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How to Handle Those Holiday Carbs!

holiday feastHolidays are filled with foods that you might normally try to avoid.

Dining room tables are covered with potatoes, stuffing, glazed vegetables and meats, marshmallow-topped casseroles, dumplings, breads, and more. Appetizer trays feature crackers and crostini and fried treats of all kinds. Fudge and candy plates abound. You may have invites already for holiday baking or cookie parties.

And of course, there are the sweet drinks to wash it all down, from hot chocolate to egg nog and holiday cocktails, sodas to holiday brews.

So it’s probably no surprise that we wind up consuming anywhere from 3000 to 4500 calories just on a single holiday feast.

If you’re looking to manage your carb intake over the holidays, you’re not alone. Of course, it may not be possible to remove them entirely – or even desirable, considering the strong ties between holiday foods and traditions.

Even so, replacing some standard sides with slightly healthier versions or subbing a few key ingredients can really make a difference. Here are 7 alternatives to help get you thinking creatively about your meals this holiday season:

  1. Consider an alternative eggnog like this from So Delicious – less than half the calories and a fraction of the carbs. Of course, it still contains some sugar. If you want to go sugar-free, there are great recipes online such as this one, which uses stevia in place of the sugar.

  2. Mix in some gluten-free or vegan recipes with some of your standards. You’ll find some recipes to get you started here and here.

  3. Don’t forget the salad! Salads can be very pretty with colorful vegetables, a little dried fruit, and some nuts or feta cheese.

  4. Consider soups thickened and made creamier with pureed vegetables such as carrots or squash.

  5. Try a side dish heavier in vegetables with less (or no) pasta, like this Butternut Squash & Cauliflower Casserole, for instance.

  6. Replace traditional noodles with spaghetti squash or spiralized vegetables.

  7. Sweet potato casserole, mixed with a little whole fat coconut milk and cinnamon, can be a great replacement for the standard pumpkin pie (and tastes very similar!).

And if you want to stick with tradition and carb out as you please?

Maybe think about a fitness or nutrition challenge with a few friends or coworkers after the season has passed. Or think about signing up for a holiday fun run. Getting in a quick 5K or one-mile run with your family or friends could be the start of a new tradition and a great way to introduce a balance of healthy living with holiday indulgence.


Image by Jessica Spengler

Some Refreshing News about America’s Soda Habit

Here’s some refreshing news about Americans and soda: We’re finally drinking less of the stuff.

soda can topTen years ago, on any given day, over 61% of adults and nearly 80% of kids drank such beverages, none of which are particularly friendly to teeth (not to mention the rest of you).

According to new research in the journal Obesity, in 2014, just 50% of adults and 60.7% of children drank them.

Of course, that still leaves a lot of us drinking a lot of sugar. Still, such a significant reduction is an important step forward.

The study monitored data from 18,600 children and over 27,652 adults across 10 years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

This overall decline in both beverage and [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption is consistent with previous literature, suggesting a recent “turning point” toward lower energy intake in the US diet, potentially attributable to widespread discussion and media coverage of the role of certain foods (e.g., SSBs) in promoting obesity, changes to food allowances within the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, improvements to school feeding programs, and product reformulations by food manufacturers and retailers.

On the downside, consumption rates remain highest among black, Mexican American, and non-Mexican Hispanic teens – all groups at high risk of obesity and diabetes.

On the upside, the study also found that fruit juice consumption is down, as well. As we’ve noted before, fruit juice is essentially concentrated sugar and a major cause of tooth decay among young children in particular.

boy getting drink of waterWhat kids are drinking more of is what we all should be drinking more of: water.

Among children, the prevalence of 100% juice consumption declined significantly among 12- to 19-year-olds, water increased significantly across all age groups, and no significant changes were seen for coffee and tea, milk, or diet beverage consumption for any age group.

And this may not be a short term trend. Earlier this year, a major trade publication noted that soda sales have been declining for twelve years and counting.

The per capita consumption of soda drinks, including energy drinks, fell to about 642 8-ounce servings last year, the lowest level since 1985, when the Beverage Digest began tracking consumption trends….

Despite the fact that two of the biggest of the soda companies suspiciously fund 96 US health groups – including the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health – more people are seeing this as little more than an attempt to influence public health policy and maintain profits. Consumer education has been a big help, as have soda taxes, with the money going to fund various health programs.

In 2015, Berkeley, California introduced a soda tax after years of battling the industry. They’ve now seen a drop in sales by nearly 10% – and a spike in water sales, as well.

One year following implementation of the nation’s first large SSB tax, prices of SSBs increased in many, but not all, settings, SSB sales declined, and sales of untaxed beverages (especially water) and overall study beverages rose in Berkeley; overall consumer spending per transaction in the stores studied did not rise. Price increases for SSBs in two distinct data sources, their timing, and the patterns of change in taxed and untaxed beverage sales suggest that the observed changes may be attributable to the tax.

That said, water doesn’t always satisfy the urge for a sweet soft drink, especially if you’re going through a detox by gradually reducing your sugar intake. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Drink tea – hot or cold. Many spice teas have an inherent sweetness, as do some herb teas such as ginger lemon.
  • Splash a bit of lemon or lime into your water.
  • Infuse your own water with fruit, herbs, or vegetables. Here are a few ideas.
  • Make a veg-centric smoothie. Here are some tips for making sure yours is balanced and not a sugar-bomb.
  • Make your own fresh juice with fresh vegetables and fruit. Again, balance is key. Think green.

Bottom image by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Why Yogurt (and Other Fermented Foods) May Help Keep Your Mouth Healthy

vintage milk adAsk someone to name a food associated with good dental health, and you’re apt to hear “dairy.” You can thank its calcium content and decades of advertising for that.

Calcium is one of the key minerals needed to keep tooth enamel strong. (Magnesium and phosphorous are the two other biggies.) And some research has suggested that it might play a role in maintaining healthy gums, as well.

But a new study in PLoS ONE suggests that it may not be the calcium at all but probiotics in fermented dairy products such as yogurt.

Researchers analyzed periodontal and nutritional data from over 6100 Korean adults. They found that those who ate less yogurt had more gum disease than others. Those who consumed less milk or calcium, on the other hand, didn’t exhibit more periodontal issues.

In conclusion, periodonitis was significantly associated with the less intake of yogurt among the Korean adults, but the calcium contained in yogurt is not likely to cause it.

What makes yogurt different, of course, is its probiotic content – helpful microbes that help defend against disease – and previous research appears to support this.

kombuchaOf course, yogurt is hardly the only source of probiotics. Fermented foods of all kinds can be wonderful additions to your diet. These include kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, lassi, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar, kefir, miso, and fermented cod liver oil.

Naturally fermented foods have been proven to show many benefits in cultures around the world. According to one recent paper in Frontiers in Microbiology, for instance,

The highest longevity observed among the people of Okinawa prefecture in Japan is mostly due to their traditional and cultural foods such as natto, miso, tofu, shoyu, fermented vegetables, cholesterol-free, low-fat, and high bioactive-compounded foods in addition to active physical activity, sound environment, happiness and other several factors.

Probiotics can also be taken with prebiotics (a/k/a synbiotics) for an even bigger impact. According to research in the Journal of Medicine and Life,

It appears that synbiotics increase survival of probiotic bacteria, stimulating their growth in the intestinal tract and improving the balance of health-promoting bacteria.

Good dietary sources of prebiotics include raw asparagus, raw garlic, onion (both raw and cooked), raw dandelion greens, raw leeks, under-ripe bananas, raw chicory root, and raw Jerusalem artichokes. (Why so much raw? Cooking can break down a lot of the helpful elements in some prebiotic foods.)

