Month: November 2015

Healthy and Delicious Turkey Made Easy

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It is the week before Thanksgiving and I thought I’d write a bit about turkeys. I also want to let you in on a little holiday gem I’ve discovered that delivers a healthy and time-saving Thanksgiving meal!

I know you love your family and want the best for them, but is it really worth buying a fancy schmancy heirloom, free-range, sustainable, natural, organic bird?

Let’s start with “conventionally raised” turkeys. According to the Environmental Working Group, many conventionally raised turkeys are:

  • Bred for abnormally large, white breast meat
  • Raised in crowded conditions
  • Likely treated with antibiotics while being raised
  • May be injected with saline/brine, oils, flavors or preservatives at the packing plant

Let’s look at these one at a time.

"Broad-breasted White" tom turkey. Photo provided by Lyn Magedson.
“Broad-breasted White” tom turkey. Photo provided by Lyn Magedson.

First point. Why is an abnormally large breast on a turkey a problem? Americans love their white meat, and because of this, growers phased out traditional turkeys in the 1950s. Turkey growers could make more money raising the “Broad-breasted White” bird, which grows bigger and faster than the traditional bird.

Over the decades, these birds have been selectively bred and a curious problem has resulted…the breasts are now so large, that male birds (toms) are not able to mate with the females (hens) the way Mother Nature intended! The enormous male breasts actually prohibit mating. So how do these turkeys reproduce you may ask? Virtually 100% of all commercially grown turkeys are artificially inseminated. Yes, that’s correct!

It’s bad enough that turkeys can’t reproduce on their own; but the other sad truth is that these birds are not able to fly due to the large breasts.

Young "Broad-breasted White" turkeys in a conventional grow operation. Photo from UDSA image gallery.
Young “Broad-breasted White” turkeys in a conventional grow operation. Photo from UDSA image gallery.

Point two. Because commercially grown turkeys are raised in very crowded conditions and are naturally territorial, they tend to peck at each other. To minimize losses from pecking, farmers “trim” the beaks of the baby chicks with a heated blade or infrared beam. This is done without the use of an anesthetic. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals condemns both practices.

Point three. As you probably know, the overuse of antibiotics results in the selective breeding of “superbugs’ that are resistant to antibiotics and are a real and growing threat to all of us. The USDA allows certain antibiotics, which have growth-promoting qualities, to be given in low doses for extended periods of time in poultry feed. Before the turkeys go to market, the birds are taken off of the antibiotic feed so that no antibiotic residue remains in the tissues.

Keeping the antibiotic out of the meat does NOTHING to prevent the problem of superbugs in our environment! This is a serious threat to society in my book.

Point four. Many conventionally grown and processed turkeys are brined or injected with salts to ensure a moist bird and act as a natural preservative. I have no problem with that.

What I don’t like, are the artificial flavors and colors, and also, I don’t like the preservatives. According to the UDSA, most of the synthetic preservatives are safe in the amounts found in individual food products. However, the quantities of those preservatives add up over your lifetime and there are no long-term studies on the cumulative effects of preservatives in our food.

For an interesting graphic on decoding what turkey packaging labels mean, download the EWG’s Let’s Talk Turkey: How to decode labels to choose a better Thanksgiving bird.


My personal alternative to a conventionally raised turkey has been to opt for an organic bird.

I like this option for three reasons:

  • Birds are fed vegetarian non-GMO diet (not enough research on GMOs and they are unregulated)
  • No antibiotics ever (prevents antibiotic resistant bacteria)
  • Granted outdoor access to fresh air, grass and bugs (humane husbandry)

Believe it or not, Whole Foods has good deals on organic birds and they are raised in humane conditions. Click here for a great video on Whole Foods practices regarding the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating. It will make you feel good!

Now for the little gem promised earlier. Four years ago, I discovered that Whole Foods sells an entire, fully prepared Thanksgiving meal for 8, with a Diestel organic turkey and pumpkin pie, for $149.99. I did the math, and there is no way I can buy the all ingredients to feed that many mouths for the same price. Never mind that it is PREPARED for me!

I just place my order a few weeks ahead and concentrate on baking a few family favorites, like pecan fig pie and GF desserts for relatives, and pop them in the freezer. On Thanksgiving Day, I actually get to have a good conversation and enjoy my guests.

While doing the research for this post, I decided to call up Diestel Farms to find out more about their organic turkeys included in the meal. The lady was very friendly and answered all my strange questions about her turkeys.

Her answers were basically what the Whole food website says… that the birds are not fed antibiotics ever and are allowed extra time to grow so that they are more tender and juicy. I don’t know if the “tender and juicy” part is is propaganda, but that’s what she said. The turkeys in the Whole Foods organic meal are the Broad-breasted Whites mentioned above, and are indeed artificially inseminated. Knowing this, I might opt for the organic heirloom turkey next year!

Below is the Whole Foods “Traditional Holiday Menu for 8 with Organic Turkey:”

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.55.09 AM

  • Fully Cooked Organic Diestel Turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  • Fresh Green Beans with Shallots & Herbs (1 1/2 pounds)
  • Savory Herb Stuffing (4 pounds)
  • Mashed Potatoes (4 pounds)
  • Turkey Gravy (1 quart)
  • Classic Cranberry Sauce (1 pint)
  • Dinner Rolls (12 each)
  • Pumpkin Pie (even though not shown in graphic)

I hope this clarifies a few turkey purchasing facts and leads to an easy, healthy and delicious Thanksgiving meal for you.

