First, fats were bad. Then carbs and sugar. Now there's mercury in fish, hormones in dairy—even peanut butter and spinach have been linked to dangerous bacterial outbreaks. But take heart: Marion Nestle, PhD, author of What to Eat (North Point), says, "The bigger issue in public health nutrition is obesity. So enjoy your meals—in moderation." If you're still food-phobic, you can take stress off the menu with just a few changes in the way you shop and cook.
Meat and Poultry The Scare Factor Six different hormones fatten up our cattle, and over 20 million pounds of antibiotics are fed to livestock annually to prevent infections from unsanitary conditions. On the bright side, mad cow disease is only a remote threat since the FDA changed the way ranchers feed cattle, and you won't catch avian flu from a plate of wings—if they're prepared safely.
What It Means to You Hormone residues have a tenuous link to increased cancer risk; the bigger concern is antibiotics. Experts believe their overuse in livestock allows harmful bacteria to develop resistance. About 70 percent of bacteria that cause hospital infections have become resistant to at least one antibiotic; some of these drugs are related to those used in cattle and chickens.
Shopping Strategy Buy beef, chicken, turkey, and pork that's marked organic or antibiotic-free. Look for beef labeled steroid- or hormone-free, too (it's illegal to give pigs and poultry hormones).
You Can Also… Remove skin and fatty tissue to reduce the amount of pollutants and pesticides you might consume, and cook meat properly (beef steaks and roasts to 145°, pork to 160°, and chicken to 165°). Be wary of cross-contamination in the kitchen: Don't let anything that touched raw meat come in contact with ready-to-serve food.
Dairy The Scare Factor Dairy cattle are routinely injected with genetically modified bovine growth hormone (also known as rbGH or rbST) to increase milk production. The injections increase another powerful hormone, IGF-1, in the cows' milk.
What It Means to You The government says the amounts of IGF-1 found in milk are negligible, but some experts believe exposure to IGF-1 may raise the risk of breast cancer. Many countries around the world have banned the injections due to possible health risks.
Shopping Strategy Look for dairy products that are labeled rbGH- or rbST-free. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll be limited to buying organic; many conventional farms have stopped using the injections, too.
You Can Also… Skip dairy altogether and switch to milk, yogurt, and cheese made from soy or rice. You can find organic versions of these that have also been calcium-enriched.
The Scare Factor Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are doused with dozens of chemical pesticides. Produce has surpassed meat and poultry as the most common source of food-borne illnesses, accounting for 21 percent of all outbreak-related illnesses in the past 15 years.
What It Means to You Pesticide residues have been linked to allergic reactions, hormonal disruption, and cancer. And they are especially toxic to young children and unborn babies. However, your actual risk of contracting an illness this way is still quite low, thanks to EPA regulations and safety steps being taken by growers.
Shopping Strategy Choose organic when you buy the most heavily sprayed produce (peaches, apples, nectarines, strawberries, pears, celery, cherries, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes). See where other fruits and vegetables fall on the pesticide scale at FoodNews.org .
You Can Also… Thoroughly wash produce under cold running water. For foods with firm surfaces, such as apples or potatoes, use a brush. In the refrigerator, store meat away from produce.
Fish The Scare Factor Mercury is released into the air by coal-burning power plants. It's then deposited in oceans and streams, where bacteria convert it to a more toxic form, methylmercury. Picked up by plankton, it makes its way up the food chain and is most prevalent in large predatory fish, along with other pollutants such as PCBs and dioxins.
What It Means to You Methylmercury can cause brain damage in young children and developing fetuses. PCBs have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Eating PCB-contaminated fish before and during pregnancy has been found to cause lower birth weights and reduced visual recognition and delayed muscle development in children.
Shopping Strategy Skip shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, bluefin tuna, and farmed salmon, which is fed a diet of PCB-contaminated fish and on average has up to 16 times more PCBs than wild salmon. Buy shrimp, canned light tuna, wild or canned salmon, halibut, and catfish. For more, visit OceansAlive.org .
You Can Also… Pollutants are most likely to accumulate below the skin and in fat deposits, so remove skin before cooking (though mercury concentrates in the muscle tissue). If you're pregnant or planning to be within a year, stick to two servings a week (calculate your allowance at GotMercury.org ). Otherwise, enjoy low-mercury fish.
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, December 12, 2013