Know What's in Your Food

Promoting awareness and change about the food we eat, and where it comes from.


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Cucumber Open Faced Sandwich

Vegan and Vegetarian Cucumber Sandwich

Cucumber Sandwich

I love it when foods are simple and straight forward. While I do enjoy spending time in the kitchen cooking, sometimes I just want something that is quick and easy.  That is just where I found myself today. I opted to make this quick, easy, and tasty open-faced cucumber sandwich.

Ingredients:

1 Slice of Ezekiel toasted bread

1 Tbs of tahini

several  fresh cucumber slices

3 fresh tomato slices

1/2 of an avocado sliced

1/4 cup salad mix

Toast bread and spread with tahini. Add cucumbers and tomato slices . Place sliced avocado on top.

Simple, straightforward, and delicious!!

Vegan organic Tahini

Organic Tahini

I always try to use organic ingredients when I can. Here is a picture of the tahini I used. I like this brand because it is fair trade, organic, one ingredient….. ground sesame seeds.

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Organic Egg Farming Versus Factory Egg Farming

Farmers' Market

Farmers’ Market (Photo credit: NatalieMaynor)

This past weekend I got up early, and I went to my local farmer’s market. I was so impressed with the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale, by the people who actually grow them.  I met several local farmers who were selling their bountiful harvest. I wish I could talk about every item I purchased, but I will have to narrow it down to one, eggs.

I purchased these eggs from Good Earth Organic Farm.IMG_9298

As you can see they don’t look like regular eggs from the grocery store. Good Earth Organic Farm (GEOF) is a true free range and cage free egg grower. They feed their hens a  diet that is supplemented with organic vegetables from the farm, and whole grain (only when needed), but it isn’t  the inexpensive soy feed that many factory farms use.  This farm does not use soy to feed their hens. Their hens roam freely on several open acres of land spending their days pecking and scratching the ground…and..well….doing what hens should do. Natural hen behaviors are not seen in factory farm hens according to, Carole Morison (former factory farmer). Carole  Morison believes the absence of natural behavior in hens is not found due to traumatic living conditions.

How is it, and why is it the eggs from supermarkets seem so uniform, while organic, free range farm eggs  appear so different?

According to GEOF there are several factors that play a role in the look of eggs. First there are the different types of hens that are used in egg production. GEOF uses Ameraucana hens that lay green, blue, and olive colored eggs.  They also use Speckled Sussex hens that lay cream-colored eggs, while Dominigues and Rhode Island Red hens lay brown eggs.

List of Rhode Island state symbols

Rhode Island Red Hen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speckled Sussex Hen named Mata Hari.

Speckled Sussex Hen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An Ameraucana hen.

An Ameraucana hen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Factory farm egg producers tend to favor hybrid hens that are known for their rapid egg producing abilities.  Okay, so that explains the difference of the outside of the eggs, but what about what’s on the inside? This is a picture below shows an egg (on the right) from GEOF, and the left is from a factory farm.

Factory farm egg yolk, versus the yolk of an organic egg.

Comparing a Factory Farm Egg & Organic Egg

The first thing you can see is the color of the yolk. The egg from GEOF is almost orange in color. The factory farm egg is much lighter yellow. The reason for the color difference in the yolk is the diet of the hen. Factory farm hens frequently feed their hens all vegetarian diets. I see this label a lot on egg cartons.  Vegetarian diet is usually associated with  health, but not for a chicken. Chickens are by nature, the way that God intended them to be, omnivores. They do eat grains, but they eat a lot of grass and insects too. When hens are confined on a factory farm they are  fed a strong diet of grains, their yolk goes from an orange color to a lighter yellow color.  Even when labels say cage free the hens are most likely confined to a barn…which qualifies for the use of term ” cage free” on labeling….kind of sad. Now, I am not sure you how well you can see the egg white, but in the organic egg it is slightly more cloudy than the factory farm egg. The fresher the egg, the more cloudy the egg white will be. As eggs mature, the egg white becomes more clear.

So they way to tell if a hen has been confined to a barn or cage, and what kind of diet they consumed is by looking at the color of the yolk?

Well, not exactly. Factory Farms are clever in their approach to this. They use additives to the feed that will cause the yolk to be more of a darker yellow or orange color. The best way to know how your hens were treated and what kind of diet they consumed, is to know where they came from.

