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Living Maxwell

Better Choices

Have We Been Misled? 5 Organic Foods That Should Make You Think Twice

I spend an inordinate amount of time learning about the healthiest and newest organic food products available. Through my research at the various trade shows — most notably, Natural Products Expo East and Natural Products Expo West —  talking to industry contacts, roaming supermarket aisles, speaking with as many well-informed food people as I can and reading books, I have come to the following conclusion:

You can take almost any food in the world and some health expert will have something good to say about it while a different health expert will have something bad to say about it.

So, what I do is educate myself as much as I can and then make my own decision about whether I should be eating it or not.

The following five organic foods seem to be the most controversial. While books could be written on all of the foods below and by no means am I covering all of the pros/cons of each, I will try to highlight the most salient points.

TOFU

Tofu is huge in the vegan world as a meat alternative. Similarly, it is something that has been eaten in Asia for a long time and many people automatically say “Well, if they’ve been eating it in Asia forever and they’re healthy, how bad could it be?”

Many people have doubts about whether tofu is healthy or not because it contains phytoestrogens, which may disrupt the hormonal balance in both men and women.

There is even disagreement as to whether tofu is fermented or not. Fermentation seems to be the measuring stick as to whether a soy product is healthy or not.

My take: I used to eat a ton of organic tofu because my naturopath told me at the time that it was fine to eat. I have since switched my stance on this and almost never eat it now. I figured that with so much controversy, I was better off avoiding it.

The one exception is when I go to Sacred Chow and have the grilled Western tofu there. I’m sorry but I just can’t help myself. My good friend and chef/owner Cliff Preefer makes tofu better than anyone in the entire country.

If people are going to eat tofu, they need to quadruple check that they are eating organic tofu. Non-organic tofu is almost guaranteed to be genetically-modified and sprayed with tons of toxic chemicals.

PEANUTS

This one may surprise people. At the 2010 Natural Products Expo West Trade Show, Kris Fillat, the founder of the GoodOnYa Bar, gave me a whole education on peanuts as she puts them into two of her bars.

Our government allows a certain level of aflatoxin on peanuts. This means that a certain level of mold (yes, mold) may be present on the peanuts that are sold to consumers. This is for both organic and non-organic peanuts. Mold on peanuts can be mostly attributed to the humid climates of Georgia and Virginia, where many peanuts are grown.

Kris only uses Valencia peanuts. 90% of the world’s Valencia peanuts are grown in New Mexico, where it is very dry, and according to Kris, “You can almost be guaranteed that there won’t be any mold on those peanuts.”

My take: Just because a peanut is organic doesn’t seem to make it safe. Where it is grown matters equally as much, maybe more. As a result, I never eat peanuts unless they are organic Valencia peanuts.

Even still, I rarely eat them. Maybe the whole salmonella scare did a number on me but I have a very strong preference for Brazil nuts.  I LOVE Brazil nuts, and that is what I use in my nut milks.

KOMBUCHA

Next to coconut water, Kombucha might be the fastest-growing drink in the beverage sector.

In case you don’t know what it is or haven’t been part of the craze, Kombucha is a fermented tea that many people believe has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Some say that it improves hair, nails, and skin. Mostly, it is known for having “good bacteria” that aids in digestion.

Kombucha comes in very cool colors and flavors, and the most dominant brand is called GTs (above). The founder’s mother had an aggressive form of breast cancer and started drinking Kombucha every single day. According to the company’s website, the cancer stopped spreading, largely attributed to the Kombucha.

Many critics question the health claims. Noted physician Dr. Andrew Weil says that he has never seen any scientific study backing up the health claims made for it. He thinks it could have some antibiotic activity. This means that you could be “drinking” antibiotics, which could encourage the development of resistant strains of bacteria.

My take: Since it has trace amounts of alcohol and I am not a drinker, I don’t buy it. Even if the alcohol concerns were not an issue, Kombucha has a good amount of sugar, which is required for the fermentation process. Refined sugar is something I try to avoid – it negatively impacts my mood and gets me depressed.

Some people are concerned about the Kombucha culture going bad and becoming a toxic fungus. Also, if Kombucha is prepared in non-sterile conditions, contamination may occur. This appears to be less of an issue if you are drinking Kombucha from one of the major, well-known brands.

