Apps for a healthier and environmentally friendly lifestyle

To avoid the mind-boggling array of products in grocery stores, I either resort to buying the same products that I have used before or look for specific cues such as the color of the packaging or words like eco, good, fair trade, or healthy. Our eyes can only scan so much because of information overload. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2017 Food and Health Survey, almost half are unable to identify a single food or nutrient associated with the benefits.

We have another set of eyes at our disposal – our smartphones. About 36% of the world’s population uses smartphones. I mostly use a smartphone in a grocery aisle to check my to-buy list or to call. I recently also used my phone to take a picture of a Himalayan Salt package to show a friend how it doesn’t supply iodide. But, that’s about it. I feel guilty for using smartphone around because it invades privacy, but I shouldn’t feel guilty to use it to make better choices for me and my family and our environment.

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Apps are now available for users to make better choices for a healthier lifestyle as well as to give them a chance to protect our environment. These apps are like little orbuculums under your glass screens. They provide ingredient analysis and nutritional information, to make better choices for your future. I’ve made a list below, but apps can be geographically limited, which means that you will neither be able to download it on your smartphone nor can you see products that are locally available. Fret not, some of these apps will allow you to enter products and all their ingredients into their database.

CodeCheck

  • Customize your profile based on your own lifestyle and diet.
  • For food and cosmetics
  • Scan barcode, enter EAN number
  • Find out whether the products are vegan, vegetarian or gluten- or lactose-free
  • Offers information such as palm oil, microbeads, nanoparticles, parabens, paraffins, too much sugar, etc.
  • Helps you if you have an allergy to something.

EWG

  • For food and cosmetics
  • Scan a barcode, search by name or browse by category
  • Gives you an easy-to-understand 1-10 score (1 being the best!).

Fooducate

  • Provides health tips
  • For food only
  • Tracks calories, sleep etc.
  • Scan barcode
  • Provides information on added sugars, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, controversial food colourings, GMO – genetically modified organisms (premium feature), additives and preservatives.

Shopwell

  • For food only
  • Similar to CodeCheck
  • Allows you to share your food picks with friends and family
  • Create food goals.

Open Food Facts

  • For food only
  • Provides information about Fair Trade products
  • Shows you where your food was made
  • Collaborative, free, open database
  • Compare products.

Seafood Watch

  • For seafood only
  • Offers recommendations to help you choose ocean-friendly seafood at your favourite restaurants and stores.

Chemical Cuisine

  • For food only
  • Ranks the safety of food additives such as acetic acid, yellow prussiate of soda etc.
  • Unable to find the app, but their website contains all the information.

With volumes of digestible information now available at our fingertips, it is also important to factor people’s perceptions of local food environments and how it influences their abilities to eat healthily. A 2016 research done in Alberta, Canada, shows that while availability and access to food outlets influence healthy eating practices, these factors may be eclipsed by other non-physical environmental considerations, such as food regulations and sociocultural preferences. This study identifies a set of meta-themes that summarize and illustrate the interrelationships between environmental attributes, people’s perceptions, and eating behaviours:

  • availability and accessibility are interrelated and only part of the healthy eating equation
  • local food is synonymous with healthy eating
  • local food places for healthy eating help define community identity
  • communal dining (commensality) does not necessarily mean healthy eating
  • rewarding an achievement or celebrating special occasions with highly processed foods is socially accepted
  • food costs seemed to be driving forces in food decisions
  • macro-environmental influences are latent in food decisions.

How comfortable are you using these apps? Will you use them? Have you used them? If not, why not? How far do you go or are willing to go to make better choices? Or do you hope that you will simply stumble upon a better choice? While we can reduce exposure to bad elements by cooking more at home, our lifestyle doesn’t necessarily always allow it. Yet, here we are.

References:

https://www.brainerddispatch.com/lifestyle/health/4432249-try-phone-app-help-you-make-healthy-choices-grocery-store

https://www.dw.com/en/doing-your-bit-code-checking-in-the-store/av-47222771

https://www.techlicious.com/guide/apps-for-making-healthy-food-choices/

Is exposure to chemicals making you gain weight?

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Jarmoluk

Since we were kids, we have been told to eat certain foods even if we’ve found them kind of icky. This is because it’s good for us. Out of fear, we’ve gulped it down, hid it, avoided it, cried over it. As we’ve grown older, some of those things have grown on us. Some, let’s just say – we never got over. We’ve always had a love and hate relationship with our food. Most importantly, we’ve grown to understand the effects of the food we eat on us.

