Should you throw out your nonstick pans?

 

I’ve been getting lots of questions relating to the documentary Dark Waters.

For example, Dannette wrote:

“I just  watched the movie “Dark Waters” which makes the case against Teflon.  I immediately threw away my nonstick pans. I’m concerned about ALL nonstick surfaces now. I’m not sure if I need to be. I’d love it if you watched it and then let me know what you think. I love having a good nonstick pan, but it isn’t worth my family’s long term health. I just want to figure out what my best options are for being completely safe cooking for my family.”

7/5/20 UPDATE: In my original response (posted here on June 25th), I disclosed that I had not seen the movie Dark Waters.  Unfortunately, that did not keep me from making some false assumptions about it.   In response to valid criticisms, I’ve removed my original comments about the movie Dark Waters, which included some inaccuracies.  (See the comments for several thoughtful descriptions of the movie).

This doesn’t change my answer to Dannette’s question. Although I don’t personally use it, I don’t think users of modern nonstick cookware need to be concerned about chemicals leaching into their food.  But let me add some additional context:

Although PFOA persists in the environment,  it is no longer used in nonstick cookware.  And even when it was used in Teflon cookware, the primary threat was not due to exposure from use of the pans but from industrial dumping of the chemical into the water supply.

Although I’m not afraid of poisoning myself or my family by using nonstick cookware,I prefer to use stainless steel, cast iron, glass, and silicone. I use a little oil or cooking spray when necessary.  I sometimes have to clean a pan.

But the choices that we make individually about which products we use do not necessarily protect us from industrial chemicals that may be harmful to the environment in which we all live.

There are ongoing, legitimate concerns about the process by which industrial chemicals are tested and approved for safety and impact on the environment, including downstream effects on wildlife and human life.

Thank you to all who helped clarify this issue.

Immune Boosting Fact Check

In the chaos surrounding the novel coronavirus, there is a lot of information swirling around about foods and nutrients that can “boost your immune system.”  Some of it is not terribly accurate. In this Live Q&A, I answer your questions about specific supplements and highlight the most effective things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe.

Related listening:

 

Pesticide exposure: separating facts from fears

An advocacy group called Friends of the Earth has been publicizing the results of a new study demonstrating that when people switch from a regular diet to one containing only organic foods, their exposure to pesticides is reduced.

The study recruited four families from different corners of the country.  Each family ate a non-organic diet for six days and an all-organic diet for six days. The researchers found that the organic diet “rapidly and dramatically reduced exposure to pesticides.” 

That’s not terribly surprising.  In fact, it’s so unsurprising, it’s a little hard to imagine why the researchers felt the need to do this study.

The far more important question (not answered in this study) is: Is this something we need to worry about?

Relatively major but absolutely minor

In reporting their findings, the Friends of the Earth present the difference in exposure in relative terms. “Levels of all detected chemicals dropped an average of 60.5 percent with a range of 37 percent to 95 percent depending on the compound.”

But they don’t give us any information about the absolute levels of exposure.  This is at least as important as the relative exposure. Celery has 40 times as much sodium as cucumber. It’s still a low sodium food.

Did those higher levels of exposure pose any sort of threat? Or were they (as I suspect) well below the threshold of concern?

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

Secondly, the coverage repeatedly talks about the “pesticide levels in the bodies” of the subjects. But the study didn’t test the subjects’ blood or tissues. They tested their urine, which is where the body discards things it doesn’t want or need.  Furthermore, what they found in the urine were compounds formed when the pesticides were broken down by the liver.

In other words, what they found was evidence that the body’s detoxification systems were working exactly as they are supposed to, breaking down and excreting potentially harmful compounds. The pesticides these families were being exposed to by eating a non-organic diet were apparently being eliminated from their bodies.

So I have to ask once again: Is this really something that we need to worry about?

One of these things is not like the other

The organization points out that one of the pesticides monitored in this study is frequently linked to farmworker poisonings.  That’s a great argument for farmers using more care when working with agricultural chemicals (and that goes for synthetic as well as organic chemicals). But it doesn’t really have anything to do with risks that families might be exposed to by eating conventional produce.  And yet, by juxtaposing these two facts in the press release, it implies that eating non-organic foods increases your risk of chemical poisoning.  There is absolutely no data to support this implication.

