Category: Food & Health

Guest Article: Identifying Environmental Toxins In Your Home

If you’ve followed this blog at all you know I’ve posted a few articles about the green home my wife and I built and recently moved into. I’ve promised to post more about it, and will in time, but for now I’d like to share a guest piece about how green living in general is beneficial. This article is by recent college graduate and aspiring writer Krista Peterson, whose interests lie in health and environmental issues.

Identifying Environmental Toxins In Your Home
by Krista Peterson

Protecting our children from products that can potentially harm them is becoming more and more difficult in this day and age. With environmental toxins more present at every turn, keeping our eyes open for asbestos, BPA, and lead may secure the long term health of our children.

Mothers know better than most how to take care of their children. Unfortunately, even giving your baby a bottle can be dangerous. Bisphenol A, or BPA, has been used for over 40 years in the production of plastic products.  Its negative effects are most commonly spread to us and to our children by plastic coming into contact with our food and drink.  Plastic bottles, even baby bottles and cups, often contain BPA. New studies are showing that BPA may indeed harm adults and children. To avoid BPA and to prevent infants from ingesting too much of it, mothers are encourage to breastfeed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breastfeeding provides myriad health benefits for both the mother and the child. Not only are children who are breastfed less likely to become obese, breast milk provides all the nutrients an infant needs for development, antibodies which protect infants from common illnesses and allergies, and better long-term health. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancers and obesity for mothers. Mothers and fathers should also check for and throw away scratched or damaged baby cups and bottles.

In addition to guarding against BPA, parents should keep a careful eye out for asbestos. Asbestos is found in drywall and other building materials in homes, offices, and schools. Once disturbed, asbestos releases fibers into the air and children and adults that frequently breathe these invisible fibers in are at risk for a serious cancer called mesothelioma.   Symptoms generally don’t show themselves for 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos fibers.  Because of this lapse in time, diagnosis and treatment are often postponed until the cancer has spread. Mesothelioma life expectancy is extremely low, and preventing exposure to asbestos is the best way to keep your children healthy.

Finally, lead poisoning can have devastating effects on the health of your children. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning because they are more likely to put dust, dirt, paint, and old toys into their mouths. They are also less likely to wash their hands properly after playing in soil that contains lead. Lead poisoning symptoms include irritability, vomiting, loss of appetite, nausea, and behavioral inconsistencies.  Lead can also be found in drinking water and other household products. To protect your family form lead poisoning, have your home tested. If high lead levels are found, see a doctor about a lead blood test.

Environmental toxins like lead, asbestos, and BPA may threaten the long term health of you and your children, but prevention, information, and caution can reduce the risk of environmentally related illness.  If you observe mesothelioma or lead poisoning symptoms, even if they are noticed among neighbors or friends, see a doctor about screening and testing. Spread the news about how to protect our families.

Smoke-Free St. Charles County

One of the biggest fights in making the St. Louis region smoke-free is concensus from the three most populous counties on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. Anyone who’s following the movement to make our communities healthier knows that the state of Illinois has already made its communities smoke-free, and done so in commendable fashion. Missouri . . . not so much.

A smoke-free ordinance will go into effect in St. Louis City (its own county) come January 1, 2010 but the ordinance leaves much to the imagination as it makes exceptions for the worst offenders. While this change will be better than nothing, real change will not occur until St. Louis County enacts its own smoke-free ordinance. Certain municipalities within St. Louis County have already pass smoke-free legislation – hooray – but we’re talking low single-digits in a County that has 91 (ish) independent cities. St. Louis County’s argument has been that since it lies in between St. Louis City and St. Charles County, it’s needs both of the counties that sandwich it to be on board before it can pass anything meaninful. Well people, the time is nigh.

I received the email below this morning, and as you can see, it’s the beginning of the end for public smoking in St. Charles County. Obviously nothing has happened yet, but the fact that this topic is even being discussed at the County Council is real progress. I remember when these meetings first started in St. Louis City. Enough people got behind the movement to keep the momentum growing. Change happened. The City has shown it can happen, and so people in St. Charles County who care about good public health need to step and make themselve heard. If you live in this community, please go to these meetings and speak up.


