To Buy Organic Or Not To – That Is The Question

Many people struggle with this question.  The case for buying Organic vegetables and fruits is that they are pesticide and GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) free. Why should we care about pesticides and GMO?  In his post titled How to Find the Healthiest Fare in Meat and Produce Aisles, Dr Mercola succinctly answers this question:

“Research has shown that pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are neurotoxins and can cause disruptions to your neurological system and your brain. The reason why neurotoxins still enjoy widespread use on our fresh food supply is really more about the bottom line for farming operations than it is about the science of human health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic. All of these toxins are permitted on conventional farms, and any number of them can end up on your plate when you purchase conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.

The increased use of genetically engineered Bt hybrid plants and soil insecticides also increases the chemical load in food — particularly processed foods.

These man-made neurotoxic chemicals can bioaccumulate in your body, as they resist breaking down in water and also accumulate and store in fat, where they can remain for long periods of time.

In short, this means your body has a very hard time getting rid of them once they enter your body.”

The case against buying organic is:

  • it is darn expensive (compared to conventional produce) and
  • some research, although controversial, shows that organic food is not any more nutritious than conventionally grown foods. A team of Stanford researchers concluded in an article in Annals of Internal Medicine  that:

“Published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. (Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria)”

A Happy Medium

Let’s face it, life is all about compromises.  And Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides us with a compromise for Organic vs. Conventional in their 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™.  According to this study:

“The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides™ to reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ will help you determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic. You can lower your pesticide intake by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and choosing the least contaminated produce.”

12 Most Contaminated Fruits And Vegetables

Here are the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables per EWG that you are better off buying Organic:
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Hot peppers
  7. Nectarines – imported
  8. Peaches
  9. Potatoes
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet bell peppers
  13. Kale / collard greens
  14. Summer squash

15 Least Contaminated Fruits And Vegetables

EWG also provides a list of 15 least contaminated produce:
  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Sweet Corn
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangos
  10. Mushrooms
  11. Onions
  12. Papayas
  13. Pineapples
  14. Sweet peas – frozen
  15. Sweet potatoes

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How Phytonutrients Help Build A Strong Immune System

phytonutrients help fight disease

Source: mattmangum

In my prior post about living longer by eating the right foods, I quoted:

“Natural foods are better than supplements because there are hundreds of phytonutrients in vegetables and fruits that companies and scientists haven’t discovered yet”

In this post I’ll peel the onion on why should we care about phytonutrients.

What are phytonutrients?

“Phyto” in Greek means plant.  Plants produce more than 25,000  organic compounds and chemicals called phytonutrients.  Their role is to protect plants from bugs, viruses, bacteria and other threats.  And they can help the human body as well.

Phytonutrients, unlike vitamins and minerals found in plant foods, are not needed to keep you alive.  However, they will help you build a strong immune system and prevent diseases.

How phytonutrients help build strong immune system?

According to USDA, phytonutrients:

  • serve as antioxidants
  • enhance immune response
  • enhance cell-to-cell communication
  • alter estrogen metabolism
  • convert to vitamin A 
  • cause cancer cells to die 
  • repair DNA damage caused by smoking and other toxic exposures
  • detoxify carcinogens 

What are some good sources of phytonutrients?

Top fruits include:  

  1. Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries
  2. Coconuts 
  3. Avocados 
  4. Watermelon
  5. Mangos
  6. Papaya 
  7. Pineapple 
  8. Kiwi 

Top vegetables include:

  1. Dark greens like spinach and kale
  2. Broccoli
  3. Brussels sprouts
  4. Beets
  5. Tomatoes
  6. Red pepper

Eat many colors

FInally, with phytonutrients, variety is key.  Try to eat 5 to 7 colored foods a day.  The darker and brighter the color, the healthier the fruit or vegetable is for you.


Would You Like To Live Longer?

Live Longer, healthy eating

Source: Marg

Recently KQED radio ran a ‘must listen’ 52 min interview titled How To Eat For A Longer Life with:

– two scientists from Buck Institute for Research on Aging and

– the author of “The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying, Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods

You can download the mp3 file of this show here.

Key highlights of this discussion include:

1. Timestamp 04:30 – Cheating Death By Eating Less: Diet restriction can extend life by couple of decades; When you eat less you get limited nutrients and consequently your body learns to adapt to this deficiency by developing stronger immune system.