What you can do to make a difference:

  • Purchase your eggs from a local and sustainable farm.
  • Review the egg score card from the Cornucopia Institute to see how well the brand of eggs you purchase rate.
  • Don’t purchase factory farm eggs.
  • Read my other post on factory farming, here, to learn what egg labels really mean.

Source: Good Earth Organic Farm, Take Part Interview with Carole Morison


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Vegetable Thins Receive the Sham Award

Nabisco Vegetable Thins

Vegetable Thins

A few days ago, I was in my local grocery store. I took a picture of these vegetable crackers. The front of the box looked so promising. With a name like Vegetable Thins…how could you go wrong? I love the way they have  a picture of vegetables on the box, and the claim right on the front that says they are  made with real vegetables.  Health and nutrition all right in a box in the form of a cracker. Today must be my lucky day…or not..

Now for a look at the ingredients…

Ingredients to Vegetable Thins 2Unbleached enriched flour is the first thing on the list.  Enriched flour is flour that has been stripped of its natural nutrients and  nutrients have been artificially added. To look at the FDA requirements what nutrients must be available in a pound of enriched flour click here.  I will save you some reading time, unless you are going to eat a pound of  unbleached enriched flour, it probably isn’t going to serve much of a nutritional purpose for you.

Next we see a list of the vitamins that have been added to the flour.

  •  Then, sigh, comes one of the most corrupt and misuses of Mother Nature … GMOs, in the form of soybean, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Palm oil Made from non sustainable resources (rain forest destruction).
  • Dehydrated vegetable blend of carrots, onions, celery, cabbage, red bell pepper, tomato, and parsley (more about this in just a moment).
  • Salt
  • Monosodium Glutamate(MSG)- In the form of hydrolyzed soy protein, natural flavor, disodium guanylate, malted barley flour.

Today, I was on my way to an appointment, and I remembered these pictures I had taken last week. I decided to call 1-800-622-4726 and ask the good folks at Nabisco how many crackers I would have to eat in order to get a serving of vegetables.

I called and spoke to Jan, who was a very nice lady. I asked Jan my question of how many crackers I would have to eat in order to get a full serving of vegetables. She repeated the question. I confirmed that was indeed my question.

Jan asked me for the UPC number on the box. I told her I didn’t have that. She proceeded to tell me she wouldn’t be able to help me unless I had the box because they had so many products. I gave her the full description of the box and the product name. Jan told me she had different size boxes of  Vegetable Thins, and she wasn’t sure she could help me unless I had the number on the box…. Now, I am not sure how the size of the box would change the answer on the number of crackers I would have to eat, but okay….whatever…

Jan put me on hold to see what she could do. At this point I was about 1 mile away from the grocery store. I pulled in the parking lot and ran in the store, and got the box off the shelf and found the number. I waited on hold in the grocery store aisle for a little longer and Jan returned on the line. I told her I had run into the grocery store, and I had the number off the box, if  she still needed it (*insert the sound of chirping crickets here*). Jan seemed a little surprised that I was in the store. She quickly regained her composure, and then proceeded to tell me that the crackers weren’t made with real vegetables. …  Wait a minute! What the heck? I told her it says they are made with real vegetables on the box.  I pointed the list of dehydrated vegetables in the ingredient list. She agreed with me, but quickly followed up with those dehydrated vegetables are only used to flavor the crackers (*along with several forms of MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and salt*). So there was no amount of crackers that I could eat that would  equal a serving of vegetables… Oh no! Say it ain’t so Jan…..

Before I made the call, I was certain that there would be no real amount of vegetables in these crackers, but I do call companies frequently about their products because I want them to be accountable for the truth in what they are marketing, versus what they are  selling.  I told Jan that I was disappointed, and I felt the product was misleading.

 


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What’s in Your Flavor?

Givaudan 0

Natural and artificial flavors are something we commonly see in our processed foods. Where do these natural and artificial flavors come from? Many of them are made a company called Givaudan. Givaudan is a Swiss company that employes about 9000 workers. Their job is to take flavors, found in mother nature, and recreate them in a laboratory… we are talking about chemicals…and lots of them.

The goal is to add flavors to food that have such intense, but short lasting, flavor that leaves you needing more. The chemical food scientist  at Givaudan call themselves flavorist. These flavorist can be seen here, in a 15 minute video by 60 Minutes,  proudly saying they want to create an addiction with the chemicals that they use in our food, so that we continue to want to eat. They then deny that they have any responsibility for America’s obesity problem. Is Givaudan the reason that we can’t eat just one potato chip? 

