#12) Tips for an Organic and “Greener” Holiday Kitchen

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Yaakov Levine, NTP

The information provided in this article is intended to give a general overview of the topic and is not intended as medical advice. For information specific to your situation, or health concerns, please consult with your medical doctor.  

Nutritionally Speaking: Article #12, Tips for an Organic and  “Greener” Holiday Kitchen

As we move into  the Fall season with it’s colder weather and the beginning of our holiday celebrations many of us are spending more time in the kitchen. Part of my duties as Nutritional Health Coach at Natural Grocers has me spending even more time in the kitchen preparing for and teaching informational cooking classes. At home I am enjoying the aromas of the stews on the stove and the roasting veggies in the oven as they circulate around the house. In our home as with my home growing up,  the kitchen is a central gathering place..for meals or sharing a pot of tea and conversation.

The tips below that I have gleaned from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) will offer  guidelines toward an environmentally greener, safer, healthier kitchen and dining experience. These suggestions should help you plan ahead, shop for healthier foods, stock your holiday kitchen and offer peace of mind as you and your families enjoy the holidays.

  1. Choose food that is low in pollutants and toxic chemicals: Along with the ingredients that are on our food’s labels there are unfortunately often unlisted ingredients we do not want. Here are helpful suggestions so that you can avoid feeding your loved ones pesticides, hormones, and other artificial additives that do not contribute to their health. Buy Organic when you can and make sure plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables are on your menu. Organic produce is grown without synthetic pesticides or Genetically Modified ingredients (GMOs). Organic meat and dairy products also limit your family’s exposure to growth hormones and antibiotics.

The EWG suggests that it’s OK to choose non-organic grown produce items from their “Clean 15” list of less-contaminated conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Check out EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce which ranks popular fruits and vegetables based on the amount of pesticide residues found on them. (www.ewg.org)(they also have an iPhone App). Keep in mind that the herbicides used when growing GMO foods are increasing in quantity as the weeds become resistant to Glyphosphate (Roundup) and other herbicides.

Cook with fresh foods,  rather than packaged and canned, whenever you can. Food containers can leach packaging chemicals into food, including the estrogenic bisphenol A that’s used to make the linings of food cans. Choose fresh food or prepared foods stored in glass containers and pick recipes that call for fresh, not canned foods. Frozen foods can be a convenient alternative for foods out of season.

  1. Avoid toxic chemicals in your cookware by not using the non-stick type so that your families don’t have to breathe toxic fumes that can off-gas from non-stick pans used over high heat.

For safer cooking, EWG suggests choosing cast iron and oven-safe glass cookware. There are many new (non-stick) products on the market, but most companies won’t tell you exactly what’s in them. Even if they’re advertised as “green” or “not non-stick,” manufacturers do not have to release their safety data to the public. Cast iron pans are safe, and are my favorite type of cookware. If you are “stuck” on using non-stick cookware, here are tips to safer usage: Never heat an empty non-stick pan, and never put it in the oven hotter than 500 degrees. Always use your stove exhaust fan when cooking with non-stick pans.

  1. Store your leftovers safer by avoiding plastic storage containers and (especially) do not re-heat in plastic containers. The chemical additives in plastic containers can migrate into your food and beverages. Choose instead, ceramic or glass containers such as Pyrex which are safer choices. Even if they are labeled as “microwave safe”, avoid microwaving in plastic containers. Heat can release chemicals into your food since the heat creates hot spots that will cause the plastic to break down. If you use plastic containers, use them only for cold liquids and wash plastics by hand or use the top rack of your dishwasher to keep them away from the heating elements. When microwaving use a paper towel to cover the food instead of plastic wrap. Avoid purchasing single-use plastic containers as much as possible — reusing them isn’t safe (they can harbor bacteria) and tossing them out fills up landfills (and pollutes the environment).

We all clean our homes before holiday guests arrive and after they leave — and while we cook. Do you clean with green, non-toxic products? Please do, because our homes aren’t safe and clean if the air inside is polluted with chemicals from household cleaners. It’s really quite easy. You can visit EWG’s online guide for non-toxic products. (www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners). Examples of safer alternatives for household cleaning are vinegar, baking soda, and water.

We have many choices when it comes to feeding our families and cleaning our homes. Let’s make this a green, safe and nutritious holiday season. For additional information about having a healthy non-toxic household contact me at nutritionallyspeaking@gmail.com, (541) 895-2427.

Yaakov Levine, NTP