Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

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In today’s New England Journal of Medicine, a team of researchers reports that people who consume nuts more often are less likely to die of certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, and Type II diabetes.

Lest you think that this is another one of those small studies that has been over-interpreted, realize that the researchers studied over 118,000 people. They enrolled them in the study, followed their self-report food intake for years, and searched huge databases to track deaths of study participants.

The authors were careful to say that their study was observational and that they therefore can’t claim they’ve proved that nut consumption caused the reduced risk of death. But their conclusion was stated simply and clearly: “As compared with participants who did not eat nuts, those who consumed nuts seven or more times per week had a 20% lower death rate.”

They point out that some actual clinical trials conducted by other researchers show nut consumption does have beneficial effects on cholesterol levels, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance, among other factors.

There’s a neat little three-minute animated explanation from the Massachusetts Medical Society that goes along with the study. You can see it by going here and clicking the Video icon named Nuts and Death.

Nuts are awesome! Pine nuts are slightly sweet and add a hint of flavor to rice or quinoa dishes. Walnuts can be ground up and mixed with eggs or tofu, along with spinach and onions, to make a delicious pate that makes a satisfying sandwich. Pecans are perfect for waldorf salad.  And that’s just the beginning! So treat yourself to some health and go for nuts.

Related links:
Best and Worst Nuts for Your Health
Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health – Mayo Clinic


You probably knew that rainforests are in deep trouble, and that our food choices are part of the problem. Palm oil is a major culprit, since in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, forests are being cut down to make room for palm oil plantations. Not only the forests, but creatures that live in them are endangered, including orangutans and rhinos.

Not to mention that the palm oil mill pollutes twice as much water as every unit of palm oil produced..

World Wildlife Fund, in its current newsletter, points out “To make noodles “instant,” manufacturers flash-fry them in palm oil to evenly dry the strands—a process that links instant noodles to environmental damage because the production of palm oil is one of the leading drivers of deforestation.”  One more reason to let go of processed foods as much as you possibly can!

There are two eco-labels that might help. WWF supports them, while RAN thinks they’re insufficient. Anyway, here they are. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil ( began in 2001 when World Wildlife Fund proposed it, and was formally launched in 2003, based in Switzerland.  It’s a pretty complicated consortium of organizations from many countries that sign an agreement to support sustainability in the palm oil supply chain.

Green Palm is a subsidiary of a British oil importer and manufacturer. It has an interesting plan. Enterprises that produce certified sustainable palm oil can register their product with Green Palm. Then it seems they can sell their certificates. Is this like carbon cap and trade credits? Go here and see what you think.

Of course, by reading labels you can also avoid palm oil altogether. This may not be easy, since the stuff is everywhere. According to the Rainforest Action Network it can be found in “ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups.” Go here for more info.

Related links:
The Problem with Palm Oil
Norway Cuts Palm Oil Consumption 64% in One Year
How to Stop Buying Palm Oil and Help Save the Orangutans

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Did you know there are over 8,000 farmers’ markets in the U.S.? That’s according to the USDA  and that number represents over 3,000 new ones since 2008, when there were about 5,000. There are over 750 just in California – no surprise, really, since we have such great weather for growing — but New York is not far behind. You can search the directory here  and search by location, what they sell, and what kinds of payment are accepted.

That’s 8,000 reasons to have a week dedicated to the farmers who feed us.

In the East Bay, you can find farmers’ markets in Walnut Creek, Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Rossmoor, Pleasant Hill, Concord, and two Kaiser locations – and that’s just within a ten-mile radius.

So grab your cloth bags, sunglasses, and sunscreen, and head out to the nearest market to get ready for the coming week.

To learn more about what groups are working to heal our food system, check out the following groups at their websites:

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition,

Environmental Working Group,

National Farm-to-School Network,

National Young Farmers Coalition,

Sustainable Table,

and the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program.


Did you know that over three thousand (3,000+) non-food substances are legally added to food in the U.S.? Manufacturers can add chemicals that preserve, color, sweeten, and flavor your food, as well as “improve” its texture or other quality deemed desirable by marketing departments. Oh yes, and add artificial vitamins and minerals that processing removed.

We’ve bought this stuff for decades. I shudder to think of the cake mixes I learned to use as a child. And a huge ratio of our food is still processed.