Former FDA commissioner, Dr. David A. Kessler, says that flavorist are the hired guns of  food companies. They create a product that encourages people to overeat.

I came across this handsome animal (Castor can...

(Castor canadensis) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The words, “natural flavors” on a package label can be alluring for some people to think they are getting something healthy.  However, natural simply means not made from chemicals. It doesn’t say how the natural flavors  are created. Many times these natural ingredients have been heated to high temperatures to achieve their desired taste. Natural flavor labeling doesn’t require the natural flavor, that is used, to have anything to do with the flavor it is trying to mimic. For example, natural strawberry flavor can come from the castor sacs from the anus of a beaver. ….doesn’t that sound appealing? However, I will give credit where credit is due, beavers butt is  all natural.

The FDA recognizes castoreum as, ” generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).  Castoreum is the product that is obtained from the castor sacs around the beaver’s backside.  Because the FDA recognizes  castoreum as GRAS, there is no limit its use. It seems like the easier way to get natural strawberry flavor is from…well…strawberries, but apparently it is more costly than castoreum.

 There are five other natural flavors: grape, caramel, butter, raspberry, and rum are made from the anus of a Civet cat.  The scrapings of the Civet cat’s anus are also recognized by the FDA as GRAS.

Dried Beaver Sacs From Beavers Anus

Dried Beaver Sacs From A Beavers Anus

What you can do to make a difference:

  • Do not purchase foods that have artificial and natural flavors listed on the labels.
  • Contact (phone, email, social media) companies and ask them to make their products without artificial flavors, and  label where their natural flavors come from.
  • Eat whole organic foods whenever possible.

Sources: A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, FDA, 60 Minutes


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Dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup

High-fructose corn syrup for sale

Look at the ingredient list of processed foods in the stores. Chances are you will find high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as an ingredient. This addictive sugary substance is abundantly found in many of our foods. Some of the foods that contain HFCS can be surprising such as: ketchup, frozen dinners, salad dressing, and bread. Of course there plenty of obvious sources as well like:  fast foods, cookies, candy, cakes, pastries, cereal, soda, yogurt that contains fruit etc. HFCS is used to make foods taste better, but it is also used as a preservative.

What is so different about HFCS?

According to Robert H. Lustig, M.D.,  it is the way that it is processed in the body. HFCS is processed in the liver. The result of the liver processing HFCS is triglycerides and free radicals.   Triglycerides can build up in the liver and cause non alcoholic fatty liver disease. HFCS has shown to cause fatty liver disease in animals that were fed a diet high in HFCS. Triglycerides released into the blood stream cause plaque build up in the arteries.  This could not only lead to high blood pressure, but also heart disease.

How did we get here?

In the early 1900’s, Americans consumed about 15 grams of fructose per day. Today we average about 55 grams per day.   With many people following the Standard American Diet (SAD), it is easy to see how we got to 55 grams per day. When we look at a typical fast food meal, the McDonald’s hamburger contains HFCS and has a total of  6 grams of sugar.  A small coke has 39 grams of sugar.  A small hamburger, small coke, and small fries with ketchup (containing HFCS) is what children usually get in their so called ” Happy Meals.”  A medium coke contains the full 55 grams of sugar.

In addition to liver and heart disease, the potential for diabetes increases with the consumption of HFCS.

You can watch Robert H. Lustig, M.D. presentation here. It is a little long (about an hour and a half) and a little on the clinical side, but worth watching in my opinion.  Robert Lustig, M.D. has spent over 16 years as an endocrinologist studying childhood obesity and the effects sugar has on the central nervous system.

What you can do to make a difference:

  • Stay away from fast food.
  • Read labels and know what’s in your food.  Don’t purchase food if it has HFCS in the ingredient list.
  • Contact food companies that have HFCS as an ingredient in their products, and ask them to remove it.
  • For holidays where candy is often given, think of healthier alternatives to substitute for candy.

Sources: Harvard Health Publications, Time, Web MD, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, McDonald’s nutrition


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Nutri Grain Bars…Not So Nutritious After All

Sham Award for Nutri Grain Bar filled with MSG, GMO, sugar, and carcinogens

Strawberry Nutri Grain Bar

I stopped off at a local coffee shop this morning for some tea. While I was waiting for my order, I saw these popular breakfast cereal bars. Just looking at the label makes you think they are healthy and nutritious. Words like Nutri imply nutrition and Grain…we hear all the time how we need more grain in our diets. They are only 120 calories each, so it sounds like a way to not destroy your calorie budget for the day. The front of the package proudly shows that there is  no high fructose corn syrup in the product. The front of this product looks rather impressive.

