Composting in the City!

Composting in the City!
By Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

Composting and CITY living don’t seem like they should go together but let’s make it work in spite of their differences.

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Before we approach the difficult nature of composting in our city, let’s first address why composting is something to get into in the first place. There are two major reasons; 1) it’s a great way to use and decrease waste which is a big help to our environment and 2) you can grow your own food—which comes with a series of great benefits including cost efficiency and access to healthy/organic foods. When we see the advantages, it’s hard to wonder why everyone doesn’t compost! Except for that one major reason—it’s kind of gross, isn’t it?

 

Composting is the breakdown of organic material-waste. Organic waste that we breakdown comes in two different forms—dry material and wet material. Dry materials are generally referred to as “recyclable” and they include newspaper, cardboard, certain plastics etc. Wet material-waste includes fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grinds, tea bags, etc. We use both to compost, but the wet material is the most crucial.

 

Now, lets get into the dirt:

Step 1: Find a space to compost. It can either be a pile in your backyard or a terracotta pot (with a lid) on your balcony. Either way, you want a controlled space.

Step 2: Separate your organic waste into dry and wet. Collect leaves, twigs, weeds and garden waste—or get some dry organic fertilizer from your local hardware store—and combine the waste in your compost pile or pot.

Step 3: The process happens naturally but to help it move along, you can add lime-juice or yogurt to assist the initiation of decomposition.

Step 4: Continue to add to the top of the pile and wait it out. The soil will become dark and rich at the bottom—that’s the good stuff! Even if you don’t use it, you have already done something great for the environment by reducing your waste.

Step 5: Use it! The dark, rich soil is great to sprinkle over your garden to help enhance its growth and fill your produce and plants with an incredible healthy dose of vitamins and minerals. It will give them great color, taste, and nutrient density.

I pride myself on my cleanliness so I really needed to research the health and safety benefits of composting in my tiny New York City apartment. I was very curious about the smell. While it would seem that composting would generate quite the stench, if appropriately assembled, there should be no smell at all. Another worry of mine was my lack of outdoor space, which I’m sure rings true to many other city dwellers. Because composting is the chemical breakdown of organic waste and it requires live cultures to properly biodegrade, access to outdoor space—even just a fire escape—is important. This brings us to our first set of tips!

 

Tip 1: If you don’t have outdoor space—like me—get creative! All buildings have a roof. Rally some of your neighbors to talk to building management about starting an urban garden. They may be more receptive to the idea then you think!

Tip 2: If composting doesn’t seem realistic for you, check out local Farm Shares (you can do this through a google search) to support your regional farmers and seasonal produce. This is also cost effective and environmentally friendly.

 

Now, what’s the point of composting? The product of breaking down this wet organic-waste is compost, or soil. We can use this soil to then grow our own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The nutrition community is always talking about eating clean and buying local and organic in an attempt to better understand where our food is coming from. What better way to do this then growing food yourself? You can’t get more local then that! This brings us to our next tip.

 

Tip 3: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Even though the idea of using waste to generate compost to then grow more food seems dirty—it is actually the greatest example of clean eating out there!

 

Composting and growing food allows you to know exactly where your produce is coming from. It is a great money saver and an even better gift to the environment. It is a wonderful activity for children—especially the picker eaters out there. Research shows that if kids know where their food comes from and play a role in preparing their meals, they will be more likely to try something new. Growing food gives children such an integrative and profound understanding of where their food comes from—and it’s also fun!  This brings us to our final tip.

 

Tip 4: Save your leftovers! We could all learn a few lessons from some of the NYC schools. A lot of them are saving students lunch left overs to use towards composting.

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There are so many reasons to give composting and urban gardening a shot so let’s get our hands dirty NYC!

 

For more information on compost collection in NYC or tips, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/compost/composting_nyc.shtml.

Navigating the Gluten-Free Aisle: A Guide to GF Shopping

Navigating the Gluten-Free Aisle: A Guide to Gluten-Free Shopping
By Lindsay Marr and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

Photo Credit: Whatsername? via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Whatsername? via Compfight cc

The gluten-free world can be daunting, especially for a newly diagnosed celiac or gluten-intolerant. Navigating the aisles of the grocery store can seem even scarier. Thankfully, there are more gluten-free options in stores and the labeling laws are becoming stricter, making gluten-free shopping less of a matter of chance. We took to the grocery stores to try and help ease the confusion and offer you a list of some healthful gluten-free tips.

