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Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. They contain high-quality lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, selenium, are low in saturated fat, and easy to digest. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart and brain health and children’s proper growth and development. Women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits.

Unfortunately, almost all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and their respective concentrations of mercury. Fish and shellfish that contain higher levels of mercury may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Follow these recommendations for selecting and eating fish or shellfish, but serve smaller portions to a young child

1. Avoid seafood containing high levels of mercury:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Tilefish
  • Albacore tuna, tuna steaks
  • The FDA has indicated that orange roughy and marlin may be added to this list in the future.

2. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average [6 oz.] or 3 small [4 0z.] meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury:

  • Commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are U.S.A. shrimp, Wild Alaskan salmon (fresh and canned), freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.), farmed rainbow trout, pollock, catfish, wild-caught Pacific sardines, anchovies, Sablefish/Black Cod (from Alaska and Canadian Pacific), and canned light tuna.
  • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. Americans get about 1/3 of their methyl mercury exposure from tuna. When choosing 2 meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of canned light tuna per week. (According to the FDA, a limit of  6 ounces per week of albacore tuna is allowed, as long as women do not eat it to the exclusion of low-mercury fish. If you must eat tuna, select canned light tuna over albacore, whenever possible. Otherwise, Michael Bender, the executive director of the Mercury Policy Project advises that pregnant and nursing women avoid tuna altogether.)

3. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas: If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (1 average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don’t consume any other fish that week.

Facts about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish

What is mercury and methylmercury?
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can accumulate in streams and oceans and is turned into methylmercury in the water. It is this type of mercury that can be harmful to your unborn baby and young child. Fish absorb the methylmercury as they feed in these waters and so it builds up in them. It builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others, depending on what the fish eat, which is why the levels vary.

Why should women of childbearing age be concerned about methylmercury?
If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your blood stream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant. This is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating certain types of fish.

Is methylmercury in all fish and shellfish?
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels of methyl mercury, because they’ve had more time to accumulate it. These large fish (swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna) pose the greatest risk. Other types of fish and shellfish may be eaten in the amounts recommended by FDA and EPA.

What should I do about fish not listed in the advisory?
For more information about the levels in the various types of fish you eat, see the FDA food safety website or the EPA website at www.epa.gov/ost/fish.

What about fish sticks and fast food sandwiches?
Fish sticks and “fast-food” sandwiches are usually made from fish that are low in mercury.

The advice about canned tuna is in the advisory, but what’s the advice about tuna steaks?
Tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna. When choosing two meals of fish and shellfish, adults may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.

What if I eat more than the recommended amount of fish and shellfish in a week?
One week’s consumption of fish does not significantly change the level of methylmercury in the  adult body much. If you eat a lot of fish one week, cut back for the next week or two. Just make sure you average the recommended amount per week.

Where do I learn about the safety of fish caught recreationally by family or friends?
Before you go fishing, check your Fishing Regulations Booklet for information about recreationally caught fish. You can also contact your local health department for information about local advisories. Check local advisories, because some kinds of fish and shellfish caught in your local waters may have higher or much lower than average levels of mercury. This depends on the levels of mercury in the water in which the fish are caught. Those fish with much lower levels may be eaten more frequently and in larger amounts.

Does the FDA advisory apply to fish oil supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids?

No. Supplements do not provide as many health benefits and nutrients as seafood.

 If you have questions or think you’ve been exposed to large amounts of methylmercury, see your doctor or health care provider immediately.

 References:

  1. “What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish: Advice for Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers, Young Children.” EPA-823-R-04-005. U.S. Food and Drug Administration/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. March 2004. Last updated 05/19/14.
  2. For information about the risks of mercury in fish and shellfish call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s food information line toll-free at 1-888-SAFEFOOD or visit FDA’s Food Safety website.
  3. For information about the safety of locally caught fish and shellfish, see the Environmental Protection Agency’s Fish Advisory website or contact your State or Local Health Department. A list of state or local health department contacts is available. Click on Federal, State, and Tribal Contacts. For information on EPA’s actions to control mercury, visit  EPA’s mercury website.
  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration: 10903 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20993. (Tel.1-888-INFO-FDA or 1-888-463-6332).

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What is fiber?

  • Fiber is an essential nutrient needed by the human body. It aids digestion and elimination of waste in the body and helps us control caloric intake. Fiber is considered a complex carbohydrate because it contains multiple linked glucose molecules. Since your digestive system cannot break down fiber, it is excreted undigested.
  • Most of our stool is made up of bacteria. Fiber provides the bacteria a good place to grow. The interaction results in a larger volume of stool and better bowel function.
  • High fiber foods are important for good health and well-being and can actually help reduce your risk of constipation, diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, obesity, colon cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
  • The best sources of fiber are whole grain foods, whole fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, other legumes, nuts and seeds.

How much fiber do most people need?

Most Americans eat a low fiber diet, averaging only about 15 grams of fiber a day. For good health, children and adults need at least 20-30 grams of fiber per day daily. The Institute of Medicine recommends 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories to get the maximum health benefits from fiber. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends that Americans get 20-35 grams of fiber a day from plant foods, including both soluble and insoluble fiber.

When increasing fiber in your diet:

  • Increase dietary fiber slowly to reduce bloating and gas.
  • Always try obtain fiber from whole foods, since they contain many other healthful plant compounds. If you are unable to include enough fiber in your diet (about 25 to 38 grams a day is ideal), added functional fibers may help.
  • Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
  • Choose more fruits with edible seeds, skins, and membranes, like apples, grapes, pears, berries, melons, peaches, grapefruits, and oranges.
  • Select vegetables with tough stalks and edible skin, like artichokes, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, dark leafy greens and herbs (ex., bok choy, dandelions, dill, kale, mustard greens, parsley, Swiss chard).
  • Eat whole rather than refined grains like barley, bran, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown and wild rice, and 100% whole-wheat versions of bread, pasta, and crackers. Avoid white rice, bread, and pasta.
  • For breakfast, eat cereals that have a whole grain as their first ingredient.
  • Beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fiber. Add them to soup, stews, or a green salad.
  • Replace meat with beans (edamame provides complete protein), legumes, or tofu at least 3x a week.
  • Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces, mix chopped frozen vegetables into prepared spaghetti sauce, soups, or stews.
  • Snack on raw vegetables instead of chips, crackers, or chocolate.
  • Snack on unflavored and unsalted nuts and seeds, or use them to garnish cereal, salads, stir-fries, and yogurt.
  • Drink plenty of extra water to help flush the fiber through your system. Too little water and too much fiber can actually cause bloating, constipation, or a tummy ache!

HIGH FIBER FOODS LIST with TOTAL FIBER GRAMS (g)

Fresh & Dried Fruit Serving Size Fiber (g)
Apples with skin 1 medium 5.0
Apricot 3 medium 1.0
Apricots, dried 4 pieces 2.9
Banana 1 medium 3.9
Blueberries 1 cup 4.2
Cantaloupe, cubes 1 cup 1.3
Figs, dried 2 medium 3.7
Grapefruit 1/2 medium 3.1
Orange, navel 1 medium 3.4
Peach 1 medium 2.0
Peaches, dried 3 pieces 3.2
Pear 1 medium 5.1
Plum 1 medium 1.1
Raisins 1.5 oz box 1.6
Raspberries 1 cup 6.4
Strawberries 1 cup 4.4
Grains, Beans, Nuts & Seeds Serving Size Fiber (g)
Almonds 1 oz 4.2
Black beans, cooked 1 cup 13.9
Bran cereal 1 cup 19.9
Bread, whole wheat 1 slice 2.0
Brown rice, dry 1 cup 7.9
Cashews 1 oz 1.0
Flax seeds 3 Tbsp. 6.9
Garbanzo beans, cooked 1 cup 5.8
Kidney beans, cooked 1 cup 11.6
Lentils, red cooked 1 cup 13.6
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 8.6
Oats, rolled dry 1 cup 12.0
Quinoa (seeds) dry 1/4 cup 6.2
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 8.4
Pasta, whole wheat 1 cup 6.3
Peanuts 1 oz 2.3
Pistachio nuts 1 oz 3.1
Pumpkin seeds 1/4 cup 4.1
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 8.6
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 3.0
Walnuts 1 oz 3.1
Vegetables Serving Size Fiber (g)
Avocado (fruit) 1 medium 11.8
Beets, cooked 1 cup 2.8
Beet greens 1 cup 4.2
Bok choy, cooked 1 cup 2.8
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 4.5
Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup 3.6
Cabbage, cooked 1 cup 4.2
Carrot 1 medium 2.6
Carrot, cooked 1 cup 5.2
Cauliflower, cooked 1 cup 3.4
Cole slaw 1 cup 4.0
Collard greens, cooked 1 cup 2.6
Corn, sweet 1 cup 4.6
Green beans 1 cup 4.0
Celery 1 stalk 1.1
Kale, cooked 1 cup 7.2
Onions, raw 1 cup 2.9
Peas, cooked 1 cup 8.8
Peppers, sweet 1 cup 2.6
Pop corn, air-popped 3 cups 3.6
Potato, baked w/ skin 1 medium 4.8
Spinach, cooked 1 cup 4.3
Summer squash, cooked 1 cup 2.5
Sweet potato, cooked 1 medium 4.9
Swiss chard, cooked 1 cup 3.7
Tomato 1 medium 1.0
Winter squash, cooked 1 cup 6.2
Zucchini, cooked 1 cup 2.6

Choose fiber-rich foods for a healthy body weight, good cholesterol, normal blood sugar levels, and the ability to “go” on a regular basis.

