Monday, September 28, 2009

My Superfoods

Organ Meat (especially liver)
Wheat Germ
Leafy Greens
Sunflower Seeds
Squash and Pumpkin (the fruit and seeds)
Rice Bran
Wild Game Meat

I have been on a prenatal vitamin for nearly three years now, but am unable to take most prescription strength types because they contain either soy or a stool softener that can upset my Crohn's Disease. I have found a few OTC vitamins that seemed to work well in the past, but lately they have been upsetting my stomach.

Because of this, I decided to start researching what exactly these vitamins contain. I discovered that most of the brands you find on the store shelves are synthetic - vitamins created in a laboratory from coal tar derivatives, which are not absorbed by your body in the same way as vitamins from natural plants and other materials. Even when the vitamins say they are coming from natural sources, we don't know exactly what that means. For example - Vitamin E often comes from soybean oil (most likely genetically modified at that).

So, I've made a decision to stop taking vitamins and to focus more on getting my vitamins from the food I eat. This decision lead me to NutritionData, a website that allows you to search for foods that contain high levels of certain vitamins and minerals. From the lists they provided, I weeded out the processed and enriched foods to find the raw foods containing the highest levels.

While looking at the lists I created, I noticed that many of the same foods were appearing over and over again. Organ meat (especially liver) was found on 46% of the lists. Leafy greens (especially spinach) and wheat germ were on 36%, while sunflower seeds and mollusks were on 32%. Squash and pumpkin seeds were on 27% and the following foods were on 18% of the lists - rice bran, wild game meat, eggs, lentils, and nuts.

So I am now considering these foods my "superfoods" and am going to make an effort to include them in my diet as much as possible. I've always known that I need to eat these foods, but never really knew why until now.

Here are the specific lists:

Foods high in Vitamin A -Leafy greens, Carrots, animal liver, Broccoli, Asparagus, Cabbage, prunes, Okra, Leeks, Kiwi. Full list found here.

Foods high in Vitamin B6 - hot peppers, Paprika, Summer squash/zucchini, Watercress, Bell peppers, Turnip greens, Bamboo shoots, Spinach, Okra, Garlic. Full list found here.

Foods high in vitamin B12- Mollusks, Animal liver, Crustaceans, Animal heart, Fish, Wild game meat, Eggs, Milk, Beef, Poultry. Full list found here.

Foods high in Vitamin C - Bell peppers, guavas, Currants, Hot peppers, Orange peel/oranges, leafy greens, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, Papaya, lemons. Full list found here.

Foods high in Vitamin D - Cod liver oil, Fish, Oysters, Eggs, Cheese, Milk, Mushrooms, Clams. Full list found here.

Foods high in Vitamin E - Wheat germ oil, Hazelnut oil, Almond oil, Sunflower seeds, Paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder, grapeseed oil, Almonds, Flaxseed oil. Full list found here.

Foods high in Vitamin K - Kale, Swiss chard, Dandelion greens, Collard greens. Full list found here.

Foods high in folate - Yeast, Animal liver, Beans (mothbeans, chickpeas, cowpeas, mung beans, etc.), lentils, Giblets, Wheat germ, Peanuts, Sunflower seeds, Spinach. Full list found here.

Foods high in calcium - Whey, Milk, Cheese, Seaweed, agave, Grape leaves, Flaxseed, Leafy greens. Full list found here.

Foods high in iron - Whale/seal/walrus meat, Animal spleen, Animal liver, Seaweed, Clams, Yeast, Pumpkin/squash seeds, Sesame seeds, Bell peppers. Full list found here.

Foods high in magnesium - rice bran, Seaweed, Wheat bran, Pumpkin/squash seeds, Flaxseed, Brazilnuts, Sesame seeds, Beans (yardlong, cowpeas, hyacinth, etc.), Sunflower seeds. Full list found here.

Foods high in zinc - Oysters, Wheat germ, Agave, Animal liver, Pumpkin and squash seeds, Beef, Wild game meat (bear, caribou, bison, elk), Lamb, whale. Full list found here.

Foods high in potassium - Palm hearts, Beans (white, lima, black, etc.), Molasses, Wheat bran, Nuts (pistachio, ginkgo, chestnuts, etc.), Lentils, Arrowhead, Wheat germ, Sunflower seeds. Full list found here.

Foods high in phosphorus - Rice bran, Smelt, Seeds (pumpkin, squash, sunflower, etc.), Wheat bran, wheat germ, Cheese (Parmesan, goat, gruyere, swiss, etc.), Cashews, Oats, Walnuts, durum wheat. Full list found here.