Now for a look at the ingredients….

Nutri Grain Ingredient List
Nutri Grain Ingredient List

Whole grain oats is the first ingredient, that sounds promising; however, it quickly goes down hill from there.  The second main ingredient is enriched flour. This is really misleading because it isn’t really enriched, it is just flour with all of the nutrients stripped away.  Enriched flour goes through a process where the bran and the germ are removed. I am not sure how food makers can get away with calling it enriched…enriched with what?

Other alarming ingredients include:

Soy and/or Canola Oil, Soy Lecithin- Probable GMOs.

Sugar, Dextrose, Fructose, Invert Sugar, Corn Syrup – Forms of Sugar.

Natural and Artificial Flavor, –  Hidden forms of MSG.

Mono and Diglycerides- Hidden forms of trans fats.

Carrageenan, Carmel Color- Carcinogens.

Guar Gum, Citric Acid,- Probable hidden forms of MSG.

Modified Corn Starch- Can trigger MSG reaction in sensitive people.

Red 40- Carcinogen.

This breakfast bar contains: MSG, GMO’s, carcinogens, trans fats, flour with no nutrients, and sugar.  Keep in mind that Kellogg’s spent almost $800,000 dollars on defeating proposition 37 in California. Proposition 37 would have required food makers to label foods that contain GMO’s. Labeling GMO’s is something Kellogg’s and several other food makers were against. They don’t want you to know what’s in your food. Too bad Kellogg’s doesn’t want to share this information on the front of their label. If they did, it would be easy to see that Nutri Grain Bars are not so nutritious after all.


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Factory Farm Beef

Do you know where your beef comes from?
English: Cows

English: Cows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of our beef comes from factory farms. A factory farm is unlike a family farm.  On a factory farm, there are no roaming cows grazing on beautiful, green grass as the sunshine warms their backs, instead they are packed in massive feeding lots and spend their days standing in their own waste. On a family farm, cows eat grass, where as factory farm cows eat grain. Cows do not normally eat grain. In fact, grain has to be slowly introduced to factory farm cows. If they are fed too much grain too fast, it will cause them to die. By feeding cows grain, they are ready for slaughter a year faster than grass-fed cows. Cattle on factory farms are also injected with estrogen growth hormones to increase muscle mass and trim fat. Estrogen hormone replacement is no longer recommend for women during menopause due to cancer risk. However, the FDA seems to think its okay if we eat cows that have been injected with estrogen. Cows injected with growth hormones can have residue left on the beef that we eat. Excess estrogen hormones in our bodies are linked to possible obesity and cancer risk. In addition, cattle on feed lots are feed  sub therapeutic doses of antibiotics to try to prevent disease on the feed lots. Still, even with sub therapeutic doses of antibiotics, cattle get sick from living in crowded, manure infested conditions. Sick cattle are given more antibiotics.  Seventy percent of all antibiotics are consumed by animals in the U.S….and then we consume the animals. How can this possibly be good for us? I have my doubts about our government agencies looking out for us.

Harris Ranch feedlot in California
A downed cow with her calf

Disease and environmental pollution are a byproduct of factory farms. Over 500 million tons of manure are produced by factory farms each year . Yes, that’s right, 500 million tons of manure. These animals are standing around in an endless sea of E coli ridden manure, waiting to be slaughtered. Steak, anyone ? Open waste lagoons on factory farms are the size of several football fields. These over sized cesspools are contaminated with hormones, antibiotics and E coli. The run off from the waste lagoons on factory farms causes environmental pollution in our water ways. The main source of the E coli contamination, in the rivers and streams, is believed to come from factory farms.
Eating beef that comes from a factory farm isn’t just poor quality meat that is obtained by the mistreatment of animals, it encourages the continual assault on the environment.
What you can do to make a difference:
  •  Purchase grass-fed beef instead of conventional beef from a factory farm.
  • Consider observing meatless Monday’s, or choose other days in the week to go meatless.
  • Call your local grocer and ask them to supply your store with grass feed beef.
  • Support your local farmers market. Purchasing local food keeps money from going to factory farms.
  • Take action here with Farmland. org

* Sources: Organic Consumers Association, National Resource Defense Council, Frankensteer, Live Strong

*Factory Farm photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary