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/
Food

Is Climate Change Making Your Food Less Safe To Eat?

The role of climate change in foodborne illnesses

Do you have big cooking plans this Thanksgiving? Us too! We love cooking when the holiday season rolls around, but did you ever think that climate change is something you would think while prepping your food? Well, the raw ingredients in your kitchen contain harmful microbes that can cause foodborne illnesses, and climate change has been linked to an increase in these diseases.

As the global temperature rises and rainfall patterns change, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful vectors flourish. These changes in climatic factors increase disease transmission efficacy and improve survival rates of these vectors (1). In other words, climate change has allowed these harmful microbes to evolve and be better equipped to cause diseases. On top of that, they are more resilient and harder to kill.

So what should you be on the lookout for? Good question. Below are just a few examples of agents that may be altered by climate variability in the United States (1, 2). All of them can potentially be found on the foods that we consume.

  • E. coli O157: this specific strain of E. coli is particularly prone to climate change. We ingest this microbe through contaminated foods such as raw or undercooked ground meat products and raw milk (3).
  • Salmonella: Salmonella is caused by a bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of animals. Just like E. coli O157, Salmonella can cause foodborne illnesses through consumption of contaminated ingredients.
  • Campylobacter: almost all raw poultry you see in the grocery store contains this microbe. This bacteria causes foodborne illnesses by cross-contaminating other foods and by surviving in undercooked meat. This makes Campylobacter one of the most common causes of diarrhea in the United States.

Overall, changes in climatic factors will be the largest culprit of food-related illnesses and mortality (4). This accounts for under-nutrition, communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as vector-borne diseases.

The good news is that these foodborne illnesses are highly preventable!

While climate change may improve the environment in which these microbes thrive, we can take steps to prevent foodborne illnesses from happening in our own kitchens. The USDA recommends the Be Food Safe prevention steps (5):

  • Clean: Wash your hands and cooking surfaces frequently.
  • Separate: Don't cross-contaminate your foods. Keep your meats and veggies separate.
  • Cook: Cook ingredients to their proper temperatures.
  • Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly.

By following these guidelines, the vast majority of these harmful microbes can be removed or killed. Keep yourself and your family free from foodborne illnesses!


References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996910002231
  2. https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/foodborne/basics.html
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/e-coli##targetText=Sources%20and%20transmission&targetText=E.%20coli%20O157%3AH7%20is%20transmitted%20to%20humans%20primarily%20through,meat%20products%20and%20raw%20milk.
  4. https://www.who.int/foodsafety/_Climate_Change.pdf
  5. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/cleanliness-helps-prevent-foodborne-illness/ct_index
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Artificial food colorings are omnipresent in our daily lives. They are responsible for the spectacular color variety of our candies, the pink flesh of farmed salmon, and even the weirdly bright shade of green of pickles. They are found in so many of our foods, yet we do not think much about them. But are they as safe for us as we think?

What are artificial food colorings and what are they made of?

It has been shown that consumers prefer that the color of their food match its flavor. A lot of the foods we consume are highly processed and end up a different color than we'd expect them to be. Many sports drinks, for example, are translucent before adding food colorings. So we add color to match the taste, like green coloring to apple-flavored foods and yellow coloring to foods that taste like lemon.

The FDA has approved seven artificial food colorings for consumption in the United States. The majority of them are made out of petroleum and crude oil (1). The final product is highly refined and is tested to not have any traces of petroleum.

Are artificial food colorings bad for my health?

In 2008, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban artificial food colorings because of recent studies that found a small, but significant, negative effect of these substances on children's behavior (2). These substances were also found to be carcinogenic, cause hypersensitivity reactions, and instigate behavioral problems (3). These findings were largely controversial, and the FDA ruled that artificial food colorings could still be used in food products without the use of a warning label.

Should you avoid artificial food colorings?

The evidence to support the claims that artificial food colorings cause cancer and other negative health outcomes is weak. Much more work needs to be done to definitively attribute any effects artificial food colorings may have on our health.

While we wait for the results of these studies, we can take proactive steps in protecting our health. It has been established that the food we consume plays a large role in our health. Unhealthy, highly processed foods are some of the biggest sources of artificial food colorings. By removing these products from your diet, you will improve your overall health and reduce the amount of artificial food colorings you consume.

However, if you have to bake a ton of cupcake for a bake sale and food coloring is unavoidable, try to consume and use natural alternatives. These substitutes do not have any negative health consequences and tend to be less processed. Some common dyes include beet roots for red coloring, carrot juice for orange coloring, saffron and turmeric powder for orange coloring, spinach for green coloring, blueberries for blue coloring, and blackberries for purple coloring!


