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Food

Making Your Fruits and Veggies Last

In times of pantry cooking and beyond

In this unprecedented time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, we're all eating a little bit differently. It can be tough to get to the grocery store and favorite items might be sold out. Our usual restaurant stops, home deliveries, and takeout options may not be available. While we're cooking more with less, it's more important than ever to make your fresh fruits and vegetables last. Luckily, the kitchen ideas I've learned over the past few years for fighting food waste are easily transferable to cooking in a time of quarantine. When you're aiming to make your food go far, during a pandemic or just real life, it's good to know how to make your fresh produce last as long as possible.

A good principle is to store your produce in the same areas as they do in the supermarket. It's their literal business to keep food fresh as long as possible! While you obviously won't be using the exact same methods - they're aiming for display as well as storage - you can think of your produce in the same fundamental categories:

  1. Room Temperature Storage: these are the items you'd find displayed out of refrigeration in the produce section and can be divided into:
    1. Pantry storage (cooler and away from the light) for sturdy and long-lasting vegetables
    2. Counter storage for fruits that need to ripen
  2. Refrigeration: These are the fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerated cases of the produce department and typically fall into three categories:
    1. Loose: most fruit, like citrus and melons can just be placed into your fridge drawers
    2. Airtight storage: most delicate greens
    3. Breathable storage: berries and most other vegetables, from roots to stalks to hearty greens
  3. Special storage: a few items, like asparagus, mushrooms, corn and fresh herbs require a bit more attention.


Let's dive a bit more deeply into each one:

Room Temperature Storage:

Pantry Storage: some vegetables need a cool, dark place for optimum storage. In the old days that would have been a root cellar, but let's be honest - who has a root cellar these days? For most people this means a cupboard or a drawer away from the light where you'll store the following items:

  • Tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, winter squash, and even eggplant, which browns in the fridge.
  • Onions, shallots, and similar alliums should also be stored somewhere cool and dark, but not with potatoes. If stored together, they'll cause the potatoes to sprout. While we're on the topic - green and sprouted potatoes can be eaten if peeled deeply to remove all green and sprouty bits, but if you're immunocompromised in any way, just compost them.

Counter Storage: your counter is the best place for most fruits (except apples, citrus and berries) to sit until ripe - that's why fruit bowls exist! Once ripe, these fruits should be moved to the refrigerator to preserve them as long as possible. Melons, stone fruit (i.e. peaches, nectarines, cherries, etc), and bananas fit into this category, as do avocados. Tomatoes should ideally always be kept at room temperature, but can be moved to the fridge once cut, or if in desperation to keep them a bit longer. If your tomatoes get wrinkly, roast them up!

Refrigerator Storage:

Produce in the fridge fits into three categories: loose, airtight or breathable. You'll see a lot of storage guides recommend plastic bags for airtight or breathable storage, but there are other options if you're trying to minimize your use of plastic. You can invest in reusable storage bags or save the plastic ones that come into your house as bread storage or cereal bags. Try repurposing old storage boxes or tupperware for fridge storage. A lot of items will do well in their original plastic container, such as berries and grapes, which can then be recycled.

Fruits in the fridge:

  • Apples, citrus and berries don't need time to ripen, and so should be refrigerated right away if you're aiming for lengthy storage. Take them out or let them sit at room temperature if you know you're going to eat them soon.
  • Berries do well staying in their original box or another breathable container. Once you get them home, remove any moldy ones, then don't wash them until you're ready to eat.
  • Citrus can last a long time in the fridge, loose in your crisper drawer.
  • Any other fruit that has been stored on the counter to ripen can be moved to the fridge to hold, or should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container once cut

Vegetables in the fridge: Most vegetables do best in the fridge when uncut, unwashed, and wrapped in a breathable container. This could be a plastic bag with holes in it or a reusable bag left open. The goal is to limit oxygen exposure, but allow a bit of airflow to minimize the moisture and condensation that causes rotting. This method works well for roots such as carrots and parsnips, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, fruits that are actually vegetables such as summer squash and cucumbers, as well as fresh beans, green onions and more. If your roots have greens on them like beets or turnips, cut the greens off and store them separately as they'll draw moisture from the root. Don't throw them out though - they're delicious cooked like chard or another sturdy leafy green.