Pro- and prebiotics can be an easy addition to your daily routine for improving oral and systemic health alike, physical and mental. Maybe consider grabbing a bottle of kombucha for your next holiday party rather than that bottle of wine.

What Wi-Fi Can Do to “Silver” Amalgam Fillings

WiFi iconSure, Wi-Fi is super convenient and cost effective and everywhere. In fact, though plenty of us can remember life before it, it’s increasingly hard to imagine life without it.

But a Wi-Fi world is not without consequences, such as its effect on mercury amalgam “silver” fillings.

One of the latest studies on this was published last summer in the Journal of Environmental Science & Engineering.

Researchers had amalgam fillings placed in 20 extracted premolars, which were then put in tubes with artificial saliva. Half the teeth were placed in an environment without Wi-Fi exposure; the rest were exposed to 20 minutes of radiation from standard Wi-Fi devices.

After exposure, the artificial saliva was tested for mercury. The teeth that were exposed to radiation released more than twice as much mercury as those in the control group. The authors thus concluded that, although much more research remains to be done,

Exposure of patients with amalgam restorations to radiofrequency radiation emitted from conventional Wi-Fi devices can increase mercury release from amalgam restorations.

That mercury, a potent neurotoxin, is then free to enter the circulation and do its well-known damage.

Other research has likewise suggested that radiofrequency radiation from a wide variety of sources may accelerate mercury release from amalgams. For instance, a 2014 paper in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found more mercury in the urine of those who had an MRI after getting mercury fillings placed, compared with those who got just the fillings but no MRI.

Another MRI study compared 240 surfaces on 60 teeth with amalgams and found that “specimens exposed to MRI exhibited significantly higher microleakage values than control specimens.”

Cell phone radiation has likewise been found to increase mercury release from amalgams. In one study, for instance, half of participants were exposed to mobile phone use for four days after getting amalgams placed, 15 minutes each day. Notably, none of the participants were cell phone users at the time of the study and none had mercury fillings already in their mouths.

Our study demonstrated an elevation of mercury level released from dental amalgam fillings after exposure to microwave radiation emitted form mobile phones.

Such research gives all the more reason to talk with a mercury-free, mercury-safe biological dentist about metal-free, biocompatible alternatives.

Teeth Whitening: At Home or at the Dentist?

before & after smile whiteningThere are lots of reasons you might want to whiten your teeth. Maybe there’s a special event coming up. Maybe you want the boost of confidence that can come from brighter smile.

But as with most things, moderation is key.

After all, a blinding white smile isn’t the norm. It’s natural for teeth to have some color – and to darken a bit with age (yet another reason some opt for whitening). And going overboard with home bleaching does have its downsides.

For instance, a study published late last year in the Australian Dental Journal found that repeatedly whitening teeth at home may contribute to oxidative stress – a state in which more free radicals are produced than the body can counteract or detox. Left unchecked, it ultimately paves the way for a wide range of health problems, from neurodegenerative diseases to cancer.

For this study, participants were given a 9% hydrogen peroxide gel to use every night for two weeks, 30 minutes each night. Blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of the test period to evaluate for redox status. All redox measures were significantly higher at the end of the study.

At-home bleaching revealed the potential to disturb oxidant–antioxidant balance and induce oxidative stress. Its clinical relevance is unfavourable and potential side-effects of at-home bleaching should be considered.

This is one reason why smile whitening is usually best done under a dentist’s care. Not only can we oversee safety; we can make sure you get a good aesthetic result, too – all teeth matching in color and not so white that they clash with your natural complexion.

That said, there are things you can do at home to keep your teeth naturally bright, such as oil pulling with coconut oil or using activated charcoal. Nutrient-dense foods high in malic acid – foods like strawberries, apples, and broccoli – may also help reduce stains on your teeth (not to mention help counteract chronic inflammation, due to their antioxidant content, as well).

Suffice it to say, it can also help to go easy on drinks that tend to stain teeth and erode dental enamel – teas, coffees, soft drinks, and wine (white and red alike).

There are even a few tricks you can use to make your smile look brighter than it is, even if you don’t whiten your teeth at all. If you wear lipstick, for instance, choose a color that contains blue tones. These brighten the smile, while red and orange tones can make teeth look more yellow.

Using a bronzer on your face can also create the effect of a brighter smile.

And if you do opt for whitening of any kind, keep in mind that it’s only going to work on your natural teeth. Tooth-colored fillings, ceramic crowns, implants, partials – these will remain their same color. Accounting for these is yet another reason why, if you’re thinking of whitening, it’s a good idea to have a dental consultation first – to make sure everything blends nicely and that the smile you get is the one you want and will love.

Sleep Apnea Could Really Be Stressing You Out!

raised hand saying "need sleep"Inhale, then exhale, but don’t inhale right away. Count out 10 seconds until your next breath.

Take that breath. How do you feel?

Relieved, probably. Maybe you even noticed the tension releasing from your whole body as you inhaled again.

Now imagine experiencing that over and again through your night’s sleep. That’s a bit of what obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is like. Not getting the oxygen it needs to survive, the body perceives a threat and reacts accordingly. You wake with a gasp, taking in as much air as you can.

Then you go back to sleep only to wake once the airway is again blocked – by excess tissue around the top of the windpipe, for instance, or the tongue or lower jaw slipping backwards.

New research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism shows just what an impact this has on the body as it sleeps.

Now, most studies on OSA collect data during the day, when patients are awake. But

“This is one of the first studies to show real-time effects of sleep apnea on metabolism during the night,” says Jonathan Jun, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the paper’s senior author.

Jun and his team collected a range of metabolic data from patients while they slept both with and without CPAP – the usual treatment for OSA symptoms, which uses continuous positive airway pressure to keep the airway open. They measured free fatty acids in the blood, glucose, insulin, and the stress hormone cortisol. They measured brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rates, and eye and leg movements.

Jun and colleagues found that CPAP withdrawal caused recurrence of OSA associated with sleep disruption, elevated heart rate and reduced blood oxygen. CPAP withdrawal also increased levels of free fatty acids, glucose, cortisol and blood pressure during sleep. The more severe the OSA, the more these parameters increased. In addition, glucose increased the most in patients with diabetes. Increases in fatty acids, glucose and cortisol have all been linked to diabetes. The Johns Hopkins team also found that blood pressure increased and the arteries showed signs of stiffness in the morning without CPAP. Over time, increased blood pressure and vascular stiffness can contribute to cardiovascular disease.

That’s the very picture of a body under stress. It also suggests that OSA may be more than just a manifestation of obesity and related health issues. It may actually aggravate them.

CPAP is hardly the only solution, though – and it’s a good thing, too. Many people find reasons to quit it. Compliance rates are notoriously low. But there are other effective options for dealing with mild to moderate sleep apnea – from lifestyle changes to oral appliance therapy.

In fact, according to the most recent American College of Physicians guidelines for managing sleep apnea, the first recommendation is to encourage overweight and obese OSA patients to lose weight. Other research suggests that exercise can likewise have a big impact on at least some OSA symptoms.

And these, of course, can be pursued in tandem with oral appliance therapy, in which custom appliances are used to keep the tongue from blocking the airway or gently repositioning the lower jaw to keep the airway free and clear.

One 2016 study found that airflow may be greatly improved by appliance therapy.

Our findings suggest that oral appliance therapy not only improves the upper airway collapsibility but also improves the upper airway compensatory effectiveness. Thus, oral appliances appear to unload the upper airway, thereby enabling patients to exhibit more effective compensatory dilator muscle responses for improved airflow.

OSA is much more common today than just a couple decades ago. According to one study, between 1993 and 2010, OSA diagnoses jumped 14.6-fold! But many more treatment options and tools have been developed during that same period – and continue to be developed – offering options beyond CPAP.

