The SparkPeople Blog

Which Fruits and Veggies are in the New Dirty Dozen?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/28/2015  2:00:00 PM   :  114 comments   :  20,879 views

We often hear that organic produce is "cleaner" than conventional (non-organic) produce and free of pesticides; however, organic remains more expensive and isn't available everywhere.

Which conventional fruits and vegetables contain more pesticide residue? Which ones have the least?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently completed an analysis of conventional produce to measure pesticide residue levels. Based on the results of almost 34,000 samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration. Samples were tested after being washed or peeled, to mimic what consumers would do. Therefore, unwashed and unpeeled produce would likely contain even more concentrations of pesticide residues.

Eating the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables, referred to as “The Dirty Dozen,” exposes the average person to about 15 different pesticides each day, while someone eating the least contaminated will be exposed to fewer than two pesticides each day. (To see the full list, go here).

The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Buy Organic

If you have budget constraints, your money is doing more for your health when you put it towards organic varieties of the following fruits and vegetables (listed in descending order, starting with greatest levels pesticide contamination):

1. Apples
2. Peaches
3. Nectarines
4. Strawberries
5. Grapes
6. Celery
7. Spinach
8. Sweet Bell Peppers
9. Cucumbers
10. Cherry Tomatoes
11. Imported Snap Peas
12. Potatoes

The Clean 15: Save Your Money & Buy Conventional

If going totally organic is too difficult or pricey, play it safe and eat the following conventional produce items to minimize your exposure. These are known to have the least amount of pesticide residue (listed in ascending order, starting with of lowest levels of pesticide contamination):

1. Avocados
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Frozen sweet peas
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwis
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantalope
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet potatoes

To see receive a PDF version of the guides, you can sign up for the EWG's newsletter here).

When eating conventional foods, be certain to peel away edible skins and outer leaves (such as those on lettuce) as pesticides are often concentrated there. Remember to wash all produce (conventional and organic) thoroughly with a natural fruit and vegetable cleanser. Peeling and washing can help reduce (not eliminate) pesticide exposure, but also results in the loss of valuable vitamins and nutrients (like fiber). When you have the choice between an organic item and one that’s conventionally grown, choose organic as much as possible. 

For more information on eating organic foods on a budget, read this article.

I keep a copy of this list on a note in my phone, and I consult it when I go to the grocery store.

Do you have "priorities" when buying organic? Do you follow this list?

Last updated in September 2015

Kale Health Benefits

By: , – Andrea B., SparkPeople Contributor
9/23/2015  10:00:00 AM   :  9 comments   :  7,299 views

There's a reason why kale is all the rage--this powerhouse veggie is packed with nutrients that offer many health benefits, offering even more nutritional value than spinach.

Nutritional Value of Kale

Kale weighs in at only 33 calories per one-cup serving of the raw vegetable. This same serving contains three grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fiber, folate, alpha-linoleic acid, lutein, vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, calcium, zinc, and phosphorus. It’s also a powerful source of antioxidants. Below are some of the health benefits that go along with consuming kale as part of your regular diet.

Reduced Risk of Bladder Cancer

A study appearing in the Oxford Journals in 1999 found that consuming high amounts of cruciferous vegetables, like kale, may reduce the risk of developing bladder cancer, though other vegetables and fruits appear to offer no definitive notable protection against this form of cancer. Since bladder cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the U.S., the fact that kale can help reduce the risk is important.

Reduced Inflammation

People suffering from arthritis, asthma, and various autoimmune disorders can especially appreciate the fact that kale has anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, according to North Carolina State University, one cup of kale meets 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of omega-3 fatty acids.

Iron-Boosting Benefits

Per calorie, kale's iron content is greater than that of beef. Iron is an essential nutrient for proper cellular growth and liver function, making it very important for healthy living. The fact that it’s available so abundantly in kale makes this vegetable essential for vegetarians who often suffer from anemia.

