Quinn on Nutrition: This and that from readers

August 8, 2016

After writing about how my four year-old granddaughter who loves playing with her Magic Mealtime Magnet — a fun way to teach children to choose healthful foods — many of you have asked for ordering information. Here’s the website:

My recent column about organic and conventionally grown produce generated a passionate letter "to challenge your continuing attempts to downplay the benefits of eating organic fruits and vegetables." Michael M. cited many reasons to eat organic produce including farmworkers, children who attend schools near fields and the environment in general. He concluded that "we all have a responsibility to consider our lives in the broader context of those lives we impact ... especially when the impact is negative, as it is with pesticides."

I share your concerns, Michael and in no way intended to downplay the benefits of eating organic produce or the risks of careless use of pesticides. As I noted in the column, the organic food industry is growing at an incredible pace. Organic foods now comprise about 13 percent of all the produce sold in the United States, according to Laura Batcha of the Organic Trade Association.

I do not share your absolute distrust in any food that is not labeled organic, however. 

Evidence-based research has established the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. And those studies are based on produce from conventional as well as organic growing methods. 

By all means, organic food is an excellent choice for many of the reasons you cite. But if a mom wants to buy apples — or any other fruit or vegetable — for her family and organic is not available, most health experts agree it would be a mistake to not buy produce at all.

Finally, reader Bruce C. wrote to comment on the column that discussed the health benefits of seeds. "I wonder how well our digestive system can extract (nutrients) when the seeds are not broken apart by mastication, which is particularly inefficient with small hard seeds like poppy and chia seeds. I make a point of trying to chew up larger seeds and nuts in my cereal, but I run chia seeds through a 'blender' type of coffee mill to produce an oily paste first. Am I gaining anything by this?" 

Good question, Bruce. Nutrition experts say that poppy and chia seeds can be digested in their whole form. Not so with whole flax seeds however; best to grind them in your coffee mill or buy flax meal instead of the whole seeds.

One caution about chia seeds, however. Do not eat them dry. Chia seeds can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water, according to Dr. Rebecca Rawl from Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. If consumed dry, they can expand as they travel through the digestive tract and potentially cause a blockage. Rawl therefore recommends we mix chia seeds with some form of liquid (yogurt works, too) so they can expand before we swallow them. 




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