Greens, especially delicate salad leaves, are more susceptible to moisture and wilting. You'll want to limit their supply of oxygen by storing in the airtight original container or rolled up in a plastic or reusable bag. Either way, it helps to stick a paper towel or dish towel in with the greens to soak up any moisture that would cause sliminess.

Special Storage:

There are a few fruits and vegetables out there that need some additional TLC to last as long as possible. Asparagus and most leafy fresh herbs are best stored like cut flowers. Place them in a tall upright container in an inch or two of fresh water and refrigerate. The one exception is basil, which should be kept at room temperature or it'll brown. Corn should be kept in the husk if possible; if not, wrap in damp towels to keep them moist, then wrap in a bag.

While we're on special storage - the most highly controversial of vegetable storage topics is... mushrooms! Some people swear by paper bags or damp cloths to retain some moisture; others claim that any moisture will speed up the rotting process and breathable plastic bags should be used instead. Just for you guys, I did an at-home experiment comparing a breathable cloth bag to an open silicone bag to a paper bag. After 5 days, the mushrooms were all still good, if the tiniest bit slimy, but the least slimy ones were the ones stored in the paper bag. However, the original packaging often works well too.

Freezing Fruits and Veggies:

If you're really aiming for long-term storage, most fruits and vegetables can be frozen. Fruits will lose texture (i.e. you wouldn't want to eat them raw once defrosted) so they're perfect for cooked desserts or smoothies. Vegetables can be frozen raw or cooked, depending on the vegetable, but you'll also want to use them in cooked dishes.

Fruits: cut your fruit into pieces, lay on a tray, then transfer to a resealable bag. Defrost, then use for pie or tarts, or leave frozen for smoothies. Frozen peeled bananas make a delicious ice cream substitute when blended!

Vegetables: hearty greens and other tender vegetables like asparagus and broccoli are best blanched before freezing - chop, boil in salted water for a few minutes, then drain and let cool and freeze in bags. Tomatoes and onions can be frozen when raw or cooked (chop them first), then used in cooked dishes once defrosted. Sturdier vegetables like winter squash and sweet potatoes do best when cooked and pureed, then frozen. Herbs freeze best with a bit of oil in an ice cube tray, then you can toss the cubes into stews, soups, and more. The main vegetables that don't freeze well are potatoes and lettuce. If you must freeze potatoes, make them into mashed potatoes first. And if your lettuce is getting old you can cook it (stir-fry or soup!) or perk it up in an ice water bath.

Food

Why It's Not a Good Idea to Use Melamine Dishes for Kids

Plus, non-toxic alternatives that will withstand mealtime mayhem

Let's face it... babies, toddlers, and even school-aged kids can be rambunctious at meal times. We'll try anything to make mealtimes go a little more smoothly, including brightly colored bowls and plates with a fun kid-friendly design. But before your next dinnerware purchase, it's good to check what those dishes are made of. Some kids dishes are made from melamine, a material that has potential harmful health effects. Fortunately there are some good alternatives that are non-toxic, kid friendly, and super cute too! If you're just looking for alternatives to melamine, check out our roundup of Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware.

What is Melamine?

Melamine is a chemical compound that, when combined with formaldehyde, makes a hard plastic that can be shaped into tableware. We know that melamine in large quantities is toxic; remember when it was used as a filler in baby formula in 2008, that led to 6 deaths and 50,000 hospitalizations in China? Eating off of melamine dishes won't kill or cause acute poisoning in the same way, but research has shown that small amounts of it does leach into foods (1). And new research is showing that low dose exposure to melamine is neurotoxic and changes how hormones work in the body (2). Kids can be especially vulnerable since their bodies and brains are rapidly changing and developing.

How Do I Know if a Dish Has Melamine?

Melamine dishware is generally very smooth and durable. It feels and looks harder than plastic, but is also lighter than a ceramic plate. Melamine can easily be made into many different colors and patterns, so it's no wonder it's used a lot in kids dishware. It's also used as a binder in bamboo dishware and is commonly found in colored bamboo dishware. Many times the word melamine will be in the product description or details.

What Do I Use Instead Melamine?

If you're looking for a dish that can withstand erratic eating habits and the occasional drop, we like kids' dishware made with the following materials:

  • Silicone: a great choice as long as it is 100% food grade without plastic fillers. Silicone is heat stable, durable, and comes in fun colors and designs. It is however hard to recycle, so only purchase what you need and pass the dishes on when you're done using them.
  • Stainless steel dishes: these can't be microwaved, but are great for serving food in after items have been reheated or for snacks. There are also great stainless steel lunchboxes and food containers.
  • Tempered glass: a great sturdy option for kids. It's hard to break and we have found that the loud noise it makes when dropped helps toddlers learn that throwing dishes isn't a good idea.
  • Bamboo dishware (with a caveat): unfortunately a lot of bamboo dishware is made with melamine as a binder. But there are some bamboo options that are safe. Read more about bamboo dishes or check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup.
  • Enameled dishes: not only do these have a hip retro look, but they are also plastic and melamine free!

If you're looking for melamine free, plastic free, non-toxic baby dishes, check out our Non-Toxic Kids' Dishware roundup for some great options made with these safer materials.


References

  1. Wu, Chia-Fang, et al. "A crossover study of noodle soup consumption in melamine bowls and total melamine excretion in urine." JAMA internal medicine 173.4 (2013): 317-319.
  2. Bolden, Ashley L., Johanna R. Rochester, and Carol F. Kwiatkowski. "Melamine, beyond the kidney: A ubiquitous endocrine disruptor and neurotoxicant?." Toxicology letters 280 (2017): 181-189.
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Bamboo dishes — you've probably seen them as a healthy and eco-friendly looking alternative to plastic bowls and plates. Maybe you've thought about investing in bamboo dishware for their hulk-like unbreakable properties. Or maybe you love them for their fabulous colors and modern style. With all of these amazing characteristics, it does seem almost too good to be true… right? If you're wondering how bamboo dishware really measures up against all the above claims, we've got you covered. We'll let you in on the secret: when it comes to bamboo, looking at what materials are used in combination with the bamboo really matters. Here's why!

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Roundups

Non-Toxic Kids' Dinnerware

Alternatives to plastic dishes for your growing kiddos

We know getting kids to eat at meal times can be a challenge, and that a lot of kid-friendly dinnerware is made from melamine. Why is it so hard to find a fun kid dinnerware that isn't made from harmful materials?! We shouldn't have to compromise health for functionality, which is why we rounded up our top 9 melamine free children's dinnerware! These plates, dishes, and utensils are all durable enough to withstand a temper tantrum but are made from safe materials like silicone, stainless steel, or tempered glass. Your kids will love the fun shapes and colors, and you'll love how sturdy they are!

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popular

Is Your Tea Bag Made with Plastic?

Silky pyramids, plastic sealed bags, and what brands are actually fully compostable

Whether you like to pretend you are British all the time, or just have a cold, chances are you are making that cup of tea with a conveniently packaged tea bag. While tea bags are great (and basically everywhere) there's something you should know about that innocent tea bag. Many of them use plastic to keep them sealed shut. Nope, not just on the wrapper the tea bag actually comes in, but the bag itself. The idea of a plastic soaking in boiling hot water just does not sound cozy to us. But thankfully, there are some easy changes you can make if you feel the same way we do.