Bon Appétit!

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Biggest Bang for Your Organic Produce Buck

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It’s old news that we should be feeding our families organic food if possible. Organically grown produce has not been exposed to herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones and are not GMOs. This is important because the first three chemicals have been documented as endocrine disruptors.

What are endocrine disruptors? Well, they alter the normal functioning of human hormones and may interfere with the body’s endocrine system (hormone system) and produce adverse developmental, neurological, immune and reproductive effects. Endocrine disruptors may be found in lots of everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides on produce. I’ll give a more in depth explanation of endocrine disruptors and where they lurk in your home in later posts. For now we’ll focus on produce.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 80% of our pesticide exposure comes from the food we eat, the other 20% comes from our drinking water and pesticides we use around our homes.

I don’t want to take any chances that my kids will be exposed to these nasties, so I have a strategy to help me navigate the produce aisle.

If you’re like I am, you don’t have a gazillion dollars to buy every item on your grocery list in organic form. So, how is a person supposed to know the best way to get the biggest bang for your organic produce buck? Below is my “rule of thumb” to help you decide whether to buy organic:

Buy organic if:

  • The skin is consumed
  • If it is a leafy green
  • If it is a white or yellow potato

To take it a step further, search the plethora of apps devoted to organic foods. One of my favorite “go to” sources for food safety is the Environmental Working Group. You can easily download their app to your phone for handy reference on whether or not to buy organic. Just search the App Store for “EWG Dirty Dozen.”  They also have produced a printable list if you prefer. After a while you won’t even need the list.

Below is a recap of the produce that has the highest levels of chemical residue.  I only buy the Dirty Dozen if they are available in organic form.

Dirty Dozen

  • Apples (including apple juice and cider)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Peppers (hot)
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes (white)
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Peppers (sweet)

Additional items I always buy organic are dairy products, meat, eggs and rice. More about these particular items in a later post.

You don’t always need to buy organic

If you shop at Costco, you’ll be happy to learn that their tomatoes and bell peppers are grown in hothouses to exacting standards that include no herbicides or pesticides. Although they are not “technically” organic, I’m happy to buy them. Read more about Costco tomatoes here.

Below is a list of produce that consistently tests as “cleanest” with respect to chemical residue and so I don’t spend the extra cash on the organic variety.

Clean Fifteen

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cantaloupe
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Sweet Potatoes

While I think it’s a good idea to limit pesticide exposure if possible, especially when kids are involved, scientists and health experts overwhelmingly agree that the mere presence of pesticide residues on food does not mean they are harmful. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to my kid’s developing brains. I mean, how could fewer nasty chemicals be harmful?

What if organic isn’t available?

In many communities in America, organic is simply not available. I know this…I used to live in North Dakota for a decade when my kids were babies, and for many of those years I couldn’t find an organic blueberry to save my life!  If organic produce is not available, by all means buy the conventionally grown varieties and wash them well! Simply washing them with a washcloth or scrub brush goes a long way to removing pesticide residue on the surface of the produce.

This will make you feel better….

The good news is that conventionally grown produce, is regarded as safe by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA. The database maintained by the U.S.D.A., shows that 99% of the produce tested fell far below the permissible upper limit  level of pesticides and herbicides. This goes for the baby food tested as well!

If you’d like to see a neat calculator showing the amount of “Dirty Dozen” foods you would have to consume to have detrimental effects, click here. You will feel reassured about our food supply!

I hope this post will help with your decisions about whether to buy organic produce. If you have a favorite app or website about organic food, let me know!

See you next time!


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Hello Everyone!

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Welcome to the first installment of my new blog! My name is Kristin Gonzalez and I’m hoping to connect with like-mined people who are interested in health and nutrition for the whole family.

I have a PhD in biogeochemistry, a branch of environmental biology. My specialty, and frankly addiction, is reading scientific studies and recent publications to glean facts that we all would like to know…if we just had time or inclination to do the research. I read the science so you don’t have to!

Each week or so, I’ll post a review on a current topic covered in the news or scientific journals. I would also like to address topics I believe are “urban myths” and “Internet hearsay” and give you the real facts.  Leave it to me to decipher the scientific information for you and present the post in language everyone understands.

Topics of immediate interest to me are:

  • Chemicals in our food supply, personal care products and cleaning products that can be hurting you and your kids and what you can do about it.
  • Facts and questions every parent should know when talking to your child’s dentist and pediatrician.
  • The dangers of sugar in our diets and what to do about it.
  • Harmful hidden ingredients in your food and how to avoid them.
  • Tips for teenager success at home and school.
  • How to build your child’s self esteem (it’s not what you think.)
  • Winning weight loss for everyone!

My purpose is not to be an Internet alarmist! On the contrary. My goal is to be a voice that  presents the best scientific research I can find and lets you decide what is best for you and your family. Sure, I’ll give you my opinions and also tell you what I do for myself and our four kids.

If you have certain topics you’d like me to comment on or research, let me know. I look forward to learning right along with you!

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