Have a GMO-Free Halloween!

I can handle ghosts, witches, and even bloody axes. But as a mom, the scariest moment on Halloween is when I see heaps of chemical-laden candy dumped from my little monsters’ bags onto the living room floor. After an evening filled with anticipation, laughter, and glee, what do I do now? Do I let them eat as much as they want? Do I allow them one consolation piece and scoop the rest into the garbage? How can I have peace of mind without utterly destroying this moment and this holiday for my sweet goblins?

What scares me the most about this pile of candy is not the sugar. In fact, I would rather see my kids eat cane sugar straight from the bowl than any of these brightly colored nuggets from shiny packages. The problem with Halloween candy is that it is the end result of our damaged food supply. The ingredient list for any given piece of candy may include high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or flavors, preservatives, and inevitably genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course it won’t say GMO on the ingredient list. That is for you to figure out. If you wonder why you should care about GMOs, read Dirtier than the Dirty Dozen. Here are the ingredients for M&M’s® with the items likely to be genetically modified in bold:

MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, COCOA BUTTER, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, SALT, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), SUGAR, CORNSTARCH, LESS THAN 1% – CORN SYRUP, DEXTRIN, COLORING (INCLUDES BLUE 1 LAKE, YELLOW 6, RED 40, YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, RED 40 LAKE, BLUE 2 LAKE, YELLOW 6 LAKE, BLUE 2), GUM ACACIA. CONTAINS MILK AND SOY. MAY CONTAIN PEANUTS.

Not only do these little candies contain 10 potentially GMO ingredients, but they also contain nine artificial food dyes. Food dyes are made from petroleum and may cause hyperactivity, allergic reactions, or even cancer. The British government and the European Union have taken action to virtually end the use of food dyes in Europe but they are still used freely in the United States. I do not mean to pick on M&M’s®. I could have chosen any candy from the bag and the outlook would not be any better. I have often considered Reese’s® peanut butter cups to be one of the least toxic Halloween candies. But even these contain five potentially GMO ingredients and a preservative that increases tumors in rats and is listed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest as an additive to avoid.

SAM_3231There are actually better options available: treats we can give our little ones that contain all natural and GMO-free ingredients. You will not find these in any major grocery store, but you can order them online. I recommend visiting the Natural Candy Store.  You can get non-GMO Project Verified miniature chocolates, snack size jelly beans, and organic candy mixes. You can even get super-fruit chews made with brown rice syrup and freeze-dried berries that taste just like Starbursts®. If you really hate to see those M&M’s® go, order a case of Sun Drops®.

Other options for Halloween treats include raisins, organic fruit leathers, pretzels, or toys. Whatever your approach, be sure to secure a stash of natural treats before Halloween arrives. Offer your kids a trade. Let them choose a number of treats from your bag and find a way to dispose of the chemical ones.

Luckily there are infinite ways you can get rid of that unwanted loot. The Halloween candy buyback program has become very popular. This is a way that your kids can get cash for candy (one dollar per pound) and the candy is donated to the troops. If you cannot find a participating location near you, create your own buyback program. Establish a rate (maybe a nickel a piece) with your child before Halloween night. I have some friends who have a “Halloween witch” visit in the night to trade out the candy for a toy. Others have their kids open all the candy into a pot of water and make a pretend “soup.” The possibilities of what to do are virtually endless. The key to success, I believe, is having a plan that everybody agrees upon in advance.

So make a Halloween plan. Get whatever you need in advance (natural candies, toys, money, or just an address for buyback the next day). Make sure that your little ghosts are aware of the plan and in full agreement. Use this as an opportunity to teach your kids something about our messed up food supply. And when that chemical-laden candy gets dumped, IT will have something to fear.

Join me in making this a GMO-Free Halloween!

Kale is for Kids!

SAM_2845I have kids. I know that they do not always eat exactly what I want them to eat. In fact, they rarely eat exactly what I want them to eat.

But I also know that the food that they eat matters. And some foods matter more than others. Green leafy vegetables fall into that category. A little bit of kale (or chard, collards, or spinach) packs an intense nutrition punch. It is worth a bit of persistence and creativity to turn these into foods that our kids will eat.

Before I get into the ways we can present kale to our kids, let’s take a quick look at what amazing nutrition just 1 cup of raw kale provides.

According to NutritionData.com, 1 cup of chopped raw kale provides more than 100% of our daily value of vitamin C, more than 200% of our daily value of vitamin A, and more than 600% of our daily value of vitamin K. It also provides at least 10 different minerals and all of the B vitamins. Kale provides all of these things in a mere 33 calories.

So how do we get our kids to eat kale? I know that every child is different. Some will eat sautéed kale with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt. Others will reject a meatball if they identify even a speck of green in it. Try what you think might work for your kids. And if it doesn’t work at first, try and try again. It will be worth the effort.

Let’s start with the smoothie. If your child will accept a green smoothie, just throw some kale into the blender with plain yogurt, ground flax seeds, a banana and some orange juice. This is sweet and yummy! If your child refuses a green drink, add enough cherries or mixed berries to turn the same drink pink. Smoothies are not only for breakfast, but also for a great afternoon snack.