Good news is no news?

Meanwhile, the press reports don’t mention that a third of the compounds they were testing for were undetectable in the urine samples after the non-organic diet. You have to wonder whether they were, perversely, somewhat disappointed by this.  They certainly didn’t seem very eager to publicize the fact that some of the most common pesticides used in conventional agriculture apparently pose little risk to eaters.

So, what’s the upshot of all this?

The Friends of the Earth concludes that “these results show that eating organic works.”  Works how, exactly? Yes, eating organic  reduces your exposure to certain (but not all) pesticides. But does it reduce your risk of disease or harm? I don’t see any evidence of that here.

This is Important. Let’s Get it Right

Lest you think I am pro-pesticide, or anti-organic, let me assure you I’m not. I’m just against this sort of sloppy communication and manipulative “science.”

Conventional farmers don’t use pesticides because they’re lazy, ignorant, or uncaring. They use them, as sparingly as they can get away with, in order to maximize yields and lower the cost of food.  If they can figure out a way to use less, they are eager to do so.

Organic farmers use pesticides and herbicides, too, by the way. Some of these organic pesticides are highly toxic to beneficial insects and, if mishandled, can be harmful to humans, as well.  But organic farmers are also working to increase yield and reduce the cost of their products. And pest control is part of that.

Instead of pitting organic growers (and eaters) against conventional, why not work together to make progress on all of these important fronts? Let’s use the best technology, the best practices and, yes, the best chemistry, to create a safer, more abundant, and more sustainable food supply.

To that end, let’s assess the risks and impacts of chemical use (both synthetic and organic). Let’s weigh the costs and benefits of various options. But let’s debate the issues on their scientific merits instead of resorting to sensational, misleading, and manipulative “research” and rhetoric.

This is not an us vs. them situation. We’re all us.

Quick Guide to Complementary Protein Sources

In this week’s Nutrition Diva podcast, I talk with protein researcher Douglas Paddon Jones about whether or not there’s any benefit to combining complementary plant-based protein sources at the same meal. Contrary to a lot of the conventional wisdom, which claims that it’s sufficient to get all of the essential amino acids over the course of a single day, Dr. Paddon Jones argues  that a meal-based approach to protein nutrition will enhance the ability to build and maintain lean muscle tissue.

This doesn’t mean you have to tally up and micro-manage each individual amino acid. The following chart shows how to choose meal components that will ensure complete proteins at a meal.

If you consume only plant-based proteins, you may also want to increase your total protein intake by 10-20% to compensate for the lower digestibility of these plant-based protein. 

The Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8 g per kg of body weight (or 0.36 g per pound). Strict vegetarians may want to aim for a minimum of 1 g per kg (or 0.45 g per pound).

These are these are minimum recommended intakes. Research suggests that there may be benefits to higher protein diets, especially for athletes, the elderly, those recovering from surgery or illness, or during weight loss. If you’re in any of these groups, you might want to aim for something closer to twice the recommended minimum.

 

What are the best and worst kinds of fruit?

In this week’s Nutrition Diva podcast, I debunked the myth that you should avoid certain types of fruit, either because they are higher in sugar or higher in fructose.   All fruit can be part of a healthy diet–especially if you are eating fruit in place of other less healthy choices. 

But if you’re curious to see how various types of fruit stack up in terms of total sugar content as well as fructose and glucose content, here’s a chart of some common fruits. You can click on any column to sort by that value.

Fruit (1 cup serving)Total Sugars (g)Fructose (g)Glucose (g)
Raisins1085750
Dates, medjool864244
Figs, dried713437
Apricots, dried691643
Plums, dried (prunes)662244
Bananas281111
Grapes231211
Mangos2383
Tangerines2154
Cherries1879
Plums1658
Pineapple1643
Kiwi1687
Grapefruit1644
Blueberries1577
Apricots, fresh1414
Oranges1443
Cantaloupe1433
Honeydew1455
Pears1494
Peaches1323
Papaya1156
Apples1162
Nectarines1122
Watermelon1052
Strawberries743
Blackberries733
Raspberries532
Cranberries514
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference