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How K-Cups Might Damage Your Metabolism, Reproductive Health, and Cause Cancer

30 Aug

Brew a fresh, steaming cup of plastic

This subject has been a big ol’ bee in my bonnet for a long time, especially since the Keurig style coffee systems are now ubiquitous. Much focus in recent years has revolved around the studies of potential dangers of BPA, or bisphenol A, but what about the myriad of other chemicals commonly used in plastics, demonstrated to also have damaging effects in the body? Now that BPA has been in the spotlight, many companies in the U.S. have been obliged to remove it from their products so that they can market them as “BPA free” and use alternate plastic ingredients instead. However, other chemicals in food-grade plastics have been shown to have even greater estrogenic and disruptive effects than that of BPA.

Here is an interesting NPR article and audio concerning how estrogenic chemicals are found in the majority of plastic items found in food and beverage packaging.
 NPR article- Most Plastics Leach Estrogen-like Chemicals

The short story is this- plastics are very much a part of modern life, and some have been designated safe for use in food and beverage packaging. Their safety profile has been well documented in controlled lab studies, and only small amounts of plastic chemicals have been demonstrated to leach into food or beverages in lab safety studies for “common use.” So for storage of non-acidic, cooled food and drink items, contamination levels are minimal and not much to worry about. However, when plastics are exposed to hot water or foods, acidic food ingredients, UV light, mechanical wear and tear, or any combination of these factors (the stuff that can happen with actual use)- the amount of leaching have been shown in studies to increase exponentially by a thousand-fold and more per use. Have you ever tasted water from a bottle left in your car on a hot day? Snack food after it has been toted around in a plastic bag? It tastes bad, like plastic, right? Because that is exactly what you are ingesting.

(for more more details about types of plastics, references for how they leach into beverages and foods, and tips for safe  selection and use- you can check out one of my previous articles: Plastic Water Bottles: How Safe Are They?)

So, we do our best to avoid putting hot beverages and food leftovers into plastic containers (glass, stainless steel and food-safe designated ceramics are much better choices.) But now there are K-cups- a fresh cup of plastic, er- I mean coffee, brewed into your mug every day. Combine hot water temperatures and the acidic qualities of coffee and now there’s a chance to spike leaching and chemical contamination to new heights.  In studies, common plastic chemicals have been shown to interfere with healthy metabolism, promote breast tumor growth in animals as well as in human cells, significantly reduce sperm counts, increase obesity, and other disturbing effects. And these are just the short term use studies, very little is known about the long term effects of consuming these substances in low doses day in, day out for years and years. And, because K-cups can’t be recycled, there is no recycling code on them to even tell us which chemicals are in the plastic containers- their ingredients are completely hidden from consumers. Research is non-existent to ascertain their safety over years of use. So if we already have safer choices at hand, and demand is ultimately what drives the types of products manufactured, why not just use safer alternatives now?

We already have a lot of choices to navigate when it comes to maintaining our health, but it might be worth questioning where to draw the line on convenience versus safety. While hot coffee paired with plastic might be a relatively small detail to consider in life, the evidence nonetheless shows an insidious potential for harm on many levels. Environmental exposures to estrogenic compounds are already a clear and present burden on our bodies and will continue to affect generations to come. However, if making simple changes today can decrease your overall exposure, isn’t it worth it? Corporations and product innovation will follow our lead, and our dollars are the votes.

By all means, please enjoy the culinary and health benefits of consuming coffee, but be selective in the equipment that you use, and demand safety first as a consumer. Your body will thank you.

-Update-

In response to incredibly high interest and many inquiries regarding this article, I researched and found the following stainless steel, reusable K-Cup device available on Amazon that is highly reviewed (similar versions made by “Ekobrew” are available at Walmart and Walgreens):

Ekobrew Stainless Steel Elite Cup, Refillable K-Cup For Keurig K-Cup Brewers

In Canada? You can find it here.

This device cuts down on the amount of plastic surface area that your hot water and brewing coffee will contact, improving safety (and taste, according to reviewers). It still routes water through a BPA-free plastic “dispersion cone” within the lid of the device, but it does not encapsulate the coffee grounds in plastic while steeping, like a k-cup does. It reduces waste in landfills, and will save you bundle of money in the long run by not paying a fortune for single use containers- estimated at $50- $124 per pound according to this NY Times article.

Of course- you still get some contact through the plastic lid and the hot water contact with plastic tubing with the Keurig machine itself. If you would like an efficient solution that skips the expensive coffee machine hardware as well as the requirement to pass hot liquids past ANY plastic or paper parts at all, check out The Elan Stainless Steel Re-usable cup or Bartelli Paperless Pour Over Coffee Dripper and Brewer – Permanent Reusable Ultra Fine Stainless Steel Mesh Micro Filter – Single Serve Cup or Small Pot. Brew your favorite coffees whenever you want, followed by a quick rinse, and you are done! (Improve taste of your coffee, while cutting out plastic waste and plastic chemical contaminants.)

