Sunday, February 21, 2010

Navigating the grocery store - Part One

A very good friend and fellow trying-to-figure-it-out mom asked me to post my grocery shopping list. She is assuming I’ve already figured it out, which is a big assumption. I am definitely still working on that. There are a lot of factors that influence that list.

I am very lucky to have a Whole Foods close to home – that has made my job much, much easier. Yes, I know they have a reputation for being expensive (“Whole Paycheck” yeah, yeah...) but it doesn’t have to be the case. When I was single I could easily spend my current monthly budget in one trip, just buying specialty items and gourmet foods. I no longer have a gourmet budget, but I’ve found ways to make it work and still buy the foods I want my family to eat.

This didn’t happen right away – there were a few ‘Honey, let’s talk about the grocery budget’ conversations as I learned how to get the best quality and the most quantity for the least amount of money. (Thanks for hanging in there, DH!) I’ve also had a lot of luck with my ‘regular’ grocery stores, Giant and Safeway, who have also introduced organic lines. But when shopping with 2 2-year-olds, it is all about making it simple – and I simply have the easiest time at my local Whole Foods.

Regardless of the store, these are just a few of the main things I focus on.  I'm sure I am leaving out important points here, but that is the beauty of online communication - I'll add later!

Hormone-free meats and dairy. I know that there are a lot of things to consider when buying meat (grass-fed, free-roaming, antibiotic-free, etc), but with 2 little girls I am especially strict about hormones in food. Added hormones have been linked to early onset puberty and breast cancer.
Organic juice in glass containers (not plastic). Sippy cups at our house are only about 10% juice (90% water) but even in small amounts, I like to keep it as safe as possible.
Fresh or frozen organic vegetables. I used to use canned veggies, but then we learned more about the concentration of BPA in most cans. The only canned veggie brand I know of that does not have BPA is Eden Foods.
Whole grains, high fiber breads, crackers, cereals, etc.
• Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) foods. I just learned about ANDI and I think it is a useful frame of reference. Developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, foods are given a score from 1-1000 – the higher the score, the more nutritious the food. Who knew we’d end up liking bok choy so much?! You can find much more information about this through Dr. Fuhrman’s book and his website and you can see an abbreviated chart via Whole Foods’ site.
Items that are cost-effective. Whole Foods 365 Brand helps a lot. At Giant (also Stop and Shop in the Northeast) I like Nature’s Promise.
Things my kids will actually EAT! It doesn’t make sense to buy a dozen healthy foods that they will simply not touch, so while I do introduce new foods continually, I also try to be realistic (hence the healthy forms of french fries on my weekly list!).
Foods that are convenient. Two 2-year-olds – enough said.

Then I reach the point where I drive myself crazy. Even the most ‘healthy’ foods are of concern because of the chemicals in the materials used to package them. I mentioned BPA in cans, but there are so many other toxins lurking in our groceries! I switched to frozen veggies to avoid BPA, but what about the plastic bags the veggies come in? My organic, hormone-free, whole grain pizzas, nuggets, fries, etc are all encased in plastic. Are the plastic yogurt containers ok? I know that one of the answers is to avoid the packaged foods, but shouldn’t there be a way to make the delivery of these foods safe? In the meantime, what are the best choices? And what can we do about it?

I still don’t know all of the answers, but I’ve found a number of organizations focused on change so I am trying to divert my energy in that direction. I am a huge fan of “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families”. They are working to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and achieve a “sound and comprehensive chemicals policy that protects public health and the environment, while restoring the luster of safety to U.S. goods in the world market.” This simply has to happen! If you support this, even a little, please go to their site and take a look.

There are other efforts, and frankly I am confused by the amount of pending legislation under various names. I’ll tackle that, plus post a list of actual foods and brands this week – I have officially used all of my ‘me time’ and the troops need attention.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bottles, bottles, bottles

By now I think we are all aware that plastic bottles are generally unsafe. I try to avoid buying any liquid unless it is in a glass bottle (of course, then there is BPA in the lid, sigh...). Today I saw that there is yet another new study from the Journal of Environmental Monitoring to reinforce that habit.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen detected high levels of antimony in some commercial juices. Testing was done on various juices packaged in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, glass bottles and Tetra Pak cartons. Antimony concentrations up to a factor of 2.7 above the EU limit for drinking water were found and may have leached from the packaging or may have been introduced during manufacturing process. The chemical of concern in this situation, antimony trioxide (a suspected carcinogen) is used as a catalyst in PET production.