Reference:

“Fiber, Total Dietary (g) Content of Selected Foods per Common Measure, sorted by nutrient content.” USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, 2012.

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Woman drinking water.
The Institute of Medicine recommend that men achieve a daily fluid intake of around 3 liters and that women take in 2.2 liters.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that adults consume 20-35 grams of fiber a day. Americans tend to consume only 15 grams a day on average (2). People often eat too many refined and processed foods from which the natural fiber has been removed. If you are prone to constipation, limit foods that are salty, have added sugars and sweeteners, and have little or no fiber, such as high-fat foods like ice cream, cheese, meat, chips, cold cuts, cakes, cookies, crackers, and other processed foods. Fiber promotes stool regularity and vacates the body with impressive efficiency. Try to include more high-fiber foods in your meals, such as those listed below, as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables that are naturally hydrating (apples, berries, grapefruits, oranges, melons, peaches, pears, green leafy vegetables, squash):

Examples of Foods That Have Fiber

Beans, cereals, and breads Fiber
½ cup of beans (navy, pinto, kidney, etc.), cooked 6.2–9.6 grams
½ cup of shredded wheat, ready-to-eat cereal 2.7–3.8 grams
⅓ cup of 100% bran, ready-to-eat cereal 9.1 grams
1 small oat bran muffin 3.0 grams
1 whole-wheat English muffin 4.4 grams
Fruits
1 small apple, with skin 3.6 grams
1 medium pear, with skin 5.5 grams
½ cup of raspberries 4.0 grams
½ cup of stewed prunes 3.8 grams
Vegetables
½ cup of winter squash, cooked 2.9 grams
1 medium sweet potato, baked in skin 3.8 grams
½ cup of green peas, cooked 3.5–4.4 grams
1 small potato, baked, with skin 3.0 grams
½ cup of mixed vegetables, cooked 4.0 grams
½ cup of broccoli, cooked 2.6–2.8 grams
½ cup of greens (spinach, collards, turnip greens), cooked 2.5–3.5 grams

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.

High-fiber foods pack fewer calories per pound compared to low-fiber foods, such as meat and processed foods so common in a Western diet. A diet high in insoluble fiber from whole grains, beans, vegetables and vegetable skins, seeds and nuts also provides a feeling of satiety without contributing many calories.

Always increase your water consumption as you increase fiber in your diet: 

  • Drinking water and other liquids, such as fruit and vegetable juices and clear soups, may make fiber in the diet more effective in normalizing bowel function and maintaining regularity.
  • The Institute of Medicine states that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and for women 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. Another common recommendation is to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water or other fluid every day (about 1.9 liters). But some adults may need more or less, depending on how healthy they are, how much they exercise, and how hot and dry the climate is.
  • To calculate how many ounces of water your body needs daily while at rest (working at a desk, puttering around the house, reading), divide your body weight in half. If you weigh 200 pounds, you would need 100 ounces of water per day if you’re not doing anything strenuous. This is the bare minimum water requirement for your body to function properly. If you are working out, hiking, at a high altitude, or outdoors a great deal, you should drink more than 100 ounces. Add another liter of water with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt to ensure proper electrolyte replenishment.
  • A health care provider can offer addditional advice about how much a person should drink each day based on the person’s health and activity level and where the person lives.

You may need to drink more water than usual if you:

  • Exercise intensely, especially in a hot climate.
  • Are outdoors a great deal.
  • Sweat profusely.
  • Are sick, such as with a fever, flu, or have a health problem like a urinary tract infection.
  • Are pregnant or breast-feeding.

The easiest way to know if you’re drinking enough fluid:

  • Observe the color of your urine. If you’re drinking enough water, your urine will be clear or pale yellow. A darker yellow means you aren’t drinking enough water.
  • People who drink enough water also usually have soft bowel movements. Hard bowel movements or constipation can be signs that you aren’t getting enough water.

If you have any health problems, always talk to your doctor before increasing the amount of water you drink. You may need to limit your fluids if you have certain health concerns, such as kidney problems or heart failure.

Reference:

  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Slavin JL. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Volume 108:1716–1731. 2008.

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Genetically engineered (GE) crops and food ingredients were first introduced during the mid 1990’s. The agricultural chemical industry created GE crops with the promise of significantly higher crop yields. While crop yields may have risen, the contribution of GE technology is a matter of considerable debate. Some groups attribute increased yields to improvements in conventional agriculture (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2009). Any benefits offered by GE technology have been overshadowed by the increased use of toxic pesticides and proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds.

All of us have the right to know if our food has been genetically engineered. Unfortunately, the U.S. government does not require labeling of GE foods or ingredients to enable shoppers to make informed decisions. However, more than 60 other nations, including France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Russia, China and the United Kingdom, do require GE labeling (Center for Food Safety, 2013a)!

What crops are genetically engineered?
Genetically engineered crops include corn, canola, soybean, sugar beets, and cotton. They are typically used to make ingredients that are added to various food products, such as cornstarch in soups and sauces, corn syrup as a general purpose sweetener, and cottonseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil in mayonnaise, salad dressings, cereals, breads, and snack foods.

More than 75% of food in supermarkets is genetically engineered or contains GE ingredients (Center for Food Safety 2013b). To avoid GE ingredients, look for the 4 most common GE foods and ingredients:

  • Field corn and corn-derived ingredients: The U.S. is the world’s largest corn producer. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American farmers planted more corn last year than any other crop, covering 95 million acres (USDA 2013a). Some 90% of corn grown in the U.S. is GE (USDA 2013b). Most of the crop is field corn cultivated for animal feed, but about 12% is processed into corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, masa, corn meal, and corn oil that end up in foods consumed by people (EPA 2013). Consumers should assume that those ingredients in processed food are GE. Less than 1% of the American corn crop is sweet corn, also known as table corn (Iowa State University 2011).
  • Soybeans and soybean-derived ingredients: Soybeans are the second most planted American crop, covering more than 76 million acres last year (USDA 2013a). About 93% of soybeans grown in the U.S. have been genetically engineered (USDA 2013b). Soybean-based products and soybean-derived ingredients are common on supermarket shelves.  Consumers should assume that products whose labels disclose the presence of soy proteins, soybean oil, soy milk, soy flour, soy sauce, tofu, or soy lecithin have been made with GE ingredients, unless they are certified organic or GE-free.
  • Sugar: About 55% of sugar produced in the U.S. comes from sugar beets, 95% of which have been genetically engineered (USDA 2013c). If a product label does not specify that it has been made with “pure cane” sugar, it most probably contains GE beet sugar.
  • Vegetable oils: Consumers should assume that vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and corn oil are GE. About 90% of American oilseed production is soybeans, which are almost entirely GE (USDA 2013b). The remaining 10% of oilseed crops are cottonseed, sunflower seed, canola, rapeseed, and peanut. Canola and cottonseed oil primarily come from GE varieties. More than 90% of corn oil is made from GE corn.
Foods that may be or become GE:
  • Papaya: More than 75% of Hawaiian papaya is GE to resist the ringspot virus (Hawaiian Papaya Industry Association 2013).
  • Zucchini and yellow summer squash: A few varieties of squash are GE. Without adequate labeling, it’s hard to spot GE varieties. If you want to be sure, opt for organic varieties.
  • Sweet corn: Most sweet corn sold in supermarkets and farm stands is not grown from GE seeds, but a few varieties are, so it’s best to buy organic sweet corn.
  • Salmon, flax, plums, potato, radicchio, rice, tomato and wheat: Many other GE foods may be coming soon to a grocery store near you. These have either been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or are being considered for approval: salmon, flax, plums, potato, radicchio, rice, tomato and wheat (FDA 2014).
  • The FDA is considering a producer’s application for GE AquAdvantage salmon: Normal salmon produce growth hormones only in summer months. These fish produce them year-round and grow at twice the normal rate. If the FDA approves AquAdvantage salmon, it will be the first GE animal available in American supermarkets.
  • Apples: The FDA faces two other controversial decisions: whether to approve apples genetically modified to not to turn brown when sliced, peeled, or bruised and new varieties of corn and soybean genetically modified to resist the toxic herbicide 2,4-D (USDA 2013e, 2013f).