Another popular snack is kale chips. While my son loves the ones that are deep-fried in peanut oil (served at The Kitchen Next Door in Boulder, CO), I prefer to dehydrate or bake them. Wash and chop the kale, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake at 325° for 15-20 minutes.

The frittata is another great presentation for kale. Finely chop the kale, sauté it with some onions and garlic, add some beaten eggs and cheese, and bake in an oven-safe pan. The frittata can be a great way to serve any number of vegetables, but spinach and kale are favorites in our family.

If you are looking to hide the kale, try adding a quarter cup of pureed kale to your favorite meatball or meatloaf recipe. Pureed greens can also be mixed into your favorite spaghetti sauce.

SAM_3012If all else fails, make cake! I have to give credit to Weelicious for this idea. The Lunches cookbook has a recipe for “spinach cake muffins.” I substitute kale for spinach and adjust the recipe to make it gluten-free. For my version of kale muffins, I blend (in a blender) 1 cup packed kale, ½ cup applesauce, 1 egg, 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil, 1/3 cup cane sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, and ½ tsp salt, and then mixed that with 1.5 cups of Pamela’s Pancake and Baking Mix. I bake in mini muffin tins at 350° for 12 minutes. The color is vibrant and the taste is great!

Once our kids are used to eating green, we can finely chop fresh kale and add it to salads, sandwiches, and soups. Ideally I want my kids to enjoy their greens the way I do: sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and salt. I continue to present this and some days they eat it. But until they will eat it every day, I will persevere in the creative presentation of one of the most nutritionally dense foods on our planet.

I hope that you will too!

Dirtier than the Dirty Dozen: What Parents Need to Know about GMO

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image11269799

This article is intended for all moms and dads who have heard of GMO’s but just haven’t taken the time to figure out why they matter. It is for those of you whose children eat bread, crackers, or cereal that are not certified organic. It is for those of you who have never thought twice about what brand of corn chips you have in your kitchen. If this does not describe you, then stop reading now.

You may have heard of the “dirty dozen” list of most contaminated produce. You may buy your children organic strawberries and apples. But pesticide residues are rapidly becoming the least of my worries.

There is a category of toxic foods that has been creeping into our food supply since the mid 1990’s. The safety of these foods has never been proven. They are called GMOs: Genetically Modified Organisms.

GMOs are made by forcing DNA from one organism (such as bacteria or viruses) into the DNA of another (such as soy, corn, or canola). This creates a food never before in the human food supply.

Two of the most prevalent genetically modified foods are soy and corn. They were introduced to the market in 1994 and 1996 respectively. How old were you then? I was 18 years old. And over the ensuing 18 years, the prevalence of these GMO crops has grown exponentially.

Currently more than 88% of all corn grown in the United States and 94% of all soy is genetically modified. This means that if you or your children are eating any foods containing corn or soy ingredients, you are eating GMOs.

But so what?

There is no requirement for long-term safety studies on either animals or humans before GMO foods appear on our grocery store shelves. Despite this laxity in regulation, the research that is available is enough to make anyone clear half of their pantry directly into the dumpster.

Here are a few things that we know about GMOs:

  • GMO foods contain proteins not found in natural foods that trigger allergic reactions. In fact soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK after GMO soy was introduced1.
  • GMO foods may also make you allergic to other foods. Mice fed genetically modified peas started reacting to a variety of other foods1.
  • The Bt toxin produced by GMO corn acts as a pesticide by puncturing holes in the stomachs of insects. It is now known to kill human kidney cells2.
  • This same Bt toxin produced in every cell of GMO corn has been found in the majority of pregnant women’s blood tested3.
  • GMO corn contains startling levels of formaldehyde4. Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer.
  • The only human study on GMO foods showed that genetically modified DNA could transfer to human gut bacteria and continue to function1. That’s right.  Our gut bacteria can become genetically modified. We do not know if this is ever reversible.
  • GMO foods have higher levels of pesticide and herbicide residues, especially the most commonly used herbicide, Roundup®5.
  • Roundup® cannot be washed off the food. It is sprayed on the fields and taken up into the edible parts of the plants.
  • Roundup® kills beneficial gut bacteria in humans6.
  • Roundup® may be linked with inflammatory bowel, obesity, depression, cancer, and even autism5.

If you want to eliminate genetically modified foods from your child’s diet, you have to start by trashing all of the non-organic processed foods including Cheerios®, Goldfish®, Capri-Sun®, and even Nature Valley® Granola Bars. A partial list of GMO ingredients commonly found in kids’ food is here:

  • Sugar (cane sugar and organic sugar are ok)
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup / Corn Syrup / Other Corn-derived ingredients
  • Soybean oil / Soy protein / Other Soy-derived ingredients
  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil

Other ways to avoid GMOs is to purchase the following:

  • Certified Organic products
  • Products with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal

Today our children are part of a great experiment by biotech companies. They are the first generation to be born and raised on genetically modified food. What is their fate? I would rather not wait to see.