Foods high in copper - Animal liver, Oysters, Seaweed, Dried shiitake mushrooms, Sesame seeds, Nuts (cashews, brazilnuts, walnuts, etc.), Lobster, Sunflower seeds, Lentils. Full list found here.

Foods high in manganese - Rice bran, Wheat germ, Nuts (hazelnuts, pine nuts, etc.), Oats, Mussels, Maple syrup, Bulgur, Spelt, Grape leaves. Full list found here.

Foods high in selenium - Nuts, Mollusks, Animal kidneys, Animal giblets, Durum wheat, Sunflower seeds, Wheat germ, Kamut, Animal liver, Fish . Full list found here.

Foods high in choline - Egg, Organ meat, Whey, Beef, Game meat, Pork, Veal, Animal fat, Milk, Beef stock/broth. Full list found here.

Foods high in beta carotene - Grape leaves, Carrots, sweet potatoes, Leafy greens, pumpkin, Squash, Cabbage, Plums, Peas, apricots. Full list found here.

Foods high in lycopene - Tomatoes, Watermelon, Grapefruit, Asparagus, Red cabbage, Carrots, Chicken liver. Full list found here.

Foods high in Betaine - Quinoa, Spinach, Beets, Kamut, Bulgur, Amaranth, Tilapia, Oat bran, Beef, Game meat. Full list found here.

Foods high in Pantothenic Acid - Rice bran, Organ meat, Whey, Egg, Shiitake mushrooms, Wheat germ, Lentils, Peanuts, Cheese. Full list found here.


Note - on NutritionData, I used the Nutrient Search Tool and sorted for foods highest in a particular vitamin or mineral based on levels per 100-gram serving.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Deciphering Food Labels

Over the past few years it seems like the labeling of "natural" foods has gotten more and more confusing. As it has become cool to be "green", corporations are spending more and more money marketing their products as "green" and "pure", when in reality there is nothing natural about the products.
The words "organic" and "natural" as they apply to food have basically become a joke. There is little regulation by the FDA concerning the labeling and evaluation of products and many laws exist that prohibit truthful labeling by farmers.
My intent in this post is to break down some of the common food labels so that you can make better, more informed decisions at the grocery store, and not fall prey to this marketing game.
Natural/All-Natural - According to the USDA, this means that the item does not contain synthetic or artificial ingredients/preservatives and is minimally processed. There is no regulation concerning the use of antibiotics, hormones, and chemicals. There isn't a certification process for labeling, so essentially this label means nothing and the FDA currently does not have plans to establish a clear definition or monitor the usage of these terms in food labeling.

Organic - There are four separate categories in organic food labeling:
  • 100% Organic - refers to single ingredient foods, like produce and dairy products. May bear the USDA seal.
  • Organic - refers to foods containing more than one ingredient. 95-100% of those ingredients must be organic. May bear the USDA seal.
  • Made with organic ingredients - refers to foods containing more than one ingredient. 70% of those ingredients must be organic. May not bear the USDA seal.
  • Contains organic ingredients - Foods with less than 70% organic ingredients. May not bear the USDA seal.

Look for this seal on "100% Organic" and "Organic" foods:

Grass-Fed - This label means the animal was raised primarily on a pasture. There is no regulation concerning where and how long they are allowed to graze.

Eggs - The labels on eggs bought in the grocery store can be very confusing, because there are so many words used to describe the living conditions of the birds, as well as their diets.
  • Certified Organic - The chickens are required to have outdoor access, but there is no regulation concerning the length of time and conditions. The birds must be fed a vegetarian diet, without pesticides and hormones. A third party verifies compliance.
  • Free Range - This usually means the birds are kept in a barn or warehouse uncaged and have some outdoor access. This label tells you nothing about the diet of the bird. There is no USDA standard, therefore a third party does not verify compliance.
  • Cage-Free/Free-Roaming - The same as free range, except the chickens usually do not have outdoor access.
  • Vegetarian-Fed - The chickens are fed a vegetarian diet, not necessarily organic. There are no restrictions on the living conditions of the bird.
  • Natural - Essentially, this means nothing.
  • Fertile - The hens lived with roosters. This label tells you nothing about the diet of the birds.
  • Omega-3 Enriched - The birds are fed a diet enriched with things like flaxseed and algae.
Non-GMO - Non-organic food products are not required to be labeled as made with genetically modified ingredients in the United States. In Europe, Australia and Asia, there are restrictions on labeling and some countries have gone so far as to prohibit the sale of GMO foods. There are no set standards for labeling and auditing products that contain the words non-GMO in the United States at this time.