Reasons to avoid eating genetically engineered ingredients include environmental and human hazards:

  • Unintended harm to other organisms: Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins lethal to insect larvae. These crystal protein genes have been transferred into corn, enabling corn to produce its own pesticides against insects such as the European corn borer. Studies indicate that pollen from B.t. corn causes high mortality rates in monarch butterfly caterpillars. Although monarch caterpillars consume milkweed plants, not corn, if pollen from B.t. corn is blown by the wind onto milkweed plants in nearby fields, the caterpillars could eat the pollen and perish. Unfortunately, B.t. toxins kill many species of insect larvae; it is not possible to design a B.t. toxin that would only kill crop-damaging pests and remain harmless to all other insects.
  • The federal government requires strict safety evaluations before new drugs go on the market but does not mandate similar safety studies for GE crops: Testing for carcinogenicity, harm to fetuses, or risks over the long term to animals and humans is not required for GE foods by the government. Few studies have been conducted by independent scientific institutions.
  • Reduced effectiveness of pesticides: Just as some mosquitoes developed resistance to the now-banned pesticide DDT, insects may become resistant to B.t. or other crops that have been genetically-modified to produce their own pesticides.
  • Superweeds and more toxic pesticides: Genetically modified, herbicide-tolerant crops have helped to create “superweeds,” pest plants that have mutated to survive herbicides. More than 61 million acres of American farmland are infested with Roundup-resistant weeds (Farm Industry News 2013). A 2012 survey conducted by the marketing research group Stratus Agri Marketing found that nearly half of American farmers reported finding superweeds in their fields (Stratus Agri Marketing 2013). To control these hardy plants, many farmers have resorted to older, more toxic herbicides like dicamba, and 2,4-D. Both dicamba and 2,4-D are known to cause reproductive problems and birth defects and pose increased risks of cancer.
  • Increased pesticide use: Herbicide resistance has led to more, not less, herbicide use. According to estimates published in 2012, herbicide-tolerant crops that stimulated superweed growth caused farmers to use 527 million pounds more herbicide between 1996-2011 than would have been the case if those farmers had planted only non-GE crops (Benbrook 2012).
  • Cross-contamination and gene transfer to non-target plant species: According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit group that records the global status of biotech crops, almost 70 million hectares of GE crops were planted in the U.S. in 2012 (ISAAA 2012), up from 64 million hectares in 2009 (ISAAA 2009). As GE crops proliferate, many organic farmers must struggle to prevent cross-contamination of their crops by GE seed or pollen spread by wind, insects, floods, and machinery. Unintended GE contamination has become a major issue for organic growers hoping to sell their crops in places that strictly regulate or ban GE foods. It has been estimated that potential lost income for farmers growing organic corn may total $90 million annually (Union of Concerned Scientists 2001).
  • Human health risks: Scientists have not determined whether GE food poses risks to human health. However, introducing foreign genes into food plants may have an unexpected and negative impact on the digestive tract, nutrient absorption, metabolism, and overall health. Consuming GE foods also increases our exposure to herbicide and pesticide residues, many of which are neurotoxic, carcinogenetic, associated with behavioral effects, birth defects, genetic mutations, and reproductive problems.
  • Extensive testing of GM foods has not been done to avoid the possibility of harm to consumers who have food allergies. 
  • Increased risk of allergenicity and autoimmune disorders: Many children in the US and Europe have developed life-threatening allergies to peanuts and other foods. The incidence and prevalence of gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, and various autoimmune disorders has been increasing in both human and animal populations in the U.S. during the last 20 years. It is possible that introducing a gene into a plant may create a new allergen or cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. 

Until Congress or state governments enact mandatory labeling of GE ingredients in food, how can American shoppers avoid food with GE ingredients?

Buy organic: National and state organic certification rules do not allow GE  foods to be labeled “organic.”  When you buy organic, you buy food free not only of synthetic pesticides but also GE ingredients:

USDA Organic Logo

Buy food certified as “Non-GMO* Project Verified: The non-profit organization Non-GMO Project operates a detailed, voluntary certification process so that food producers can test and verify that, to the best of their knowledge, they have avoided using GE ingredients in their products. The Non-GMO Project is the only organization offering independent verification for GMO products in the U.S. and Canada (Non-GMO Project 2014):

Use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding GE Food” to find foods made without ingredients likely to be genetically engineered. Eating only organic and certified GE-free food is not an option for some people. EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding GE Food helps consumers find products made without ingredients that are likely to be genetically engineered and decide which products are most important to buy organic or certified GE-free.

[Source: “List of Countries That Banned Genetically Modified Food.” 02/09/15 (www.naturalrevolution.org)]

Contact your state and federal representatives and demand that all foods be clearly labeled if they contain or were developed with any GE ingredients.

 

*GMO: “genetically modified organism,” a term interchangeable with “genetically engineered” or “GE.”

*Genetically modified (GM) foods: Foods produced from crops that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using the methods of genetic engineering to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. The enhancement of desired traits has traditionally been undertaken through breeding, but conventional plant breeding methods can be very time consuming and are often not very accurate. Genetic engineering, however, can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy.

References:

  1. Benbrook, C. (2009) Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.: the first thirteen years. (Source: http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/GE13YearsReport.pdf). 01/06/14.
  2. Benbrook, C. (2012) Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:24 
  3. Center for Food Safety (2013a) International Labeling Laws. (Source: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/international-labeling-laws# ). 01/07/14.
  4. Center for Food Safety (2013b) About Genetically Engineered Foods. (Source: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/311/ge-foods/about-ge-foods). 01/07/14.
  5. Environmental Protection Agency (2013) Major Crops Grown in the United States. (Source: http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/cropmajor.html). 12/03/13.
  6. Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding Genetically Engineered Food. (Source: www.ewg.org › Research). 02/19/14.
  7. Farm Industry News (2013) Glyphosate-resistant weed problem extends to more species, more farms. (Source: http://farmindustrynews.com/herbicides/glyphosate-resistant-weed-problem-extends-more-species-more-farm). 12/08/13.
  8. Food and Drug Administration (2014). Completed Consultations on Bioengineered Foods. (Source: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/fcnNavigation.cfm?rpt=bioListing&displayAll=false&page=1). 01/09/14.
  9. Hawaiian Papaya Industry Association (2013) Hawaii Grown Papayas: The Rainbow Papaya Story. (Source: http://www.hawaiipapaya.com/rainbow.html). 11/25/13.
  10. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) (2009) Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2009 – The First Fourteen Years, 1996 to 2009. (Source: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/41/executivesummary/default.asp). 01/07/14.
  11. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) (2012) Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2012. (Source: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/44/executivesummary/default.asp). 01/07/14.
  12. Iowa State University (2011) Corn Production: Common Corn Questions and Answers. (Source: http://www.agronext.iastate.edu/corn/corn-qna.html). 01/07/14.
  13. “List of Countries That Banned Genetically Modified Food.” 02/09/15 (www.naturalrevolution.org)
  14. Non-GMO Project (2014) The “Non-GMO Project Verified” Seal. (Source: http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/understanding-our-seal/ ). 01/07/14.
  15. Stratus Agri Marketing (2013) Glyphosate Resistant Weeds – Intensifying. (Source: http://www.stratusresearch.com/blog07.htm). 01/07/14
  16. Union of Concerned Scientists (2001) Union of Concerned Scientists Comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on the renewal of BT-Crop Registration. Docket OPP-00678B. (Source: http://web.peacelink.it/tematiche/ecologia/bt_renewal_ucs.pdf). 01/06/14.
  17. Union of Concerned Scientists (2009) Genetic Engineering has Failed to Significantly Boost U.S. Crop Yields Despite Biotech Industry Claims. (Source: http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/ge-fails-to-increase-yields-0219.html) 01/07/14.
  18. U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013a) National Statistics by Subject. (Source: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_Subject/index.php). 12/03/13.
  19. U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013b) Adoption of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. (Source: http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us.aspx#.Up5PL40h0jU). 12/03/13.
  20. U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013c) US sugar production. (Source: http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/sugar-sweeteners/background.aspx#.UpN_gI0h0jU). 11/25/13.
  21. U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013d) Organic 101: Can GMOs be used in organic products. (Source: http://blogs.usda.gov/2013/05/17/organic-101-can-gmos-be-used-in-organic-products/). 12/08/13.
  22. U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013e) Dow AgroSciences Petitions (09-233-01p, 09-349-01p, and 11-234-01p) for Determinations of Nonregulated Status for 2,4-D-Resistant Corn and Soybean Varieties. Draft Environmental Impact Statement—2013. (Source: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/24d_deis.pdf). 01/09/14.
  23. U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013ef) Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc.; Availability of Plant Pest Risk Assessment and Environmental Assessment for Determination of Nonregulated Status of Apples Genetically Engineered To Resist Browning. [Docket No. APHIS–2012–0025] Federal Register 78:251 (December 31, 2013) p 79658. (Source: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/fedregister/USDA_20131104.pdf). 01/09/14.

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The Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide helps consumers to enjoy the health benefits of fruits and vegetables with less exposure to pesticides

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes an annual rating of conventional foods with the most and least pesticide residues. Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not sufficiently warned Americans about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways to reduce pesticides in their diets, EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce was designed to fill this void. It translates an extensive database of pesticide tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on food crops into a user-friendly tool that empowers Americans to reduce their exposures to pesticide. This year’s guide draws from 32,000 produce samples tested by USDA and FDA scientists who detected pesticides on 65%, or about two of every three, samples!

EWG’s analysis of government tests has found sharp differences in the number and concentrations of pesticides measured on various fruits and vegetables. Consumers can reduce their intake of such pesticides by avoiding Dirty Dozen crops or purchasing organically-produced fruits and vegetables instead.