For more comprehensive information, please visit the following websites:

References:

  1. Smith, J.M. (2007) Genetic Roulette. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. Pp. 50, 56, 130.
  2. Sirinathsinghii, Eva. “Bt Toxin Kills Human Kidney Cells” ISIS March 14, 2012. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Bt_Toxin_Kills_Human_Kidney_Cells.php
  3. Aris, Aziz and Samuel Leblanc. “Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada.” Reprod Toxicol. 2011 May;31(4):528-33. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890623811000566
  4. Honeycutt, Zen. “Study Reveals GMO corn to be highly toxic.” April 15, 2013. http://www.momsacrossamerica.com/stunning_corn_comparison_gmo_versus_non_gmo
  5. Samsell, Anthony and Stephanie Seneff. “Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases.” Entropy 2013, 15(4), 1416-1463. http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416
  6. Smith, Jeffrey. “Roundup Damages Beneficial Gut Bacteria, Promotes Botulism and other Pathogens.” Spilling the Beans Newsletter May 8, 2013. http://www.responsibletechnology.org/posts/roundup-damages-beneficial-gut-bacteria/

Marshmallows and Early Childhood Education

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15867404I started my two boys at a new daycare center last week. Although the school does provide meals for the kids, I had secured a doctor’s note to allow me to bring all of their snacks and meals from home. My children and I eat gluten free and my oldest just tested to be allergic to corn and food dyes. With these food restrictions, I felt confident that my boys would be exempt from the majority of junk foods that may be presented in the classroom. I was apparently completely naive.

On the first day of class, as part of an activity to learn about mixing colors, my son was fed three jumbo marshmallows dipped in food coloring. This means that he was given the following ingredients:

 

  • Corn syrup
  • Sugar
  • Modified Corn Starch
  • Dextrose
  • Water
  • Gelatin
  • Artificial Flavor
  • Tetrasosodium pyrophosphate
  • FD&C Blue No. 1
  • FD&C Red No. 40
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5

If you would like to know about where these ingredients come from or their health effects, you should visit Center for Science in the Public Interest. They maintain a food additive database and also have app available called Chemical Cuisine.

On the second day of class, I had noticed on the class calendar that they would be celebrating an “un-birthday.” Preemptively, I packed a gluten-free cupcake in his lunch box in case the class would be having cake. That morning I had a more direct conversation with the teacher about the foods that my son needs to avoid. She seemed very accommodating and assured me that whenever they were going to have food in the classroom, I was welcome to bring a substitution.

At pick-up that afternoon, my son reported that he had been given “icing that he could have.” When I asked him what color it was, he said, “It was white so I could have it.” It turns out that what he was given to spread on his organic gluten-free cupcake was, in fact, Cool Whip®. This means that on day two he was given the following ingredients:

  • Water
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Skim milk
  • Light cream
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Natural and artificial flavor
  • Xanthan and guar gums
  • Polysorbate 60
  • Sorbitan monostearate
  • Beta carotene

On the third day of class, I asked to speak with the school director. I expressed my opinion that the use of sugar-laden junk food for classroom activities was not only unnecessary but also unacceptable. She graciously allowed me to say my piece. But in the end she made no gesture even to acknowledge the most simple of nutrition arguments: that sugar is bad for kids. Instead she explained that every family feels differently about these things and they will do their best to accommodate my needs. Again she resorted to the solution that I am always welcome to “bring in substitutions.” And exactly what substitutions would she suggest I bring in for marshmallows, food coloring, and Cool Whip®? I didn’t bother to ask.

As I walked out of the school that day, I saw a cart of animal cookies being rolled down the hallway for snack. I looked again at the weekly lunch menu posted by the door. The lunch was scheduled to be soup served with saltine crackers, a brownie, and milk. I walked out the door relieved that my boys each had a bag filled with nutritious food for their day.

But I also walked out deeply saddened by the food culture that has permeated all levels of our society down to the places where we care for, nurture, and educate our babies.

I knew that I was not going to change the environment of food at that daycare center. The director had made that more than clear. My remaining options were to either police the food allowed to touch my children’s lips on a daily basis or just get out.

I decided that my job as a mom trying to teach her children about nutrition would be much easier if that message were reinforced (or at least not contradicted) in the school.

So I spent the morning touring other childcare centers. Not a single one was free of all processed, GMO-laden, refined and sugary foods – not even the Montessori school with a tuition rate of $95 per child per day. Apparently the only way to keep your children away from these foods is to keep them at home.

But what fun is that?

In the end I found a center that seems to be much more in line with my  values. While they are not entirely junk-food-free, they are significantly more aware of the importance of nutrition and the value of teaching our children to eat right.

We will have a “first day of school take two” next week. I know that there will be ongoing discussion with my children and their schools about food and nutrition.

If you are a parent who also cares about what your children eat, please speak up! If we as parents stay silent on these issues, nothing will ever change.

My only hope now is that that the foods I see pass my little boys’ lips in the days, weeks, and months to come, have no resemblance to marshmallows, food colorings, or Cool Whip®.