“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keep the Variety and Nutrients, Not the Chemicals

Many of us are well aware of bisphenol-A (BPA), an organic compound found in many plastic food and beverage containers. BPA is an endocrine disruptor – it mimics hormones in the body and has been linked to a number of diseases and disorders that include breast, prostate and brain cancers, obesity, neurological disorders including early brain development and abnormalities in thyroid function. What many people may not be aware of is that BPA is also found in the plastic linings of food and beverage cans as well. These include canned vegetables, fruits, soups and other prepared foods, beans, broths and just about anything else you would normally buy in cans. The most logical thing to do to lower our exposure to BPA is to avoid buying canned products and simply eat these foods in their natural form or prepare them fresh. But for many, canned products are a convenience that saves time. The last thing many of us want to do after a long day is to make broth or cook beans from scratch and depending on where you live, some items simply may not be available year round. We might be inclined to eliminate some of these foods from our diets altogether, however we’d be missing out on a wealth and variety of nutrients, for example from different types of beans/legumes that are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals and fiber. With a little bit of planning, however, there are ways to conveniently keep these foods in our diets without buying them in cans.

Preparing some items in bulk ahead of time and then freezing them in smaller servings:

Soup broths – Meat, poultry and vegetable based soup broths are relatively easy to make and simply require a few hours to simmer. And making them at home lets you control the amount of sodium and fat. Most recipes begin with meat bones, poultry carcasses, or simply chopped vegetables that include onions, carrots and celery. Fresh or dried herbs such as thyme, bay leaf, salt and peppercorns are frequently used as well. The ingredients are placed in a pot with enough cold water to cover them and allowed to simmer. The broth is then strained through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Excess fat can be skimmed off of the top after it cools. It can then be divided and frozen for later use. I always make broth from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass and find that it is one of the best broths I have all year. So although it sounds like a lot of work, it is well worth it. Here is one recipe I found online with more detailed instructions than what I’ve mentioned above.

Beans – Kidney, navy, black, white beans, chickpeas and other legume varieties are nutrient dense and great in salads, soups, stews, and dips. They are also much less expensive than canned varieties when purchased dried, in bulk. To prepare properly, first pick through them to remove any rocks or bad beans, then soak overnight in clean water. This helps to eliminate toxins and cut down on the cooking time. The next day, drain and rinse beans, then add clean water and simmer on the stove or cook in a pressure cooker. Directions can be seen here both as text and as videos. If you plan to freeze the beans, slightly undercook them by three or four minutes, divide into smaller portions, submerge in liquid to avoid freezer burn and drying out and freeze in BPA-free, airtight containers. If I do use plastic containers, I often line them with wax paper to keep my food away from the plastic.

Opt for Frozen Versus Canned:

Fruits/Vegetables – I prefer to buy most fruits and vegetables fresh or frozen, and in fact, produce is usually frozen just after picking when the nutrient content is still high, so in the colder months, it is the best way to go. Tomatoes, however, are one thing I used to frequently buy in cans for sauces and soups. But the acid content in this fruit makes it more likely to leach BPA from the can lining (think about orange juice or colas in plastic bottles!). A trick I learned from a friend is to freeze tomatoes whole. I do this when they are in season, which is the only time I buy them fresh. And if you grow your own and are inundated with them at the end of the season and don’t have the time to make sauce, this is a good way to buy some time. The thawed tomatoes will not keep their shape for slicing or chopping, but they’re great for making sauces or adding to soups and stews.

Buy in Paper Cartons:

Items like broths, tomatoes and beverages can also be found in paper-like tetra pak cartons that are made with BPA-free materials.

Incidentally, Eden Organics is one company in the U.S. that uses cans that are BPA-free. Their products cost more, but so do their cans:

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