The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 marked dramatic progress in the federal government’s efforts to protect Americans from dangerous pesticides. This legislation, which EWG played a major role in pushing through Congress, required EPA to assess pesticides due to their particular dangers to children and ensure that pesticides posed a “reasonable certainty of no harm” to children or any other high-risk group. The law is credited with reducing risks posed by pesticide residues on food. It forced American agribusiness to shift away from some of the most hazardous pesticides. But worrisome chemicals are not completely out of the food supply. Residues of many are still detected on some foods.

The Consumer Right to Know provision of the 1996 law required that EPA inform the public about possible hazards to their health brought about by consuming pesticides with their food. It ordered EPA to publish and distribute in grocery stores plain-English brochures that discussed the risks and benefits of pesticides on food. The brochures were to offer recommendations, so shoppers could reduce their dietary exposures to pesticides. The EPA published a brochure in 1999, but failed to detail the actual risks of pesticide exposures and give consumers clear information about foods with the most pesticide residues to help them reduce their exposures. EPA stopped publishing it altogether in 2007. Today, EPA offers some information about pesticides and food on its website, but does not list foods likely to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues nor those that pose the greatest dangers to human health. It’s general advice is basically, ‘Wash your fruits and vegetables.’ Most importantly, the EPA does not offer the “right to know” information Congress required on behalf of consumers in 1996: how to avoid pesticide exposures while still eating a healthy diet.

Since the EPA has not complied with the Congressional mandate in full for more than a decade, EWG publishes the annual guide to help people eat healthy and reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce. The EWG’s Shopper’s Guide helps consumers select conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues. When consumers want foods whose conventional versions test high for pesticides, they can choose organic.

Health risks of pesticide exposure: According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the health risks of pesticide exposure through food, water, or air are not yet clear. While USDA says that pesticide residues do not pose a safety concern, EWG notes that they are associated with many health risks, including cancer, brain and behavioral changes, and hormone disruption.

Children have unique susceptibilities to pesticide residues’ potential toxicity: Parents’ concerns have been validated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in 2012 issued an important report that cited research linking pesticide exposures in early life and “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” The organization advised its members to urge parents to consult “reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables,” such as EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

European regulators act more quickly than their American counterparts to restrict common produce pesticides:

  • For years, Europe has questioned the safety and ecological dangers of a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, chemicals suspected of disrupting human brain development and killing honeybees and other beneficial insects. Neonicotinoid pesticides were developed as substitutes for older and more neurotoxic insecticides, primarily organophosphates and carbamates, and have been widely used by American, European, and other growers over the past decade. USDA testing has found neonicotinoid residues on about 20% of all produce samples and as much as 60% of broccoli, cauliflower, grapes, spinach and summer squash. Scientific research has suggested that neonicotinoids could harm children’s brain development and might contribute to the collapse of populations of honeybees and other pollinators. In response to these developments, European officials tightened their guidelines for allowable daily exposures to two neonicotinoid pesticides (EFSA 2013). Last December they declared a two-year moratorium on three neonicotinoids (European Commission 2013). Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA will soon require new cautionary language and instructions on the labels of neonicotinoid pesticides and are conducting a multi-year assessment of neonicotinoid toxicity, expected to conclude by 2018. Environmental advocates call EPA’s efforts slow and inadequate.
  • In June 2012, the European Commission banned diphenylamine (DPA) on fruit raised in the 28 European Union member states and imposed tight restrictions on imported fruit. DPA, a “growth regulator” or antioxidant, is applied after harvest to most apples conventionally grown in the U.S. and some U.S.-grown pears, to prevent fruit skin from discoloring during months of cold storage. As of March, 2014, apples and pears imported into the European Union can contain no more than 0.1 part per million of DPA (EC 2013). In the U.S., DPA, a “growth regulator” or antioxidant, is applied to most conventional apples and some pears after harvest
  • U.S. officials have not followed the Europeans in restricting either neonicotinoids or DPA. The EPA has not even studied the risks posed by DPA on apples since 1998.

EWG’s 2014 Dirty Dozen™: Includes apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes, foods containing many different pesticide residues and high concentrations of pesticides relative to other produce items:

  • Apples were #1 on the list again this year. The pesticide diphenylamine, which was banned in Europe in 2012, was present on 80% of apples most recently tested.
  • Imported snap peas, absent from last year’s list, were added to the list, ranking as the 11th “dirtiest” type of produce.
  • Hot peppers, in 12th place in 2013, along with kale and collard greens were placed on a “Dirty Dozen Plus” list  of foods that don’t meet the “Dirty Dozen’s” criteria but still contain minimal amounts of insecticide.
  • Every sample of imported nectarines and 99% of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
  • A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

EWG’s 2014 Clean Fifteen™: Ranks produce least likely to contain pesticide residues, such as avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes:

  • Cauliflower made an appearance on the list, avocado jumped from No. 2 to No. 1, and mushrooms were the only item to drop off the list this year.
  • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1% of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • 89% of pineapples, 82% of kiwi, 80% of papayas, 88% of mango and 61% of cantaloupe had no residues at all.
  • No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen™ tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.
  • Detecting multiple pesticide residues is extremely rare on Clean Fifteen™ vegetables. Only 5.5% of Clean Fifteen™ samples had two or more pesticides.

Dirty Dozen PLUS™: For the 3rd year, the Dirty Dozen™ has a “Plus” category to highlight 2 foods that contain trace levels of highly hazardous pesticides. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ ranking criteria but were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. People who eat these foods should buy organic instead.

Dirty Dozen 2014:

Apples
Strawberries
Grapes
Celery
Peaches
Spinach
Sweet bell peppers
Nectarines (imported)
Cucumbers
Cherry tomatoes
Snap peas (imported)
Potatoes

Dirty Dozen Plus™ 2014: Leafy greens (kale, collard greens) and hot peppers

Clean Fifteen 2014:

Avocado
Sweet corn
Pineapple
Cabbage
Frozen sweet peas
Onions
Asparagus
Mango
Papaya
Kiwi
Eggplant
Grapefruit
Cantaloupe
Cauliflower
Sweet potatoes

Genetically engineered (GE) crops: Most processed food contains one or more ingredients derived from GE crops. But GE food is not often found in the produce section of American supermarkets. A small percentage of zucchini, yellow squash and sweet corn in grocery stores is GE. Most Hawaiian papaya is GE. Other GE foods are currently being tested and may eventually be approved by the USDA. Since U.S. law does not require labeling of GE produce, consumers who want to avoid GE crops should purchase organically-grown foods or items bearing the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. EWG recommends that consumers check EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding GE Food to help them identify foods likely to contain GE ingredients.

References:
  1. AAP 2012. Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and Council on Environmental Health. e1406 -e1415. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2579. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/5/e1406.
  2. EFSA. 2012. Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance diphenylamine. European Food Safety Authority, EFSA Journal 10(1): 2486-2527.
  3. EFSA 2013. EFSA assesses potential link between two neonicotinoids and developmental neurotoxicity. European Food Safety Authority. (Source: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/131217.htm and http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/3471.htm).
  4. Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. (Source: www.ewg.org/foodnews/).
  5. Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce: Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. (Source: www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php).
  6. EPA. 2013. EPA’s review of the European Food Safety Authority’s conclusions regarding studies involving the neonicotinoid pesticides. December 23, 2013. (Source: http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/cb/csb_page/updates/2013/efsa-conclus.html).
  7. European Commission. 2006. Commission Directive 2006/125/EC of 5 December 2006 on processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children. OJ L 339, 6.12.2006: 16 – 35.
  8. European Commission. 2013. Bees & Pesticides: Commission goes ahead with plan to better protect bees. (Source: http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/liveanimals/bees/neonicotinoids_en.htm).
  9. USDA. 2012. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2010. U.S. Department of Agriculture, May 2012.
  10. USDA. 2014. Pesticide Data Program: Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2012. U.S. Department of Agriculture, February 2014.

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gel-manicure-uv-light.jpg

A salon manicure often involves drying freshly painted nails under a lamp that emits ultraviolet (UV) rays while blowing air at one’s fingertips to dry the polish. Most of us have not been aware of any risk associated with using these devices. However, a new study indicates that nail salon dryers which use UV light to dry nail polish and harden a gel manicure emit varying levels of radiation that can lead to premature aging and damage of skin in as few as 8 visits to the manicurist.

The nail dryers emit primarily ultraviolet-A (UVA) light, a spectrum of light long linked to skin cancers and the same light used in tanning beds. Gel manicures have become popular because they create long-lasting, shiny nails by means of a chemical gel that is painted on the nail in layers and cured under UV light after every coating.

Case reports of 2 women who developed squamous cell skin cancers on their hands have suggested an association between cancer and the UV nail light devices. However, most doctors assume the risk is probably low.

In the study, researchers from Georgia Regents University in Augusta conducted a random sampling of 17 different UV nail lamps found in 16 nail salons to determine how much UV radiation is being emitted when clients dry their nails under the lights. High-tech meters were used to measure the UVA light exposure upon hands held in various positions under the drying lamps.

The study, published this week as a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Dermatology, found wide variation in the dose of UVA light emitted during 8 minutes of nail drying or hardening. The dose, measured in joules per centimeter squared, ranged from less than 1 to 8.

According to Dr. Lyndsay R. Shipp, the study’s lead author and a postgraduate resident in the Department of Dermatology at the university’s Medical College of Georgia, the amount of UV light exposure coming out of these devices varies greatly, ranging from “barely” to “significant.”