 

You may remember we wrote about the new gluten-free labels this past summer and touched on the different aspects of the gluten-free diet in the fall. To touch base, the FDA has decided to consider foods with no more than 20ppm (parts per million) of gluten as gluten-free. But, what does 20ppm mean, you ask?  20ppm is the least amount of gluten that can be found in foods via reliable scientific analysis testing. It is also the level that meets many other countries’ standards for safety.

 

Can you trust a gluten-free label?

With the new FDA rulings, you can expect food companies to be more cautious in their labeling. In fact, we may even see a few gluten-free products come off the shelves, as some manufacturers may not want to go through the trouble of abiding by the FDA’s gluten-free rulings. If you feel uneasy before the August 2014 deadline, you can look for two seals on packages to assure the products you’re buying are gluten-free.

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This image was used with the permission of The Gluten Intolerance Group.

Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO): The GFCO is currently the leading gluten-free certification program in the world. It is an independent organization that verifies the “quality, integrity, and purity of products” and certifies gluten-free products to no more than 10 PPM.
Click here for the label.
CSA (Celiac Sprue Association): The CSA seal is given to products that have undergone a review and testing of ingredients to ensure the product is free of wheat, rye, barley and oats.

 

Which gluten-free products should I choose? 

Gluten free food companies are making efforts to make their food products more healthy by adding fiber, using brown rice flour instead of white rice flour and some are even using gluten free grains like buckwheat for this first ingredient. EALM was quite impressed to see these changes. However, some food labels noted the addition of added fibers like inulin, which is a non-digestible form of fiber that can cause gas.

 

Photo Credit: Caden Crawford via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Caden Crawford via Compfight cc

Let’s Go Shopping!

When searching for the gluten-free foods with the most nutrition, we recommend using the following tips:

 

  1. Always double check!
    • Be sure to read the ingredients list for potential gluten, even if the product boasts a GF label or seal of approval from the organizations mentioned above. Food products and manufacturing practices change often and some companies even use the GF seals fraudulently. So, be aware and read those ingredients!
  2. Read the ingredients to educate yourself on which product is more nutrient dense!
    • When searching for healthier GF packaged goods look for nutrient-dense flours like quinoa, garbanzo bean, and brown rice. Also watch where these items are listed within the ingredient lists – ideally they are listed in ingredients one through five.
  3. Look for natural fiber!
    • As mentioned before, many high-fiber GF foods contain added carbohydrates like inulin or psyllium husk. While these carbs add fiber without affecting the texture or taste of the food, they can result in gas production (not so comfy for sensitive stomachs). Look for products that are naturally gluten-free, like corn meal or certified gluten-free oats. When in doubt, you can increase your fruit and vegetable intake for a boost of fiber, too.
  4. When in doubt…
    • Tap into some resources! There are a number of apps, subscription services, and organizations that keep consumers updated on all news relating to gluten-free. Take a look at our list below that will help you be a GF detective.

 

GF DETECTIVE Resources:

Celiac Disease Foundation

  • The CDF offers numerous resources for those affected by Celiac Disease, including a list of GF medications and supplements, tips for managing the holidays, as well as the latest research and gluten-free news.

 

Celiac Sprue Association

  • The CSA’s website offers a host of resources for those with Celiac and gluten intolerance. With lists of restaurants, recipes, and information on GF labeling, you are sure to find great information on all things gluten-free.

 

Gluten Free Watchdog

  • This handy monthly subscription is run by registered dietitian, Tricia Thompson, and for only $4.99 per month, you can have access to the latest in gluten free news and product testing results.

 

Gluten Intolerance Group

  • The GIG offers an annual membership with perks including access to food and medical information, educational programs, events, and even summer camps for children with gluten-sensitivities.

 

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (Celiac Central)

  • The NFCA offers a list of GF manufacturers, keeps readers updated on GF news, and provides free webinars for readers. This is a great site when looking for GF news and information.

What’s the Story with GMOs?

By: Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

Genetically modified organisms, or more commonly referred to as GMO’s, have been quite the topic these past few years. With Dr. Oz expressing his belief that GMO labeling should be mandatory and Whole Foods announcing their plan to label all GMO-containing products sold in their stores by 2018, it is no surprise that people are asking what the deal is with GMO’s?

What are GMOs?

According to WHO (the World Health Organization), GMOs are organisms that have had their DNA unnaturally altered. Genetic engineering is the act in which selected genes are transferred from one organism to another, occasionally between unrelated speciesi.

gmo-tomato

Why are they used?