Dear Smoke-Free Supporter,
As you may know, the St. Charles County Council is currently considering placing a smoke-free ordinance on the ballot. Supporters of smoke-free air must have a continual presence of different coalition members/supporters at the twice monthly County Council meetings.
We need YOU!
Please come to this coming Monday’s County Council meeting – Monday, April 26 – 7:00 PM.
at the Historic Courthouse
100 North Third Street
St. Charles, MO 63301
Phone 636-949-7530
Fax 636-949-7532
Smoke-Free St. Charles County coalition member Louise Cheli has offered to coordinate our efforts for the April 26 meeting. Her email is:
Our goals for these meetings are 1) to fill the room with supporters wearing BLUE and our blue smoke-free buttons, and 2) to consistently have the maximum number of speakers during the public comment section of the meeting. 
Any speaker suggestions from anyone? Smokefree restaurant owners? Be sure to let Louise know! Thanks!!!
Kay Young
Be there!

Twenty Four Thousand Pounds

National Novel Writing Month ends at midnight tonight and I’m at 26,392 words. If you recall, the goal is 50,000. Odds are that someone has written 24,000 words in one day but I can guarantee you that feat will not be reproduced by me. Alas, I have failed. But, the journey will continue. While I may not have met the 50,000 word goal in the 30 day time limit, I will continue until I reach 50,000 and beyond. My objective is to finish this book. It may suck but it will be complete in its suckitude! There’s also a small chance it doesn’t suck, which is my motivation for finishing what I started . . . and hopefully doing it again.

On a side note, a friend of mine who also embarked on this voyage met the 50,000 word goal yesterday. Congrats to the Purple Poet!

On a note that’s next to the side note, I don’t think it’s possible to actually lose weight during the Thanksgiving weekend. I ate fairly well and worked out.  I even went on a hike with my wife and dog on an unseasonably warm November day through a park I visited quite often as a teenager. Perhaps even water is caloric for those four days. Oh well. Back to the gym tonight to mitigant the leftover Indian food I had for lunch. What? Throwing away food is worse than eating off plan.

In other food related news, a coworker’s child decided over the weekend that she was going to become a vegetarian. Go her!

Acres of Garlic

My tummy is full of Thai goodness, though the affiliated garlic hasn’t left my mouth. Oh well, it’s really a problem for other people more than for me. I hit 15,000 words this morning before work. Yeah me, though I’m still behind.  The good folks at NaNoWriMo warned me the second week would be hard and they were not lying.

I received an email today from Acres U.S.A., a magazine dedicated to sustainable agriculture. I’m by no means even conversant in farming but I’m trying to learn more about it, with the intent of growing some of my own food some day and purchasing more sustainable and locally grown food from community support agriculture (CSA) organizations and farmers’ markets. This year’s annual conference is coming up for the group and the focus is “Finding Profit Through Biodiversity”. Suck on that Monsanto! I will not be attending but I’ve perused the conference site and learned a bit about what’s going to be discussed. The conference will be held December 3rd through 5th in St. Paul, MN, so if you’re interested in agriculture and can make it, go already. From the Acres website:

The Acres U.S.A. Conference is the premier event nationwide for commercial-scale sustainable and organic agriculture. Several hundred eco-minded individuals from around the world gather together to tap the knowledge of some of agriculture’s brightest minds.

Also from the site is a list of the main topics that will be discussed:

  • Pastured Pork Production
  • Organic Certification
  • Biodynamic (Demeter) Certification
  • Activism 101
  • Resources for Minnesota Sustainable Farmers
  • Raw Materials Economics
  • Raw Milk Production & Sales
  • Reams-Method Agronomy
  • Understanding Recent Food Safety Legislation

The event sounds like a good time but I have a day job. The irony is that my day job will actually be taking me to the Twin Cities soon after this conference. Oh well. On a side note, Reams-Method Agronomy is almost as innocently dirty as “tea cupping” . . . almost.

One Hundred One Hundreds and Tea

I busted through the 10,000 mark last night for NaNoWriMo with one arm at my side and the other pointed at the sky in a fist. Superman would have been proud. I made some progress toward 11,000 this morning before work as well. Not sure I’ll hit my 12,000 goal for today with a busy afternoon planned and poker on the agenda to cap the evening.