Diabetes Benefits

Medical News Today reports that people who have type 1 diabetes and consume high-fiber diets have lower levels of blood glucose. It goes on to say that people living with type 2 diabetes may also experience improvements in lipids, blood sugar, and insulin levels. One cup of raw kale contains approximately 2.6 grams of fiber, making it an excellent choice for diabetic diets.

The benefits don’t end there, however. The alpha-lipoic acid in kale also helps to reduce glucose levels and decrease peripheral and autonomic neuropathy among diabetic patients.

Heart Health Benefits

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Kale is filled with good things like fiber, potassium, vitamins C and B6, all of which support a healthy heart. Today’s Dietitian reports that people who consume 4,069 mg of potassium per day enjoy a 49 percent lower risks of death from ischemic heart disease than those who consume 1,793 mg of potassium each day. Additionally, consuming kale can help reduce cholesterol levels, further improving heart health.

Skin Health Improvements

Skin is one of the most important organs in the human body. It’s the first line of defense against countless illnesses, diseases, and bacterial infections. Kale is rich in vitamins A and C, which help your skin maintain adequate hydration for youthful fullness and beauty.

With so many healthy reasons to eat kale, it’s a good idea to consider making kale a routine part of your daily diet. Though patients on beta-blockers should take caution to avoid too much potassium, as it may have harmful side effects. Otherwise, dig into a heaping helping of kale!

7 Good Mid-Run Snacks

By: , – Erik V., SparkPeople Contributor
9/21/2015  10:00:00 AM   :  3 comments   :  6,051 views

Whether you’re training for a 10K, competing in an all-day marathon, or simply running after a long day at work, you're bound to get hungry somewhere along the way. If you're competing, you definitely don't want to stop to eat for too long, but a quick mid-run snack can help you to gain the energy and endurance needed to finish strongly. These top mid-run snacks are the perfect means to quickly and healthily refuel without feeling too full!

Dried Fruits

You can carry a small pouch of dried fruits during your run for a well-rounded sugar spike and energy boost. Dates are great in terms of vitamins, sugars, and a low fiber content to increase absorption time, but there are many other solid choices as well. Dried cherries are equally sweet and replenishing, and raisins can be eaten quickly to help keep you going. All of these fruits are reasonably low in fiber as well so that you don't feel too full before the finish line!


Pretzels are a simple and portable snack that contain just enough carbohydrates and salts to quickly replenish your power. Unfortunately, pretzels are lacking in vitamins and the salt content may dehydrate some. However, a few pretzel sticks can go a long way in replenishing your energy and helping you to gain the lead!

Coconut Water

Coconut water may not be a snack, but it will help you more than water and most other drinks will. It contains essential electrolytes such as sodium and potassium to help you refuel after sweating and exerting your strength. Due to its mineral content, coconut water can also help to alleviate any minor cramps or pangs during your run. 

Gummy Bears

Who says that snacks have to be boring? While gummy bears shouldn't be eaten often, a few during a run can actually be quite beneficial. Gummy bears aren't recommended daily since they basically contain only sugar. However, they can help to give you a boost when your legs feel like quitting. Just three to five bears should be enough to speed you up without fullness, but make sure to limit your intake since it's a lot of sugar. 

Helpful, But Not Portable Foods

Everything on this list so far can be effortlessly carried while you run. However, there are many great foods that can't easily be put in a pocket or carried during a race. Even if you could fit these following foods in your pocket, they'd likely be grotesque after a sweaty run. If your race allows for a quick stop and you can have an aid provide you something, then try:

Bananas to increase potassium and vitamin C levels without too much fiber

Peanut butter on a white bread square to get a small amount of protein plus simple carbohydrates that can be absorbed quickly (wheat breads take longer to digest)

Grapes are a nice source of vitamins and sugars without a high fiber content (if you want to carry them with you, try freezing them the night before to keep them in shape!)

All of these foods will help you to recharge during your run, but make sure not to overeat any of them to avoid cramps or worse. For the best effect, eat small portions sporadically throughout the run to keep your energy levels even. As with anything, try out these foods on a practice run before eating them during a race to ensure that the choice is right for you!