DNA damage that can lead to skin cancer is known to occur at around 60 joules per centimeter squared. None of the nail lamps came close to that number. However, the researchers estimated that for most of the lamps tested, 8 to 14 visits over 24 to 42 months would reach the threshold for DNA damage to the skin.

The study authors note that the “risk from multiple manicure visits remains untested,” but the findings suggests that “even with numerous exposures, the risk for carcinogenesis remains small.” Dr. Shipp said, “There is a theoretical risk, but it’s very low.” One’s health and immune status, prior exposure to other chemicals, age at time of exposure, and amount of time spent under the UV light can all influence a person’s risk of cancer.

As expected, lamps with higher-wattage bulbs emitted the highest levels of UV radiation, but it would not be easy for a salon client to check the wattage before using a machine. Dr. Shipp said she sometimes uses a nail lamp every couple of months and will continue to do so, noting that “you can get that amount of exposure when driving down the road in your car.”

Dr. Chris Adigun, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, warns clients to wear some form of UV protection when using salon drying lamps and notes that this study has “exposed an issue that needs to be addressed — that there is little to no regulation on the manufacturing of these nail lamps.” “As a result, the bulbs, wattage, and irradiance of these lamps varies dramatically from one manufacturer to the next, and individuals utilizing these lamps in salons have no way of knowing just how much UV exposure their skin is receiving upon each manicure.”

Even though the study found the overall risk of skin cancer from UV lamps to be low, “there are reports of nonmelanoma skin cancers on the hands after UV nail lamp exposure,” Dr. Adigun added. “What this article addresses is the lack of regulation of these lamps, leading to potentially varied malignancy risk from lamp to lamp and salon to salon.”

Clients who are concerned about the risk but want to continue getting gel manicures, which require UV light, have a few options. They can skip the lotion-and-massage portion of the manicure and instead coat their hands with sunscreen before having gel nails applied. Another option is to wear UV-protective gloves with the fingertips cut off so only the nails are exposed to the light.

Users of regular nail polish should try fans or air-drying in order to avoid the devices.

Remember, the less often you have a manicure or pedicure the better. Nail polish, polish remover, and nail gels often contain pthalates and endocrine disruptors.

References:
  1. Chris Adigun, M.D., Assistant Professor, Dermatology, Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; JAMA Dermatology, April 30, 2014, online.
  2. “Nail Salon’ Drying Lamps Carry Small Cancer Risk.” HealthDay News. 04/30/14.
  3. Pope, Tara Parker-Pope. “UV Light of Nail Dryers Can Imperil Skin, Study Finds.”  The New York Times. page: A-14. 05/01/14.
  4. Pope, Tara Parker-Pope. “Nail Salon Lamps May Increase Skin Cancer Risk.” The New York Times: Well-Cancer. 04/30/14.

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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Total cook time: 45 minutes
Servings: about 24 servings
Ingredients:
  • 4-6 onions, thinly sliced or diced
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-6 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
  • 4-6 large carrots, chopped, or 2 small bags USDA organic baby carrots
  • 3-4 brightly colored bell peppers, diced
  • 3 or 4 32-ounce containers (12-16 cups) of low sodium, non-fat beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
  • 1 head of cabbage, cored, outer leaves removed, chopped or shredded
  • 3 32-ounce jars, or 3 28-ounce cans, of diced tomatoes
  • 6-12 tablespoons tomato paste (I use an entire 7-ounce jar, equivalent to 12 tablespoons, since I love tomatoes!)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Fresh, chopped basil, dill, oregano, parsley (or 1 tablespoon of each if dried)
  • Fresh chopped parsley to add as a garnish before serving
Directions:
  1. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and garlic. Cook until onions begin to appear transparent, about 5-8 minutes.
  3. Add celery, carrots, and bell peppers.
  4. Saute until slightly tender.
  5. Pour in broth.
  6. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, and cabbage.
  7. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat.
  8. Stir in black pepper, basil, oregano, and parsley.
  9. Cook until cabbage and vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes, stirring often.
  10. Taste broth and adjust seasoning if needed.
  11. Serve and enjoy!
A variety of fresh or frozen vegetables (chopped dill, scallions, broccoli, carrots, corn, cauliflower, green beans, peas) may be added during cooking.
For richer flavor, ladle soup over a serving of cooked brown rice or quinoa, or sprinkle grated parmesan cheese on top right before serving.
The soup will keep well in the refrigerator for about 5-7 days. Extra soup may be frozen.

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Tips to Keep Your Eyes Healthy

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Why did nature provide us with two eyes and two ears, but only one mouth? We should view, examine, and listen to our environment twice as much as we talk or eat,  for our own good. Also, if one eye or ear becomes damaged, we have another to use and protect us.   

Protecting your eyes starts with the food on your plate. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, xeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and E may help prevent or slow age-related vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration (progressive deterioration of part of the retina, otherwise known as AMD) and cataracts (clouding of your eye lens). To obtain these and other important nutrients, eat a variety of whole foods rather than supplements. Eating a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet also helps you maintain a healthy weight which makes you less likely to get obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes (1, 5). Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults.

Eat nutritious foods regularly for good vision: 

  • Green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and swiss chard are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Antioxidants protect against eye damage from sunlight, cigarette smoke, and air pollution. Lutein and zeaxanthin are believed to enter the lens and retina of the eye and absorb damaging visible light. Most people are deficient in these two nutrients. Eating a cooked 10-ounce block of frozen spinach over the course of a week will help lower your risk of age-related eye disease. Kale has double these nutrients. Broccoli and bright-colored fruits like kiwis and grapes are ways to get them, too.
  • Eggs: Egg yolk is a prime source of lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc, which all help reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
  • Nuts like almonds, pecans, walnuts, seeds, and wheat germ are filled with vitamin E, which slows macular degeneration. Vitamins C and E actually work together to keep healthy tissue strong. But most of us don’t get as much vitamin E as we should from food. One handful (an ounce) provides about half of your daily dose of E. Have a small handful of sunflower seeds, sprinkle nuts, seeds, or wheat germ on your salad, or add wheat germ or extra virgin olive oil to your dressing for a big boost.
  • Beans, edamame, lentils, quinoa, and other non-meat protein sources
  • Anchovies, Arctic char, herring, salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, trout, and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as DHA, a fatty acid found in your retina. Omega-3 fatty acids keep your heart and brain healthy and may also protect the eyes by reducing inflammation and helping cells to work better. Low levels of DHA have been associated with “dry eye syndrome” (moderate to severe ocular dryness), according to Jimmy Lee, MD, director of refractive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. Salmon, sardines, and herring have the most omega-3s, followed by flounder, halibut, and tuna. Try to eat at least 2 servings of cold-water fish each week.
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), berries, brussels sprouts, papaya, and bell peppers are rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Turkey, oysters, and crab provide zinc which keeps the retina of your eye healthy. Zinc is also found in other meats, eggs, peanuts, and whole grains.
  • Apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and other orange and yellow vegetables contain beta carotene which is converted by the body into vitamin A which helps prevent night blindness and promotes eye health and vision. Beta-carotene gives food an orange hue and helps the retina and other parts of the eye to function properly.
  • Minimize or avoid sodium (salt) and salty foods: Salt intake may increase your risk of high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, and glaucoma.* Americans regularly eat much more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg, mostly in bread, crackers, cold cuts, condiments, processed foods, sauces, and restaurant meals. The recommended daily limit is even lower (1,500 mg) if you are 51 years or older, African American, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Cook from scratch with whole foods as much as possible, and use fresh or dried herbs, unsalted spices, citrus juice, and/or vinegar to enhance flavor (3).
  • Avoid foods with sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, mono- and diglycerides, and other chemicals.
  • Limit processed food, including cold cuts: Processed foods tend to be high in salt, sugar, starches, unhealthy fats, preservatives (nitrate, nitrite, sodium benzoate, sulfites, etc.), and often, empty calories.
  • Eat less meat: While meat offers protein, iron, and vitamin B12, it is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase your risk of atherosclerosis.
  • Avoid unhealthy saturated animal fats, trans fats, butter, cream, ice cream, icings, pastries, shortenings, etc., and choose healthy monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado: High-fat diets can cause deposits that constrict blood flow in your arteries. Eyes are especially sensitive to this, due to the small size of blood vessels that nourish them.
  • Limit caffeinated coffee to 2 cups or less daily: Drinking 3 or more cups of caffeinated coffee has been associated with an increased risk of developing exfoliation glaucoma (a type of glaucoma characterized by tiny fibers peeling from the eye’s lens that can cause a pressure build-up), particularly among people with a family history of glaucoma (6).
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables providing folate, magnesium, vitamins A and C, potassium, and other nutrients (4).