I also realized I never gave the reader(s?) a summary of the tea cupping I attended. Well, the wait is over. On the 28th of October my brother, his wife, my wife and I attended a “tea cupping” at The London Tea Room, which incidentally is in St. Louis, many many miles from London. The place is great and was opened by English immigrants to the States. Visit it often. The Veggie Sandwich is amazing, but I’d recommend only getting the half-sized portion.

Here’s what I learned about tea that night, in no particular order. Most tea, no matter the type, comes from the same plant. When it’s picked and how long it’s allowed to oxidize gives it different tastes, colors and health benefits. A few less common types of tea do come from a different species of plant. On to the line up – here’s what we sampled:

Black- The London Tea Room blend – black tea is heavily oxidized and this particular tea is a specially created blend for The London Tea Room. The tea was strong and very flavorful.

Green – Jasmine Dragon Tears – this tea is actually used to be made from tears collected from a dragon. Now it’s made from the same plant as black tea but is not oxidized. Instead, it is steamed immediately after picking. This variety had a pleasant aroma. It was much weaker than the black tea but still very good. The jasmine is a bit overwhelming to the palette if you’re not a big fan of floral accents.

Oolong- Iron Goddess of Mercy – this was my favorite tea we tasted. It’s slightly oxidized and had a very clean, pure taste. It tasted very “Asian”, was very smooth and virtually no fruitiness.

White – Plum Berry White – white tea comes from a much less common tea plant. It only grows at a particular elevation and is only picked a few days a year. It used to be reserved for royalty, and given its price, may still be. The tea plant smelled like hookah tobacco . It was aromatic and fruity. My sister-in-law commented on how it tasted like warm juice.

Rooibos- Blueberry Rooibos – rooibos tea comes from a different plant than the four teas discussed above. This variety was very berry-licious. Rooibos contains no caffeine and is apparently good for people with allergies. It’s also from South Africa, which is one of the few regions outside India and China that tea grows well.

Herbal / Tisane- Tangerine Ginger – so I have to admit I’ve felt duped. Apparently herbal “teas” are not teas at all, at least not in the traditional sense. Most herbal teas have no tea leaves in them, but are combinations of plants and herbs and additives that are used to flavor hot water. Since these beverages are made through steeping, they’ve been called teas. This particular “tea” was a little dry and had a strange aftertaste but was good. It probably would have been better iced, which a few people noted.

In addition to tasting the teas, the host gave us more history on the varieties and tea in general. A small plate with the loose tea for each one we tasted was passed around with each pouring so we could see it in its raw form and give it a good whiff. The entire experience only cost us $10, which was well worth it.

I doubt I’ll get a post written this weekend as I’ll be concentrating on NaNoWriMo. Hopefully I’ll come to you next week with news of my progress. Two hundred one hundreds here I come!

Big Food vs. Big Insurance

I know I’ve been quiet lately – duty calls. Regardless, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please read this editorial by Michael Pollan in The New York Times.

Big Food vs. Big Insurance

The piece offers an very easy to understand explanation of the true dilemma we face. Forward it to your friends. Forward it to your friends’ friends . . . and then to their relatives.

Have a good weekend.

Day 30 – Engine 2 Diet

I’m down five pounds in one month. That’s not terrible if I can keep it up. Of course my weight loss should have been greater but I went “off book” a bit too much and didn’t exercise nearly enough. My discipline is great at home and when I’m in my routine, but as soon as the circumstances changes, good bye will power!

The past five days I was out of town and while I didn’t eat terribly, I did violate enough of the Engine 2 Diet rules to be slightly ashamed of myself. Fret not though, I’m back on the wagon as of this morning.

I find it interesting that learning about and understanding the complexities of nutrition and how our bodies work are often easier than just not picking up a piece of cake and shoving it in your mouth. Why is that?

Well, the lifestyle change continues. I think Katie and I are taking to this pretty well, albeit a bit slowly. We are crazy cheese lovers, so cutting that out of our daily diets has been hard. I just hope I see results in the form of lowered cholesterol. Katie made a fresh batch of brown rice last night and we’re headed to the grocery store tonight. Go us.