And you just might find some of those options in your dentist’s office.

Image by Dmitry Kugarov

Healthier Handouts This Halloween

kids trick-or-treatingWe all know that candy and other sugary foods top the lists of those that lead to tooth decay. But sometimes it’s hard to balance the need to go easy on sugar with holiday traditions. As Halloween approaches, you might find yourself grabbing bags of candy to put on your front porch simply out of habit.

But why not expand the definition of “treats”?

Kids love treats. All treats – not just the sugary ones but also things like toys, fake tattoos, markers, and games.

Want to hear it straight from the source? According to a recent survey of over 1200 kids from Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, they have a lot of opinions on it.

Though most kids (60%) said parents should limit kids’ candy intake, plenty of kids (50%) said they did not have any limits. But more than 60% of kids said they voluntarily set their own limits. Why? To avoid getting fat, feeling sick, or getting cavities in their teeth.

In fact, only about 20% of kids say they eat all their Halloween candy. So why not consider treats that can be enjoyed beyond the holiday?

“I think people should give out fun markers/crayons, stickers, pencils, and anything else they think kids will like,” said Hannah, 11. “They should do this because it prevents kids (somewhat) from becoming overweight and it lasts longer than candy.”

And just how much sugar and fat do kids typically consume on Halloween? According to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,

One pumpkin full of Halloween candy can have as much as 365 teaspoons of sugar; the same amount of sugar in 12 double scoop vanilla ice cream cones (which can be nearly 69 times the recommended daily serving of sugar for kids)…. In total this could total nearly 11,000 calories.

“Allowing your child to consume nearly 11,000 calories in Halloween candy is like standing by and watching them eat almost seven days’ worth of food in one sitting, or 21 meals based on 3 meals a day for a child,” said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director, Strong4Life at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “There are so many fun things to do for Halloween that have nothing to do with candy. It should be about getting dressed up and going door to door, and family time.”

It’s also important to consider that many families and kids also can’t have the candy that gets handed out. Dairy and nut allergies make the night very challenging, as do family food restrictions, but houses handing out candy-free options are all-inclusive. Any kid can have these treats.

The Teal Pumpkin Project was created with these families in mind and has a ton of great resources including non-food treat suggestions and signs that you can post in your office cubicle or on the front of your house.

non-food Halloween treats

Been giving out non-food or other healthier treats for a while now? What do you hand out? How do the kids react? Share your experience and ideas in the comments!

Image by Belinda Hankins Miller

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Can Acupuncture Help with Your TMJ Pain?

Drugs are hardly the only solution when it comes to TMJ pain. Take acupuncture, for instance.

New research in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies offers some new evidence that the therapy may provide at least temporary relief from TMJ problems by rebalancing the energy (Qi) along the meridians.

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a hinge for your jaw. There’s one on each side of your head. Injury, misalignment, and behaviors like bruxing can damage these joints and adjacent structures and cause them to work incorrectly.

Here’s how the TMJ functions normally:

Here’s how it looks in one type of dysfunction:

TMD can lead to ongoing problems with headaches and pain in the jaws, face, neck, and shoulders. You may have ringing in your ears or other hearing issues. You may feel toothache-like pain. You may have popping, clicking, or grating sounds when you chew. It can become hard to even open your mouth.

Suffice it to say, TMD is no fun.

But back to the study, in which 43 TMJ patients were separated into two groups. For four weeks, one group was treated with traditional acupuncture; the other, with sham acupuncture (no needle penetration). Meridian assessments were taken before and after each session.

acupuncture diagram of headInterestingly, both groups experienced less pain. Both groups experienced a decrease in Yang energy.

But only those who received real acupuncture maintained Yin energy levels over the course of the study. They were also more able to open their mouths on their own without pain.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Yin and Yang energies must be balanced to maintain good health.