Additional tips to protect your eyesight:
  • Always wear sunglasses when necessary: Good sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat can protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Choose sunglasses that protect against all ultraviolet rays, both UVA and UVB (a special label should indicate “100% UV blocking”). Wraparound lenses help protect your eyes from the side. Polarized lenses reduce glare when driving. If you wear contact lenses, some offer UV protection. Exposure to UV rays can damage your retina, increase your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as, skin cancer on your eyelids. Overexposure to the sun’s rays can also lead to ultraviolet keratitis (sunburn on the epithelium of the cornea, the clear outer part of the eye) which can occur when skiing or in a tanning booth if you fail to wear protective goggles. As with a sunburn, pain, blurry vision, and tearing can start slowly and worsen hours later.
  • Avoid overusing eye drops: Drops that take the red out make your eyes look better, because they temporarily constrict blood vessels. However, the inflammation can return after a few hours when the drops stop working and the blood vessels dilate, making the eyes appear redder than they were to start.
  • Treat dry eyes properly: About 3.5 million women and 1.5 million men in the U.S. suffer from “dry eyes”. Lubricating drops usually come in bottles with preservatives. Using these drops too many times can actually irritate your eyes. It is more costly, but better, to get individual blister packs of artificial tears if you are going to use them more than 4 times a day. When treating itchy eyes, keep your drops in the refrigerator. The coolness may help to reduce the itchy sensation. Avoid rubbing your dry eyes, and use a humidifier, or many houseplants, to increase moisture in your home.
  • Avoid staring too long at any screen: Blinking helps distribute fluid throughout your eyes. But when you focus on a cell phone or computer screen, you blink less often than usual. Try to blink 12 to 15 times per minute. Staring at such devices generally causes you to not blink enough. Your tears evaporate, your vision becomes smeary, and your eyes may burn and water. Reading very small print for prolonged periods of time also forces your eyes to work too hard, so be sure to look up from the screen and look at something far away every so often. One more reason to decrease screen time: Looking at small print on mobile devices may increase the risk of myopia (nearsightedness).
  • Glance away from the computer frequently, every 15-20 minutes if possible, since staring at a screen can cause:
    • Eyestrain
    • Blurry vision
    • Difficulty focusing at a distance
    • Dry eyes
    • Headaches
    • Neck, back, and shoulder pain
  • Additional steps to protect eye health when using a computer:
    • Make sure your glasses or contact lens prescription is up-to-date and adequate for computer use.
    • Some people need glasses to help with contrast, glare, and eye strain when using a computer.
    • Position your computer so that your eyes are level with the top of the monitor. This allows you to look slightly down at the screen.
    • Try to avoid glare on your computer from windows and lights. Use an anti-glare screen if needed.
    • Choose a comfortable, supportive chair. Position it so that your feet are flat on the floor.
    • If your eyes are dry, blink more often.
    • Every 20 minutes, rest your eyes by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds. At least every two hours, get up to walk around and take a 15-minute break.
  • Be careful with contact lenses: Use fresh cleaning solution daily, and never put contact lenses in your mouth or rinse them in water. Many ophthalmologists recommend daily disposables. Never wear contact lenses in a shower, hot tub, swimming pool, or the ocean. To ensure your eyes get enough oxygen, don’t sleep in your contacts. Also, don’t just order lenses without seeing an eye doctor first to get them fit properly. Otherwise, you increase your risk of getting infections. If the contact lens fits like a suction cup, removing it may cause a small scratch on the cornea which becomes an entry for bad bacteria that may cause serious eye infections.
  • Avoid using old makeup and/or sleeping in it: To avoid exposure to infection-causing bacteria, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends disposing of cosmetics after 3 months. Furthermore, always remove makeup before going to bed.
  • Avoid pouring, spraying, or using caustic chemicals and cleansers in the home or at work carelessly or without eye protection.
  • Wear safety goggles or other eyewear at home, work, and while playing sports to protect eyes from injury: When working with hazardous or airborne materials at home or work, mowing the lawn, using a weed whacker, or doing home repairs, always wear safety glasses or protective goggles. Goggles will protect your eyes from any flying debris which can cause abrasions in the cornea. Make sure that anyone nearby has protective eyewear on, especially children. Certain sports such as ice hockey, racquetball, and lacrosse can also lead to eye injury. Wear helmets with protective face masks or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses to shield your eyes.
  • Stop smoking and avoid exposure to cigarette smoke: Smoking, exposure to smoke, and air pollution increase the risk of inflammation within the lumen (interior lining) of blood vessels, cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration. Such pollutants reduce the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the eyes and increase oxidative stress for all tissues in the body. If you tried to quit smoking before and started smoking again, keep trying. The more times you try to quit, the more likely you are to succeed.
  • Stay physically active and include safe, moderate exercise in your schedule more oftenExercise improves blood circulation which increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen and removal of toxins throughout the body including your eyes, enhances concentration and muscle mass, and can help reduce your weight, blood pressure, and levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and cortisol stress hormone.
  • Maintain regular eye exams: Visit your ophthalmologist, especially if you have eye-affecting conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness.
  • Pay attention to symptoms: Don’t assume that flashing lights, pain, fuzzy vision, redness, or light sensitivity will vanish automatically, says Anne Sumers, M.D., an ophthalmologist who is a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you see things floating around and then turning fuzzy, it could mean your retina is coming off. Go to an ophthalmologist quickly, since a delayed diagnosis can increase the risk of more complex surgery and a worse prognosis for vision recovery.
  • Contact your doctor if you develop a bloodshot eye(s) while on a blood thinner like aspirin or Coumadin: A bloodshot eye or bruise that seems to appear for no reason is often nature’s way of warning you that too much blood thinner is accumulating in your body. Bring these symptoms to your doctor’s attention, if you are taking any kind of blood thinner.
  • Supplements for eye health as you age: If you have or are at risk for AMD certain vitamin supplements may help slow or keep it from getting worse. Formula supplements known as AREDS, after the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies that tested and fine-tuned the formula, combine high doses of most of the nutrients mentioned in the foods above. The newest version, called AREDS 2, is probably good if you get very little lutein and zeaxanthin and considered safe if you are a smoker or recently quit, since it doesn’t contain beta carotene (in very high doses, beta carotene can raise your chances of getting lung cancer). Although AREDS 2 formula supplements can be purchased over the counter, first speak with your eye doctor. Some people should not take high doses of antioxidants. If you do not have AMD, there is no proof that a supplement will prevent it. If you are in your 60s and have a family history of AMD, ask your eye doctor about taking such supplements.

Do everything you can to protect those beautiful eyes!!!

*Glaucoma: A group of diseases of the eye characterized by increased intraocular pressure, resulting in pathological changes in the optic disk and typical visual field defects, and eventually blindness if not treated successfully. Uncommon in domestic animals, except in dogs where several breeds are predisposed.

A normal eye is filled with aqueous humor in an amount carefully regulated to maintain the shape of the eyeball. In glaucoma, the balance of this fluid is disturbed; fluid is formed more rapidly than it leaves the eye, and pressure builds up. The increased pressure damages the retina. If not relieved by proper treatment, the pressure will eventually damage the optic nerve, causing blindness.

References:

  1. Dianesays.com. “Eat Whole Fruits, Not Juice, to Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.” 11/01/13.
  2. Dianesays.com. “Improve Your Health in 2014.” 01/10/14.
  3. Dianesays.com. “Reduce Dietary Salt and Sodium For Good Health.” 11/08/11.
  4. Dianesays.com. “The Mediterranean Diet: Delicious, Nutritious, and Heart-Healthy.” 12/31/11.
  5. Muraki, Isao (Research fellow); Fumiaki Imamura (Investigator scientist); JoAnn E Manson (Professor of medicine); Frank B Hu (Professor of nutrition and epidemiology); Walter C Willett (Professor of epidemiology and nutrition); Rob M van Dam (Associate professor); Qi Sun (Assistant professor). “Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies.” British Medical Journal (BMJ). 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f5001. Published 08/29/13.
  6. Pasquale, L. R.; Wiggs, J. L.; Willett, W. C.; Kang, J. H. “The Relationship between Caffeine and Coffee Consumption and Exfoliation Glaucoma or Glaucoma Suspect: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts.” Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 53 (10): 6427-33. 09/21/12. (DOI: 10.1167/iovs.12-10085).

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“A plant-based diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains, offers the surest path to a low cholesterol” 

Neal Barnard, M.D., Washington

Cholesterol (from Ancient Greek: chole- [bile], stereos [solid], –ol [chemical suffix for an alcohol]) is a soft, waxy substance, a steroid lipid (fat) actually, found in all parts of the body, including the bloodstream, central nervous system, skin, muscle, liver, intestine, and heart. Our liver manufactures all the cholesterol we need, so it is not necessary to consume it in the diet. The liver produces 75% of the cholesterol that circulates in our blood. The other 25% comes from food including animal products. Foods of plant origin (vegetables, fruits, grains, cereals, legumes and lentils, nuts, and seeds) contain no cholesterol.

While there can be negative health benefits associated with low cholesterol, cholesterol deficiency is rare. But cholesterol levels are precariously high in more than 100 million Americans. High levels of cholesterol and cholesterol consumption have been correlated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Since cholesterol is only found in animal food products, vegans tend to have lower cholesterol levels than non-vegans. Consequently, cholesterol lowering foods should be incorporated into everyone’s diet for optimal health.

Cholesterol is important for health because it is:

  • A critical component of animal cell membranes (the outer coating of cells) which enable proper membrane permeability and fluidity.
  • Converted into bile in the liver. The bile is stored in the gallbladder. When you eat, bile acids (salts) in the bile help digest food in your intestine and allow fat and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to be absorbed.
  • A precursor molecule for the synthesis of Vitamin D and steroid hormones, including adrenal gland hormones, cortisol and aldosterone, as well as sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
  • Important in brain development and for facilitating connections between brain cells (synapses), making it essential to learning and memory.
  • Transported in the blood to be used by all parts of the body.

