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The Dirty Dozen: What You Should Know About Fruits & Veggies

August 3, 2011 •  5 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien

Have you ever wondered how many chemicals and pesticides are sprayed on your food? I hadn’t either, at least, not until I saw a film called The Future of Food. In the documentary, a little boy bites into a giant, red strawberry (as my children have so often done), and then the film cuts to the strawberry field, where farm workers, wearing biohazard suits that cover every inch of their bodies, are fumagating strawberries with chemicals.

And I stopped and thought, “I have no idea what is being done to my children’s fruits and vegetables before they get to our dinner table”. So I dug into the research to learn more.

And thankfully, at the time, I came across a report called “The Dirty Dozen”. It was a list of the most polluted fruits and veggies on the market. And in all candor, it caused complete heartache to read it. It listed some of my children’s favorite foods: apples, strawberries and grapes and also highlighted a study by Harvard School of Public Health that found children exposed to pesticides had a higher risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

And as I struggled with the thought that I had unknowingly exposed my children to potentially toxic doses of pesticides, I also realized that this knowledge was a gift, perhaps one of the greatest that any mother could be given, as now I could make an informed choice when feeding my family and exposing them to things that might cause severe harm.

So this week, when the seventh annual report was released that analyzed government data on 53 fruits and vegetables, identifying which have the most and least pesticides after washing and peeling, I once again found myself enormously grateful for the organization providing this detailed report, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for their dedicated efforts to bring transparency to an all-too-polluted food supply for the sake of our health.

In their list of “The Dirty Dozen”, they provide the names of the produce found to be highest in pesticides. According to USA Today, “rankings reflect the amounts of chemicals present on food when it is eaten. Most samples were washed and peeled before testing”. And this year, apples moved up three spots from last year, because 92% of apples contain two or more pesticides.

The Dirty Dozen

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

And those grapes and strawberries that kids love? Unfortunately, they are still being sprayed with record amounts of toxins.

It may not be what you want to hear if you’ve got picky eaters like me, but when it comes to protecting the health of our families, knowledge is power. And with this information, you will have the power to protect your loved ones. So take a look and share the list with those that you love. And for those who cannot afford organic food which by law are not allowed to be produced with the use of these toxic chemicals, the lists offers alternatives like pineapples, the top fruit on the clean list.

The Clean Fifteen

1. Onions
2. Corn*
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushroom

* Because the majority of the corn in the United States has been genetically modified, and in some cases engineered to produce its own insecticidal toxins, look for non-genetically modified corn products.

Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Just as you didn’t wean a child from a sippy cup or potty train them in a day, you can begin to protect the health of your family by taking “Baby Steps” and simply doing one thing. And picking up a pineapple at the grocery store instead of a bag full of apples loaded with chemicals, just might be a great place to start.

To learn more and see the complete list and rankings of 53 fruits and veggies, please visit Food News at the Environmental Working Group.

Is Something Hiding in Your Veggie Burger?

August 2, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

“Some veggie burgers found to contain harmful substance” read the headline in the Daily News.

“Wow,” I thought, reflecting on the recent increasing number of vegetarian articles and the Meatless Monday campaigns, “this merits a click.”

And as I popped open the following article, my heart began to hurt, as I reflected on having to learn about the chemicals used to grow soy and how many of these chemicals I’d unknowingly eaten during my pregnancies. It certainly wasn’t something I’d ever wanted to know, but I couldn’t unlearn it.

So in an effort to once again inform, inspire and protect women and their families from the chemicals now found in our food supply, I’m sharing this article written by Tracy Miller, a staff writer for the New York Daily News, with the readers of the AllergyKids Foundation.

Because knowledge is power when it comes to protecting the health of your loved ones. And because together, we can create the changes we want to see in the health of our families and our food system. ~Robyn O’Brien

Written by Tracy Miller for the New York Daily News

Think you’re being healthy by choosing a veggie burger instead of red meat? Think again.

In an effort to make their products as low-fat as possible, many veggie burger manufacturers are turning to a potentially harmful chemical, according to an investigation by the non-profit Cornucopia Institute.

Most non-organic veggie burgers contain hexane, a neurotoxin that’s also a petroleum by-product of gasoline refining. Hexane is listed as a hazardous air pollutant with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to the report, which called hexane the “dirty little secret of the ‘natural’ soy foods industry.”

To keep down the fat content of energy bars, veggie burgers and other products, food manufacturers submerge soybeans in a bath of hexane to separate them into soy oil, protein and fiber.

Products labeled “organic” aren’t allowed to contain any hexane – but foods that are less than 100% organic, such as those labeled “made with organic ingredients,” may contain the chemical.

Boca Burger and Morningstar burgers labeled “made with organic soy” are not produced using hexane.

The full list of veggie burger and nutrition bar brands researched can be found on page 37-38 of the report. Click here to read.

