"Fun for You": Corporate doublespeak for "Bad for You"

Pop quiz, everybody:

The opposite of good is:

  • bad
  • fun
  • Pepsi

If you answered a), you’re probably a mom. If you answered b), you’re probably a kid, or a PepsiCo executive. If you answered c), you’re 33% less likely to become obese.

Unless you have an addiction or a profit incentive, you probably know by now that soda is not good for your health. Soda delivers empty calories that you’re body doesn’t recognize as food, and which carry no nutritional value. Drinking soda on a regular basis is linked to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, kidney problems, and a host of other health problems.

Under assault by common sense, the bloated soft drink industry is clumsily lunging for a makeover. PepsiCo is trying to remake its image from being the purveyor of sugary, salty snacks to being the purveyor of slightly-less-sugary, slightly-less-salty, but no-less-delicious snacks it calls its “Fun For You” line. That’s compared to its “Good For You” and “Better For You” lines, which are mostly composed of Quaker, Dole and Tropicana products.

The Economist reports, “To that end, on March 22nd [company president Indra Nooyi] unveiled a series of targets to improve the healthiness of Pepsi’s wares. By 2015 the firm aims to reduce the salt in some of its biggest brands by 25%; by 2020, it hopes to reduce the amount of added sugar in its drinks by 25% and the amount of saturated fat in certain snacks by 15%.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re bowing to public opinion and at least making an effort to improve the healthiness of their products. But PepsiCo trying to reduce the amount of sugar in sodas sounds a bit like Phillip Morris trying to take the nicotine out of cigarettes. The reason people drink Pepsi is for the sugar and caffeine rush, just like the reason most people smoke cigarettes is for the nicotine rush. If a company knows that their products are unhealthy and addictive, the honest thing to do would be to completely revamp their product line, or get out of the business. Making minor alterations to an essentially unhealthy product is not enough.   

First Lady Michelle Obama, continuing her Let’s Move campaign to reduce childhood obesity, recently called the major food conglomerates on this behavior. At a recent speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, she was, by all reports, tactful but direct in her assertion that their products contributed to childhood obesity. She called on them “not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you're offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.” The audience, including representatives from PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Con Agra, McDonalds and Kraft, gave her a standing ovation.

What accounted for their enthusiasm? It could be that they believe they are already in compliance with her requests. In an official press statement, the GMA claimed, “Our industry is an enthusiastic supporter of Mrs. Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative and its goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation. In recent years, our companies have reduced calories, sugar, fat and sodium in more than 10,000 products. They have also enhanced the nutritional profile of many products with the addition of whole grains, fiber or other nutrients and created the informative and convenient 100-calorie pack.”

Here’s a question: if PepsiCo is so committed to the health of its consumers, why do they call their most unhealthy products “fun?” Doesn’t this give kids the message that foods that are bad for you are fun? Diabetes is not fun. Obesity is not fun. So let’s cut the corporate doublespeak and call it like it is. I’ll let the courageous Mrs. O have the last word:

“…what [change] doesn’t mean is taking out one problematic ingredient, only to replace it with another.  While decreasing fat is certainly a good thing, replacing it with sugar and salt isn’t.  And it doesn’t mean compensating for high amounts of problematic ingredients with small amounts of beneficial ones -- for example, adding a little bit of Vitamin C to a product with lots of sugar, or a gram of fiber to a product with tons of fat doesn’t suddenly make those products good for our kids.

This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy.  As you know, it’s about producing products that actually are healthy -- products that can help shape the health habits of an entire generation."

Too good to be true? Water cures ulcers, high blood pressure and asthma

The story of how one man discovered the healing properties of water sounds like the makings of a medical thriller. It even has a mysterious hero – Dr. Batman, MD.

As he relates in his last interview with Mike Adams of Natural News, the late Fereydoon Batmanghelidj was a well-respected doctor in his native Iran, when the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979. Dr. Batman was jailed at the infamous Evin prison for three years, along with other intellectuals and professionals who were considered a threat to the new regime. Conditions were barbaric and supplies were slim to nonexistent. At one point, he had to treat a man crippled from the pain of a peptic ulcer. Having no medication to treat him with, he gave the patient two glasses of water. After a few minutes, the man uncurled from the fetal position and stopped screaming. Doctor Batman was surprised, and prescribed him two more glasses of water at three-hour intervals. The man was pain free for the duration of his four-month stay at the prison. He continued testing his water treatment on over 3000 patients during his stay, and even refused early release in order to continue studying the effects of water on peptic ulcers and other stress related conditions.