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Sometimes the hardest part of cooking or meal prep can be figuring out what to make. It's hard to find a good balance between tasty and healthy. That's why we're sharing a tasty salad recipe that incorporates tips from our recent interview with Dr. Cynthia Li.

In our article titled 10 Science-Backed Ways to Detox With Cynthia Li, MD, Dr. Li mentions an important part of detoxing is to eat food your grandmother or great-grandmother would have recognized. Super processed food with a ton of hard-to-pronounce ingredients can have a detrimental effect on our health. There are certain foods that support detox more than others. This includes...

Foods that are good for detox such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, natural fiber, and herbs and spices

1. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: wild salmon, walnuts & almonds, flax seeds freshly ground, avocado

2. Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants: berries, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, citrus fruits, parsley, cilantro

3. Foods high in natural fiber: steel-cut oats, legumes, flaxseed meal, fruits & non-starchy vegetables

4. Herbs & spices: turmeric, fresh garlic, cumin, horseradish, ginger

It's easy to mix and match ingredients to create a ton of tasty dishes! The possibilities are endless. We created an awesome salad recipe using detox-approved ingredients. This salad is healthy, super tasty, and easy to make! You can also add protein and other seasonal fruit.

Kale, Chickpea, Avocado, and Citrus Salad

1 bunch kale, chopped into bite sized pieces

1/2 cup chickpeas (bonus points if cooked from dried beans or in a tetrapak or jar)

1 avocado, sliced

1 orange (or other citrus fruit) peeled and sliced

Creamy and Herby Walnut Dressing

1/3 cup walnuts

1 small garlic clove

1 Tbsp chopped parsley

3 Tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp honey

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

Instructions

Add walnuts, garlic, parsley, vinegar and honey to small food processor. Process until walnuts are in small chunks then start adding in olive oil

Massage kale with dressing then add toppings

Add dressing to taste

Enjoy!

Food

10 Science-Backed Ways to Detox With Cynthia Li, MD

Yes, you can detox. No, you don't have to go on a juice cleanse or buy weird supplements.

"Detoxing" seems to be the buzzword of the moment, but there are often conflicting opinions that go along with it. Is detoxing a legitimate way to boost health or is it just another misguided claim? We asked Cynthia Li, MD, about her experience with detoxing. Dr. Li has a private practice in integrative and functional medicine, and serves as faculty for the Healer's Art program at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. Dr. Li is also the author of a new book, Brave New Medicine, that shares tells the story of her disabling autoimmune illness, the limitations of Western medicine, and her hard-won lessons on healing, which include detoxifying the house and our bodies.

BH: First of all, what does "detoxing" mean exactly?!

CL: When I use the term "detoxification," I'm not referring to high-end spas or extreme juicing fasts, many of which can strain your budget or harm your body. Detoxification is simply the body's innate capacity to filter and eliminate unwanted substances that would otherwise build up, generate "oxidative stress," and contribute to chronic disease. We have several organs, or systems, that assist us with detoxification: the liver (the primary detox organ), the gut (where 70% of the immune system resides), the skin and respiratory system (primary defenses against environmental pollutants and harmful microorganisms), the immune system (lymphatic channels and nodes line the gut and respiratory systems), and the kidneys (urination and defecation are the two primary routes of elimination).

BH: When did you first become interested in the idea of detoxing?

CL: For years I struggled with brain fog, mood imbalances, chronic fatigue, chronic dizziness, insomnia, hypersensitivity to sounds, and other symptoms for which Western medicine didn't have a framework, much less a remedy. When I returned to the basics of pathology and physiology, I learned, or re-learned, how central detoxification is to maintaining good health, as well as to healing.

There are many conflicting opinions about detoxing- from integrative doctors and wellness experts prescribing highly tailored detox diets, to groups like Harvard Women's Health Watch calling detox "a dubious practice". How do we sort through the confusion? My journey as a patient forced me as a doctor to evaluate the science more closely.