Genetic engineering is used when growing crops. The benefits of growing GM foods have been found to be:

  • Greater durability
  • Higher nutritional content
  • Faster, more abundant growth, which leads to lower prices
  • Overall protection of the cropi

Are they safe?

This is a loaded question. You could get either a yes or no answer from many different people. However, there is a potential risk for both the environment and humans.

The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association reports that GMOs are present in 75-80% of processed foods in the United States. GMOs are primarily found in industrialized crops, like soybeans, corn, canola oil, cotton, and sugar beets, which are typically found in processed foodsii.

The USDA, EPA, and the FDA regulate GMO crops, however the FDA’s policy does not require any additional testing to prove safety when compared to non-GMO foods. In fact, many believe that long-term GMO consumption is associated with increased cancer risk, chronic illnesses, digestive disorders, and even food allergiesii. Although, the WHO states “GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved”i.

The EWG (Environmental Working Group), recently calculated that the average American eats a strikingly high amount, 193 pounds, of genetically engineered foods annually. “We calculated that the average American annually consumes 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil and 29 pounds of corn-based products, for a total of 193 pounds” of genetically engineered foods. These numbers were calculated based on the USDA’s findings that 95% of sugar beets, 93% of soybeans, and 88% of the corn grown in the United States are genetically modifiediii.

GMO Addoption US

“What’s shocking is that Americans are eating so much genetically engineered food, yet there have been zero long-term studies done by the federal government or industry to determine if its consumption could pose a risk health,” said Renee Sharp, lead author of the report and the director of EWG’s California office. “If you were planning on eating your body weight of anything in a year or feeding that much food to your family, wouldn’t you first want to know if long-term government studies and monitoring have shown it is safe?”iii

Food for thought: what’s the difference between genetically modifying our plants versus naturally cross-pollenating them? We wonder if all of our food, whether it is a fruit, vegetable, grain, or meat product, is bred to be superior? If you think our food should be labeled as genetically modified, should we also label if it is naturally cross-pollenated or bred for optimal results? We would love your thoughts and feedback.

 

For additional reading:

World Health Organization’s 20 Questions on GMOs

GMO Crops vs. Traditional Plant Breeding

 


[i] “20 Questions on Genetically Modified Foods.” WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/>.

[ii] Ruhs, Barbara. “Update: GMOs in foods: GMOs–ingredients that have been genetically altered–are everywhere, from fast food to frozen yogurt, but are they safe? EN answers your top questions.”Environmental Nutrition 2013: 1. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.

[iii] “Americans Eat Their Weight in Genetically Engineered Food.” Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. <http://www.ewg.org/release/americans-eat-their-weight-genetically-engineered-food>.

A Day at the Beach: So What’s for Lunch?

With school out and warm weather, it can only mean one thing… it’s time to hit the beach!

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As bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, cameras, shovels, and pails are being carefully packed up, lunch is usually thrown together at the last minute and sometimes leading to unhealthy food choices. Along with trying to make the healthiest choices, you also have to consider which foods are the safest to bring to the beach and which ones should probably be left at home. But don’t worry, we are here to make packing lunch for the beach a little easier!

In order to make a quick lunch that still tastes good, some planning must be involved. What kinds of foods do your friends and family enjoy? What foods should you leave at home so that you can avoid food contamination at the beach? What foods are the most nutritious and will help keep everyone satisfied and fueled for the day?

Food Safety at the Beach
When considering food safety, many things come to mind but with the addition of the sand and the sun of the beach, food safety takes on a whole new meaning. The biggest thing to consider when it comes to beach safety is the steaming hot temperature. When you combine foods that need to be chilled with the blazing hot sun, things do not end well. According to the FDA’s Qualitative Risk Assessment, once intact fruits and vegetables, such as melons and tomatoes, are cut and protective barriers are open, microorganisms can grow more easily. Once heat and humidity are introduced, the rate at which bacteria grow increases significantly. Therefore, it is best to bring whole fruits and vegetables to the beach. Some ideas for whole fruits and vegetables are oranges, grapes, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, grape tomatoes, carrots, celery, and raw broccoli. If you decide to bring fruits or vegetables that need to be cut or sliced, it is safer if you do so while you are at the beach. Bringing proper utensils to cut/slice these foods will make it a lot easier. For example, bringing an apple core to slice an apple or a pear is easy. Also, using a knife to slice veggies such as cucumbers or peppers is also quick and simple! Make sure you are storing these foods in appropriate containers and at cool temperatures to keep them fresh before you cut them! Prevent sand from touching the food and fruit juices from leaking; use a lockable container like Sistema or Black+Blum.