SOY MILK

Soy milk is a very popular dairy alternative, and proponents point to its abundance of protein, fiber and isoflavones.

Like tofu, soy milk contains phytoestrogens. Additionally, every health expert I’ve ever talked to or learned from has said that all soy products must be fermented. Soy milk is not fermented.

My Take: Even if it is organic, I wouldn’t touch soy milk with a 10-foot pole.

Parents who are giving their kids soy milk, because of a desire to avoid dairy, need to investigate this very, very thoroughly. In my view, rice milks or nut milks are much better dairy alternatives.

AGAVE

Agave is the nectar that comes from the agave plant, which can mostly be found in Mexico and the surrounding areas. Agave looks like honey and is an alternative sweetener.

The are two main controversies around agave.

1) Raw foodists claim that there is a raw version of agave (no heat above 118 degrees is used in the manufacturing process) but many people have serious doubts about this. They do not believe that the nectar can be extracted from the plant without a serious degree of heat.

2) The more important issue is whether agave is healthy or not. Dr. Gabriel Cousens has reversed Type II diabetes in patients in 30 days by putting them on a raw food diet, thinks that agave is just as bad as high fructose corn syrup. He believes that it is very, very high on the Glycemic Index.

My Take: I have cut way, way back on agave and only eat foods that have agave, notably some raw chocolate, on a very infrequent basis.

As a sugar alternative, I use and love coconut palm sugar. It is both sustainable and lower on the Glycemic Index.

A message from Tradin Organic

How Tradin Organic is Helping Coconut Farmers in The Philippines

For more than a decade, Tradin Organic has been working with local partners in The Philippines to bring a diversified range of organic products to the market, such as coconut oil, tropical fruits and even cocoa.

The company is helping to support local farmers by assisting them with technical support and organic certification, in addition to paying Fairtrade premium on top of the organic premium.

Learn more.

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Living Maxwell

Better Choices

Want to Learn More About the Vegan Ketogenic Diet? If So, You’ll Definitely Want This Book

Everywhere you turn these days, you’ll find news and stories about the ketogenic diet.

This low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet is helping people lose weight and giving them much needed mental clarity.

However, one of the misconceptions of the keto diet is that animal products are an essential component of it. And for people who only eat plant-based, this can be quite disconcerting.

Along with her co-author Nicole Derseweh, my good friend Whitney Lauritsen — also widely known as the EcoVegan Gal — has just come out with a fantastic book called The Vegan Ketogenic Diet Cookbook, and it is a phenomenal resource for people looking to explore this lifestyle.

Not only does it clear up a lot of the confusion about the keto diet requiring the consumption of animal products, but it provides 75 delicious recipes. And when I was sent an early version of the book, I literally read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. I was that impressed by it.

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A message from Foodstirs

Organic Sunday Stacks Pancake Mix

Rainbow Pancakes are fun and easy to make with this fan-favorite kit!

The Rainbow Fun Pancake Kit includes all the organic mixes, chemical-free dyes and supplies you need to make colorful Rainbow Pancakes.

Order Your Kit Here

Living Maxwell

Better Choices

Another Reason to Buy Organic – Conventional Tea Contains Illegal and Highly Toxic Pesticides

While we constantly hear about the tremendous health benefits of drinking tea, one thing that almost never gets mentioned in this message is just how critical it is to drink organic tea.

In a recently released report called Tea Steeped in Toxics, the excellent non-profit Beyond Pesticides gives us an inside look at what is going on in the tea industry. Needless to say, what they uncover is very ugly and very scary.

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Living Maxwell

Better Choices

Another Reason to Eat Organic – Decrease Pesticide Exposure by 90%

Here are a few things that we know.

1) In its pioneering testing several years ago, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) identified up to 493 chemicals in Americans of all ages, including 287 industrial chemical pollutants found in the cord blood of 10 babies born in 2004.

So, from the time we are in the womb of our mother, our body is flooded with synthetic toxins.

2) Even though this EWG data was collected a decade ago, not much has changed since then, in terms of our exposure to chemicals.

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livingmaxwell: a guide to organic food & drink