There may be certain kinds of food that might affect you in a way that you don’t want them to – for example, rice. People who are conscious about weight gain tend to avoid rice. But, have you ever wondered, why after all the trials and tribulations, you can’t win over weight gain. It can be because of your genetic makeup or your physical activities. There might be something else lurking around you that you may be missing, that nobody is really telling you or talking about, not even the doctor. It is so because we’ve not yet fully understood the adverse effect of all the chemicals on human health.

With changing times and lifestyles, what we eat and the way we eat it has changed. Even healthy food comes sprayed with pesticides and packaged in plastic that if you heat in a microwave or run through a dishwasher with hot water, can leach out chemicals into the meal. If you are wondering if there is any evidence that microwaving food alters its composition or has any detrimental effects on humans or animals. No, there is not, but yes it does if you heat it in plastic containers – clear, styrofoam, any kind of plastic for that matter.

A recent study links fluorinated chemicals to more weight gain and slower metabolism in people dieting. Weight gain is only one of the many health problems that certain chemicals are causing – other issues include cancer and hormone disruption. Another research links obesity to cancer, the point being weight gain can trigger other health issues, which is why people hold obesity so dearly in their daily worries., besides the stigma of looking fat.

It can be hard for a layman to really keep up with this kind of information. Fortunately, there are non-governmental organisations out there who look into it, who keep things in check, although there are governmental entities that do it too. You can follow both – governmental as well as the non-governmental organisations, to keep yourself abreast of findings and reports.

Examples of non-governmental organisations:

Examples of governmental organisations:

Want to start protecting yourself? Don’t want to wait until you read those reports? Let’s not freak out. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Stop microwaving food in plastic containers
  2. Stop storing warm or hot food in plastic containers
  3. Do not drink out of plastic bottles that have been baking in the sun

Alternatives:

  • Microwave safe ceramic containers and silverware
  • Microwave-safe glass containers and silverware
  • Steel containers for non-microwave heating

Easy-peasy? If yes, you can take it up a notch and grow your own food – start with herbs or spring onions. There are also things other than food that can introduce toxic chemicals into your body, but we will stop this blog post with food. Until next time!

Who is phasing out what

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Volunteer Image Author TheDigitalArtist

The world is phasing out fossil-fuels, old polluting vehicles, plastic products, toxic substances, nuclear power, biofuel, incandescent light bulbs, ozone depleting substances, waste imports, second hand clothes, food waste, and ivory trade. These are either gradual phase outs or immediate bans. So, who exactly is phasing out what? Read ahead to find out.

Who is phasing out fossil-fuels?

Who is phasing out old polluting vehicles?

Who is phasing out plastic products?

Who is phasing out toxic substances?

Who is phasing out nuclear power?

Who is phasing out biofuel?

Who is phasing out incandescent light bulbs?

Who is phasing out ozone depleting substances?

Who is phasing out waste imports?

Who is phasing out second hand clothes?

Who is phasing out ivory trade?

 Who is banning food waste?

Who is banning deforestation?

Last Edited: April 4 2018

Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments

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If you have watched F.R.I.E.N.D.S. you’ll know how everyone weighed in on how the new house Monica and Chandler wanted to buy in Season 10. Joey didn’t want them to move in and offered all kinds of excuses for them to not move in. When you are buying a piece of land for your company, commercial or industrial, Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) help avoid paying for contamination later. This is formally known as Environmental Due Diligence, where several audits reveal the state of the concerned land, how contaminated it is, the kinds of contaminants are present and in what quantities. In the US, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) offers legal protection for such situations.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has a standard procedure to assess and remove the existing contamination from the property. They are performed by trained environmental professionals. The Phase I ESA is a non-invasive process that involves a review of records, a site inspection, and interviews with owners, occupants, neighbors and local government officials. If a Phase I ESA identifies potential contamination of the site by hazardous materials, a Phase II ESA may be conducted, which includes invasive processes such as digging up samples, chemical analysis for hazardous substances and/or petroleum hydrocarbons. The following video explains Phase I summarily.

These things are done in India too. Several environmental assessments such as the following are done in the country and includes the above mentioned ESA process.

  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – effects of the proposed project on the environment
  • Environmental Management Plan (EMP) – a plan that is developed after assessments are done
  • Environmental Modeling – predicts what might happen in the future in an event of exposure and how the natural systems would react to it
  • Socio Economic Assessment – puts sustainability of communities back into picture and helps in decision making
  • Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) as per ASTM

Further reading and References:

Phase

Should we abolish the nail polish?