Increasingly, the medical establishment is accepting acupuncture as a valid treatment for various forms of pain. In fact, earlier this year, the FDA gave it a preliminary endorsement for pain management.

On a similar note, the Joint Commission – a major medical accreditor – also now recognizes acupuncture as an effective stand-alone or combination treatment for TMD. According to commentary in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, this turnaround provides great opportunities for integrative pain treatment.

[Integrative clinicians can] use it to convince naysayers by showing them that the evidence behind these services and practitioners in pain treatment has been prevetted by a conservative organization that serves as medicine’s police force. Notably, the pharmacologic approaches are appropriately—if only for alphabetical reasons—listed prior to pharmaceuticals. Clearly these typically more high-touch, time-, and human-intensive approaches are not relegated to the past role of if all else fails, try acupuncture.

Of course, there are other therapies that can help, as well, in providing long-term relief from TMJ problems without drugs and without surgery. The key, as ever, is to identify the cause and address that through treatment suited to that specific cause. In some cases, that might be appliance therapy; in others, DTR; in others, neural prolotherapy.

One size seldom fits all.

Image by Mot

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How Do You Know When “Organic” Is Really Organic?

organic label with question markAs we mentioned last time, trust is a big issue when it comes to food labeled “organic.” When people don’t trust it, they don’t buy it.

But matters of trust can also be confounded by our own expectations – and lots of people have different, not always correct, ideas about what “organic” actually means.

According to the USDA,

Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. The NOP regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling.

But even this doesn’t necessarily mean “all natural.” As you may already know, there are plenty of approved synthetic substances that can be used in the production of crops or animal products and still allow a food to be called “organic.”

Similarly, a processed food can still get the USDA organic seal even if some ingredients – up to 5% – are non-organic.

But these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to trust.

With popularity and demand, organic food production has grown beyond our current domestic capabilities. More food is being imported, yet as news has shown through the last several months, regulation may be more than a little bit lacking.

Earlier this year, for instance, shipments of corn and soybeans from Turkey wound up labeled as “organic” – and thus, worth about $4 million more than they should have been – even though the crops had been grown conventionally. And while “USDA officials say that their system for guarding against fraud is robust,” reported the Washington Post, the facts suggest otherwise.

Under USDA rules, a company importing an organic product must verify that it has come from a supplier that has a “USDA Organic” certificate. It must keep receipts and invoices. But it need not trace the product back to the farm. Some importers, aware of the possibility of fraud, request extra documentation. But others do not.

Regardless of where organics come from, critics say, the system suffers from multiple weaknesses in enforcement: Farmers hire their own inspection companies; most inspections are announced days or weeks in advance and lack the element of surprise; and testing for pesticides is the exception rather than the rule.

These vulnerabilities are magnified with imported products, which often involve more middlemen, each of whom could profit by relabeling conventional goods as “organic.” The temptation could be substantial, too: Products with a “USDA Organic” label routinely sell for twice the price of their conventional counterparts.

In recent years, even as the amount of organic corn and soybeans imported to the United States has more than tripled, the USDA has not issued any major sanctions for the import of fraudulent grain, U.S. farmers said.

“The U.S. market is the easiest for potentially fraudulent organic products to penetrate because the chances of getting caught here are not very high,” said John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, or OFARM, a farmer cooperative. In Europe and Canada, he said, import rules for organics are much stricter.

Since the news broke, an industry group, the Organic Trade Association, has said it will create an anti-fraud task force. US organic farmers remain skeptical, even “amused” by the thought.

And meantime, a USDA audit has revealed further issues. As Civil Eats recently reported,

The resounding issue is a lack of transparency. First, auditors found that the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which houses the NOP, did not clearly share with stakeholders its methodology for determining how other countries’ organic standards compared to the USDA’s. And the on-site audits meant to ensure the efficacy of other countries’ certification practices were not conducted in a timely way, auditors found.