Another food that should be avoided at the beach is undercooked chicken, fish, or meat as well as different kinds of “salads”. Not only do these kinds of foods allow for a large number of food borne illnesses, but they also can cause cross contamination with other foods. A research study that appeared in Letters in Applied Microbiology, has recently suggested that Salmonella (one of the most common food borne pathogens) contaminates raw/undercooked chicken and meat products at the highest rates over the summer. Also, different chicken salads, egg salads, and tuna salads can cause cross contamination due to the mayonnaise, if they are not chilled to the correct temperature. These different kinds of “salads” containing mayonnaise can still be enjoyed if they are transported and kept at the appropriate temperature. Foods containing mayonnaise must be stored at 45 deg F or lower. To be sure of this, use freezer gel packs to keep food and beverages cold and at a safe temperature.
These types of foods should be stored in containers that can be kept cold such as Kangovou, which is made from food grade stainless steel.

When keeping food safety in mind at the beach, it is also important to consider how you are going to transport and eat your lunch. It is important to pack your food in a cooler with ice (or ice packs) so that the food stays cold and fresh. Also, finger foods tend to be the easiest for the beach and help to avoid “sandy” lunches, so think whole fruits and sandwiches! Don’t forget to wash any fresh produce you pack with you!

So, what are 5 safe and healthy lunches to bring to the beach?

1. Whole-wheat bread with natural peanut butter and banana – The bread won’t get soggy and the peanut butter and banana will give you fuel for hours!

2. Whole-wheat pita with grilled chicken and veggies with hummus –Pack celery and raw broccoli florets to dip in hummus. Single-serve hummus packs are a great way to eat more healthfully and to enjoy finger foods!

3. Whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheese and a handful of grapes or cherries, and carrots or celery sticks – Having a variety of food can make lunch at the beach fun and make it feel like a picnic!

4. Whole-wheat wrap with lean turkey or lean ham with veggies and homemade trail mix (dried fruit, cereal, and nuts) – Homemade trail mix is a fun and healthy way to eat some of your favorite foods!

5. Grilled chicken sandwich on a whole-wheat bun with dark lettuce – pile more veggies on your sandwich for more flavor!

Don’t forget about snacks! To keep everyone satisfied and happy, think about quick and healthy snacks such as whole fruits, veggie sticks with low fat dip/hummus, homemade trail mix, whole grain granola bars, and popcorn. And don’t forget to pack plenty of water!

References
Scott J (2012). DRAFT Qualitative Risk Assessment Risk of Activity/Food Combinations for Activities
(Outside the Farm Defintion) Conducted in a Facility Co-Located on a Farm. Center for Food Safety
and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Adminstration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ,
1-95.
Zdragas, A K Mazaraki, G Vafeas, V Giantzi, & T Papadopoulos (2012). Prevalence, seasonal
occurrence and antimicrobial resistance of Salmonella in poultry retail products in Greece.. Letters in
Applied Microbiology, 55(4). retrieved May 31, 2013, from
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22943611

How to Choose Safer, Sustainable Seafood

Fish

In addition to being a tasty source of protein, many fish contain heart-healthy benefits and essential omega-3 fatty acids. Some examples of fish that contain high amounts of omega-3 FA’s are salmon, mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna.  To reap the heart-healthy benefits, the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish 2x per week. But some fish species contain high levels of mercury and there are certain fish that should be avoided, especially for those who are pregnant, nursing or feeding young children. For more information  on eating seafood while pregnant or nursing, check out a separate guide provided by the Academy of Nutrition.

Whether you’re grocery shopping or dining out, when it comes to choosing farm-raised or wild seafood, it’s important to understand what types of fish are safer to eat and the effect it has on the environment and our health. Read on to learn more about sustainable seafood and a fish guide for lower mercury choices.

Fishy Words

To help you decide what fish to eat or buy, let’s go over the basic fish terms found on restaurant menus, fish aisles and package labels.

Farm Raised – Farmed fish are the exact opposite of wild fish– they are farm raised in pens. Farmed raised fish are often overcrowded, which allows for little room to swim and can also cause many issues. First, raising large quantities of fish in such a small space leads to increased waste, toxins and risk for disease. Some (not all) farms try to prevent or combat this by treating the fish with antibiotics. In addition, farm raised fish are often fed wild fish, which contributes to overfishing. In addition, farmed fish are fed smaller fish. These small fish may contain toxic contaminants, which when fed to other fish, may cause a buildup of the very same toxins.