Four Words that Change Your Life Forever

August 1, 2011 •  6 comments.

 •  Blog, News

“Cancer Mama”. It’s a term used in today’s pediatric cancer world. One that didn’t exist when our mothers had young children, as the Centers for Disease Control now reports that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15.

A cancer mama is a warrior and probably the fiercest of its kind. As a brave friend writes, “She shares the understanding of a mom’s innate instinct to protect her children. In the cancer world a mom feels helpless; she can’t take away the pain or cancer from her child. She can, however, fight as best as she knows how for our children’s comfort and well-being. With the exception of administering chemo and performing surgery, she learns it all. Med schedule, dosing, side effects, dressing changes, line flushes, giving shots, the list goes on. She researches, challenge the doctors, and consult with other cancer mamas.”

If you’ve ever known a “Cancer Mama”, you know that they are truly guardian angels for their children. They manage their child’s cancer with the precision of a CEO, often developing spreadsheets that detail the dates, times and doses of medications that can run the length of a kitchen wall.

I know too many of them. And yet, I am grateful for each and every one. As they are extraordinary in their strength and in the voices of courage that they are for our children.

Heather Donatini is no exception, and as she shares her story below, I invite you to reflect on how many “Cancer Mamas” you might know and lend your voice in whatever way you can to protecting the health of the American children.


“Your daughter won’t survive.”

“Your son has cancer.”

Two statements my husband and I have heard over the last six years. Four words a parent never expects to hear. Four words that rock you to your core and bring you to your knees. Four words that change your life forever.

After five years of being happily married we were ready for the next step in life: children. That desire to start a family turned into years of trying. Eventually we conceived our first child – a daughter to be named Corinne. During my sixth month of pregnancy things started going wrong. Really wrong. After emergency surgery Corinne Faith entered this world weighing only 1 lb, 6 oz. She was with us for three days. She was termed a “partial molar pregnancy” and it was a miracle that she was born alive, perfectly formed; just tiny. A one in a million diagnosis, a “fluke.” We were devastated.

The following year we got pregnant with our second child, a son. We were so excited and wanted nothing more than to be parents. Jarren arrived in 2006 and was a healthy, active newborn and toddler who hit all normal developmental benchmarks on time with the exception of delayed speech because he learned to sign.

In April 2009 Jarren became very ill with what we thought was the flu. After 4 days of non-ceasing flu-like symptoms, we went to the emergency room where he was given IV fluids for severe dehydration and tested positive for Rotavirus. Once home his rotavirus symptoms stopped but he never seemed to fully recover. We noticed that his stomach was distended, his fingers and toes were cold, and he spiked fevers intermittently. This didn’t set well with us or his doctor so we were sent a couple times to the hospital for blood work, x-rays and ultimately a CT Scan.

A CT scan revealed a mass on Jarren’s liver and with that news we immediately found ourselves in the emergency room at UCLA. Further tests and a liver biopsy confirmed the suspicion of cancer. Specifically Hepatoblastoma – a solid pediatric liver cancer with a 1 in a million diagnosis. We had just been hit with a second “1 in a million” diagnosis.

Treatment began just before Jarren’s 3rd birthday. Chemo started immediately and we got a crash-course into the oncology world and what would become our second home – the hospital.

Jarren was a champ through chemo. Yes, he had a lot of the side effects but they were kept to a minimum compared to other kids enduring the same toxins. Like most on chemo, the metals, mouth sores, and the nausea changed taste buds and the desire to eat. Doctors encouraged us to give him anything he wanted to eat. We were pleased when he ate a cookie or an entire box of Fruit Loops or Cocoa Puffs even though they were empty calories.

Then one day a fellow cancer mama handed me a copy of “The Unhealthy Truth.” I devoured Robyn’s book and became angry at the misinformation we, as consumers, have about the food we are eating. Surely, if the FDA approves it, it’s safe. Or so I thought! Then I started researching and found that some believe sugar fuels cancer cells. I also learned about GMO’s. Suddenly, the gallons of soy milk that Jarren drank and the genetically modified sugar cereals he was downing, along with the rest of the processed food we all ate, made me wonder – is this what caused my son’s cancer?! We don’t know for certain.

As Robyn O’Brien states, “once you learn this information you can’t unlearn it.” From that day forward we completely changed the way our family ate. Organic and natural food was no longer a luxury, it became a necessity. I only wished I knew this information sooner.

Ultimately, over the course of 18 months our beautiful Jarren endured 16 rounds of chemotherapy, one liver biopsy, two liver resections, and one lung resection surgery. On November 1, 2010 Jarren lost his battle with cancer and earned his angel wings.

In Jarren’s memory we have started the Bumblebee Foundation to help other pediatric cancer families enduring the same battle we did.

Please visit us at www.bumblebeefoundation.org to learn more about our organization or www.caringbridge.org/visit/jarren to read Jarren’s journey.