Day 296–A Healthy App–Farmanac!

Produce

The Farmanac app gives you resources at the farmer’s market and at the grocery store!

I’ve posted before about how technology can help us navigate the world of healthy food and help us make good choices. Sometimes these apps work well and sometimes they don’t. Here is another new app that I think is pretty good!

Farmanac is a new iTunes store app that lists produce by name and by PLU code (the code that grocers use) to provide photos of the produce, information on the residual pesticide level (ties into the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen test scores), information about the produce, how to select it, how to store it, and when it is locally in season in your area (see below).

The app is very easy to use and includes some interesting historical and agricultural information! I like the photos, too. In my experience, grocery stores don’t always label their produce correctly, so it’s nice to be able to check what you are buying! Also great to see where the produce falls on the pesticide scale so you can find out quickly if it is preferable to buy organic.

The screen visuals are nice and easy to see. Here is a screen shot about cabbage from my iPhone. Pretty sure it would look fab on my iPad as well, but I don’t take that shopping, so I only used my phone to test.

Where this app falls short is its listing what is “in season” for various regions of the US and Canada. News to app makers: yes, Kentucky and Texas were both Confederate states, but their growing seasons are very different. Please don’t lump them together as “The South.” I’m sure folks in say, western Canada feel the same way. If the app makers can refine that portion of the app (maybe by growing season instead of by state) and include links to recipes, this would be golden.

For now, though, it’s still very good and at $1.99, a good resource to have while shopping or meal planning.

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Day 173–The Dirty Dozen Plus

I’ve posted before about the wonderful list of high and low pesticide foods called the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. GREAT shopping resource. Most of us can’t afford to buy everything organic, so it helps to know which foods are higher in residual pesticides (after washing and standard prep for eating) and which are the lowest. This list is compiled by the Environmental Working Group, an organization that doesn’t get nearly enough press.

The 2012 Dirty Dozen list is out and this year it is called the Dirty Dozen Plus. What is the “plus”? This year, the EWG added a new category to the Dirty Dozen list for crops that don’t meet the standard criteria used to identify a “dirty” crop, but contained enough neurotoxic chemicals to be of concern. Ok, all you kale lovers (I am definitely included in this category), take notice! Kale and green beans are on this new “plus” list!

My only complaint with the new list is that they have not yet updated the phone app, which is very helpful when I’m at the farmer’s market. I have enough to remember–the app is a great help! Maybe soon?

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/

Day 20–What’s In Your Makeup Bag?

Lotion Bars

We seem to have an astonishing number of beauty products in our house. Between my pre-teen and I, we seem to have enough supplies to open our own Ulta store. Couple that with my husband’s amazing coupon savvy and we also have enough “almost free” deodorant and toothpaste to last the rest of our lives. I know enough to buy unscented products most of the time, but really, I am just now learning about the chemicals and other somewhat bizarre ingredients (placenta? formaldehyde?) that are allowed to be in our cleansers, moisturizers, soaps, shampoo and so on.

I recently heard a great piece on NPR’s “The People’s Pharmacy” about household and food toxins and the impact they have on people, especially children and pregnant women. I had no idea that neither the FDA nor the Consumer Products Safety Commission regulate what chemicals go into beauty products. The terms “natural,” “hypoallergenic,” and “organic” when it relates to beauty products can be used without any proof to substantiate those claims. This concerns me. Greatly. In addition, a recent study from Europe found that all women treated for breast cancer had parabens present in their breast tissue. Parabens are regularly present in such products as moisturizer, deodorant and shampoo.

I did find a great website (referenced in the above “People’s Pharmacy” segment) from the Environmental Working Group called Skin Deep that has tested and rated beauty and hygiene products. Each product has two ratings–one is a numerical rating 0-10 (0 being least toxic, 10=most toxic) based on ingredients and levels of potential toxicity. The other is a rating on the level of date available for the safety of that product (“robust” to “none”). Many products also have a narrative description of why they received that ranking. You can search by company name, by type of product and by ingredient. It’s a nice tool and very interesting, but they really need a phone app so you can take that information with you when shopping.