Common farmed fish include imported fish, Atlantic salmon (which is fancier name for farmed salmon), striped bass and shellfish. If the fish you’re purchasing is farmed, be sure it’s USA-farmed, as environmental standards in other countries may be inconsistant and/or not regulated.

 

Here’s the Catch

Opt for domestic fish over imported fish – American farmed fish generally have more stringent rules than fish sourced from other countries.

Choose locally caught fish – Not only is this more sustainable, but you’re supporting local farmers while getting fresher catch

Choose fish caught by line or troll – Even wild fish can be caught using unsustainable practices. Fish caught by large nets can cause damage to the ecosystem since they result in high “by-catch”–species that were unintentionally caught.

Check your local advisory – Seafood risks change seasonally and can vary from species to the state where you’re fishing. Stay up to date with the Environmental Protection Agency’s fish advisory.

Choose fish low on the food chain – Since they live the shortest amount of time, they accumulate the least amount of toxins. Fish low on the food chain include sardines, anchovies, mussels, oysters and clams.

Use a mobile app to keep a pocket guide in handy – Download the  Seafood Watch app provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium app to help you stay up-to-date with seafood and sushi recommendations.

Choose Your Fish Wisely – Check out this fish guide below and more information provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council

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Use this guide below to help you determine how which fish to eat in moderation and which fish to avoid based on high mercury levels. Whether you’re at a grocery store or dining out, there’s always a way to find out where and how the fish is sourced. As always, if you’re unsure about where your food comes from, always ask!

Is Your Favorite Organic Restaurant Actually Organic?

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Does your favorite restaurant promote the use of “organic produce when possible” or “local and sustainable ingredients”? Over the years, trends towards local, sustainable and organic foods have increased.  This rising demand has many restaurants and food establishments working to promote a greener image, but in reality are not. Very few restaurants are certified organic, so how do you know if a restaurant is really practicing what they preach and if they’re really using organic ingredients?

Be Aware of Organic Deception or Simply, Misinterpretation

Restaurants across the nation utilize the terms “organic,” “local,” and “sustainable” but more often than not, it’s used as a marketing tool. While some restaurants do source some of their produce from organic farmers, customers may not be receiving a dish that is entirely composed of 100% organic ingredients. How can restaurants and chefs get away with this? If you recall from our article, Sustainable Agriculture, the term organic doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable and sustainable doesn’t always mean organic! In other words, this means that restaurants that promote sustainable practices may be recycling meat bones, creating compost or simply recycling, but may or may not be using organic produce. On the other hand, a restaurant may use organic ingredients but may not be environmentally friendly. Indeed, restaurants that promote the use of local ingredients may be doing their share to support local farmers but even though some local farmers grow organic produce, this isn’t always the case.

The confusion of all these terms results in misuse of these words by restaurants and misinterpretation by consumers. Just as the old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the same concept should be applied when evaluating a restaurant’s image vs. the actual ingredients. For example, a restaurant can boast the use of organic and local ingredients, but since they are not certified organic restaurants, they can mix and combine organic produce with conventional ingredients.

If eating organic is important to you then it is also important to do your research so that you know what you are eating and what you are paying for.  Truthfully, there is no sure way to tell how much of a restaurant’s food is organic, local or sustainable—unless of course, you ask!

Why Aren’t Restaurants Entirely Organic?

It’s no hidden secret, organic ingredients are often more expensive than conventional produce. Aside from being time and labor intensive, organic certification is very expensive. In return, it often costs restaurants more money if they purchase all of their ingredients from organic suppliers. Restaurant go-ers would be faced with higher prices, as restaurants would have to raise menu prices. In addition, running an organic restaurant is not easy! At the back end, restaurants would have to make sure organic ingredients are stored separately from conventional ingredients and even prepped on different cutting boards.

Just like the packaging on certified organic foods, restaurants have to be able to back up their claims. If they label their menus as “We use organic produce when possible,” this gives them room to avoid the stringent regulations and issue altogether.

 

Tips to Find Out If Your Restaurant Is 100% Organic:

  • Call or ask when you are there
  • Visit a certified organic restaurant
    GustOrganics is New York City’s only certified organic restaurant, certified by NOFA-NY