For those who do not want to give up the convenience of disposable cups, particularly in the office environment, you could consider a single use, paper filter system. This has a small plastic ring at the top to secure it into place, but also greatly reduces plastic to hot water contact during brew time. This is a well-reviewed brand of organic coffee in a 97% biodegradable cup:

San Francisco Bay Coffee Organic Rainforest Blend, 36-Count OneCup Single Serve Cups

Author: Dr. Rivard is a licensed naturopathic doctor (N.D.) and owner of Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC in southern NH. (And I love a good cup of espresso or coffee, brewed the old fashioned way.)

Announcement: new articles are coming soon about health and environmental wellness that you won’t want to miss! (I only publish 3-10 per year, so it won’t clutter your mailbox, promise!) Please look to the sidebar and follow my blog for more timely articles such as this one.

Healthy, Nut-Free Snacks for Improved Focus at School

22 Aug

by Cora Rivard, N.D./Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC- Derry, NH

Have you ever wondered why certain foods can make children more irritable, moody, or hyperactive after eating them? Occasionally there is a specific food intolerance, but much of the time it is due to high glycemic foods and drinks; this means that the spike in sugar levels creates an initial high, then a crash later as the body over adjusts for the quick spike. (Exhibit A: Ever been to a young child’s birthday party?)

I wanted to focus this article on healthy snacks that will support your children’s ability to focus and learn while at school, and support an “even” temperament. Plus, we need to support their little immune systems to help keep them protected from all the exciting new-school-year viruses that are now beginning to circulate through the school populations (did you know that sugary foods can temporarily overtax the immune system and reduce the body’s defenses for many hours afterwards?). And, they ideally need to be nut-free choices in many classrooms. Oh, and let’s keep it fast and simple, shall we?

Balancing a healthy supply of complex carbohydrates from whole grains, high power fruits and vegetables, and good sources of protein help keep your child consistently fueled throughout the day, without a crash in mood and focus. Serve them with water, or plain milk (skip the too-heavily-sweetened chocolate, strawberry (and I can’t believe this is even an option in elementary schools- coffee) milk flavors. See below:

  • cubes of cheese with grapes and whole grain crackers
  • slices of apple with dipping container of sunflower seed butter
  • strips of baked or rotisserie chicken with pita, and carrot sticks
  • “ants on a log”: celery sticks that your child can spread sunflower seed butter on, and then sprinkle with raisins*. (Due to the high glycemic value of dried fruit, particularly raisins, it is best not to offer raisins as a sole snack, but in combination with other healthy snacks to balance them out, they are very nutritious.)
  • make your own yogurt: buy quarts of plain yogurt, add fresh fruit, pureed or whole, or apple sauce of your choice. You may sweeten with a touch of honey if needed. Pack in an insulated container for school snacks. For drinkable yogurt, simply throw these ingredients in a blender with small amounts of milk until you get the consistency that you desire. This is a much cheaper way to create yogurt and yogurt smoothies, and far more healthy than the sugary products in the store.
  • Zucchini, carrot, and yogurt multigrain muffins recipe
  • Homemade nut-free granola bars- you control how much sugar to add. Great option that can be made and portioned ahead of time. The following is a good example: Nut-free Healthy Granola Bars recipe
  • edamame and cubes of cheese
  • Pear and cheese pinwheels recipe
  • carrot sticks and hummus

There are many great reusable packs to keep snacks cool- I am partial to the following foldable, freezer lunch bag which has served us well (lots more interesting colors and patterns on Amazon):
PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag with Zip Closure, Black 

Snacks marketed as “healthy”  that are surprisingly not very healthy:

Juice: Many juices are mixed with things like concentrated grape juice (which is just sugar) as well as corn syrup and artificial colorings. And even real juice from organic fruit is still very sugary and devoid of fiber and other nutrients once present in the whole fruit. Juice packs on the sugar and promotes cavities, just like soda. Whole fruit is always a better choice- by itself or within a smoothie.

“Diet” or processed and marketed “sugar free” offerings– these use a range of indigestible simple carbohydrates which interfere with focus, upset stomachs, and may cause people to over-consume at a later time.

*Raisins or dried cranberries (don’t use alone as the sole snack because they are high glycemic foods/sugary. However, they can be great as a flavoring added to something healthier- like granola bars or oatmeal)

Fruit rollups– sugar, no fiber

Processed yogurt and yogurt smoothie cups for kids- loaded with sugar!

“Snackables” and other similar processed foods- loaded with preservatives, artificial colorings, flavorings, sodium, sometimes MSG

Commercial granola bars and power bars-careful with these, some are good, but most are loaded with white sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavorings.

Tuna fish salad– unfortunately, tuna contains enough mercury to make eating it more than on occasion unsafe for the average weight adult, and therefore I would suggest that it is just not even worth it for children or pregnant women to consume it anymore. Better choices are to make salmon or chicken salads for lunch or as a snack with whole grain crackers or pita bread.

As you already know, there is a whole lot of marketing aimed squarely at your child for unhealthy and heavily processed snack foods. For now, please consider taking control by preparing snacks from scratch and packing foods from home, for your children and for yourself. With a little planning, and the occasional preparation of “batch’ snacks and portioning ahead of time, it becomes a habit. And let your children get involved in preparations- you’ll be teaching them the nuts and bolts of putting together a healthy snack. You are your children’s best teacher- and maintaining their best health is one of the best gifts you can give!

*****

For more information about my practice, or to schedule a complementary “meet and greet” consult online, please visit my website at: http://www.seasonsnatural.com

I am a specialist in naturopathic family healthcare, which involves an emphasis on drug-less, natural and supportive strategies to resolve common (and sometimes not-so-common) medical problems affecting children and adults. My philosophy is that this is not “alternative medicine,” but should instead be the standard of care as the first strategy employed for non-urgent health concerns before consideration of more invasive and risky procedures and medications.

Get Your Poop-On.. or… How to Prevent Travel Constipation

23 May

by Cora Rivard, N.D.

What’s the deal- why do so many of us have a hard time pooping while traveling? Usually, it is a combination of things. First, we often eat things not typical to our daily diet, eat too much, don’t balance with enough fiber, and don’t drink enough water. Plus, we are out of our usual routine. Any combination of these things can throw us off our normal habits. So, how can we avoid getting constipated in the first place?

1. Drink plenty of water. Sure, coffee, tea and soda help give us the kick we need to drive long distances and stay alert for activities, but they also act as diuretics and rob you of moisture. This can lead to drier stools which are harder to move. Same with alcohol. Do your best to decrease consumption of diuretic beverages while traveling, especially if you are risk of constipation. (Exception- if that cup of coffee helps to make things move for you, by all means keep it in your routine!)

2. Avoid eating too much meat. Meat is constipating- it takes a lot of water to metabolize extra protein in your diet. Don’t overdue it at those summer BBQ’s.

3. Careful of supplements (calcium, iron, zinc). We sometimes need to supplement these minerals, but keep in mind that they can each be constipating. Be careful of taking these when traveling. If you are taking any of these for strictly wellness reasons, and not medical need, consider lowering your dose or simply not taking during your travels.

4. Eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables. The fiber and extra fluid content of these foods will help keep you regular.

5. Keep moving. If you are traveling by car or plane, make arrangements to get up to  walk around and stretch whenever possible. Make sure to get some extra exercise once you get to your location. For those who are accustomed to yoga- cat/cow stretches and downward dog/cobra alternations are excellent movements for keeping things moving in a healthy pattern.

Great! So now you know what to do to help prevent getting constipated, but what should you do if you still manage to find yourself full of…um, discomfort on a trip?

1. Relax. Try not to stress out about it, that only works against the process. Practice taking slow deep breaths, and don’t force it. If you have a usual time to go, still make the time to sit and relax on the toilet- even if nothing happens, you will encourage your body to stay on schedule for future days.

2. Remember to drink plenty of water. Foods that contain plenty of fluids are also good bets to get enough hydration, for example: watermelon, grapes, cucumbers and tomatoes.

3. Try prunes, or prune juice. Not just for elderly folks, prunes are a nutritious and functional snack for anyone!

4. Ask your doctor about magnesium. I often recommend my constipated patients take a powdered magnesium citrate product mixed with hot water, approximately 300-400mg for an adult before bedtime. This promotes stimulation of smooth muscle (to help the movement) and helps keep more moisture in the stool for easier passage. Magnesium can affect the heart’s rhythm, so it should never be given to children, or to adults with heart conditions without consulting a doctor first.

5. Castor oil packs. This is an old naturopathic remedy. Just massage some castor oil gently and liberally all over abdomen, in a clockwise motion. Cover with an old clean rag or flannel cloth (an old t-shirt works fine, this oil does stain), cover with plastic, then apply some low heat from a heating pad or hot water bottle for 15-20 minutes while reclining comfortably. This can be done nightly until desirable results are achieved. Heat should not ever be applies if there is acute pain or inflammation.

When constipation is an ongoing problem beyond travels, especially for a child, please call me. There are a number of health conditions, medication side effects, food sensitivities as well as other dietary causes of chronic constipation, and licensed naturopathic doctors are often the best suited healthcare provider for helping patients safely resolve this problem. All too often, I have had patients who have finally come to see me after suffering years of procedures, medications and expenses through their primary doctors and gastroenterologists, from some of the “best” medical institutions in and around Boston. They are often surprised that more effective, long term results can be had with an effective, natural approach that gets to the root causes of constipation.

(this article should not be construed as medical advice, or to replace advice given by your doctor.)

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