The website address is http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

Here is what we found:

  • Our deodorants had high toxicity levels for the chemicals and trace chemicals in them.
  • Our toothpaste didn’t fare much better, at medium levels of toxicity.
  • My Boots No. 7 facial moisturizer fared pretty well (better than my old Bobbi Brown products)
  • The Bath and Body Works lotion and body gel soap I received for Christmas are going bye-bye. They were at the highest levels of toxicity (probably due to their fragrance and levels of parabens).
  • Makeup fared so-so. Mascara, due to its petroleum product base tends to fare worse than, say, most lip gloss. Foundation, bronzers and blushes run a wide range from low to very high (glitter products were the worst).

So, what now? Here’s the plan:

  • The worst offenders go first. We will replace our deodorant and toothpaste this week. That’s an easy fix. Other offenders like the Bath & Body Works lotion and soap will go as well.
  • As we run out of our regular, unscented body lotion, we will replace them with lotion that is better. After looking at some prices of the best scoring products ($15 for a bottle of body lotion???), we may try to find other options.
  • Some items, like my Bobbi Brown concealer and foundation? That’s a harder call. I love them and they work so well, it will be hard to switch.

The Big Dilemma

So now that we will be getting rid of some of our old products, we have a dilemma. What to do about the stockpile of products (many unused) that we have now? We don’t want to put them in the landfill, but I feel guilty about giving them to charity when I know they aren’t good for you.

What would you do??

Day 19–The Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15

English: A sign warning about pesticide exposure.

“Action expresses priorities.”–Mohandas Gandhi

Our intent with our family journey toward a more sustainable, less toxic life, was to put our priorities (healthier lifestyle, support of local farmers, reducing environmental toxins, eating cleaner) into action and document the results. But sometimes there is a tension between intent and reality. Namely, that we can’t go broke buying groceries and we can’t always find what we want from an organic or locally produced source. And sometimes there are unintended consequences (see below) So, what’s a girl to do? Seek information and pick her battles, that’s what.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested the most common produce sold in the U.S. and developed a list of the produce with the highest pesticide levels (The Dirty Dozen) and those with the lowest pesticide levels (The Clean 15). Pesticide levels were measured after washing the produce to simulate a typical home environment. They turned this information into a handy list anyone can use while shopping.

So, what about the unintended consequences?

The EWG developed this list after finding that residual pesticide levels in children have been increasing over time. Interestingly, this increase is seen at higher levels in middle class families with college educated parents. Why? Because those parents, who are responding to the obesity crisis in children and who have more discretionary income to spend on food, are more likely to forego chips and processed snacks for fresh fruit and vegetables. So an unintended consequence of well-meaning parents (like me) getting our children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables is that their children are showing higher levels of the pesticides used on those crops in their bodies. YIKES!

Realizing that many families don’t have the financial ability to purchase all of their produce organic, the EWG produced a list of the worst and the best, giving parents and other consumers a tool to use when making food choices.  I put this app on my phone so I can refer to it at the farmer’s market when I’m shopping (I know I won’t remember the piece of paper). While the EWG list is not comprehensive, it’s one more tool I can use to express my priorities through actions in a financially efficient way.

So, what’s on the list? You can download the list at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/ but here it is in summary:

Dirty Dozen

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines (Imported)
  • Grapes
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Kale

The Clean 15

  • Onions
  • Sweet corn**
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe (Domestic)
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms

**Because sweet corn is often genetically modified and the FDA does not require that GMO corn be labelled as such, the EWG recommends that anyone concerned about GMO products buy organic sweet corn.

What do you think about the list? Is this something you would use? How do you budget for greater health?

Next post: What’s in your makeup bag?