Without cholesterol, these functions could not take place, and human beings wouldn’t exist. Note that some of the most nutritious foods like egg yolks and liver are also the foods richest in cholesterol.

Why the concern about cholesterol?

A high level of cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease), heart attacks, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Since cholesterol is present in animal-based foods which also tend to be high in saturated fat and trans fat, cholesterol may simply be associated with, though not the direct cause of, these pathologies. Excess cholesterol and saturated animal fat (which also contains some trans fat) in the bloodstream can promote a build-up of plaque inside and on the walls of arteries that eventually narrows these arteries. This is dangerous, because artery narrowing can restrict blood flow to various organs. If the blood supply to part of your heart or brain is significantly reduced or completely cut off, the result is a heart attack or stroke.

Family history and cholesterol levels: Cholesterol comes from two sources, the body and food, and either one can contribute to high cholesterol. Some people inherit genes that trigger too much cholesterol production, resulting in a condition called “hypercholesterolemia.” For others, diet is the main culprit. Saturated fat and cholesterol occur in animal-based foods, including meat, eggs, and dairy products. In some cases, high cholesterol stems from a combination of an unhealthy diet and genetics.

Good cholesterol versus bad cholesterol: Up to a third of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL is called “good cholesterol” because it helps remove “bad cholesterol,” low-density lipoproteins (LDL), preventing the latter from building up inside arteries. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol, the better. People with too little HDL and too much LDL are more likely to develop atherosclerosis and heart disease. Eating healthy fats, such as olive oil, may help boost HDL cholesterol.

Factors associated with an increased risk of high cholesterol:

  • A diet high in animal-based foods, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
  • A family history of high cholesterol blood levels or hypercholesterolemia
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Getting older

High risk groups who should limit or avoid cholesterol consumption:

  • Individuals with a family history of high cholesterol: Regulation of cholesterol blood levels is hereditary. It is wise to learn if any relatives have high cholesterol levels.
  • Older adults: Cholesterol levels rise with age, particularly in post-menopausal women.
  • Over-weight individuals: Being over-weight is associated with high cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart-disease.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: People who are not physically active are at risk for high cholesterol levels. Regular exercise helps to lower LDLs and raise HDLs.
  • Individuals with high blood pressure: High blood pressure in combination with high cholesterol levels greatly increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
  • Smokers: Have a higher risk of heart disease due to smoke’s irritation of artery walls and should try to curtail or stop smoking,

Recommendations: More than half of the adult population has blood cholesterol levels higher than the desirable range. High cholesterol levels often begin in childhood. Some children may be at higher risk due to a family history of high cholesterol. In general, your total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), since that level carries the least risk of heart disease. Above that level the risk for heart disease increases. Ask your health care provider about your HDL and LDL levels, as well as, what your cholesterol levels indicate.

Cholesterol and children: Cholesterol can begin clogging arteries during childhood, leading to atherosclerosis and heart disease later in life. Recommendations for children’s diets are similar to those of adults. However, it is very important that children get enough calories to support their growth and activity level, and achieve and maintain a desirable body weight. The American Heart Association recommends that diet and exercise be used to help reduce high cholesterol levels in children and teenagers. Ideally, total cholesterol should be below 170 mg/dl in people ages 2 to 19.

To lower high cholesterol levels:

  • Become more physically active and include safe, moderate exercise in your schedule more oftenFirst talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Regular, moderate exercise, including aerobics, increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, improves concentration and muscle mass, and can help reduce your weight, blood pressure, diabetes risk, and levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and cortisol stress hormone. Moderate exercise may also reduce build-up inside coronary arteries and thereby improve blood flow. Choose a safe activity that boosts your heart rate, such as walking briskly, dancing, swimming, gardening, using stairs instead of an elevator, hiking, biking, or running. Aim for at least 30 minutes, or two 15-minute sessions if that is easier to schedule, on most days of the week.
  • Talk with your doctor about a safe weight loss program if you are overweight: Losing weight can help raise HDL levels and lower triglyceride, LDL, and total cholesterol levels.
  • Gradually increase your intake of both dietary fiber and water to help flush the fiber through your digestive tract and reduce cholesterol: Soluble fiber helps lower LDL cholesterol by interfering with absorption of dietary cholesterol from your digestive tract. Good sources include oatmeal, oat cereal, beans, lentils, dried peas, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
  • Eat more plant foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds (for soluble and insoluble fiber) and fewer foods from animals (low in fiber).
  • Check food labels and select items low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and sugar. 
  • Consume heart-healthy fats sparingly:* Olives, olive oil, vegetable oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, simple, unflavored nut butters, and the oils that come from nuts provide polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. All fats contain about the same number of calories, so consume them in moderation for easier weight management.
  • Avoid unhealthy fats: No more than 35% of your daily calories should come from fat. But not all fats are healthy. Saturated fats from animal products and tropical oils raise LDL. Trans fats raise LDL and lower HDL! These artery-clogging fats are found in many meats, cold cuts, partially hydrogenated oils, processed foods, prepackaged mixes, baked goods, pastries, fried foods (doughnuts, fries, chips), butter, solid shortenings like Crisco, stick margarine, chocolates, cookies, and snack foods.
  • Limit total fat intake to 25-35% of total daily calories: Less than 7% of daily calories should be from saturated fat, not more than 10% should be from polyunsaturated fat, and not more than 20% from monounsaturated fat.
  • Eat less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.
  • Eat smaller portions of meat, about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Choose lean protein: Meat and full-fat milk offer plenty of protein, but they are also major sources of cholesterol. Select low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Reduce LDL cholesterol by switching to quinoa (a whole grain which provides complete protein) or soy protein such as edamame and tofu, or eat beans or lentils with whole grains like rice or whole wheat pasta at some meals. Many fish, like Arctic Char and wild Alaskan salmon, are healthy and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week.
  • Select meat with the least amount of visible fat and trim fat from the edges of the meat.
  • Remove all skin from poultry before cooking.
  • Remove all skin from cooked fish, unless it can be removed prior to cooking.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking lowers HDL levels. The American Heart Association reports that quitting smoking can increase HDL by up to 10-20%. In contrast to HDL’s positive effects, LDL cholesterol promotes cellular damage to the interior of blood vessel walls and storage of cholesterol as plaque inside artery walls. Exposure to smoke, whether by actively smoking or breathing secondhand smoke, causes LDL to bind more effectively to artery walls. Talk with your health care provider about which smoking cessation strategies may be best for you.
  • Avoid “simple carbohydrates” like sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, beet sugar: Diets low in simple carbohydrates may be better than low-fat diets for improving cholesterol levels. In a two-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health, people who followed a low-carb plan had significantly better HDL  levels than those who followed a low-fat plan.

Food sources naturally high in cholesterol: 

  • Egg yolks
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Organ meats such as liver, kidney, sweetbread, and brain
  • Poultry
  • Fish generally contains less cholesterol than other meats, but some shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels, etc.) are high in cholesterol.

Cholesterol-rich foods, like eggs, shrimp, and lobster are no longer completely forbidden. Research shows that the cholesterol we eat has only a small effect on blood cholesterol levels for most people. Some people are “responders,” whose blood levels spike up after eating eggs. But for most, saturated fat and trans fats are bigger concerns. Daily cholesterol limits are 300 mg for healthy people and 200 mg for those at higher risk. One egg has 186 mg of cholesterol.

Fat content is not a good measure of cholesterol content. For example, liver and other organ meats are low in fat, but very high in cholesterol.

Healthy foods which help to lower LDL cholesterol naturally, while preserving HDL cholesterol:

  • Fish
  • Whole grains
  • Oat bran: Proven effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Add bran to hot cereals, non-fat yogurt, and bread.
  • Whole barley or buckwheat: Like the bran from oats and rice, barley reduces cholesterol, particularly when it is used as a substitute for wheat products. Barley can easily substitute for wheat in the form of barley noodles, barley flour, or whole pearl barley.
  • Plain old-fashioned oatmeal or steel-cut oats
  • Brown rice
  • Garlic: Less than half a clove (900mg) of raw garlic a day can lower cholesterol. Raw garlic is best and can be added to olive oil salad dressings, or as a garnish on soups and sandwiches.
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Broccolli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Raspberries, blackberries
  • Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds (Since these are calorically dense, eat no more than 1/4-1/2 cup at a time. Add them to baked goods, cooked whole grains, cottage cheese, yogurt, and hot cereals like oatmeal)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Soybeans and soy products
  • Low-fat or non-fat yogurt with live active cultures
  • Green tea (without sugar)
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: Substituting saturated animal fats and other high cholesterol foods with healthier fats like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts and seeds, olives, and avocados can help you reduce your LDL cholesterol.
  • 100% grape juice
  • 100% cranberry juice
  • 100% pomegranate Juice

Foods to avoid (or limit) if you already have high cholesterol or want to keep it relatively low: 