2. Timestamp 05:40 – Opposite Of Atkins Diet Extends Life: Although high protein diets have short term benefits, low protein diets are far better in long run.

3. Timestamp 8:50 – Super 16 Foods: Foods like Asparagus, Coffee, Dark Chocolate, Avocado, Basil, Mint, Blue & Dark Berries, Kale, Olive Oil, Sweet Potatoes and Wild Salmon build immunity, lower cholesterol, enhance memory, strengthen heart and reduce chances of developing diabetes.

4. Timestamp 22:10 – DESS: Diet, Exercise, Sleep, Stress Reduction are critical for optimal health.

5. Timestamp 25:40 – Eat Food From Plants, Not Food Made In Plants: Natural foods are better than supplements because there are hundreds of phytonutrients in vegetables and fruits that companies and scientists haven’t discovered yet.

6. Timestamp 28:25 – Cooked vs. Raw foods: Phytonutrients in vegetables like Kale and Broccoli are more bioavailable to our body when they are cooked lightly, so cooking is not harmful.

7. Timestamp 34:30 – Multiple Small vs. Few Larger Meals: Following Circadian Rythms i.e. keeping a routine is more important than number of meals; Breakfast is most important meal of the day; Also avoid eating at least 3 hours before going to bed.

8. Timestamp 47:00 – Impact of GMO Foods: Try to limit GMO foods as they have an effect on Gluten and Gliadin; GMO foods are partly responsible for the rise in Gluten allergies.

Great advice to not only help you live longer, but also significantly improve your health.

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kids meals, tips to influence kids, NPR

Source: Kajsa


NPR recently ran a great little report titled: Selling Kids On Veggies When Rules Like ‘Clean Your Plate’ Fail.


–   Threats like “clean your plate” and  “no second helpings of potatoes” don’t work on kids

–   Why?  When you demand children eat vegetables before they have a dessert, it makes it seem like there’s something wrong with eating vegetables

–   Creative negotiation is a better option

–   Tips include:

1.    On a “Try It Tuesday”, parents, along with their children, pick out a new food to sample

2.   Involve the kids in preparing meals

3.  Try “no-thank-you bites” where the child just has to try one bite.  If she doesn’t like it, she can say “no thank you” to more


What Is The Best Way To Lose Weight?

“The Best Diet Is The One You Don’t Know You’re On ” – Brian Wansink, Mindless Eating

Did you ever try to lose weight? The most common practice to shed a few (or more) pounds is to go on a diet.  How successful is this strategy?  Some studies suggest that as many as 95% of people who lose weight by dieting gain it back in 5 years.   Other studies put this number at around 65%. But no one debates that a majority of people do gain back their weight after dieting.

Why Don’t Diets Have Long Lasting Impact?

In his book Mindless Eating – which  is my favorite book on understanding how we consume food – Brian Wansink says that most dieters are trying to lose weight as fast as possible and therefore use food deprivation as a technique for weight loss. When you suddenly deprive your body of say 500 – 1,000 fewer calories per day , your body is continually looking for those lost calories. And  slowly but surely it finds a way to get those calories back.

What Is The Best Way To Lose Weight?

Again, in Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink shares a story about his colleague:
One collegue of mine, Cindy, had lost around 20 pounds during her first 2 years at a new job. When I asked how she lost the weight, she couldn’t really answer.  Afte some persistent questioning, it seemed that the only deliberate change she’d made two years earlier was to give up caffeine.  She switched from coffee to herbal tea. That didn’t seem to explain anything.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “and because I gave up caffeine, I also stopped drinking Coke.”  She had been drinking about six cans a week – far from a serious habit – but the 139 calories in each Coke translated into 12 pounds a year. She wasn’t even aware of why she’d lost weight.  In her mind all she’d done was cut out caffeine.
In a classic article in Science, Drs. James O. Hill and John C. Peters suggested that cutting only 100 calories a day from our diets would prevent weight gain in most of the U.S. population.

How Much Weight Will You Lose?

When you cut around 100 calories per day, your body barely notices the difference, and you end up losing weight over a period of time.  Brian Wansink calls this slight drop in daily calories the Mindless Margin. He suggests that a simple way to estimate how much weight you would lose is to divide the calories of the things you give up by 10.  So for example giving up one 140 calorie soft drink each day equates losing 14pounds per year. [click to continue…]


Healthy Dishes, Eat Out, Take Out, HealthyDiningFinder, Healthy Restaurants

We recently stumbled upon Healthy Dining Finder.  It is a great tool to find healthy options when eating out or getting take out.  Their team of registered dietitians and nutrition experts review restaurant menus to review and analyze calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium and other nutrients of restaurant dishes.  How does it work? Simply enter your zip code and this website lists restaurants by number of healthy dishes, price and distance.

What Qualifies As Healthy Dishes?

Healthy Dinner Finder lists the menu items of restaurants in three categories

1. Healthy Dining

  • Entrées are less than 750 calories, 25 grams of fat and 8 grams of saturated fat and include at least two of the following: Fruits and/or Vegetables, Lean Protein, Whole Grains and Lower-fat Dairy
  • Appetizers, side dishes and desserts are less than 250 calories, 8 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat
  • Deep fried items are excluded

2. Sodium Savvy

  • Entrées are less than 750 mg of sodium
  • Appetizers, Side Dishes and Desserts are less than 250 mg of sodium

3. Kids Live Well

  • Full Kids’ Meals (entrée, side option and beverage) are less than 600 calories and include at least two  of the following: Fruits and/or Vegetables, Lean Protein, Whole Grains and Lower-fat Dairy
  • Side Items  are less than 200 calories
  • All items  have less than 35% of calories from fat and less than 35% of calories from sugars
  • Deep fried items are excluded

If you try it, let me know what you think.


Reduce Food Waste, Sell By. Use By and Best Before dates

As I touched upon in my blog about meal planning, we are simply wasting a ton of food.  According to a report published by NRDC:

“American families throw out approximately 25% of  the food and beverages they buy.  The cost estimate for  the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually.”

% of Food Wasted by Consumers by Category

Food waste, Grain, Seafood, Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Milk

Source: NRDC

Of the food wasted, Seafood seems to be getting trashed at the highest rate and Meat at the lowest.

Three Tips To Limit Food Waste

This past week ABC News ran an interesting 3 minute report about food waste.  They tracked the behavior of a family of four for one week by putting cameras in their grocery cart, kitchen, refrigerator and pantry.  They discovered that this family wastes about $2,300 worth of food each year.

In this report they recommend three tips to limit food waste:

1-  Learn the lingo: Sell by or Use by does not mean toss by, you can often eat it up to 7 days after these dates

2-  Plan your plate: Manage your meal and portion sizes

3-  Zone your fridge:  To extend the life of all dairy, liquids and eggs keep them in the lower section of the refrigerator because it is colder

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7 Meal Planning and Menu Mailer Services Compared

Meal Planning, Menu Mailer, eating healthy, Websites Compared

Picture: Meal Planning by Pennyshima

What do you do for Meal Planning?  How do you decide what to cook?  Do you first come up with a Meal Plan for the week and then create a Grocery List?  Or do you first shop for groceries by buying the ingredients that your family likes, and then cook based on what you have in your pantry and refrigerator?

If you’re like our family, my guess is you’re somewhere in between the two approaches.  Although you might plan in advance for cooking a few meals for the week and buy the ingredients required for those meals, when you are at the grocery store, you still end up buying other ingredients.

Outsource Meal Planning?

Figuring out what to cook on a weekly basis can be daunting.  One way to solve this problem is to subscribe to one of the meal planning and menu mailer services.  These services send you weekly Meal Plans and Grocery Shopping Lists.  They cost between $5 – $10 per month.  Given that on an average about 1/3rd of all groceries we buy go to waste, spending $5 – $10 per month on a meal planning service could end up being a smart financial decision.

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cheap eats, Zagat food Rating, google

Do you want to have your cake and eat it too?  Sure!  I’m always on the look out for good quality food at the lowest possible price.  Websites like Yelp and Urbanspoon are great resources to find cheap eats.  However, my new favorite is Zagat.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Zagat, it is a restaurant rating service.  Zagat uses a 30 point scale to rate restaurants (and other food establishments) on factors like Food, Decor, Service and Cost.  Late last year, Google bought Zagat.  Prior to Google’s acquisition you had to pay for Zagat’s ratings.  Google has made it FREE!!

Here is a video (and transcript) of how to use Zagat to, among other things, find good quality cheap eats in less than 5 minutes.

Here is a video and transcript of how to use Zagat to, among other things, find good quality cheap eats in less than 5 minutes.


Today I’m going to show you how to find good quality cheap eats in less than 5 minutes using Zagat.

Go to Zagat.com.  Sign in with your Google plus account.  If you don’t have a Google plus account, you can register here for free. [click to continue…]


7 Full Service Stores for Online Grocery Shopping

full service online grocery stores, benefits online grocery shoppingPicture: NYPL Digital Gallery

According to US Grocery Shopper Trends, we make an average of 2.2 trips per week to the grocery stores.  And according to The Time Use Institute, we spend 40 minutes per grocery store visit.  If you add commute time of say 20 minutes per trip, we are spending a little over 2 hours per week on buying groceries.  And, like me, if you shop for groceries with your children, I would add another 15 minutes per child!

Online Grocery Shopping Starting To Pick Up

One way to save time is to shop for groceries online.  According to US Grocery Shopper Trends, ‘at least occasionally’ 12% of us buy Groceries and Beverages online and 4% of us buy Fresh Foods and Produce online.  With more full service online options becoming available these trends are likely to grow.

Benefits Of Online Grocery Shopping

Again, according to the US Grocery Shopper Trends:

“Those consumers who are buying groceries online do so for several reasons; convenience of home shopping (57%) and home delivery (47%) being among the top three reasons. Value or lower prices (53%) is the third driver for online shopping. In a word, online shopping makes certain aspects of grocery shopping “easier.’ Consumers report that it’s “easier’ to find items (35%), read reviews (33%), compare prices (32%), and research products (28%).”

Full Service Online Grocery Stores

So if you want to shop online and save almost 2 hours per week, here are the full service online grocery stores that deliver perishable and non-perishable groceries.  Although there are several stores that sell dry groceries online, only full service stores act as a one-stop-shop  able to meet all of your grocery needs including fresh produce, dairy and meats.

Let me know if you know of another option near you that is not listed above!


food pyramid, food plate, dietary advice

Picture: Feelix

Since 1916, USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center) has been recommending dietary goals for the American people.  The most recent set of recommendations were released by the USDA in 2011.  However, USDA is not the only agency recommending dietary guidelines.  There are several other agencies and companies within and outside the US that make dietary recommendations.  These alternative guidelines can be very useful if you are considering trying non-American diets.

Here is a list of dietary guidelines starting with USDA’s recommendations.

1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 – USDA

choose my plate, dietary guidelines, food plate, USDA

Key recommendations include:  

″-  Control total calorie intake to manage body weight

 –  Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages

  –  Increase physical activity and reduce time spent in sedentary behaviors

  –  Maintain appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life″

  2. Healthy Eating Plate, 2011 – Harvard Medical School

healthy eating plate, harvard school of public health

Key recommendations include:

″-  Make half your meal vegetables and fruits; Go for variety

–  Choose whole grains whenever you can;  Limit refined grains like white rice and white bread, because the body rapidly turns them into blood sugar

–  Pick the healthiest sources of protein, such as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts; cut back on red meat; avoid bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats

–  Healthy oils (like olive and canola oil) are good for you

–  Drink water, tea, or coffee; Milk and dairy are not must-have foods—limit them to 1-2 servings/day; Go easy on juice and Avoid sugary drinks.

–  Stay active![click to continue…]


Introduction: Healthy Eating made Simple and Efficient

With the New Year around the corner healthy eating is going to be on most of our New Year’s resolution lists.  But how many of us will be successful at consistently eating healthy in 2013?

Eating healthy is challenging

Let’s face it,  the process of getting healthy meals on our plates is not always easy.   When we cook at home, we face two big issues:

1. Cooking is time-consuming

cooking time consuming

In order to cook at home we have to plan, buy groceries from one or more grocery stores, prep, and cook.  This process takes time.

2. Cooking healthy is a complicated equation

cooking complex equation

USDA’s Food Plate recommends that we eat within a certain caloric range and ensure that our diet includes a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, proteins, grains and dairy.  These recommendations by themselves can be very complicated to put into practice.  However when you add other factors such as personal preferences (tastes, likes, dislikes), diets (Atkins, vegetarian, vegan) and other considerations (price, brand, local/organic, etc.), you end up with a highly complicated problem.

Unhealthy eating can cause serious problems

families eat porly have health problems

Families – especially with children – are constantly strapped for time.  We simply don’t have a lot of time to plan and cook healthy meals.  And even if we do, we end up getting overwhelmed with managing the complexity of eating healthy.  As a result of this we don’t always make the best food decisions.

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