Friday, April 22, 2011

Dirty Talk - Pesticides and Produce

Recently World News with Diane Sawyer did a report on the effects of pesticides in children under the age of 7. Children exposed to common pesticides, even in the womb, showed a dramatic reduction in IQ. It’s reports like these that scream, “Wake Up!”

We are always looking for some single answer to troubling medical conditions like cancer, autism, autoimmune diseases, and more. I don’t think you can single out one culprit. We’re poisoning ourselves at every turn from our GMO foods of declining nutrition, to the pesticides that make everything pretty and bug free, to the cleaning products in our homes, to the chemicals in our household furniture and décor…not to mention loading processed food with transfats, sugars, dyes, preservatives and stabilizers! It’s simply crazy. And we wonder why our children get sick?

Well, that turned into quite a rant, didn’t it? The point is that we need to eliminate as many potential toxins from our environment/bodies/homes as we can. One way to reduce toxins is by eating organically.

Listen, I know that buying organic products can be expensive. I can’t afford to buy organics exclusively but, I encourage you to purchase what you can afford. Also, spend your money wisely by concentrating on foods that are most harmful. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has compiled a list of produce that contains the highest percentage of pollutants/pesticides called the “Dirty Dozen.

  • If you can only purchase a few organic fruits and vegetables, focus on buying organic versions of the produce listed on the “Dirty Dozen.
  • If you can’t afford organics, or your grocer doesn't carry them, stick to purchasing foods on the “Clean 15” list. The produce on the “Clean 15” list is lowest in pesticides according to EWG tests.

The owner of a produce distribution company once told me that he washed EVERY fruit and vegetable that he ate. Even if you don’t believe that pesticides are an issue, imagine how many people have touched your food before it gets to your table. Rinsing can remove some pesticides but you really should wash all your produce thoroughly. You can use special pesticide removing cleaners or mild soap and water. Peeling your produce can remove pesticides but you lose some nutrition in the process so, you are better off washing.

‘Dirty Dozen'
1. Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Blueberries
6. Nectarines
7. Bell peppers
8. Spinach
9. Cherries
10. Kale/Collard greens
11. Potatoes
12. Grapes (imported)

'Clean 15'
1. Onions
2. Avocado
3. Sweet corn
4. Pineapple
5. Mangoes
6. Sweet peas
7. Asparagus
8. Kiwi
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Cantaloupe
12. Watermelon
13. Grapefruit
14. Sweet potato
15. Honeydew melon

The Environmental Working Group has a complete list of fruits and vegetables tested at its website. You can also download a pdf or iphone app of the guide.

How do you feel about organic vs. conventional foods? What percentage of the food you purchase is organic? Are there organic items that you are more likely to look for?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Double The Pleasure, Double The Fun - Peppermint vs Spearmint

Okay, so I totally ripped off the tag line from a famous mint chewing gum - well, sort of. I changed it a smidge because it's trademarked but, it seemed like a fitting tag line to use when discussing peppermint vs. spearmint. So, what's the difference? Well, here's a little overview.

Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint. It's also been called American mint , lamb mint (or lammint). It was native to Europe and brought to America by the colonists. The leaves are 1 to 2 inches long and have a toothy edge. Peppermint is used in tea and for flavoring ice cream, candy, gum, toothpaste.


Spearmint, also a native of Europe, is referred to as common mint, garden mint, Our Lady's mint, and sage of Bethlehem. The leaves are long, spear-shaped and attach to the stalk of the plant vs. stems. Spearmint is most commonly used in teas, mint juleps, mojitos, candy, and gum.

Although they both come from the mentha family, peppermint contains more menthol so it may seem stronger. Spearmint is sometimes described as greener or sweeter while peppermint has a candy cane flavor.

I don't think you can go wrong with either one, it's basically a personal choice according to what you are going to use it for or which plant you like the looks of best.

These perennial herbs thrive in moist, part-sun to shady locations, and expand quickly by underground rhizomes or runners (these are sneaky little shoots that pop up in seemingly random places). I planted some mint in a container full of various herbs thinking, novice gardener that I am, that I could control the stuff with pruning. Wrong! I learned quickly that there is no use struggling with it, because it WILL to take over. So, I suggest if you plant it, give it its own pot and don't plant it in your open garden.

Mint is best used fresh and should be stored only briefly, in plastic bags or in the refrigerator. Here are some ideas for using fresh mint:
  • Crush mint leaves and fold them in whipped cream for an excellent topping on chocolate desserts.
  • Combine freshly-minced mint leaves with watermelon and feta cheese for a delicious summer salad.
  • Steep mint leaves in boiling water for refreshing tea that also soothes indigestion, stomachache and, may improve your memory.
  • Make Mint Water. Twist or bruise 1 cup of peppermint, spearmint, or other mint. Place in a clean half-gallon container. fill with fresh, cool water. Chill in refrigerator. Strain and serve on ice. 
  • Make mint-infused rum for the perfect Mojito. Take a bunch fresh mint. Put it in a plastic baggie with a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and smash it up a little. Then, stuff the mint into a bottle of white rum and wait a few days. To make your Mojito, combine two ounces of infused rum, one ounce of fresh-squeezed lime juice and one teaspoon of sugar and shake vigorously. Pour over ice and top with two ounces of sparkling water. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a lime wedge and enjoy!
What is your favorite mint - peppermint or spearmint? What do you make with fresh mint?