Where do the chefs eat when they have a night off? That’s where you want to go. In the market for a new computer? Ask the head of your company’s IT department what he uses at home. If you knew what toothpaste your dentist’s family uses, you’d probably buy it too.
The skinny, the scoop, the inside track—that’s what you want.
Experts from a variety of food-related fields have made these 7 insider recommendations of foods to avoid. They’re based on professional wisdom and expertise, but more importantly, they represent personal choices. None are banned in the U.S.; they’re all USDA or FDA approved, but those in the know won’t eat them, and they won’t feed them to their own families.
The grafting techniques of conventional apple growers demand some of the most extensive pesticide usage in all of agriculture. While chemical producers and regulators duke it out over the residue, Mark Kastel, former executive for agribusiness and co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group, buys organic only. When that’s not feasible, then peel the apples and wash up well afterwards.
The resin linings of cans contain bisphenol-A, what we know as BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The acidity of tomatoes causes a large amount of BPA to leach out of the lining and into your food—so much that the BPA level from just a few cans’ worth of tomatoes is enough to have a health impact. Fredrick vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist and bisphenol-A scholar at the University of Missouri, won’t touch them.
Actually, the popcorn is fine. The microwavable bag is another story. Its lining is coated with chemicals that, when heated, vaporize and migrate to the popcorn. One of those chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, accumulates in your body for years and is linked to infertility, liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. It’s such a known threat that DuPont and other manufacturers will phase it out by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan. Dr. Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, won’t be indulging until then.
Dr. David Carpenter is the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and a leading authority on contamination in fish, and he won’t go near farmed salmon. Commercially farmed salmon is raised in packed pens and fed an unnatural diet of soy, poultry litter, antibiotics, and chicken feathers. Contaminants in those items include carcinogens, PCBs, flame retardants, and nasty pesticides like dioxin and DDT. These substances are so concentrated in the fish that Dr. Carpenter says you increase your risk of cancer after just two salmon dinners in a year. Since there are no remaining commercial fisheries for wild Atlantic salmon, Dr. Carpenter sticks with Pacific salmon, like wild-caught Alaskan.
Conventional potatoes are chemically dosed three time: fungicides during the growing season; herbicides before harvesting; and a second herbicide after after they’ve been picked to keep them from sprouting. Since potatoes grow underground, they can’t be sprayed directly. Instead, the chemicals are put into the water and soil where they’re absorbed into the flesh of the potatoes. You can’t washing and peel them away. According to Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board and farm director of the Rodale Institute, potato growers “say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals.”
A cow’s steady diet of corn and other grains is, simply put, unnatural. Their multi-chambered stomachs are built for grass, and have never adapted to the corn and soybeans of the feedlots, so favored by most cattle ranchers because they are cheaper than pastured grazing and can fatten a cow for slaughter much more quickly. The feedlot environment, combined with the lack of adaptation in digestion, makes grain-fed cattle vastly more disease prone than grass-fed, and the bacteria they pass to beef eaters is much more dangerous. Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of numerous influential books on sustainable farming, would never, ever allow grain-fed beef to cross his lips.
7. Hormone-treated Milk
Most dairy cows are fed artificial growth hormones to increase milk production, and that milk contains elevated levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Unless the milk is organic or explicitly labeled hormone-free, it’s in there. IGF is linked to breast, prostate, and colon cancers, and while the exact mechanism in milk is not clear, Rick North, project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society points out that the hormones are banned in nearly every other industrialized nation.