Writing Samples

The pieces below were published at the Wild Oats website from 2014-2016 as part of the efforts to revitalize the name and promote distribution as a branded, affordable organic line of products sold primarily at Walmart stores across the U.S. Also on this page are several sample blogs published at Food Identity Theft from 2010-2015, a project of the non-profit Citizens for Health, along with a custom designed infographic I created about HFCS for the FIT website.

Eating with the season — radishes

How come you never nag your family to eat their radishes?

Moms everywhere are withholding dessert till those carrots are finished. Same with broccoli, beans, peas and squash.

But the radish? Its status has been confined to that of a garnish. And one that’s usually pushed to the side of the plate, at that.

But I’m here to fix things – and to elevate the radish to the healthy vegetable ranking it deserves. And, even better, to tell you how to find the very best, crunchiest, healthiest and freshest radishes in the world!

First, here’s the deal with the radish, and why it should be on the A-list of veggies you enjoy.

The radish is fairly high in vitamin C, and it also contains good amounts of vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, fiber and potassium. If that’s not enough, you’ll also find some powerful antioxidants in the radish, as well as detoxifying phytochemicals, including one called “indoles.”

Now, all these good things in radishes have not gone unnoticed. They are considered to have medicinal qualities and are used to boost immune function, treat kidney infections, jaundice and stomach disorders.

And they also taste great!

So if you’re not a fan of the radish, it could be that you’ve been eating some tough, old ones. Because once you taste a super-fresh radish, I dare you to tell me you don’t love it.

And here’s how to find those delicious radishes – grow your own!

Now stop rolling your eyes and saying it’s too late to plant veggies and you don’t have a green thumb. Because even my dog could grow radishes.

And, since radishes are planted in both the spring and fall, now’s the time to plant them as they love sun, but not intense heat. And get ready to eat them too, because it only takes around three to four weeks from seed to plate. The radish is about one of the simplest veggies you can grow. Really.

You can grow them in a container on a patio or porch. And it doesn’t have to be that deep, either. All they ask for is direct sunlight and not to be in scorching temperatures.

Here’s how I do it.

I got a plastic storage box, around 3 inches deep and poked holes in the bottom for the water to drain. You can also use any other kind of container, but the more surface space you have the more radishes you can plant.

Poke your seeds in the soil about one-half to 1 inch deep and approximately 1 inch apart. Keep moist but not sopping wet. And in a few days you’ll see some cute little greens emerging.

If all your seeds sprout, you should thin them so each plant has about 2 inches between its neighbors.

Now, in a few weeks start checking your radishes for harvesting. Since the part we’re interested in will be under the soil, just poke your finger in to see how it’s doing. Some will be bigger than others, but when you see those beautiful, (usually) round radishes under the soil, it’s time to harvest them. Just gently pull them out, one by one. Don’t leave them in too long past maturity, or they will crack.

If it’s not too late in the season, put another seed in where you pulled that radish out. And DON’T discard the top leaves! They are absolutely delicious in a salad or lightly sautéed in olive oil.

The roots, or the radish part we’re familiar with, will keep a week or two in the fridge. And always remove the top greens before storing.

My favorite way to eat them is sliced with a little salt on a bed of radish greens.

While that simple plate is totally down-home fare, I could also see it served in a super-fancy French restaurant at some ridiculous price!

Bon Appetit, radish farmer.

8 Crazy ideas for breakfast!

Let me start by saying I love breakfast. And you should too.

Depending on where the day may take you, it could be the only time you’ll have total control over what you’re eating.

But why limit yourself to traditional breakfast fare when there’s so much more to start the day with?

Now fellow blogger Sebrina, obviously feels the same way. Her post “Would you eat salad for breakfast?” is exactly what I’m talking about.

And Sebrina’s salad idea is a great one.

But I want to take that idea a step further, into the land of what your family and friends might call “weird.” But follow along with me here, because these “weird” or “crazy” breakfast ideas won’t seem so strange once you give them a try:

The peanut butter and blueberry breakfast sandwich. Easy to make, gives you the benefit of fruit and whole grains, and, hey, who doesn’t like peanut butter in the morning? (But be sure and use a good quality whole wheat or multi-grain bread, and to keep the blueberries from rolling off, squish them down with your palm onto the peanut-buttered bread.)