In addition, once products reached the U.S. border, auditors found that the agency did not provide reasonable assurance that inspectors reviewed the required documents proving organic practices at U.S. ports of entry. Finally, auditors also found that millions of pounds of organic products were sometimes fumigated with conventional pesticides to prevent invasive pests from entering the country, but still labeled and sold the food as organic.

“While most organic food is safe, and dramatically reduces your exposure to pesticides, the report reveals serious regulatory gaps that allow a few bad actors to ship sham ‘organic’ products to the U.S.,” explained Bill Freese, a science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety. “The USDA must up its game to block these imports, both to protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for American organic farmers.”

So what can we do? Is there any way to make sure that the organic food you buy is really organic?

The only sure way right now is to start your own garden. Then you control what’s put in, on, and around your food. It doesn’t need to be huge. Start small with just a simple tomato plant, say, or a few peppers, both of which can be very fruitful with pretty low maintenance. As your green thumb develops, you can always expand with more plants.

You can also limit the number of processed products you buy, centering your diet on whole food rather than collections of ingredients. It’s simpler to source single or minimally processed products than pre-made ones.

If you support your local community gardens, farmers markets, and CSAs, you can find out as much as you want to know about how the foods were produced. You can ask the growers directly – something impossible to do at a big box store or even your local grocery store.

That said, more and more supermarkets now are starting to feature more local, organic produce, at least. If that’s not an option, at least seek domestic products, which are more regulated for now.

And if money is a concern, there really are ways to eat organic on a budget. Here are some tips to get you started.

Image via Food Renegade

The Magic of Food Labeling

grocery storeShop in a grocery store, and most of what you see has been processed to one degree or another.

Yes, strictly speaking, even things like cleaning, sorting, and bagging organic fruit or veg count as processing.

In essence, “processing” is merely about turning food in its natural form into a product for consumption. Such products run the gamut from minimally- to hyper-processed, with foods tending to lose more of their nutritional value the more processed they are.

Regardless of the degree of processing, something funny happens when food companies slap labels onto their products: Consumer perceptions can change.

According to a recent survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a front group for the food and beverage industries, many consumers base their opinions of what they think is “processed” only if the item seems like it was altered in some way.

And if you label it as “organic,” the product may seem even less processed.

Only three out of fourteen carrot-based products listed were considered “processed” by over half of respondents…Interestingly, consumers were only half as likely to categorize organic bagged baby carrots (7%) as processed compared to conventional bagged baby carrots (14%).

A recent study in Appetite likewise found that the “organic” label can indeed lead consumers to attribute qualities to a processed food quality that may or may not actually be true.

Overall, processed organic (vs. conventional) foods were perceived as tastier, more healthful (Study 1) or equally healthful (Study 2), but also as more caloric.

“Uncovering the specific conditions in which food claims bias consumer’s perceptions and behavior,” note the authors, “may have important implications for marketing, health and public-policy related fields.”

Of course, we have good reasons for favoring organics. As a study in Procedia Economics and Finance noted,

the reasons advocated by the consumers for buying organic food products are varied and primarily the motivations behind their decision to purchase include concerns for environment, health concern and lifestyle, food product quality and their subjective norms. Consumer behaviour involves the psychological processes that consumers go through in recognizing needs, finding ways to solve these needs; collect and interpret information; make plans and implement these plans, making purchase decisions and post-purchase behaviour.

But our willingness to buy and our purchases making a difference hangs on another important thing: trust. This was demonstrated nicely by a 2015 Thai study in the Journal of Business Ethics. Through two focus groups and 10 interviews, as well as a related intercept study, its authors found that lack of trust in the labeling and control procedures of organic food in Thailand have resulted in consumers being much less likely to buy organic.

Mistrust in the control system and in the authenticity of food sold as organic has a significant negative impact on self-reported buying behavior. Implications for policy and future research are discussed.

Next week, we’ll look further at the issue of organics labeling and how you can make sure you’re getting the quality you pay for.