  • Foods with tropical oils such as coconut, palm, or palm kernel
  • Foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and/or trans fats
  • Butter, lard, shortening: Common in cakes, cookies, breads, pre-packaged vegetables with sauce included, etc. [100 grams of butter contains 215mg (72% DV) of cholesterol; one stick contains 243mg (81% DV) cholesterol, and one tablespoon contains 30mg (10% DV)]
  • Fatty red meats, pork, veal
  • Organ meats (brain, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, etc.)
  • Pate, Foie gras
  • Bacon
  • Most fast food meals: Fast food biscuits, breakfasts, burgers, and sandwiches are packed with cholesterol. A ham, egg, and cheese biscuit will provide 172mg (57% DV) per 100g serving, or 246mg (82% DV) of cholesterol per biscuit. An egg and sausage biscuit has even more with 261mg (87% DV).
  • Cheese: Port de Salut contains the most cholesterol with 123mg (41% DV) per 100 gram serving. That is 21mg (7% DV) per one inch cube. Other cheeses high in cholesterol include: Fontina (39% DV), Gouda (38%), Cream Cheese (37% DV), Gruyere (37%), and Cheddar (35% DV).
  • Whole milk, milk products that contain more than 1% milkfat, cream, half-and-half, heavy whipping cream
  • Whole milk yogurt, cheeses, and ice cream
  • Egg yolks: The yolks of eggs have the most cholesterol of any food with 1234mg per 100 gram serving or 411% of the DV. A single egg yolk will provide 210mg (70% DV) of cholesterol, while a whole egg provides slightly more with 212mg (71% DV). Thus all the cholesterol in eggs is found in their yolks.
  • Cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, mousse, soufflees, etc.
  • Pastries (Cream puffs, croissants, eclairs, danish, etc.)
  • Muffins
  • Crab, lobster, shrimp, prawns, camarones, mussels, scallops, oysters, clams, squid (calamari), octopus
  • Fish roe (caviar)
  • Processed meats (Beef stick snacks, liverwurst, pepperoni, salami, sausage, lamb, duck): The amount of cholesterol in any processed meat depends on the cut used, and the amount of fat added during processing. Liver sausage and bratwurst will contain around 158mg (50% DV) of cholesterol per 100 gram serving. That is 63mg (21% DV) per link. In terms of meats, lamb and duck will contain the most cholesterol all things being equal.
  • Chicken skin
  • Fried foods
  • Oil-packed fish: Although generally good for your heart, the oil of certain fish, and some oil-packed fish may contain quite a bit of cholesterol. Oil-packed Atlantic Sardines carry 142mg (47% DV) of cholesterol per 100g. That is 131mg (44% DV) per can, and 17mg (6% DV) in a single sardine.

In many cases, substitutions can help reduce the cholesterol content in a meal. For example, using non-fat or low-fat milk, cottage cheese, and low-fat cheese, instead of whole milk, butter, and regular cheese for a macaroni and cheese dish can cut the cholesterol of your recipe in half.

Cholesterol levels may vary greatly between food products. Always read nutrition labels for the exact amount of cholesterol in each individual product.

Cholesterol also varies greatly between cuts of meat. Ask for low-fat lean cuts which will greatly reduce the amount of cholesterol. For chicken and turkey, white meat has less cholesterol and fat than dark cuts such as the leg and thigh.

Low-fat cooking techniques:

  • Grilling
  • Broiling
  • Baking
  • Roasting
  • Steaming
  • Cook food without butter in a good-quality nonstick pan, or use some olive oil, low-sodium broth, or water, to reduce sticking in a stainless steel pan.

Have your cholesterol checked once every five years:

Regardless of whether you have high cholesterol, have your cholesterol checked once every five years. People with higher cholesterol levels may need to have their levels checked more often. The same is true for individuals who have certain risk factors for heart disease such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or a family history of heart disease.

If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked for some time, be sure to ask your doctor for a blood test called a lipid profile, a simple blood sample taken from the finger or arm to determine your cholesterol levels.

Can damage to arteries be reversed?

It takes years for high cholesterol to clog arteries with plaque. But there is evidence that atherosclerosis can be reversed, at least to some degree. Dean Ornish, MD, has published several studies showing that a low-fat vegetarian diet,  stress management, and moderate exercise can help reduce the build-up inside the coronary arteries. Other research supports the idea that big drops in cholesterol can somewhat help open clogged arteries.

Two ways to reduce cholesterol oxidation:

Have as little cholesterol circulating in your blood as possible. After all, if cholesterol particles are not there, they cannot oxidize. A plant-based diet is the surest path to a low cholesterol.

Consume such an abundance of antioxidants that cholesterol oxidation is inhibited. Again, a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains comes to the rescue.

* Fats are an extremely concentrated form of energy, providing more calories per gram (9 calories per gram) than do carbohydrates (4 cal./g) and protein (4 cal./g) combined. Digestion breaks fats down into fatty acids, which can be stored in muscle and other body tissues. There is no limit to how much fat your body can store!

References:

  1. (Source: http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-which-lower-cholesterol.php#6T4s1DS8Rodtc8qr.99)         
  2. Neal Barnard, M.D., Washington. “Plants to the Rescue.” Science Times (Letters to the Editor): The New York Times. Page D6. 12/24/13.

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Quick Tips to Improve Your Health

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

 

  1. Become more physically active and include safe, moderate exercise in your schedule more oftenRegular, moderate exercise, including aerobics, increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, improves concentration and muscle mass, and can help reduce your weight, blood pressure, and levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and cortisol stress hormone. Moderate exercise may also reduce build-up inside coronary arteries and thereby improve blood flow. Choose a safe activity that boosts your heart rate, such as walking briskly, dancing, swimming, gardening, using stairs instead of an elevator, hiking, biking, or running. Aim for at least 30 minutes, or two 15-minute sessions if that is easier to schedule, on most days of the week.
  2. Eat foods that promote good health and are in season: Eat to live! Don’t just live to eat.
  3. Eat more whole plant foods like fruits, cruciferous, leafy green, and root vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
  4. Choose organic foods, preferably labeled “U.S.D.A. organic,” when possible to reduce your exposure to fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals.
  5. Eat sustainable fish (wild Alaskan salmon, wild Pacific cod, USA tilapia, Arctic char) or other seafood low in contaminants twice a week.
  6. Avoid unhealthy fats (saturated animal fats, trans fats, butter, cream, ice cream, icings, pastries, shortenings, etc.) and choose healthy monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado.
  7. Avoid foods which contain genetically modified (GMO’s) ingredients whenever possible like corn, soybeans, wheat. Many animal studies show toxicity that predicts serious medical consequences in humans from long term exposure. Genetically modified crops have produced no significant increases in yield, raised the use of herbicides tenfold, and resulted in no social or economic benefit, except for the reduction of factory farm labor costs. Notify your grocer, state representatives, congressmen, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that you want foods containing GMOs to be labeled as such.
  8. Check expiration dates when you shop, as well as, after food has been stored at home: Try to use a food item as soon as possible after purchasing for the best nutrition value. The longer food sits on a grocery store shelf or in your pantry or refrigerator (ex., fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy products like, milk, kefir, yogurt) the more nutrients deteriorate and the fewer nutrients will be left when you do eat the food.
  9. Limit processed food, including cold cuts: Look for whole foods in ingredient lists. If an ingredient sounds unnatural, beware. Processed foods tend to be high in salt, sugar, starches, unhealthy fats, preservatives (nitrate, nitrite, sodium benzoate, sulfites, etc.), and often, empty calories.
  10. Minimize or avoid sodium (salt): Americans regularly eat much more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg, mostly in processed foods and restaurant meals. The recommended daily limit is even lower at 1,500 mg if you are 51 years or older, African American, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Cook from scratch as much as possible, and use fresh or dried herbs, unsalted spices, citrus juice, and/or vinegar to add flavor to food.
  11. Limit or avoid foods with sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and other chemicals. 
  12. Eat less meat: While meat offers protein, iron, and vitamin B12, it is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Use a small amount to flavor largely plant-based dishes, vegetable soups, whole-grain pasta and stir-fried dishes.
  13. Eat more vegetables: High in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, other phytonutrients, and low in calories, fat, and cholesterol. When dining out, begin your meal with salad or order a vegetarian entree.
  14. Choose whole grains: Replace refined grains with whole grains to obtain beneficial nutrients in the bran and germ (ex., Barley, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, kamut, quinoa, whole wheatberries, etc.) Whole grains provide fiber which helps you to feel fuller on fewer calories, essential nutrients and healthy fats, promote regularity, and can help you slim down.
  15. Drink more water to help wash down your whole grains, fill you up so you don’t overeat, promote better blood flow and regularity.
  16. Eat out less often and prepare more meals at home.
  17. Stop smoking and avoid smoke-filled environments: Smoking lowers good cholesterol (HDL) levels in your bloodstream. Quitting smoking can increase HDL by 10-20%, according to the American Heart Association. In contrast to HDL’s positive effects, bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein [LDL]), causes cellular damage to the interior of blood vessel walls and promotes the storage of cholesterol as plaque inside arteries. Exposure to smoke, whether by actively smoking or breathing secondhand smoke, enables LDL to bind more effectively to artery walls. Talk with your health care provider about a smoking cessation strategy which may be best for you.

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