Go Green for Earth Month & Improve Your Diet at the Same Time

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You don’t have to run out and hug a tree or play hackie sack while barefoot in the park to celebrate Earth Month. Instead, Earth Day and Month were designed to designed to inspire awareness for our environment. What’s in it for you? A polluted environment leads to pollution in our food and water supply that ends up on our plates and in our bodies. And therefore, a healthier earth means a healthier you. You can do your part by recycling, disposing of hazardous wastes properly (so they don’t end up in the water you drink or on the plants you eat) and changing your diet by incorporating foods that are not only good for you but also use fewer environmental resources to produce and/or are produced in an earth-friendly manner. On a recent segment on WBAL NBC Baltimore MD, I shared the top 3 steps you can take right now to help protect the environment and improve your diet at the same time:

1) Choose green seafood – seafood that’s both good for you and good for the ocean.  The DC-based Environmental Working Group has a guide to seafood that is high in omega-3 fats and low in methylmercury. This is especially important for pregnant women and young children. Growing fetuses are exposed to methylmercury in the womb when their mom eats fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury. Methylmercury can harm a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Recent government data suggests an estimated 1.4 million women of reproductive age have blood mercury concentrations that may increase the risk of learning disabilities in their unborn children. Exposure to mercury is harmful to all people and may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. EWG top choices for lower mercury omega-3 rich seafood: wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, mussels and rainbow trout.

2 ) Go Meatless. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone go completely meatless (because animal based sources of protein are typically better for building and maintaining muscle) but, adding more plant based proteins or going completely meatless for 1 day a week has the environmental impact of taking your car off the road for 320 miles, according to the Environmental Working Group. How does this help your body? Plant based sources of protein are typically lower in calories yet they are packed with good nutrition including vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. How can you get enough protein – choose soy, beans, lentils and nuts. I often mix animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins at meals.

3) Cook with canned foods. Americans throw away approximately 15 to 20 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables they purchase every year. Stock up on canned foods because they help reduce food waste, saving us time and money, and reducing our impact on the environment. Canned food portion sizes are just right for both individuals and families, and most recipes are designed around these sizes. Plus, metal cans are endlessly recyclable and in fact, are the most recycled containers in America today, keeping metal out of landfills and saving significant energy. Looking for convenient, wallet-friendly sources of protein? Check out this resource (and easy recipes) Quality Protein – It’s in the Can – Fact Sheet 

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD is a proud Can-bassador – helping educate and communicate the benefits of cooking with canned foods.

 

 

Food Fraud: Is Your Food Adulterated?

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By: Gisselle Marie Rosa, UGA MS student & Dietetic Intern

As consumers, we put our trust in food companies to be honest about their food products. You go to the grocery store and spend and exorbitant amount on 100% pure Italian olive oil expecting that it comes from the finest olive crops in Italy. Yet that dark glass bottle with the scenic picture of an olive farm in Tuscany may contain olive oil mixed with lower quality vegetable oil. Then you see news reports bombarding the media about honey that is diluted with less expensive syrups and “wild” salmon that was actually farm-raised in another continent. It makes you wonder why food companies would risk lying to their consumers about the quality of the food they are selling and how you can avoid buying these products at all.

Food Adulteration for Economic Gain (Saving Cash)

Food fraud, or economically motivated adulteration, refers to defrauding buyers of food or ingredients for economic gain. There are generally three types of fraud: complete or partial replacement of a food or ingredient, the addition of a substance to mask the quality of the food product, and removal of a component of the food product. Unfortunately, no one really knows exactly how common these practices are. Most instances of food fraud do not pose a public health risk, so they are easy to get away with. There are some instances, however, where certain foods or ingredients are adulterated with potential allergens or toxic ingredients that could harm the consumer. Some examples are as benign as injecting shrimp with gelatin, while others are as dangerous as adding melamine to infant formula to make the protein content of the formula seem higher. The latter example led to thousands of infant illnesses and the death of 6 infants in China.

Unintentional Food Adulteration

However, not all cases of food adulteration are intentional. An example is selling bruised fruit, where mishandling could have led to decreased quality of the produce item and potential exposure to contamination.

It is pretty evident that food fraud can be deceiving and even dangerous. So how can you become a more informed consumer?

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) has an online database that provides food ingredient fraud reports. In this database, you can find past reports from the media and scientific journals about food fraud cases. Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture website  posts the most recent food recalls, many of which are due to food adulteration.

According to the Congressional Research Service, some of the most common food categories with reported cases of food fraud include: olive oil, fish and seafood, milk and milk-based products, honey, fruit juice, coffee and tea, spices, and organic foods. Curious to see how these foods have been adulterated in the past? If you are curious about food fraud, check out this Food fraud database.

Just remember: a smart consumer is a safe consumer. While there is no need to be skeptical about every food product you buy, it is important to understand that food fraud exists. So the next time you go to the store to buy fresh red snapper, make sure that the fish you are buying is authentic and not a cheaper, lower quality fish.

Resources:

Johnson, R. Food Fraud and “Economically Motivated Adulteration” of Food and Food Ingredients. Congressional Research Service 2014. Internet: https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43358.pdf

U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention. USP’s Food Fraud Database 2015. Internet: http://www.usp.org/food-ingredients/food-fraud-database

United States Department of Agriculture. Recalls and Public Health Alerts, 2014. Internet: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/