Soup – yes, soup. In cooler weather there’s nothing wrong with a nice bowl of soup for breakfast. And if you’re a bread lover, a delicious piece of toasted or warmed bread goes along great with it.

Leftovers from last night’s dinner –unless it’s cold pizza! Trust me, there’s no law saying that dinner leftovers are only for the next day’s dinner. What you ate the night before can make a quick and nutritious breakfast.

Beans, most any kind, can make for a great breakfast meal. My favorites are Mexican-style bean breakfasts such as a bean burrito, beans in a taco or the more traditional huevo ranchero. That’s a delicious dish of fried eggs and avocado over salsa and refried or black beans, served up on a corn tortilla.

Potatoes — and I’m not just talking about the traditional breakfast home fries. If you have leftover mashed potatoes from the night before, heat them up and serve with some scrambled eggs.

Cold quinoa and some veggies tossed with olive oil. While you might not care for cold rice (although I think it’s quite tasty), quinoa is quite different and very delicious cold.

Hummus. Your basic hummus is made from “whipped” chickpeas, lime juice, garlic and lots of tahini, which is another way of saying ground sesame seeds. It’s easy to make yourself, and there are lots of ready-to-eat organic varieties in the supermarket these days. Hummus can be served on most any kind of bread, cracker or even as a veggie dip. It’s my absolute favorite “alternative” breakfast idea!

Any kind of sandwich. Why eat junk for breakfast and save the good stuff for lunch? I often have a cheese, tuna or salmon sandwich with peppers and veggies for breakfast.

Think about it – why make the most important meal of the day out of foods that need to be fortified with fake vitamins and minerals (like cereal), when you can have all those nutrients in their natural form, just as nature intended.

Why you’ll never want to buy coleslaw again

So what’s wrong with coleslaw, you might ask? Isn’t it supposed to be, like, good for you?

Well, yes – but the problem is, by the time you buy it in ready-made form, it’s likely to have lost a lot of its “goodness.”

That’s because coleslaw primarily consists of chopped cabbage, which rapidly loses much of its vitamin C content once it’s been cut. So when you buy it premade, you’re cheating yourself out of one of its major benefits – and paying a lot more than you need to in the bargain.

So if coleslaw is what you crave, you’re far better off making it yourself, just prior to serving. And it’s not all that hard (recipe alert!) when you’ve got a good, crisp head of cabbage. And the best way to keep that cabbage crisp and with its nutritional value intact is to keep it chilled and wrapped in plastic until ready for use.

And there’s a lot of nutritional value that’s worth preserving in this cruciferous veggie. In addition to the vitamin C, cabbage is rich in vitamin K, which is both a boon to bone health (and a natural way of keeping osteoporosis at bay) and a brain booster as well, which may help prevent dementia, according to a recent study of the relationship between diet and cognitive ability in seniors. Other important vitamins contained in cabbage include thiamin (vitamin B-1) pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6).

Cabbage is also a great source of the essential minerals manganese, which helps to keep your brain, nerves and muscles coordinated; potassium, which helps control your blood pressure and heart rate; iron, which is crucial in forming red blood cells, and magnesium, which helps the body perform various functions, including muscle contraction and relaxation.

Then there are the polyphenols this leafy powerhouse contains, antioxidants that, taken together with vitamin C, provide anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as glucosinolates, which are considered to be important preventives for a variety of cancers. In addition, this blend of nutrients makes cabbage extremely beneficial to both gastrointestinal and cardiovascular health.

Cabbages also come in several different varieties – including colorful ones like red and purple, savoy, bok choy, or Chinese cabbage, and Napa. But for coleslaw, the type usually used is the common green cabbage.

Try the recipe below, and I’ll bet you won’t be standing in the deli line at your supermarket to buy coleslaw ever again!

Super apple, almond coleslaw recipe

Ingredients:

½ head of a medium-size cabbage
1 organic apple
1/3 to half cup mayo
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons Wild Oats organic flax seed (ground or whole that’s been ground to order)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon ground sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Core and slice the apple wedges into bite-size pieces (leave the skin on). Place your cut apple pieces in a bowl and sprinkle the vinegar over them. This will keep the apples from turning brown.

Chop the cabbage in a food processor. (Note: Cabbage processes very quickly, so don’t over-chop it. Also, it’s best to chop cabbage in several steps instead of putting it all in the food processor at once. When you do that, the bottom gets over-cut and the top will still be in big chunks.)

Put your chopped cabbage into a large bowl and add the mayo. Toss to blend.

Add the rest of the ingredients (don’t forget the apples!)

Toss until well blended and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

Enjoy!

The mysterious food additive called brominated vegetable oil

Of all the food additives out there, BVO, or brominated vegetable oil, might be one of the most bizarre.

You probably first heard about it in headlines last year saying “Flame retardant used in drinks and sodas.” But it’s been around for a long time.

And before I tell you more about BVO, first, here’s what it’s used for. And it’s very, very important, so listen carefully.

BVO is added to beverages so…

You don’t have to shake them. Everything stays all mixed together and things won’t look “cloudy.”

Yes, that’s it! And food companies seem to think that’s a perfectly good tradeoff for a chemical that has been found to damage your heart. One that’s been banned in numerous other countries.

And it’s been in regulatory limbo since 1977, when it was relegated to an “interim” list – that is, a special category of “food additives permitted in food or in contact with food on an interim basis pending additional study. “ (In fact, the category was created specifically to accommodate BVO by the judge in a case brought against the FDA asking that the chemical be suspended until its safety could be established – something that was supposed to have been done within two years.)

Well, nearly four decades should be ample time to study the effects of an ingredient, wouldn’t you think? And, in fact, we have learned some things about BVO that should have made it pretty obvious that this is not a particularly desirable substance to be ingesting from a health standpoint – like the fact that it can accumulate in fatty tissue and was found to cause heart damage in animals during laboratory testing.

And while we’ve been waiting for the FDA to quit dawdling, Japan, India and Europe all decided BVO should be banned to protect their consumers. And several cases of bromine poisoning came to light that were suffered by individuals who binged on soda containing BVO, including one reported in 1997 involving “severe bromine intoxication” in a patient who drank two or more liters of orange sodas every day. (So much for the FDA’s “safe limit” of 15 parts per million.)

Those instances were cited in an article in Environmental Health News, which also pointed out the resemblance between BVO and toxic brominated flame retardants. One such compound,PBDE has been found in dozens of species of freshwater and marine fish, birds, reindeer, bird eggs and even whales throughout the world.

That and other media attention to this similarity has resulted in BVO being taken out of some products – but it’s still present in others. That’s yet another reason why you need to look at the ingredients listed on product labels before you buy them.

BVO is on the Wild Oats “NO NO” list of 125 unwanted ingredients.

The mighty micronutrients and why we need them

If you don’t know what “micronutrients” are, you should!

They’ve been called the “magic wands” that allow our bodies to make enzymes, hormones and other necessary things needed for functioning.

And like their name suggests, we only need tiny amounts of these nutrients to be effective. While you can take supplements to add them to your diet, they are best obtained from whole food sources. Some micronutrients need to be replenished daily, and some are only needed in trace amounts.

Even though we may only need small amounts of these “magic wands,” the consequences of not having enough can be very detrimental to our health.

Now since these essential nutrients are found in foods, you may wonder why it’s even an issue. I mean we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with plenty of snacking in between, right?

Well, one big reason why we have these “nutrient gaps” is because the foods we eat are processed to the point of being mostly devoid of nutritional value. And “fortified” foods don’t make up that gap, either.

These micronutrients, as a rule, aren’t nearly as “mighty” when altered as they are in their natural state, where their effectiveness is supported and enhanced by a lot of other trace substances – many of whose roles aren’t even yet understood by science.

If you want to get an idea of how mighty micronutrients work together in concert, try imagining them as separate instruments in a symphony orchestra, each assigned an essential part in playing the musical composition.

Think of all the coordination and timing that takes place among strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, even under the guidance of a conductor.

Now, imagine some of those instruments being removed from the orchestra. Things wouldn’t sound quite the same, now would they? The composition might still be distantly recognizable, but it would hardly represent what the composer had in mind.

So what we might think of as a well-orchestrated meal, might actually be one that can still fall short on a great many essential nutritional notes.

The result is a subtle, but significant loss of what was once called “food value.” So in an interesting twist, while we’ve “supersized” our diets, our food has been downsized in nutritional content.

Stay tuned next for some examples of these mighty micronutrients, and the foods they’re best found in.

If you’re going to make a fake food, call it what it is

Does anyone remember Ritz® mock apple pie? Apparently we ate a lot of Ritz crackers when I was a kid, because I recall reading the recipe numerous times on the package back, as well as having a high level of intrigue with the concept; an apple pie stuffed with crackers not apples? It seemed totally absurd to me, even at the age of ten.

But at least it was called a “mock” apple pie.

I thought of that cracker apple filling the other day while in the supermarket. Two of the first three dietary deceptions we are reporting on here at Food Identity Theft are the bogus blueberry foods and the tomato sauce scam, and I saw a lot of both of them yesterday.

For example, there’s Jiffy® Blueberry muffin mix, with a package featuring yummy-looking muffins containing what certainly appears to be blueberries and a recipe for blueberry coffeecake and blueberry pancakes and waffles on the side.

Not only does the “blueberry” muffin mix contain not a hint of actual blueberries (although it does contain “partially hydrogenated lard,” a heart-stopping description I had never before seen in years of reading labels), but it encourages consumers to bring this culinary chicanery home by making their families fake blueberry coffeecake, pancakes and waffles.

Then there’s ShopRite® brand Blueberries & Cream instant oatmeal. The package is beautiful showing large, plump blueberries and a pitcher of cream set against a farm scene. The ingredient list, however, isn’t as pretty. The “blueberry” part of the deal is called “blueberry flavored fruit pieces” consisting in part of dried figs, dried corn syrup solids, blueberry juice concentrate, numerous artificial colors and artificial flavor.

My favorite “where’s the fruit?” product from that trip is Kellogg’s® Fruity Snacks mixed berry. The pretty red, blue and purple package shows strawberries, raspberries and blueberries morphing into the fruit-shaped Fruity Snacks. The package bottom says “made with real fruit” and in extra small print “see side panel for details.” However, the only mention of anything remotely fruity on the label is an apple puree concentrate.

The use of real fruit and vegetable ingredients in numerous packaged foods is so scarce that you will often see big print on a package saying “made with real fruit!” In one example I saw, a carrot cake mix, which made a really big deal over the fact there were actual carrot pieces added in the mix! Imagine that, a carrot cake with carrots in it!

And speaking of Food Identity Theft, the Associated Press is credited with releasing two documents last week from the FDA regarding the Corn Refiners Association’s attempt to do a switcheroo on the name high fructose corn syrup and have it rebranded as “corn sugar.”

In one, a March 2010 email from Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, Taylor is quoted as saying, “it would be affirmatively misleading to change the name of the ingredient after all this time, especially in light of the controversy surrounding it.” He went on to say, “If we allow it, we will rightly be mocked both on the substance of the outcome and the process through which it was achieved.”
Another document brought to light by the AP is a July, 2011 letter from the FDA’s Barbara Schneeman to the Corn Refiners Association, in which the association was asked to “re-examine your websites and modify statements that use the term ‘corn sugar’ as a synonym for (high fructose corn syrup).”

And while we’re on the topic of the FDA, have you sent your opinion in to the agency yet on this high fructose corn syrup name game? If not, I’d recommend you do so here now!

‘Glutamic bombs:’ Playing tricks with your tongue and havoc with your brain

While the package says “No MSG!” a check of the ingredient label shows “yeast extract,” an ingredient that always contains manufactured glutamic acid (MSG)

They’re often referred to as “excitotoxins” because of their ability to literally excite brain cells to death. Consumers ingest massive amounts of these often hidden and highly toxic “flavor enhancers,” which can also cause adverse reactions ranging from skin rashes to asthma attacks, mood swings, upset stomach, migraines, heart irregularities and seizures. For those who are extremely sensitive, it can put them into life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

The Food and Drug Administration has been presented with ample evidence that these particular additives can be especially harmful to kids, the elderly and developing fetuses. Yet, they’re allowed to be routinely – and liberally — added to scores of processed foods, even organic, vegetarian and “natural” ones, for the devious purpose of fooling the tongue so the food tastes better. That’s why we’ve designated them as five, four and three on our list of additives to be avoided in Citizens for Health’s “Read Your Labels” campaign:

(5) Monosodium glutamate, (4) autolyzed yeast and
(3) hydrolyzed protein

Monosodium glutamate is by now a familiar name that many consumers make a big point to avoid. And while you’ll still see it in numerous products such as chips, ramen noodle dishes and soups, manufacturers know that many consumers check package labels for this neurotoxic flavor enhancer.

That’s why looking for monosodium glutamate on ingredient labels is just the tip of the iceberg.

In selecting our top ten food additives to avoid, we not only picked monosodium glutamate, but also two of the most common ingredients that contain manufactured glutamic acid, the substance in monosodium glutamate that triggers all those adverse reactions. And there are dozens more. In fact, if you want all the manufactured glutamic acid (or MSG) out of your diet, you won’t be eating many processed foods.

There is no doubt that the food industry has a love affair with MSG. It allows products with bland or sparse ingredients to taste really exciting, both saving companies money and adding immensely to sales. Why use 20 chickens in a commercial chicken soup recipe when you can use half that number, add some yeast extract, and everyone will love the taste?

The history of monosodium glutamate use is a sneaky one as well. This toxic chemical found its way into more and more products during the 1950s and ’60s, its use having reportedly doubled in each decade since the 1940s. In addition to being marketed as an ‘off the shelf’ flavor enhancer, it was also at one time added to baby food. But in the late 1950s, researchers tested the chemical on infant mice and discovered it destroyed nerve cells in the inner layers of the retina. A decade later, prominent neurosurgeon Dr. John Olney, found it had a similar effect on cells, or neurons, in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Disclosure of that information to Congress in 1969 was enough to get monosodium glutamate voluntarily removed from baby food, to which it was being added in amounts equivalent to those that had produced brain damage in test animals.

Experts now know that feeding excitotoxins, such as monosodium glutamate and other ingredients containing manufactured glutamic acid, to newborns and young children can have devastating effects on learning ability, personality and behavior. In his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills (originally published in 1994), well-respected neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock noted that “sometimes the effects might be subtle, such as a slight case of dyslexia, or more severe, such as frequent outbursts of uncontrollable anger…”

The list of adverse reactions to these additives is wide and varied, and because they are “sneaked” into so many foods, highly sensitive people who react to very small doses have no way of knowing they have even been exposed.

The Truth in Labeling Campaign, a grassroots, science-based, information service to help people identify reactions to manufactured glutamic acid and avoid ingesting it, estimates that as many as half of all Americans are sensitive to ingredients containing MSG. And the harm these additives cause isn’t necessarily limited to obvious adverse reactions, for as Blaylock points out, MSG can produce “silent damage to the brain with very few symptoms.”

How to keep your diet (relatively) free of MSG

While monosodium glutamate can be easy enough to look for, the dozens of ingredient names that also contain manufactured glutamic acid can turn a trip to the supermarket into an adventure in chemistry.

Along with autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed protein, you need to watch out for anything that’s“hydrolyzed,” and basically any ingredient name that contains the word “protein” (e.g., whey protein isolate, textured protein). To add to the confusion, many companies use the trick of putting “NO MSG ADDED” on the labels of food products that contain various amounts of manufactured glutamic acid, which is ‘hidden’ in over 40 different ingredients.

Highly sensitive people can react to extremely small doses of these additives, making nearly all processed foods a dangerous proposition for them. One such extremely MSG-sensitive individual was the late Jack Samuels, who with his wife Adrienne, a Ph.D. focusing on research methodology, founded the Truth in Labeling Campaign, sharing studies and information they learned over decades of research at their web site www.truthinlabeling.org.

Now that you have some idea of where you’ll find various forms of MSG, if you want to know why such dangerous ingredients are still allowed in food, we suggest you read The Man Who Sued the FDA, by Adrienne Samuels, which documents Jack and Adrienne’s own story of ‘discovery’ in regard to MSG that spans several decades. The book is also the story of how industry and, in particular, a lobbying group known as the Glutamate Association gets its way when it comes to keeping this toxic additive in the food supply at all costs, even to the point of producing studies claiming MSG to be “safe” that many experts have deemed blatantly flawed.

Admittedly, keeping your family’s diet free of these neurotoxic substances may be tricky, but is well worth the effort. Remember, the brain you save may be your own.

Custom infographic about HFCS