BH: Tell us more

CL: The matter of detox, like most things in life, is more complex and variable than what the textbooks say. That's because of two simple facts: each of us is unique, and most of our detox systems aren't optimized. Our individual capacity to detoxify depends on multiple factors: (1) the genes we inherited from our parents , (2) our cumulative exposure to environmental pollutants , (3) the health of our gut, (4) regular elimination via the gut and kidneys (5) the availability of key nutrients necessary for our liver enzymes and immune system to work properly, and (5) our age.

BH: There's so much information out there! How can we detox our body in a safe and effective way?

CL: Beyond treatment for health challenges, detox is also best done regularly, 2-3 times a year, as prevention and health maintenance. Here are 10 simple steps anyone can take to promote detoxification:

1. Sleep more. In the deep stages of sleep, lymphatic channels in the brain open up and flush out unwanted waste products, including beta-amyloid, which has been associated with Alzheimer's Disease. (If you suffer from chronic insomnia, prioritize this with your health care practitioner.)

2. Eat your broccoli. Compounds in the Brassica family—kale, collards, beets, cauliflower, cabbage—boost your liver's detox enzymes, while providing other nutrients and antioxidants. Steam them, boil them, or mix them into a smoothie. Most functional nutritionists recommend no more than 1 serving a day of cooked Brassicas to avoid the suppressive effect higher amounts may have on the thyroid.

3. Don't skimp on protein. Amino acids like glycine boost your liver's detox enzymes, and cysteine is a necessary cofactor for metallothioneins (proteins that detoxify heavy metals). Bone broth, beans, and wild, oily fish are good sources.

4. Increase your fiber. Aim for regular bowel movements, 1-2 times a day. If you're constipated, biliary waste cannot be efficiently eliminated. And with gut flora imbalances, certain waste products may be reabsorbed into the bloodstream despite the liver having previously filtered it out. Good sources of fiber: non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, flaxseed meal, and beans. Fiber supplements like psyllium or rice bran are alternative choices (~30 g per day + plenty of water).

5. Sweat. Exercise and sauna more. Ubiquitous environmental pollutants like phthalates and PCBs (perfluorinated compounds) have been found to be excreted in sweat. Stay well hydrated and shower off with Castille soap, like Dr. Bronner's.

6. Take a walk in a forest. Studies show this simple exercise reduces stress, improves sleep, and boosts the immune system, all of which facilitate detoxification. If there is no forest close by, take a walk in nature. The wellness benefits may be increased by taking your shoes off.

7. Heal toxic relationships. Easier said than done, but consider joining a support circle or a community forum, or starting therapy sessions. The connection between personal relationships and the immune system is one of the most robust findings in psychoneuroimmunology.

8. Have a cup of green tea. A compound in green tea (EGCG) can boost liver enzymes and also provide antioxidants to combat oxidative stress. Drinking green tea with each meal may help combat oxidative stress that comes from our meals. Opt for decaffeinated green tea if you're sensitive to caffeine or have sleep difficulties.

9. Eat food your grandmother or great-grandmother would have recognized. A whole foods, largely plant-based diet is the foundation for good health, including improved detoxification. Nothing manufactured can match the natural foods our bodies have evolved with.

10. Laugh regularly. Imbalances in thyroid hormones can rob you of simple pleasures, so watch a funny video, play with your dog or child, even fake a laugh (studies show the effects on the body are the same as a real laugh). Laugh while you take your daily thyroid prescription! Laugh while doing #s 1-9 above, too! Laughing boosts circulation, eases digestion, and improves sleep, among other benefits.

CL: There are also certain foods that support detox more than others. Incorporate as many as you can into your diet and enjoy their incredible flavors!

1. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: wild salmon, walnuts & almonds, flax seeds freshly ground, avocado

2. Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants: berries, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, citrus fruits, parsley, cilantro

3. Foods high in natural fiber: steel-cut oats, legumes, flaxseed meal, fruits & non-starchy vegetables

4. Herbs & spices: turmeric, fresh garlic, cumin, horseradish, ginger


References

Bremner I, Beattie JH. Metallothionein and the Trace Minerals. Annu Rev Nutr, 1990. 10:63-83

Durnas C, Loi DM, Cusack BJ. Hepatic Drug Metabolism and Aging. Clin Pharmacokinet, 19(5): 359-89, Nov 1990.

Genuis S, et al. Biomonitoring and Elimination of Perfluorinated Compounds and Polychlorinated Biphenyls through Perspiration: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. ISRN Toxicology, Vol 2013.

Jessen NA, et al. The Glymphatic System: A Beginner's Guide. Neurochem Res, 40(12):2583-99, Dec 2015.

Kiecolt-Glaser JK , et al. Close Relationships, Inflammation, and Health. Neurosci Biobehav Rev, 35(1): 33-38, Sept 2010.

Li Q. Effect of Forest Bathing Trips on Human Immune Function. Environ Health Prev Med, 15(1):9-17, Jan 2010.

Mora-Ripoll R. The Therapeutic Value of Laughter in Medicine, Altern There Health Med, 16(6):56-64, Nov-Dec 2010.

Mwenifumbo JC, Tyndale RF. Genetic Variability in CYP2A6 and the Pharmacokinetics of Nicotine. Pharmacogenomics, Vol 8, No 10, 1385-1402, Oct 2007.

Solomon GS, et al. Cumulative Environmental Impacts: Science and Policy to Protect Communities, Annual Review of Public Health, Vol 37: 83-96, Mar 2016.

Vahter M. Genetic Polymorphism in the Biotransformation of Inorganic Arsenic and its Role in Toxicity. Toxicology Letters. Vol 112-113, 209-217, 15 Mar 2000.

van Poppel G, et al. Brassica Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. Advances in Nutr and Cancer 2, Vol 472, 159-168.

Xie HG, et al. Genetic Variability in CYP3A5 and its Possible Consequences. Pharmacogenomics, Vol 5, No 3, 243-272, Apr 2004.

Yao HT, et al. Protective Effects of EGCG Against Acetaminophen-Induced Liver Injury in Rats, Biomedicine, 5(3):15, Sep 2015.

Food

Wondering What To Do With Your Germ-y Kitchen Sponge?

Here's a simple swap that will maximize cleanliness in no time!

Have you ever walked over to your sink to do the dishes, only to wrinkle your nose at how smelly your sponge is? We'll let you in on a secret… smelly sponge = lots of germs. And too many germs is the last thing that you want in your kitchen and on your dishes. So what can you? We've got a simple swap for you!

If you're using a sponge right now - Stop!

Why, you ask? To put it scientifically, sponges are gross. Studies looking at the bacteria count of "the dirtiest areas of a kitchen" repeatedly found that sponges come in first for harboring the highest germ counts (1). Sponges hold so many bacteria because they're constantly wet and easily catch food during washing (1). The wet environment combined with the food scraps create a perfect storm for encouraging germs to multiply (1). If you're dead set on using a sponge, researchers recommend either replacing your sponge weekly (which isn't good for the environment), or cleaning sponges in a bleach and water mixture (which isn't good for you) (2). Either way, it's a lose-lose. So what's the solution?



Swap your sponge out for a dish brush instead

Yep, it's truly that simple. Simply swapping out your kitchen sponge for a dish brush will help decrease the number of bacteria because:

  • Brushes have bristles that don't hold water and dry faster (3).
  • Food scraps are easier to wash off on bristles than in the nooks and crannies of sponges (3).

And the best part? Brushes don't need to be replaced as often, because they don't harbor as many germs. Hooray for a solution that is budget-friendly and earth-friendly!

References

  1. www.microbiologyjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/JPAM_Vol_11_No4_p_1687-1693.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379783/
  3. https://time.com/5254808/how-to-wash-dishes-sponge/
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