  • rbGH-free - Milk that does not contain the recombinant bovine growth hormone. In Ohio it is illegal to label milk as "rbGH-free". It must instead be labeled "from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones" and must also contain a disclaimer stating that milk from cows injected with hormones is the same as milk without the hormones, even though it is not true.
  • Pasteurized - This means the milk is heated to kill all bacteria.
  • Ultra-pasteurized - The milk was heated to 280 degrees Fahrenheit for several seconds.
  • Homogenized - Milk that has gone through a process to keep the fat from separating.
  • Raw - Milk that is neither pasteurized nor homogenized.
  • Stickers beginning with the numbers 3 and 4 - conventional produce. This is produce that is grown using pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals.
  • Stickers beginning with the number 8 - genetically modified produce.
  • Stickers beginning with the number 9 - organic produce. This does not mean the produce is 100% free of pesticide residue, but does mean that the levels are significantly lower than conventional produce.
What does all of this mean to my family?
We try to purchase most of our produce, meat, milk and eggs from local farmers, so we know for a fact where it is coming from, the living conditions of any animals, the diets of the animals, and whether or not the food it truly organic. It seems to be the only way you can really know for sure, since food labeling can be very deceptive.
When shopping at the grocery store I tend to ignore all labels and focus more on the ingredients. If I pick up a processed food that says "organic", I know that up to 5% of the ingredients can be non-organic. You can usually spot them, as they are labeled as "natural flavors" or something similar. Those natural ingredients can be anything from MSG to GMO-soy, so I try to avoid products that contain them. I buy products that contain ingredients I can pronounce and that I know are good for me.
I also pay attention to the labelling of non-organic products. For example, most brands of organic milk are ultra-pasteurized. I refuse to drink ultra-pasteurized milk and usually drink raw milk from a friend's cow. But when we run out of raw milk and need something in a pinch, the milk from a local dairy farm that our grocery store sells is simply pasteurized, and the label also says that it does not contain any antibiotics or hormones. So, I prefer to purchase the non-organic milk (which also costs half as much as the organic).
The point is - read your labels. Don't just trust the front of a box or a TV commercial to tell you whether or not a product is good for you. Read the ingredients and research the companies from which you buy your food.


"A Brief Guide to Egg Carton Labels and Their Relevance to Animal Welfare ." The Humane Society of the United States. Web. 20 Sept. 2009.
"Food labels what do the numbers mean? Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients Find Articles at BNET." Find Articles at BNET News Articles, Magazine Back Issues & Reference Articles on All Topics. Web. 20 Sept. 2009.

"Organic Food Labels: What does it all mean?" Blogs. Web. 20 Sept. 2009.
"What do food labels really mean? GreenCityBlueLake." GreenCityBlueLake Advancing sustainability in Northeast Ohio. Web. 20 Sept. 2009.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Dangers of Rice Milk and Rice Cereal

I wrote recently about our switch to hemp milk as a cows' milk alternative for Gabriel. Because hemp milk is hard to find where I live, we have still been giving him rice milk every now and then. Today I learned a startling fact about rice milk and will no longer be feeding it to anyone in my family.

Studies were done in early 2009 by the European Food Standards Agency on 60 samples of different rice beverages. Since this study came out stores in countries across the UK and even China have stopped selling many rice beverages and rice cereals marketed toward babies and small children.

Arsenic is found in many foods in both organic and inorganic forms. Obviously, the organic form is not as harmful, however, long term exposure to the inorganic form (often used as a pesticide) is proven to be a carcinogen. For some reason rice tends to contain higher levels of the inorganic form than many other foods.

Even the organic brands of rice milk contain high levels of arsenic in this study.

Conclusion of the study:

Daily consumption of rice drinks in quantities similar to the average consumption of cows’ milk (one glass, approximately 200 millilitres by adults or half a pint, approximately 280 millilitres by a toddler/young child) would lead to an additional daily dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic. This increase is minor for adults and young persons and they do not need to change their diet. This increase in the intake of inorganic arsenic could be up to four fold for toddlers and young children (ages 1- 4.5 years) if rice drinks are consumed instead of breast milk, infant formula or cows’ milk. Therefore the Agency advises against the substitution of breast milk, infant formula or cows’ milk by rice drinks for toddlers and young children. All other consumers do not need to change their diet. Parents of toddlers and young children who are currently consuming rice drinks because they are allergic to or intolerant of cows’ milk are advised to consult their health professional or dietician about suitable alternatives to cows’ milk.

You can read the complete study here.



Arsenic in Rice Drinks. European Food Standards Agency. Web. 10 Sept. 2009.

Urban Homesteading

My aunt recently sent me this link to this wonderful video about an urban homestead, showing how one family was able to create their own little family farm in the middle of a concrete jungle.