So why are chemicals used in our food banned in other countries? Dyes, brominated vegetable oil (which I wrote about in January), growth hormones given to animals, arsenic, and more, are banned in Europe. See this article from Dr. Mercola.

We’ve reached some kind of dystopia when Russia bans American food, in this case, meat, because of a feed ingredient called ractopamine. Since we export half a billion dollars worth of beef and pork to Russia, this is not a small item. The USDA asked Russia to postpone the requirement, and the New York Times suggested it was retaliation for American actions on Russian human rights violations.

Michale Pollan’s recent book Cooked urges us to prepare our own food. Pollan is a shameless, enthusiastic promoter of meat, speaking and writing cheerily about slaughtering and butchering, but he does have a point: we should be preparing more of our own food. That’s one way to get us out of some dangers posed by industrial food.

PS. Don’t you wonder if the manufacturers eat their own products?

Related links:
Revealed: Shocking list of popular foods and drinks readily available in U.S. grocery stores that are BANNED in other countries because their chemicals are deemed ‘dangerous’
80 percent of US packaged foods may contain dangerous chemicals

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A five-year study of over 73,000 people found that eating meat can shorten your life. To support longevity, the following kinds of diets worked the best, in this order:

  • Pesco-vegetarian (fish is the only animal product eaten)
  • Vegan (no animal products at all)
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian (no meat, but includes dairy and eggs)
  • Semi-vegetarian (meat 2 x week or less)
  • Meat regularly included in diet

The study, published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Internal Medicine),  Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2  was conducted on members of Seventh-Day Adventist churches. Considering that the SDA philosophy discourages meat eating, one might assume that even the meat eaters in this study consumed less than average Americans. Yikes! So if researchers had included a group of average American meat eaters, the benefits of omitting meat would probably be even more obvious.

The researchers, led by M.J. Orlich, concluded, “Vegetarian diets are associated with lower all-cause mortality.” So regular meat eaters come in, shall we say, dead last. And from other sources we know that the worst meats are highly processed ones like sausages.

Another study, published earlier this year by S. Tonstad and colleagues in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease,  found that “Vegetarian diets (vegan, lacto-ovo, semi-) were associated with a substantial and independent reduction in diabetes incidence” (Vegetarian diets and incidence of diabetes in the Adventist Health Study-2).

My headline is strongly worded – obviously there are exceptions to this research because so many factors are involved in health and longevity. But if anyone tries to tell you that going vegetarian is riskier than eating meat, you can tell them they just might be dead wrong.

Related links:
Vegetarians live longer, but it’s not because they don’t eat meat
Vegetarians May Live Longer

Face it, most of us are not going to become biotech scientists. We may have doubts about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but we aren’t equipped to retort to Big Food’s spin departments, which assure us that these crops are safe to eat (and will solve world hunger, not hurt ecosystems, etc.). But recently, someone who IS an agricultural researcher shared his experience. And it isn’t a pretty picture.

Thierry Vrain writes  in the post “Former Pro-GMO Scientist Speaks Out On The Real Dangers of Genetically Engineered Food“: “The Bt corn and soya plants that are now everywhere in our environment are registered as insecticides.” That’s right, the PLANTS are INSECTICIDES.  Vrain continues, “But are these insecticidal plants regulated, and have their proteins been tested for safety? Not by the federal departments in charge of food safety, not in Canada and not in the U.S.”

I can’t say it better than the repentant scientist. He adds, “There are no long-term feeding studies performed in these countries to demonstrate the claims that engineered corn and soya are safe. All we have are scientific studies out of Europe and Russia, showing that rats fed engineered food die prematurely. These studies show that proteins produced by engineered plants are different than what they should be. Inserting a gene in a genome using this technology can and does result in damaged proteins. The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins.”

This report and others can be found on the Food Revolution Network, headed by John and Ocean Robbins. This site is a goldmine of reports, health information, videos, and other resources for everyone who wants to participate in what the Robbinses rightly call The Food Revolution.

Additional important links:
Ted Talk: Birke Baehr: What’s wrong with our food system
Dean Ornish, MD — Healing Through Diet
Jeffrey Smith — Why Europe Labels GMOs