The Future of Aging

I read an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today about aging called “How well you age can depend on you”. Really? I’m being sarcastic. Almost everyone wants to live longer than they’re going to and some people even want to live forever. That got me thinking.

I loosely follow the trials and tribulations of Ray Kurzweil, and now Dr. Terry Grossman. I’ve been reading Kurzweil’s website for years and have recently begun following the work he’s doing with Dr. Grossman.  You should read their bios if you’ve never heard of them. Kurzweil is the premiere technology futurist on earth. His accomplishments are astounding. How that relates to aging is that he wants to live forever, and is doing some seemingly extreme things to make that happen. I’m not going to get into specifics here but if you’re interested, check out the links I’ve provided in this post and others you may find on the Internets of the world.

The mystery of aging is that scientists don’t know why when our cells divide there is a degradation in quality of the split cells. The theory is that if we can reduce the harm done when cells divide we can increase our lifespans. One camp, including Kurzweil, thinks we can significantly increase our life spans . . . and possibly even live forever. Another camps sites that human lifespans have not changed over time. People can live up to 120 years, or so. Life expectancy has increased as we’ve discovered more about how we functions as organisms. So, can we find a way to pass that 120 year barrier permanently and never look back? I wish I had the answer.

The Post article references all that we can do to increase the probability of not only living longer, but living better. I think most people would agree that living ten more years isn’t worth it if we’re sick and broken and miserable.

Ray and the good doctor also have their own line of products – surprise, surprise – but their site also has a questionnaire that’s worth taking. Go here and scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the link. Another site I highly recommend is Real Age. It also has a questionnaire that’s worth taking.

Worker productivity increased at an impressive pace recently. Let’s the not set the bar too high. Take these quizzes right now, at work, and see what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong and what you can do to change your life for the better.

Avoiding Food Toxins

Here’s a list of 13 things you can do to make sure you minimize the amount of toxins entering your system. I’ve included the list here without any explanation of why each is important. Visit the original article for the full view.

  1. Stay away from processed meats like bacon, hot dogs, and sausage.
  2. Stick to low-mercury fish like American-farmed tilapia instead of swordfish or tuna.
  3. Reduce the amount of canned food you consume.
  4. Cut back on meat and dairy products.
  5. Skip the diet soda and artificial sweeteners.
  6. Choose the farmed fish carefully.
  7. Opt for organic chicken.
  8. Only drink milk that says “no rBGH” on the carton because recombinant bovine growth hormone has been linked with breast cancer. Better yet, opt for responsibly-produced, unsweetened soy, nut or rice milk.
  9. Avoid manufactured snacks.
  10. Stay away from artificially-colored foods like candy, maraschino cherries, and gelatin.
  11. Always buy organic produce.
  12. Use stainless steel or cast iron cookware to prepare your meals.
  13. Never microwave food in plastic bowls, containers, or dishes.

It’s no coincidence that a least six of these items (in bold above) can be accomplished simply by going vegetarian, and a few more by going vegan. The rest have to do with buying some new kitchen equipment and increasing your will power. Good luck.

Day 15 – Engine 2 Diet

I suffered a slight relapse this weekend and went “off book” for more than one of my meals. They were tasty for sure, but evidence of my limited will power. Back on the wagon this morning. Stay strong man, stay strong.

We’re half way through the formal part of this adventure and it seems to be going well. I’m down three pounds since the start – it was a bit more but the previous paragraph indicates why I gave some my gains (losses) back. My goal is to be down five+ pounds by the end of this week.

One component still lacking is exercise. My wife and I definitely worked out more than usual last week but still not enough. I did try a workout video for the first time in my life. Our cable company offers free videos on demand and my wife found a kick boxing one that sounded interesting. I acquiesced. Holy crap did that thing kick our butts. It was 40 minutes of torture I tell you, torture! I’m still holding some resentment for the instructor, who was extremely chipper and in much, much better shape than me. Grrrrr.

Lastly, I visited my doctor for my annual physical. He was going to have me give blood for a cholesterol test but after hearing of this effort he postponed the test. I’m going back in about six weeks. I hope there’s measurable change in my cholesterol. Not only will that keep me off of the controversial drugs but also keep me motivated to stick with the plan.