Debunking 4 of the Top Obesity Myths

By: , – David F., SparkPeople Contributor
9/18/2015  1:00:00 PM   :  8 comments   :  12,871 views

Obesity is a critical health issue affecting the quality of life of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, too many myths still persist that prevent Americans from tackling their obesity head-on. This post looks to debunk four of the most persistent obesity myths.

Myth: Genetics Are to Blame

Too many individuals still believe the tired myth that genetics are to blame for obesity. Can genetics play a role in weight gain? Of course they can! However, it is well known that obesity rates went sky high from 1980 to 2000. Needless to say, that rate is far too significant for genetic factors to be solely responsible for the sharp obesity increase. 

It is more accurate to point out that people simply eat more calories than they need on a daily basis. Fast food restaurants that tempt people into eating more food than necessary combine forces with sit-down restaurants that often provide entrees with higher calories than what families would prepare at home.

Americans continue to spend more money on food outside of the home than they do on groceries and home-cooked meals, which is a likely indicator that over-consumption is mainly to blame for obesity increases, not genetics.  

Myth: Body Mass Index (BMI) Is the Most Accurate Obesity Indicator

BMI is far from an accurate indicator of obesity. If that were so, muscle-bound bodybuilders would be obese, but in reality, their body fat percentage is exceptionally low. In practical terms, BMI is not an accurate indicator of body fat because it does not take into account the ratio between an individual's muscle and body fat.

While an extremely high BMI may indicate obesity, in general it is a better bet to focus on other tests. Generally, most people can even look in the mirror and know whether there is weight to lose, if they are being honest. As such, heavy individuals with a good deal of muscle should avoid putting too much stock into their BMI. 

Myth: Overweight People Cannot Be Healthy

This is a tired and untrue myth. Overweight people can actually be healthier than their thin counterparts. Imagine a gaunt and rail-thin person who eats poorly and doesn't exercise, and then imagine a powerlifter. While the powerlifter may well be overweight, the fact that they commit to fitness will make them healthier than a thin person who does not exercise and eats in an unhealthy way.

Myth: Skipping Meals Will Aid Weight Loss and Overall Health

Finally, too many people trying to lose weight buy into the notion that they should skip meals for weight loss. In fact, almost the exact opposite is true.

Skipping meals can often lead to overeating at a later time. Also, skipping meals over a longer period of time will mess with your body's metabolism and could sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

Eating regular meals throughout the day can actually help prevent obesity, as long as those meals are properly portioned for your daily caloric needs.

6 Tips to Find the Perfect Shoe Fit

By: , – Vionic Footwear
9/9/2015  12:00:00 AM   :  7 comments   :  14,707 views

Have you ever had a true Cinderella moment—when you slip into a pair of shoes and immediately say, ''YES!''? If you have, consider yourself lucky; when it comes to shoes, finding the perfect fit is not always an easy feat!
Vionic, a pioneer in developing shoes that provide natural alignment from the ground up, knows a thing or two about shoes. Their collection was developed by a team of world-class podiatrists and is designed to hug your arches and support your feet for all-day comfort. Here, they provide their six tips for making sure your shoe fits perfectly every time. 

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12 Recipes for Little Chefs in Training

By: , – Alicia Capetillo
9/8/2015  12:00:00 AM   :  0 comments   :  7,076 views

If your kid’s idea of cooking involves a three-step process of opening, toasting and eating a Pop-Tart, then National Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day (September 13th) was probably invented with your family in mind. If you don’t already involve your child in cooking, getting him or her started at a young age is a great way to instill healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime (looking at you, college years!). When kids learn to cook healthy meals for themselves, they will likely be less inclined to rely on fast food, delivery or frozen meals as they age. Whether your child is four or fourteen, there is a job he or she can help perform. Little ones can help with washing fresh veggies or scooping ingredients into measuring cups, while older kids can assist with more prep work and even man the stovetop, with supervision, of course.

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