After he was released from prison and sought refuge in the US, Dr. Batman applied his medical training to discover the scientific underpinnings of his findings. He found that most so-called diseases of the modern era are actually symptoms of chronic dehydration. When an area of the body becomes dehydrated, the body sends a warning signal in the form of pain. It also takes measures to preserve the remaining water resources. After years of substituting juice, tea, coffee, soda and alcohol for water, many people are chronically dehydrated and don’t even know it. According to Dr. Batman, one of the effects of chronic dehydration is that you gradually lose your thirst sensation.

Dr. Batman points out that modern medicine attempts to treat the symptoms of dehydration without understanding the cause. As a result, the condition steadily worsens, and most people find themselves on medication for the remainder of their life. Consider Dr. Batman’s explanations of a few modern epidemics:

High Blood Pressure

Conventional medicine

Cause: Cause of High Blood Pressure is unknown in 90-95% of cases

Treatment: Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blocking drugs, beta-blockers and diuretics are used to target the chemicals in your body that constrict blood vessels, and to decrease the volume of water in the blood.

Possible side effects: diarrhea, slow heart rate, rash, impotence, high cholesterol, dizziness, depression, suicide

Dr. Batman

Cause: When the body is dehydrated, the blood vessels constrict in order to pump water from the bloodstream into drought areas of the body.

Treatment: 2 quarts of water day, a half hour before meals and 2 and a half hours after.

Possible side effects: none


Conventional medicine

Cause: unknown

Treatment: Long term control and quick relief medications such as fluticasone, budesonide mometasone, triamcinolone, flunisolide, beclomethasone, montelukast, zafirlukast, and zileuton that target the chemicals that cause bronchial constriction.

Possible side effects: agitation, aggression, hallucinations, depression, suicidal thinking and increased risk of a severe asthma attack.

Dr. Batman

Cause: Every day, a quart of water is lost through respiration. When water resources are low, the body automatically constricts the alveoli in the lungs to prevent further water loss.

Treatment: 2 quarts of water day, a half hour before meals and 2 and a half hours after.

Possible side effects: none

The implications of Dr. Batmanghelidj’s studies are far-reaching, and maybe for some, far-fetched. But the beauty of his water cure is that anyone can test it. You don’t need a medical degree; you don’t need a prescription. Unlike most experimental treatments, it won’t put you in debt. It has no negative side effects, and accidental overdoses are not common.

Could it really be that simple? There’s an old principle of logic called Occam’s Razor which states, “the simplest answer is usually the right one.” Unfortunately, it is usually overriden by another principle called Corporate Interest, which states, “the simplest answer makes the least money.”

For more information, visit Dr. Batmangheldij's site.

Meat Linked to Increased Bladder Cancer Risk

In a recently concluded 12-year study, scientists found that people who eat meat regularly, especially meat that is well done or cooked at high temperatures, may have a higher chance of developing bladder cancer.

Surprised? I didn’t think so. The study, undertaken by scientists at the University of Texas, joins previous research linking meat with bowel, pancreatic and colon cancer. So while I’m glad these studies are making headlines and getting coverage, it’s worth pointing out that this “news” is not exactly new.

Many people I know, who profess to be concerned with their health and the health of the planet, are so jaded by the constant discovery of new carcinogens that they shrug them off, saying, “yeah well, these days what doesn’t cause cancer?”

I understand how overwhelming it can be to feel surrounded by toxins in our environment. We take comfort in food, and we want to imagine that our dinner, at least, won’t kill us. However, if we look around at the rising rates of morbid obesity, heart disease and cancer, we can see that our dinner, if it includes meat, is killing us. We can hide behind the fatalistic argument that we’re all going to die anyway, or we can make the basic changes to our diet that will alleviate the risk of cancer, and improve our quality of life.

The distinctions are not that difficult to make. Study after study confirms that meat is not good for our health. To date, I have yet to find a study saying sweet potatoes are not good for our health. Ditto on taro, papayas, bananas, pineapple, kale, collard greens, bell peppers, tomatoes or cucumbers - and that’s just what’s growing in my garden right now. Switching to a plant-based diet is the single most important thing a person can do for their health. You don’t have to be fatalistic or jaded about the risk of cancer. Just plant a seed.

The most recent study found that people who consumed the most red meat were 48% more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who consumed the least. The report further studied the effects of high temperatures on meat. They found that “medium” meat was linked to a 46% increased risk of cancer while “well done” meat was lined to a 94% increase in risk, compared to meat that was “rare.”