References

  1. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/past-issues/2015-2016/october-2015/food-colorings.html
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3441937/
  3. https://cspinet.org/resource/food-dyes-rainbow-risks
Food

The Pros and Cons of Silicone Cookware

A look into the safety of one of America's most popular cookware materials

Remember when we found out that the BPA in plastics were actually endocrine disruptors that could lead to all sorts of yucky health effects like early onset puberty, mess with our hormones and even cause cancer (1)? Since that news, we've seen an abundance of BPA-free cookware, drink ware and bakeware populating the marketplace. Some are even ditching traditional plastic products altogether. One of the most popular materials among industry and consumers alike is silicone. But have you ever wondered just how safe silicone is? We're breaking it down for you below- the good, the bad, and everything in between so you can make the safest choice!

Five Reasons to Love Silicone

  • Heat stable: Silicone can usually be used up to temperatures of 400(F) and can withstand going from extreme heat to extreme cold (2). This makes it a kid-friendly option, but is also great for busy adults who love to cook and leftovers freeze easily in silicone dishware. And when you're done, the silicone dishware can just be tossed into the dishwasher without any fear of it coming out melted after a high heat wash (2).
  • Flexible: Smash it, drop it, squeeze it, silicone will survive basically anything (except maybe an apocalypse) (2).
  • Degrades into large pieces: Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing! Because silicone products degrade into larger pieces, they are not as readily ingested by marine life, animal life and consequently, by humans as well (4)!
  • Durable: Compared to plastic that can crack, or glass that can shatter, silicone products are a great alternative that last basically forever (hurrah for our budgets!) (2).
  • Recyclable: Silicone can be down-cycled into other products (4). Once you're done with them, silicone products can be recycled into petroleum products that can be used again (4).

Five Reasons to be Wary of Silicone

  • Unknown long-term safety: Silicone products are fairly new to the market. Therefore, there have been very few studies conducted on the safety of silicone products and even fewer on the long-term health effects of using silicone products (6).
  • Chemical fillers: Depending on the quality of the silicone product, it may or may not contain chemical fillers (2,4). Generally, the higher the quality of silicone, the less likely it will contain chemical fillers (4).
  • Migration of chemicals into food: Studies have found chemicals in silicone products passing from storage containers, cookware and nursing teats (3,5).
  • Migration of chemicals into air: When silicone products are exposed to high temperatures (think baking), the chemicals in the product can be released into the air (2). The released particles tend to persist in the air and pose a health hazard to the lungs (2).
  • Special recycling process: In order for silicone to be down-cycled, you will need to bring products to special recycling centers (4).

What You Can Do to Keep Yourself Safe (Because Silicone Cookware Really is Awesome!)

  • Look for medical grade: Medical grade silicone should contain little or no chemical fillers (4). By purchasing medical grade silicone, you are ensuring you're getting a product that is as close to 100 percent silicone as possible.
  • Avoid chemical fillers: A quick tip to check for chemicals on a colored product is to pinch the silicone surface (4). If you can see white in the product while pinching, then a chemical filler has been used (4). A pure silicone product shouldn't change color at all (4).
  • Wash before using: Make sure to pre-clean all silicone products before using - this will decrease the amount and likelihood of chemicals getting into the food or air (2).
  • Adhere to maximum temperature: Always look to see what the maximum temperature a silicone product can withstand and don't exceed the temperature (2).

References

  1. https://cehn.org/our-work/eco-healthy-child-care/ehcc-faqs/plastics/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412018318105
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014294181831047X
  4. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=T9U5DwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=silicone+cookware+toxicity&ots=q_Px2JTjS4&sig=2fNNOFIj0KVLGo3aAKKs0cXjrPs#v=onepage&q=silicone&f=false
  5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19440049.2012.684891
  6. https://orbit.dtu.dk/en/publications/siloxanes-in-silicone-products-intended-for-food-contact(e455a3a3-f6af-4d46-8ef5-1f8cc0ab3a3b).html
Food

Protect Your Body Against Toxic Chemicals With These Seven Food Items

Bonus: You probably already have some of these in your kitchen

Remember when your grandma talked about food being its own form of medicine? Well, we're here to tell you that she was right (yes, grandma is always right). Now, eating these foods isn't going to turn you into a superhero overnight, but it will certainly help your body protect itself from toxic chemicals found in the environment. For some of these items, we recommend buying organic if possible (you don't want to be ingesting more chemicals when you could be avoiding them!).

