre-packaged nut butters on the grocery shelf are a better choice than the grind-it-yourself option at the natural food store. I know, sounds weird, but there’s a good reason for this.  

Peanuts attract the molds Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. These molds can grow on the crop before harvesting, but also love the warm, humid storage areas that crops may sit in after harvesting (peanuts, corn and grains are the most common carriers of the molds). A byproduct of these molds, Aflatoxin, has been associated with liver cancer. The U.S. has cracked down and continues to test crops to assure safe levels of Aflatoxin.

To reduce the mold content, it’s important that peanuts are harvested, tested for mold levels, manufactured, sealed in air-tight containers and sold to customers as quickly as possible. Companies that produce nut butters go through this process fairly quickly and concern of Aflatoxin is reduced. However, for the grind-your-own offerings at grocers, the nuts may sit in the room-temperature store for weeks or months before they are ground. This sitting period WILL increase the Aflatoxin levels. Unfortunately, these molds (and Aflatoxin) are generally invisible to the naked eye, so there’s no point in searching for them (unless there is an obscene amount growing on them- ewwww).  

The simple solution is to stay away from the grind-it-yourself options. You can also look for companies that use peanuts grown in arid climates where the mold doesn’t grow (Valencia peanuts for instance). Arrowhead Mills organic peanut butter is a good choice.


  • Buy organic. Peanuts, almonds and pecans are sprayed pretty heavily with chemicals to increase yield and get rid of pests and other plants. Cashews and macadamia nuts have the least amount of sprays on them. However, because of the high fat content, all nuts will hold onto more pesticides than other foods. So, if possible, buy organic for all nuts and nut butters (especially if you’re serving them to children).


  • Buy raw. Raw nut butters will have more nutritional benefits because the roasting process kills off some nutrients. Concerning Aflatoxin, the roasting process won’t kill 100%. For salmonella, roasting will kill the bacteria ONLY if the contamination occurred before the roasting process.


  • Keep refrigerated. No matter what type of nut butter you buy, keep it refrigerated after opening (even if it says “does not need to be refrigerated”). Also, storage for all types of nuts is best in the refrigerator (freeze the nuts if you will be storing them for longer than 1 year).


Try something new and report back here. If you already have some personal favorites, share ‘em here!