As a consumer in the world of too many choices and money tight, I’m sick of spending extra on claims that may just be an excuse to charge more. So what’s real? Some misconceptions are so pervasive that I’ve actually stopped questioning and started believing without question. So here are the issues that concern me most:
1. Organic Food is healthier because it contains more healthful antioxidants and less harmful pesticide residues. We all know that buying organic is pricier, so is it really better? A recent study found that the levels of antioxidants are not higher in organic onions, carrots, and potatoes compared to the same conventionally grown produce. Sure, those are only three types of produce, but there’s no reason to pay more just because they might be better especially since research has shown that many do not. So what about the pesticides? First, many believe that organic food is grown without pesticide use. Well, without synthetic pesticides, yes. But sulfur based pesticides that are not synthetic are allowed, and not any less toxic simply because they aren’t synthetic. So go ahead, spend less on fruits and veggies without any guilt! When asked what’s the better choice for consumers, scientists answer that the healthiest option is actually just to eat fruits and vegetables regularly, regardless of whether they are organic or not. So I think I won’t worry so much about the distinction and for now, do what’s best for my wallet and my body.
2. Bottled water is better than tap water, because tap water is full of contaminants. If something is bottled and sealed, it automatically seems sterile, clean, and therefore worth the extra bucks. But just how unsafe is your tap water? The answer is hardly unsafe at all, if you live in the US. The government spends millions on testing and regulatory compliance, which is our tax dollars at work to keep us safe. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of that service we already pay for, instead of spending extra money? A bottle of water has convenience on its side, but it is in no way cleaner, healthier, or more sterile. Quite the opposite in fact. Bottled water is not regulated, so theoretically, any water with anything in it could be swimming around in that bottle. Check out Is your Bottled Water Worth It? from Environmental Working Group, a watchdog agency. The bottom line is that bottled water usually IS tap water, and companies are under no obligation to disclose their water quality information, the source, or anything else. The best option? Filter your own tap water, with a Brita or something else. Then re-fill a re-usable water bottle to get the convenience of a bottle of water.
3. Free Range Eggs are better than regular eggs, because the life of the chicken is improved. It wasn’t until I took a Nutrition class that I learned the secret behind this very popular myth. The claims that companies can make on their products is regulated, so when the eggs say “free range,” that is not a false per se, only a half truth. Free Range implies to consumers that the chicken is running around out in a field somewhere, happily laying eggs at will. In fact, the chicken can live in a cage more the majority of it’s life, and companies can list their chickens as “free range” as long as they have at least two weeks outside sometime in their life. This means that the chickens can be let out right before they die, and yet all the eggs they produce in their lifetime will qualify as free range. And although they cost more, buying Cage Free eggs is more worth it than Free Range, although the standards of care for chickens is still exceedingly low.
4. Microwaving food in plastic containers will cause BPA to leech into my food and cause cancer, buy only BPA free items or use glass. I was encouraged to research this claim when I began to see “BPA free” water bottles in stores everywhere and wondered if I should invest in one myself. The first surprise I got when I looked into this, was that the softer the plastic, the lower the BPA level will be. That means that most flimsy plastic containers like gladware and ziploc don’t have levels as high has those hard water bottles. For this reason, it’s not so much of a concern to microwave in those containers versus glass, although glass containers have virtually no risk, so you might as well limit your exposure that way. The second misconception I had about this was that while BPA was being called a potential cancer causer, while BPA’s toxic effects are more likely to by associated with reproductive effects. A recent study evaluating increasing BPA urine levels and semen quality in men in China revealed statistically significant adverse effects in all their test criteria, which included low vitality and sperm count. The good news is that the concentrations studies were occupational exposures, much higher than those us normal people would be able to eat regularly. The best take home message is to try limiting exposure in children and babies, where reproductive effects are likely to cause the most damage.
5. The charring on meat from McDonalds or other fast food chains can cause cancer, so you should buy and cook your own meat. While this is partly true, it’s not the whole story. The charring on many foods, especially meat, does contain chemicals known as Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAH’s), that do cause cancer . However, so do aflatoxins in peanut butter. The key is how much you eat and how frequently. Unfortunately though, as much as I would like to blame fast food chains for everything from obesity to cancer, this is not one of those. The highest concentrations of PAH’s are actually found in home cooked or home grilled meats. This is because home cooks usually use higher temperatures than needed, or do not control the temperature as the meat is cooked. Commercial situations, such as at a fast food joint, have carefully regulated grills to avoid bacterial contamination and other issues. Does this mean you should stop grilling or eating meat? Of course not! I enjoy a good steak now and then, and as long as I don’t eat one every day for the next twenty years, I should be okay.