Martha Stewart: Pile your plate with this food for thought

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By Martha Stewart

A HEALTHY DIET involves more than eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (although that’s a good start). Here’s a helpful guide that’ll help you make the healthiest, most environmentally-conscious choices for you and your family.


Careful: Reduce your chances of exposure to E. coli and other food-borne bacteria, such as salmonella, by cooking ground beef, pork and lamb to at least 160 F. (Ground meat can harbor more bacteria than prime center cuts.) Meat with a “USDA Organic” label is guaranteed to come from animals raised on organic feed, without antibiotics or growth hormones, whereas “Certified Humane Raised & Handled” means that the cattle were raised humanely from pasture to slaughter, also without antibiotics or hormones. Some other labels – such as “antibiotic free,” “free range” or “free roaming,” “biodynamic,” and “natural” – can be good when they’re accurate, but, unfortunately, there’s no independent verification.

More careful: Eat grass-fed beef – organic, if you can find it. Cows and sheep digest grasses better than grains, and there is evidence that grass-farmed cattle produce more nutritious meat; among other benefits, it is lower in calories and fats and higher in good omega-3 fatty acids. If you’re lucky enough to have a small farm or a good independent health-food store nearby, you may be able to ask how the meat you’re buying was produced.

Most careful: Eat less meat, or avoid it altogether, to prevent beef-linked diseases and benefit the planet. Raising livestock is one of the main causes of global warming. Indeed, the United Nations reports that 18 percent of all greenhouse gases come from livestock production.


Careful: If you’re pregnant, breast-feeding or have children under the age of 2, try to purchase organic fruits and vegetables. Although the science isn’t exact, it’s believed that fetuses and young children are most vulnerable to toxins in food. That said, it’s still unclear just how residual pesticides might affect adults, so wash conventional and organic produce with care. Be sure not to use commercial dishwashing liquids to clean produce, and keep in mind that produce washes have been shown to be not much more effective than water. Peel any conventional produce (including outer layers of lettuces and cabbages) to reduce the chances of ingesting pesticide residue.

More careful: Eat certified organic produce whenever you can. If you can’t afford to purchase all organic produce, invest in fruits and vegetables whose conventional counterparts are most likely to contain pesticide residue. At the same time, avoid poor-quality organic produce because it may be contaminated with bacteria.

Most careful: In addition to choosing organic produce, eat seasonally and locally. The ultimate example of this is growing your own produce, but if you’re not a gardener, consider shopping at your local farmers’ market, or join an organic Community Supported Agriculture farm co-op.

Nitrates and nitrites

While sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are both used to cure meat products, nitrites have been linked to pulmonary disease and symptoms similar to emphysema. When a meat package says “nitrate-free,” it could still contain nitrites – be sure to check the ingredients.

Careful: Eat meats cured with sodium nitrite sparingly. “If a cured meat is red or pink, then it probably has nitrite in it, unless a different coloring agent was used,” says David Paik, a scientist at Columbia University Medical Center. Don’t overcook or burn cured meats since intense heat can increase the cancer-causing properties of N-nitrosamines.

More careful: Look for meats that are labeled “nitrite-free.” Often preserved with celery juice and salt, these meats will not be as bright, and probably won’t have as long a shelf life, as those treated with sodium nitrite.

Most careful: If you’re very concerned about nitrites in your diet, test your water for nitrite levels. Fertilizers, which have high nitrate levels, can run off into groundwater and actually contribute more dangerous nitrosamines in your diet than cured meats.