I found it odd that the study only compared people who ate lots of meat to people who ate less meat. What about people who ate no meat? It might be useful, for example, to know that a heavy smoker cuts eight years off his life expectancy compared to a light smoker, but wouldn’t it be more useful to know the life expectancy of someone who never smoked at all?

This particular study didn’t include any data from vegetarians, but there are plenty of other examples from previous studies. One 11 year long study from Germany found that people who eat no meat are less than half as likely as the mainstream population to develop any kind of cancer.

In the University of Texas study, the scientists looked at the way meat was cooked, and concluded that chemical reactions between amino acids (the building blocks of protein and creatine (a chemical found in muscles) react under high temperatures to form heterocyclic amines (HCA’s), which are carcinogenic. The authorities stopped short of recommending a vegetarian diet, however, issuing the following statement instead:

“The UK Food Standards Agency says people can reduce their risk from chemicals that may cause cancer by…cooking at lower temperatures for a longer time, but warns that undercooked meat can cause food poisoning.”

So, cooked meat gives you cancer and uncooked meat gives you food poisoning?

Pass the sweet potatoes, please.

BPA in canned foods

Ahhh...the occasional can of creamed corn. Maybe a French green bean eaten right out of the can cold for a snack. Sound too gross for you? How about using canned chopped tomatoes or tomato paste? Canned soup anyone? I think most folks use these in their cooking.

Now a new study by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in New York City recommends forgoing canned food altogether due to their findings that 92% of canned foods tested contain BPA leached from the inner can lining: health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/diet/articles/2010/05/18/bpa-in-cans-poses-health-threat-report-claims.html . The study calls for a Federal ban on Bisphenol A (BPA), a common chemical used in the metal linings of some canned foods and ubiquitous in plastic products, including baby bottles and sippy cups.

BPA has come under scrutiny lately, with studies linking it to a host of health and developmental problems. One linked BPA to diabetes and heart disease: health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/heart/articles/2008/09/16/heart-disease-diabetes-linked-to-chemical-in-plastics.html.

Dr. Sarah Jannsen, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Franciso, said that "in animal studies, exposure to BPA is associated with reproductive harm, alterations in behavior and brain development, increased risk of prostate and breast cancer, and an earlier onset of puberty."

And, she added, "The fact that BPA causes such a side range of effects at low doses is really very concerning." [1]

Laura N. Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said BPA is an estrogen-like hormone that can cause reproductive problems.

"BPA has been linked to so many different diseases and dysfunctions that it's not safe," she said. "It's not safe in any aspect of that word."

Foods tested included fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, soups and tomatoes. "Potential exposure to BPA, not just from one can, but from meals you prepare over the course of a day with canned food, can actually expose consumers to potentially harmful levels of BPA," said report co-author Mike Shade.

Of course the canned food industry took issue with the report, saying no alternative safe technology exists to protect consumers against the food-borne illnesses the BPA is supposed to inhibit. However, Eden Foods has been offering food in BPA-free cans for more than 10 years, and Muir Glen, a subsidiary of General Mills, is planning to take BPA out of its canned tomato cans, Shade added.

The goal of the report's writers is to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban BPA in food packaging and drink containers. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is proposing just such an amendment to the Food Safety Act currently being considered in Congress.

Shade noted that the ban is needed because BPA is in so many products that consumers are bound to buy products that contain the chemical. "Unfortunately, we can't shop our way out of this problem, because BPA is widespread in many different consumer products and that's why we need Congress to take action to ban BPA," he said.

The FDA has decided to take another look at BPA, which it has continually maintained is safe for human consumption. In January 2010, the FDA and other U.S. health agencies pledged $30 million toward short- and long-term research aimed at clarifying the health effects of the chemical.

So what can you do to lower your exposure to BPA? Choose other packaging options, including glass and non-toxic plastics. Consumers can also switch from canned foods to fresh and frozen foods. Reach out to the manufacturers of the products you like and tell them that you want your cans to be free of BPA.

The Environmental Working Group last year conducted an analysis of BPA in various canned foods and found the amount varies widely depending on the food: health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/heart/articles/2008/09/17/5-ways-to-keep-bisphenol-a-or-bpa-out-of-your-food.html. Condensed milk, for instance, has relatively little BPA, while infant formula has a lot more--about one fifth the safe dose limit set by the Food and Drug Administration. Of course, the potential risk also depends on how much you consume.

Here are some good rules of thumb for reducing your intake of BPA.

  1. Buy your tomato sauce in glass jars. Canned tomato sauce is likely to have higher levels of BPA because the high acidity of the tomatoes causes more of the chemical to leach from the lining of the can. Think beyond plain tomato sauce to any canned pasta -- like ravioli and those fun-looking kids' meals.
  2. Consume frozen or fresh fruits and vegetables instead of canned. In addition to their BPA-free benefit, fresh and frozen produce usually have more nutrients, which often get lost in the process of canning. Eden Foods offers canned beans that are BPA-free.
  3. Purchase beverages in plastic or glass bottles. Canned soda and jice often contain some BPA. As far as BPA, you don't need to worry about disposable plastic water bottles. Most don't contain it, and those that do are usually marked on the bottom with a number 7 recycling code.
  4. Use powdered infant formula instead of ready-to-serve liquid. A separate assessment from the Environmental Working Group found that liquid formulas contain more BPA than powdered brands. We all know breast is best, when possible.)
  5. Think in terms of moderation. You don't need to avoid all canned foods. Just consult the chart in the EWG's full report on canned foods and follow a sensible approach, eating less of those foods that are high in BPA.

As always, fresh is better. Ready to start that summer garden yet? I bought more seeds today to add to my ongoing collection of self-harvested seeds. ;-]


1. As reported in Health Buzz by Megan Johnson of U.S. News and World Report.

Vegetarian Diet Can Reduce Chemicals in Your Body

A recent study suggests that even five days of vegetarian eating significantly reduces potentially harmful chemicals in the body. Yet another benefit of a plant-based diet!

In “Influence of a five-day vegetarian diet on urinary levels of antbiotics and phthalate metabolites: A pilot study with ‘Temple Stay’ participants”[1] in the May 2010 issue of Environmental Research [2], twenty-five adults stayed for five days in a Buddhist temple in Korea, living as the monks did, following a vegetarian diet. Before beginning, urine samples taken showed high levels of antibiotics and phthalates.

As reported in care2.com, presumably the antibiotic levels were due mainly to meat consumption. Phthalates can also be absorbed through meat consumption, however, they are also found in abundant supply in the manmade environment, mainly found in plastics, like food containers, shower curtains, floor tiles, personal care products, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and many other applications. (Research about the potential health effects of phthalates on humans is ongoing.)

The researchers found antibiotic and phthalate urinary levels dropped very much after the study participants completed their vegetarian retreat. One, because they were no longer consuming foods high in those chemicals, but also because the body apparently can release some of its ingested, accumulated chemical residues.

The results may come as little surprise for people already mindful of exposure to industrial chemicals through food and interacting with plastic products.

The study provides some hope in the fact the body can release unnatural chemicals to some degree, and also indicates a vegetarian diet limits exposure to potentially damaging chemicals from our environment. We already know that following a plant-based diet reduces ones risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, prostate and colon cancer. Now it appears it can help us detoxify too, providing us a weapon against the daily environmental onslaught of modern life.

So eat your veggies!! (Preferably organic!)

  1. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/vegetarian-diet-can-reduce-chemicals-in...
  2. Environmental Research: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Environmental Sciences, Ecology, and Public Health publishes original reports describing studies of the toxic effects of environmental agents on humans and animals. The principal aims of the journal are to define the etiology of environmentally induced illness and to increase understanding of the mechanisms by which environmental agents cause disease. http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/622821/desc...

Less Meat = Less Heat (lots) + other goodies

Photo: Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Big news recently is that the United Nations is advocating a vegan diet for the world in order to combat climate change, dwindling fresh water supplies, hunger and land change leading to biodiversity loss.

The comprehensive report, “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production,”  was released by the U.N. Environmental Program’s (UNEP) International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management,  to coincide with World Environmental Day on June 5th. While not specifically citing veganism, the report strongly recommends moving away from a meat and dairy-centered diet.

The U.N. report also suggests curbing fossil fuel use, which can again be achieved by going vegan.   Experts predict that there will be at least 9 billion people in the world by 2050, and global meat consumption is projected to double by that time.

The report says: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: "Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels."

The recommendation follows advice last year from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the British government on the economics of climate change, that a vegetarian diet is better for the planet.  "Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources. A vegetarian diet is better," Stern said.&

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.

“Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions,” says the report. UN researchers also found that increased consumption of meat and dairy occurs as a result of economic growth, and the impact of this increase is at least as disastrous on the environment as increased fossil fuel use.

What I find very interesting is that the U.N.’s recommendations to forego meat are based on figures of the livestock industry contributing between 11% and 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will seem radical for some people. I wonder if the report’s authors are becoming vegans?

But what’s even more radical is the April 2010 report by the WorldWatch Institute [1], “Livestock and Climate Change,”  that improves on the U.N.’s much quoted 2006 report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow." In their update, they show how the livestock sector actually accounts for a whopping 51% of worldwide GHGs – a share more than four-times larger than U.N.’s. They convincingly show how many factors have been overlooked – such as the respiration of livestock – and others have been wrongly assessed, underestimated or are out of date.

People are blogging excitedly about this, and two good summaries of the report are listed below:

For a perspective shift, they explain: “…livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe.”

Their recommendation is to promote “meat analogs”, which primarily come from soy. In fact the last two pages of the report outline a marketing strategy to convince the world to make the switch from flesh.

“…replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions…than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.” They assert that “Even if money and politics were up to the task, solutions involving renewable energy are expected to take more than a decade to implement fully, by which time the tipping point may long since have been passed for irreversible climate disruption.”

They aim for a 25% reduction in animal products by 2017, and call for change to be directed at industry, rather than governments, which can be slow to change. In fact, this presents an immense opportunity for business. A fast-food place with all meat analogs? Sounds fantastic. Instead of Burger King, you’d have Veggie Victory.

“By replacing livestock products with analogs, consumers can take a single powerful action collectively to mitigate most GHGs worldwide. Labeling analogs with certified claims of the amount of GHGs averted can give them a significant edge.”

The report points out that analogs are less expensive, less wasteful, easier to cook, and healthier than slaughtered animal products. They assert how meat analogs will also help ease the global food crisis, alleviate the global water crisis, improve health and labor conditions. [2]

Now where does dairy fit into all this? Interestingly, the U.N. has completed an analysis of the dairy industry’s impact on climate change. “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector”, published on April 20, 2010, found that milk production contributes 2.7% of global GHG emissions. When they factored in the unfortunate slaughter of calves that accompanies virtually all dairy production, the amount rises to 4%.

The report is a follow-up to the organization's 2006 report, “Livestock's Long Shadow”. It assesses the global dairy industry's contribution specifically and covers the production of dairy products from the farm to the retailer. All things considered, the 4% contribution to GHG arising from dairy production is much smaller than the impact of the meat industry taken as a whole.

There’s a lot of information out there for those who want it, for who want to be part of the solution, for those who care.

So whether you go vegan, vegetarian, or decide to start by giving up meat just one day a week, you’re part of the solution. Be encouraged, and check in here for more updates. Share with me what you find. We can make a difference!

  1. The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization recognized by opinion leaders around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. The Institute's three main program areas include Climate & Energy, Food & Agriculture, and the Green Economy. http://www.worldwatch.org/mission
  2. Meat and dairy analog projects will not only slow climate change but also help ease the global food crisis, as it takes a much smaller quantity of crops to produce any given number of calories in the form of an analog than a livestock product. Analogs would also alleviate the global water crisis, as the huge amounts of water necessary for livestock production would be freed up. Health and nutritional outcomes among consumers would be better than from livestock products. Analog projects would be more labor intensive than livestock projects, so would create both more jobs and more skilled jobs. They would also avert the harmful labor practices found in the livestock sector (but not in analog production), including slave labor in some areas such as the Amazon forest region. Workers producing livestock products can easily be retrained to produce analogs.

Exercise along with a healthy diet for improved quality of life.

Recent news that many children use personal trainers at gyms to fight obesity, secure athletic scholarships and gain confidence caused some to chuckle and others to be aghast.

Fact is, one in three kids in America is currently overweight. Some parents are taking their kids along with them for their workouts, hoping to instill lifelong habits. I think this is great, if you can afford it. Anything to get kids moving is good, and mom or dad exercising along with them models good behavior. Even better, in my book, is to get the kids outdoors, out of the gym.

In Hawaii we have so many opportunities for movement, it should be easy to motivate a sedentary child. The key is attitude. Get them excited about the exercise! In Hawaii we can walk, run, bike, swim practice martial arts, dance, or  yoga, surf, body board, snorkel, hike, play soccer, baseball, football, basketball, go skateboarding – the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Try a few until you find one or more your child enjoys.

If rain bother you, you can also lift weights, use home exercise equipment, join that gym, or do home exercise DVDs. The point is to factor movement into your life. While a healthy diet is key for a healthy life, exercise may be even as important to feeling and looking your best. It improves attitude, energy levels and is just plain fun.

If you need help getting started, there's lots available.

Out in Waianae the Kid Fit program has gained 100 new kids every year since 2004. According to Christy Inda, Director of Preventive Health for the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, "we're getting the word out to promote physical activity."  Former couch potatoes are working out and losing weight.

The beautiful Wai Lana Little Yogis DVDs, which were filmed in Hawaii, are another local effort to help kids. Wai Lana makes it easy for you and your little one to exercise at home, after school, weekends, whenever!

Local Hawaii station KGMB offers motivational tips on exercise for the overweight child.

If you're interested in more materials to help you help your child to move, Len Saunders has popular books, including his newest, Keeping Kids Fit & Adventure in Exercise. These books reportedly get kids excited about exercise.

Looking for an energy boost to motivate your workout? Why not try the green drink that Mimi Kirk, the Sexiest Vegetarian over 50, drinks daily. Just put a cucumber, spinach, celery and an apple into your juicer or blender, maybe add a banana, and drink up for a live and raw boost. Just try it; you may be pleasantly surprised. Sure beats a doughnut.

See ya out there - moving!

Can sunscreen cause cancer?

I belong to a group. You may too. I belong to the group of more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in this country every year. I'm sure it didn't help that, growing up, I spent five hours a day baking in baby oil on a raft in our family's pool most summers. But what about the SPF 4 (!) my mom insisted I wear? I remember a strong-smelling clear liquidy product that sealed into a plastizoid layer on my face. Could that have actually contributed to me losing part of my nose, in addition to the hours I spent baking in the sun?

I just reviewed The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Fourth annual Sunscreen Guide" to look for some answers. My friends often debate whether to apply sunscreen to avoid cancer or to forgo sunscreen to avoid cancer. So what did the EWG find? I want to be armed with facts for the next beachside chat.

Interestingly, they only recommend 8% of sunscreen products on the market today, a mere 39 products out of  1,400 products with SPF, including beach and sports lotions, sprays and creams, moisturizers, make-up and lip balms. The main reasons are that popular chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone have been linked to cancer, and a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate - found in 41 percent of sunscreens to prevent free radical damage - has recently been shown to actually create more cancer-causing free radicals in the presence of sunlight. In addition, the EWG says that many of these sunscreens make exaggerated SPF claims. FDA scientists say SPF claims above 50 cannot be reliably substantiated.

The EWG report found that few people use enough sunscreen to benefit from the SPF protection promised on the label. Studies show that people typically use about a quarter of the recommended amount (which for an adult is about one ounce). Because sunscreen effectiveness drops off precipitously when under-applied, in everyday practice a product labeled SPF 100 actually performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and SPF 15 translates to 2! No wonder my kid comes home red after spending hours on the beach, even though sunscreen has been dutifully applied.

The best sunscreen? A hat and long-sleeved shirt. No toxic effects, no chance of inhaling or ingesting any suspect ingredients, no pollution of the reef and no need to reapply. And seek shade during the peak midday hours. Common sense. We've come to rely on sunscreen, but studies show that folks who use it stay out in the sun longer and have higher rates of the deadly melanoma skin cancer. Sunscreen can provide a false sense of security, especially in Hawaii's summertime heat.

Reportedly taking their research further than Consumer Reports, the EWG looked not only at whether or not products provide broad-spectrum UV protection (UVA & UVB), but also at which sunscreens quickly lose effectiveness, and at the full range of potentially hazardous sunscreen ingredients that can absorb through the skin and into the body to pose other risks.

This may be old news to some of our savvy readers, but I was pleased to have some clear information. For example, if the sunscreen leaves a white residue, that's good. That means the zinc and titanium dioxide mineral particles which block sunlight are larger than a nanoparticle. These ingredients have been micronized in some products, so that they aren't visible when applied to your skin. Many consumers may prefer that their sunscreen be invisible, but the danger is that nanoparticles can more easily penetrate into the body and disrupt certain hormonal functions.

What's a nano particle you may ask? I first reported on them in food here last March: http://www.downtoearth.org/blogs/2010-03/health/more-unknown-ingredients....

Nano-scale particles are measured in nanometers (nm), or billionths of a meter. Relative to larger particles, nano-scale materials can be more chemically reactive and more easily absorbed into the body. A number of studies raise concerns about potential health risks when these particles are inhaled or are absorbed through the skin or gut. Nevertheless, they are already widely used in products, including sunscreens, with no requirement that their presence be disclosed.

The EWG wants mandatory labeling of products containing nano particles so the consumer can choose. They investigate them extensively in their Report on Sunscreens.

Particular sunscreen ingredients or formulations may be more damaging to skin than others. Both nano-size zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, including forms extracted from sunscreen, react strongly with UV light (Dunford 1997) and may damage skin cells (Sharma 2009).

Yet they found that sunscreens without any size zinc and titanium particles are likely to expose the user to more UV radiation and greater numbers of hazardous ingredients. So it appears the larger size zinc and titanium particles that leave a white residue on the skin may be the best way to go at present. Without the whites, sunscreens use chemicals such as octinoxate and oxybenzone that absorb into healthy skin, causing in some allergic reactions, hormone-driven uterine damage, and can act like estrogen in the body, raising potential concerns for breast cancer. Yikes. I've already been diagnosed as having higher than ideal estrogen levels.

Their findings

"Sunscreens without zinc or titanium contain an average of 4 times as many high hazard ingredients known or strongly suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, to disrupt human reproduction or damage the growing brain of a child. They also contain more toxins on average in every major category of health harm considered: cancer (10% more), birth defects and reproductive harm (40% more), neurotoxins (20% more), endocrine system disruptors (70% more), and chemicals that can damage the immune system (70% more) (EWG 2006)."

So I took my basket of assorted sunscreen goop out of the closet and the fridge, and scanned the ingredients. Luckily only two contained the suspect ingredients octnoxate and oxybenzone, and made their way into the waste basket. The newest ones in my arsenal against skin cancer I bought at Down to Earth. The Super Salve Co. creates a SPF 30 sun cream in a tub, and a SPF 27 herbal sun stick to go on nose, ears, lips, etc. They contain a soothing-sounding blend of olive oil, aloe, shea butter, jojoba oil and zinc, along with bees wax, vitamin E and other natural ingredients. I keep them in the fridge at home, and when I go out I bring them in a cooler to maintain their effective properties. Heat breaks them down. They go on smoothly and have proven their effectiveness to me, even in the water. While not included in the EWG's study, I found them to contain no potentially dangerous chemicals, utilizing zinc oxide along with many herbal ingredients including lovely smelling essential oils.

My SPF daily moisturizers didn't fare as well. I chucked two along with a lip balm, and kept one the EWG advises to use with "Caution".

Interested? You can read about how the FDA has been drafting sunscreen safety legislation for the past 32 years.

The FDA first issued draft sunscreen regulations in 1978 and last updated the draft in 2007. The regulations are still not final, despite multiple announcements of impending completion. Until the agency formally issues its rule, companies are not required to verify that their sunscreens work, including testing for SPF levels, checking waterproof claims or providing UVA protection. Nearly 1 in 8 sunscreens does not block UVA rays. UVA rays, while not causing skin redness, lead to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Buyer beware!

Go to the EWG site to find your sunscreen and how it rates in safety. It's fun and easy. There's even a Hall of Shame. Find those without nano-particles if you wish. Like genetically modified organisms, the jury is still out in America about their safety. And like GMOs in America, they're approved for use until proven dangerous. Sounds a little backward to me….do you want to be the FDA's guinea pig? Well, unfortunately you are.

Read FAQs such as:

  • There’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer.
  • The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.
  • When consumers apply too little sunscreen or reapply it infrequently, behaviors that are more common than not, sunscreens can cause more free radical damage than UV rays on bare skin.
  • Powdered or spray forms of sunscreen, while easy to apply, are not recommended as potentially toxic ingredients can be ingested or inhaled.
  • And not surprisingly, read how Europe has better sunscreen than the U.S.

Now don't avoid the sun altogether! We need about 15 minutes of solid sun daily, on average, to develop Vitamin D. Supplements aren't enough. Just be smart. Be informed and spread your knowledge! And when you have to be out for prolonged periods and are in doubt, white sunscreen currently looks like your best option if the hat and shirt aren't practical.

  1. Dunford R, Salinaro A, Cai L, Serpone N, Horikoshi S, Hidaka H, et al. 1997. Chemical oxidation and DNA damage catalysed by inorganic sunscreen ingredients. FEBS Lett 418(1-2): 87-90. Sharma V, Shukla RK, Saxena N, Parmar D, Das M, Dhawan A. 2009.
  2. DNA damaging potential of zinc oxide nanoparticles in human epidermal cells. Toxicol Lett 185(3): 211-218. EWG (Environmental Working Group). 2006.
  3. A Survey of Ingredients in 25,000 Personal Care Products Reveals Widespread Use of Nano-Scale Materials, Not Assessed for Safety, in Everyday Products. Comments to U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Environmental Working Group. Available at http://ewg.org/issues/cosmetics/20061010/comments.php.

Minding weight at the movies and in the sky

As an aid to keeping you healthy, movie theaters and airplanes, among others, will soon be posting calorie counts of their food offerings.

I noted here on September 6, 2010 about coming calorie counts on restaurant menus and in vending machines (http://www.downtoearth.org/blogs/2010-09/industry-legislation/meatless-m...), required by new federal guidelines. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports, "The expansion stems from provisions in the health-care overhaul enacted in March (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870432370457546202147561006...). The government wants calorie listings posted to make it easier for consumers to select healthier options."

In preliminary guidelines released last month, the FDA said the scope of the law stretches beyond restaurants to encompass airlines, trains, grocery-store food courts, movie theaters and convenience stores that qualify as chains. Within grocery stores, the agency said, it is considering including salad bars, store bakeries, pizza bars and delicatessens for chains with 20 or more stores.

Health advocates say the change could be a powerful tool in fighting the obesity epidemic, which is a top initiative in Washington since first lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity her signature cause in February. As expected, those chains affected aren't embracing it as positively.

"People don't go to movie theaters for the primary purpose of eating," said Gary Klein, a vice president for a group representing theater owners. "Why aren't ballparks covered? You think the food served at ballparks is healthy?" reported the WSJ. Stadiums aren't covered as they aren't chains.

The FDA plans to make official who is covered, and how, in December.

Perhaps greater awareness will lead to people making healthier food choices. We shall see.

Pop Quiz: For Breast Cancer Prevention, Collards, Carrots, or KFC?

Over the last month, while the Breast Cancer Awareness campaign was in full swing, some have questioned the effectiveness of what they call “pink washing,” or slapping everything from lipstick to a Ford Mustang with a pink ribbon and selling it in the name of breast cancer advocacy.

We might be hesitant to criticize companies for what appear to be well-intentioned efforts to raise awareness about a disease that will affect 1 in 8 women in America. However, when KFC starts selling pink “Buckets for the Cure,” we have to ask whether these companies really have the best interests of women at heart. Many ingredients in cosmetics have been linked to breast cancer, as have pollutants found in car exhaust. And the link between buckets of fried, tumor-ridden, estrogen-pumped chicken breasts and breast cancer should be obvious. Even the National Cancer Institute warns on its website that many studies, "have shown that an increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancer is associated with high intakes of well-done, fried or barbecued meats."

Meanwhile, the American Institute for Cancer Research reports that 60 to 70 percent of all cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes. Their number one dietary recommendation is to: "Choose predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes and minimally processed starchy staple foods."

Three recent and reassuring studies released in the past month support the finding that lifestyle changes centered on healthy diet and exercise are the best way to prevent breast cancer. Here’s a roundup:

A team of Harvard scientists reviewed data from over 95,000 women gathered over a 20 year period and found that women who regularly take brisk walks are 15% less likely to get breast cancer than women who walk less than one hour a week. The study’s author, Dr. A. Heather Elliassen, noted that while there is a growing body of evidence that women who are highly physically active are at a lower risk of developing breast cancer, this study was encouraging because it suggested that women do not have to engage in vigorous work outs. It is enough to simply walk roughly three to four miles an hour, at a pace where it is harder to hold a conversation than when casually strolling.

Two studies in China have found that women with a higher intake of soy experience a lower risk of death or recurrence from breast cancer after menopause. These studies were conducted on women who had been eating soy for most of their lives. Doctors in the U.S. stressed that there was no evidence to suggest that women who have never eaten soy should begin after diagnosis. However, the China studies do suggest that women may experience a benefit from integrating soy into their diet as a preventative measure. Soy foods are rich in compounds called isoflavones, which affect estrogen metabolism. In the most current study, women with the highest soy intake consumed more than 42 milligrams of isoflavones per day, roughly equivalent to one and a half cups of soy milk.

Researchers at Boston University found that eating lots of carrots and cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and collard greens, could lower risk of breast cancer. The study focused on an aggressive type of breast cancer called ER-negative that is resistant to estrogen therapy. The researchers found that women who ate at least two servings of vegetables a day had a 43 percent lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer compared with women who ate fewer than four servings of vegetables each week. The data was particularly significant for African American women, who are often diagnosed with this type of breast cancer. The author of the study, Dr. Deborah A. Boggs, noted that her earlier work showed that a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables led to a lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer in African American women.

So, next year when October rolls around, let's start calling it Breast Cancer Prevention Month rather than Breast Cancer Awareness Month. KFC, Estee Lauder, L'oreal and Ford have all succeeded in making us very aware of the prevalence of breast cancer. Unintentionally, their efforts have also made more people aware of their contribution to breast cancer. But awareness is not enough. Prevention is what we need. We don't need pink buckets of fried chicken and pink-striped gas guzzlers. We have science on the side of health.