Attention food shoppers! You are entering dangerous territory that requires careful maneuvering through aisles and shelves, and reading of labels to avoid toxic or unhealthy items. Safe food selections depend on noticing and being wise to the unpronounceable scientific names of carcinogenic or otherwise poisonous chemicals, dyes, additives, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.
The Kitchen Shrink to the rescue with a guide to defensive shopping:
That’s Greek (or Latin) to Me: The old adage, “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it,” still applies, especially with the tongue-twisting names (derived from ancient Greek and Latin) of such notoriously toxic chemicals as:
• butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) that are designed to extend shelf life even though they may shorten human life;
• potassium bromate used to fluff up baked goods;
• sodium nitrate that wallops the pancreas and liver, but preserves cured meats, such as hot dogs and cold cuts, while also infusing foods with unnatural but appetizing colors; and
• monosodium glutamate or MSG, a neurotoxin that spikes the flavor of everything from soup to nuts, but triggers jack-hammer migraines, vision impairment, and even disorientation if consumed in larger quantities.
To Dye For: Save the electric shades of green, red, blue and yellow food coloring for Halloween décor and science experiments. Artificial dyes, including Blue #1 and #2, Green #3, Red #40, and Yellow #5 and #6, which are laced into snacks, cake frostings, candies, soft drinks and sugary cereals have been linked to various health risks from neurological and behavioral problems to certain cancers.
If you still want to add vibrant eye candy to special confections or desserts — such as red velvet cupcakes — use natural food colorings extracted from red berries or beets for ruby hues, chlorella algae for flamboyant greens, elderberries for striking purples, turmeric for bright golden tones, and the butterfly pea for true blues.
Be an Organic Fanatic: Not all organics are created equal. While we strive to look for the “9” that starts the code for organic designation on USDA labels affixed to fruits and vegetables, make sure you also check where they were grown. Safest and healthiest choice is to buy locally (or at least U.S.) sourced produce, since it is fresher, in season, and not having been transported over long distances has a small carbon footprint.
Even more important: Foods carrying the “USDA Organic” stamp adhere to stricter codes and standards for organic certification than imported ones. The latter may also be toxic (in spite of being ‘blessed’ with the “USDA Organic” logo) because of the environment in which they were produced. China’s organics, for example, are often contaminated because of that country’s heavily polluted air, water and soil.
Can the Cans: Once thought to be inactive and thus harmless, the industrial chemical bisphenol A (i.e., BPA) used in the 1960s to make resins and plastics to prevent food contamination is still found today in the linings of aluminum cans, plastic bottles and other food storage containers. The venerable Mayo Clinic advises consumers to buy BPA-free products to avoid ingesting the chemical, which tends to leach into foods and liquids, especially when they have acidic content, such as tomatoes, pickles, etc.
BPA has been found to elevate blood pressure, increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease, breast and other cancers, and pose risks to the neurological and behavioral development of fetuses, infants and children.
Solutions include using glass, porcelain and stainless steel containers and kitchenware. Pyrex and similar impermeable plates and bowls are microwave- and dishwasher-safe. Choose organic juices, vinegars, olive oils and other bottled products sold in glass jars or bottles instead of plastic. And if you must buy canned foods — usually recommended as backups during hurricanes or earthquakes — look for cans marked “BPA-free.” I have seen Eden Organic products and some from Muir Glen and Wild Planet in such safer cans.
BPA-free Mushroom Marinara Sauce
1 jar (18-ounce) crushed or diced tomatoes
8 ounces assorted mushrooms, (Crimini, button, your choice) sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 handful Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
Sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Method: In a large saucepan heat oil on low and sauté garlic, celery, peppers and mushrooms until tender. Add tomatoes, honey, parsley, seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes. If desired, transfer sauce in batches to a blender and pulse until smoother texture is reached. Enjoy on pasta, meatloaf, chicken and eggplant dishes.
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