  • Berries: We're talking strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and even boysenberries. Berries are high in antioxidants which are particularly effective in reversing acrylamide toxicity (1). Acrylamide is a chemical produced during high-temperature cooking (think frying or baking), but can harm your reproductive system and mess up your liver, lymph and bone marrow DNA (1). Studies have shown that mice fed with diets containing berries saw a significant recovery in their sperm counts, activity rate, and an increase in the number of healthy sperm (1).
  • Cauliflower, Broccoli and all the cruciferous vegetables: If roasted brussels sprouts are your favorite veggie, you're in luck! Cruciferous veggies like broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts all contain a compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is a phytochemical with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties (2). These properties make sulforaphane-containing vegetables an ideal food to eat to prevent cadmium toxicity (2). Sulforaphane helps cells recover from and prevents cell death after exposure to cadmium (2). We really think sulforaphane is spectacular!
  • Olive oil: Olive oil isn't just delicious drizzled over pasta and salads, it's also great for decreasing the effect of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the body (3). Even though PCBs were banned in the 1970s, they are slow to degrade and still persist in the environment (4). PCBs are carcinogenic and also harm the nervous and immune system (4). However, studies have shown that a diet containing olive oil decreases inflammation associated with PCB exposure (3).
  • Grapes: Grapes are high in resveratrol, a polyphenol that can reduce toxicity from exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) (3). As an antioxidant, resveratrol helps decrease oxidative stress (basically cell damage) caused by TCDD (3). Delicious when frozen or nibbled on with cheese, the resveratrol in grapes can also decrease PCB toxicity and protect against the development of type 2 diabetes, which is often associated with exposure to PCBs (3). This is also totally a reason to drink more wine, right?
  • Green tea: Green tea drinkers, rejoice! Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the active component of green tea and can decrease the cardiovascular inflammation and toxicity that comes from arsenic exposure (3). This drink also packs a one-two punch, as it's also protective against PCB toxicity by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation of cells (3).
  • Spinach: Strawberry and spinach salad anyone? Aside from being insanely delicious, spinach can actually increase the excretion of arsenic from the body. One compound found in spinach, folate, is necessary to complete the excretion process of arsenic from the body (5).
  • Orange Juice: If the word glyphosate sounds familiar to you, it's probably because it's one of the most common herbicides used in farming (7). Glyphosate is categorized by the World Health Organization as a likely carcinogen (6). Lucky for you, organic juice can actually be protective against glyphosate toxicity (7). Mice given orange juice after exposure to glyphosate were shown to have decreased liver, kidney and DNA damage compared to mice not given orange juice (7).

Don't forget to stock up on these fruits and vegetables the next time you're at the grocery store! They can be used in so many different recipes or simply eaten by themselves. Who knew protecting your health could be so tasty?!

References

  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1750-3841.12815
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-018-1228-7
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=26
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503778/
  6. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/4/950
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306140395_The_protective_effect_of_orange_juice_on_Glyphosate_toxicity_in_adult_male_mice
Food

5 ways to eat LESS meat without eating NO meat

Here's what to do if you can't give up the flavor of meat but still want to be healthier

Interested in eating less meat, but can't commit to being a full on vegetarian, because... bacon? We feel you! But regardless of how you feel, eating less meat is actually great for you and the environment! Wondering why? Meat is extremely energy intensive to produce, all the way from how much food is needed to feed animals, to the energy required to process and ship the meat to you (3). This makes livestock a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and therefore climate change (3). In fact, scientists have found that eating a more plant rich diet is the 4th most effective thing we can be doing to help stop climate change (4).
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The next time your pantry is looking scarce, skip the retail store and head to your local farmers' market! Not only are these foods better for your health, but they often use less fossil fuels and you'll be contributing to the fight against climate change.

Supermarkets vs Farmers Markets

You may not realize it, but the food you see on the shelves in your neighborhood supermarket probably required a large amount of fossil fuel to get there. How else would a peach show up on the shelf in the middle of February?! Fossil fuels are needed to power machinery on farms, to transport food from other countries, to produce food packaging, and to create fertilizers and pesticides (1). And as we already know, fossil fuel consumption plays a huge role in climate change.

Instead of relying on internationally-sourced produce and lots of plastic, farmers' markets create a space where the focus is on locally produced food. Most markets only allow vendors to sell food that has been produced within 200 miles of the venue. Some markets are even more stringent and only allow the sale of food grown in the community or immediate surrounding farms. This has a huge impact in reducing the amount of fuel that is needed in the transportation of these foods. On average, locally sourced produce travels 27 times less distance compared to massed produced food (2). Less fossil fuels used means less stress on the climate!

Another problem with supermarkets is that they can rely on a ton of plastic to store its produce. Sometimes the plastic is needed to keep the produce fresh as it sits on shelves, sometimes it doesn't seem to serve a purpose at all (plastic-wrapped bananas, anyone?). Not only are these plastics unneeded, but they also have a toll on the environment. Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals coming from fossil fuels (3). Plastics are responsible for clogging our drainage systems, leaching harmful chemicals that contaminate groundwater, and injuring and poisoning wildlife (4).

To reduce the amount of plastic waste, and thus fossil fuels, farmers opt out of using plastic packaging and market patrons are encouraged to bring reusable shopping bags to stow their purchases. Vendors at a farmers' market often stock produce on tables without any packaging whatsoever! Berries may come in a plastic container, but overall plastic use is pretty minimal.

Why Farmers' Markets?

Shopping at a farmers' market gives you a chance to connect directly with farmers and their support team. You can learn where the food was grown, and the important decisions behind certain growing practices like the cultivation of crops without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents AKA organic farming. A lot of vendors are certified organic by the USDA. If you're unsure, just ask!

An additional reason to shop at farmers' markets is because they often provide a wide-variety of foods that are not available in grocery stores. Ever wonder what a pluot or zebra melon taste like? Go to a farmers' market to find out! You can taste before you buy to discover and find new favorites. Also, vendors eat what they sell, so they can suggest ways to cook the fresh kohlrabi you've just bought but have never used before.

For those of you who live in areas with seasons, farmers' markets don't stop when the leaves fall and the snow comes. Some markets continue to operate and bring fresh food to communities year-round. Come winter, farmers begin to sell their fall storage crops such as potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, and squash. Some farmers with greenhouses will have spinach, arugula, chard and other hardy produce available.

Getting Started

Are you now convinced to pay your local farmers' market a visit? Not only is this experience more fun than your routine trip to the supermarket, but farmers' markets are also a great opportunity to introduce your family to healthy eating and environmentally responsible consumption. You are ultimately investing in your health and doing your part in combating climate change.

To start, you can go online and search for local farmers markets in your area to find out their hours of operation and location. Note that this information may change based on the season. When there, strike up a conversation with a farmer to learn more about the products they offer and the environmental practices they use in their business.


References

  1. https://foodprint.org/issues/agriculture-energy-consumption/
  2. http://farmersmarketcoalition.org/education/farmers-markets-promote-sustainability/
  3. https://www.ciel.org/issue/fossil-fuels-plastic/
  4. https://www.ehn.org/plastic-environmental-impact-2501923191.html
  5. https://www.pan-uk.org/health-effects-of-pesticides/

Sometimes after a long day at work, the last thing anyone feels like doing is cooking dinner. Eating out or ordering take out is just so easy, especially with modern technology! But before you open that food delivery app, you might want to keep reading. Some recent studies have shown a link between eating out and phthalate exposure.

What Are Phthalates Again?

Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which means they mess with your hormones. These sneaky chemicals can change the way hormones messaging and how the body reacts to them. Endocrine disrupting chemicals have been linked to serious health effects like cancer, developmental abnormalities and fertility issues. And you don't have to be exposed to a ton of phthalates to have negative impacts. In fact, studies show that low level exposure can impact your health (1).

How They Get into Food

Phthalates are used to make plastic flexible and durable. There are a ton of different steps in food processing and distribution that relies on plastic to get the job done. Food handling gloves, plastic packaging material, plastic parts in machinery, and flexible plastic tubing are all used when creating processed food. Phthalates can easily leach from plastic into food during any of these steps. The more processed a food product is, the higher the chance that its come into contact with phthalates.

Why does this matter? Well, two major studies recently looked at phthalate exposure associated with eating out and found concerning results. Both studies found a higher rate of exposure to two phthalates called DINP (Diisononyl phthalate), and DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) in people who had recently dined out. The first study found that people who dined out had phthalate levels that were approximately 35% higher than those who ate at home (2). Adolescents were especially susceptible to high phthalate levels because they were the most likely age group to eat out.

The second study had similar findings, as well as observing fatty fast food items like burgers or french fries could elevate phthalate levels even more (3). Both studies found that eating food that had been cooked at home significantly reduced phthalate exposure.

What to do Instead

The good news is that the body metabolizes phthalates very quickly and they'll leave your body within 24 hours. So the cheeseburger you had after that big night out over the weekend probably isn't still impacting your phthalate levels. And there's currently a petition going to stop fast food workers from using vinyl gloves, which could contain phthalates. If you find yourself ordering food more than you're cooking it, now might be a good time to swing by the grocery story. But if you just can't break that delivery habit, try ordering foods that are less fatty, and less processed like salads.

Weekly meal prep is a super easy way to regularly start cooking. Preparing weekly dinner on Sunday means you'll always have something ready when you come home from work! Shopping for groceries on Sunday is also an easy way to make sure there are ingredients already on hand when you make dinner during the week. We have some easy recipes on our site! Check out veggie grilling recipes and recipe ideas using beans.


References:

  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b00034
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412017314666
  3. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510803

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