You can read more here:
The danger of antimony is described as follows: "Antimony and many of its compounds are toxic. Clinically, antimony poisoning is very similar to arsenic poisoning. In small doses, antimony causes headache, dizziness, and depression. Larger doses cause violent and frequent vomiting, and will lead to death in a few days." The article goes on to say that, "More recent research suggests that antimony may have endocrine-disrupting effects at concentrations lower than the limits noted above; if so, then leaching of antimony from PET containers may have a significant impact on human health." [Sax, Leonard (2009). "Polyethylene terephthalate may yield endocrine disruptors" (free access). Environmental Health Perspectives.]

Antinomy compounds are used in such applications as flame-retardants - exactly the kind of thing you do NOT want to pour into your child's sippy cup. So, we'll stick to glass.

Friday, February 19, 2010

So - where to start? How about the bathtub...

BPA, phthalates, pesticides… Books, blogs, articles… Petitions, fundraisers, legislation… I get so overwhelmed by it all that sometimes I just turn off and move on to something else (exciting things like folding laundry or scrubbing floors/faces).

I have a constant to do list running in my head – find non-toxic paints, figure out the pending legislation on all chemical safety activity, get a lead detector kit for questionable items and old toys, organize a local event where other concerned parents can use XRF scanners to test items for safety… Sometimes it seems insurmountable.

So at least for today I’ll plunge in and start with an easy one. Bath tub safety. I need something to cover the faucet that will protect little heads from injury without adding chemicals to the water. I had one, but instead of phthalates, it added mold – it was impossible to clean. So, I asked one of my online favorite stores, The Soft Landing (, for advice and within minutes I had an answer and placed an order. They recommended the Boon Flo ( - I'll let you know how it works!

If you haven’t tried The Soft Landing yet, check them out. They evaluate products for exactly the issues that worry me, so I feel safe when I buy from them. They are a pleasure to interact with too – always a plus! I came across The Softer Landing when I was trying to figure out sippy cups on another fantastic site, SafeMama ( Safe Mama keeps cheat sheets online – that takes the mystery out of the process. Shopping with kids is tricky enough as it is. I print and carry them when I am shopping for anything kid-related.

I didn’t exactly solve our nation’s chemical safety problems today, but one baby step (well, 2 preschooler steps) at a time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The MollyAnna Approach

Remember Pollyanna? The ever-optimistic dreamer who always knew that things were going to work out? When it comes to chemical and consumer safety, I’ve reached a mindset that I am calling ‘MollyAnna’. I am discouraged, frustrated and even a bit cynical these days, but I have to believe that there is something I can do to make a difference when it comes to the health and well-being not only of my own family, but of all of the consumers in the US who should be able to buy products without wondering about their lethal side-effects.

I’m not talking about medications or heavy machinery. I worry about lotions, food, toys, clothing, packaging… You name it – there are untested chemicals in just about everything we touch. Some chemicals – such as BPA, PVC and phthalates – have been tested and are clearly dangerous toxins but they are still sold as innocuous and seemingly safe items by companies we have grown to trust. How can we even know where to start? And since most of the chemicals in our environment have not even been tested, what really IS safe?

I’m not a scientist, chemist or a doctor. I’m not a politico, an extremist or a lobbyist. I’m a mom. I have big worries and a small budget. I have great ideas and next-to-no free time. I have a million questions and only a few answers – and even those answers are suspect at times. I feel like I am going around in smaller and smaller circles. I’ll research an issue, reach a decision and then hear a new piece of research that makes me question everything at which point I start all over again. And with two 2-year-olds (yep, Molly and Anna) I really don’t have the time to waste.

By no means do I have the answers here, but I thought it might be of value to document my efforts to navigate this minefield. In the process I’ll be asking for tons of help from people who ARE experts – and I’ll share that info here. I’ll also share info about some of the great strides certain organizations are making in this effort – and the fantastic websites that help by evaluating and selling safe products. There are probably a few million different ways to juggle all of this, but this is my approach. The MollyAnna approach.