Nail paints have been in fashion for a long long time now. I don’t see them going out of fashion ever, but wait. Are there any chemicals lurking behind the beauty? This is Anuja, pretending to sound like a journalist, from anujasawant.com :D

As a kid I had a bad habit of biting my nails. My mom tried to stop me but never succeeded until I started realizing how ugly they look. Back then nail paints were for my toes only. My toes however never took it so well, they’d almost always go yellow after I applied nail paints. Yellowing was caused due to the leftover dyes in the polish. The trick was to use a clear-base coat but I wasn’t that fashion savvy but I know this now.

Applying nail paint was one of the ways to deter me from biting them but out of desperation I would scrap it off with my teeth. I recently advised a friend to do the same but I wondered if any chemicals went into my mouth when I did that. A study led by Duke University and Environmental Working Group suggests that we absorb at least one potentially hormone-disrupting chemical every time we get a polish. What was I thinking putting my nails into my mouth like that?

According to About.com, nail polish could be made of:

  • Nitrocellulose (CAS:9004-70-0) – a film former, the gloss giver.
  • Dissolved in solvents such as butyl acetate (CAS: 123-86-4) or ethyl acetate (CAS: 141-78-6). Toluene, xylene and formalin or formaldehyde used to be in nail polishes as solvents and are infamously toxic.
  • Tosylamide-formaldehyde (CAS: 25035-71-6) and triphenyl phosphate (CAS: 115-86-6) are resins that help the polish adhere to the nails surface.
  • Plasticizers such as Camphor (CAS: 464-49-3, it has some more CAS numbers. According to EPA, a chemical may also be listed with multiple CAS numbers when multiple numbers have been inadvertently assigned to the same chemical. This multiple assignment can occur when forms of a chemical are originally believed to be unique, but after further review by chemists, are identified as the same chemical.) prevent the polish from cracking.
  • A pigment that colors the polish.
  • Titanium dioxide (CAS: 13463-67-7) or ground mica for the sparkles.
  • Thickening agents such as stearalkonium hectorite.

Some of the tools I used to access toxicity of above mentioned chemicals are:

  • Chemical Data Access Tool (CDAT): I did not find this useful. Take the first one for instance and tell me what you see. It won’t even give me anything when I entered ‘nitrocellulose’, I had to look for its CAS number. So I’ve given you the CAS number to find out for yourself and in case you find a new tool and it needs a CAS number. Let me know if you find a new and better tool.
  • ChemHATBlueGreen Alliance has launched a new, free tool that is designed by workers for workers to make it easier to learn about chemicals: ChemHAT (Chemical Hazards and Alternatives Toolbox). With ChemHAT’s searchable database, one can easily read about the scientific findings on the short and long-term health effects of over 10,000 commonly used chemicals. It also lets you search by the CAS number. Couldn’t find nitrocellulose on that one. I have used this the most and have compiled the information of the chemicals below in the form of a slideshow. If you are unable to see let me know and I’ll change the format or solve the issue somehow.
  • Green Chemistry Toxics Information Databases: If you want to try more tools.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While doing this I wondered how would a common man would do all this. I really think it is the job of the authorities who are responsible for ascertaining the nature of the chemicals used, transparency, and safety of the people. There are people who are paid to do things like this, so why bother the common man with tools that are not even user friendly. There were some chemicals I didn’t even find the information for in those tools. Why? In spite of this, I don’t want nail polishes to be abolished because I like painting my nails occasionally. Here are some eco-friendly nail polishes one can use.

When you are done finding one, you can head over to my cousin’s nail art on Instagram for some cool nail design! She is really good at it.

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And when you are done doing that let me know how going eco-friendly worked for you.

Getting the lead out

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India’s favorite snack Maggi Noodles has been put under the microscope after ‘abrupt’ tests revealing excessive amounts of lead in it. Thanks to Barabanki’s food safety inspector VK Pandey. This set off a chain reaction that lead to the inspection of various other products in the market. Much to our surprise, lead was found and so was detergent. Maggi noodles and other products have been enjoying this unchecked prosperity for who knows how long.

Lead is a chemical element (goes by the symbol ‘Pb’ in the periodic table, for plumbum in Latin) that is thought to have ended the Roman Civilization. The Roman Empire’s water supply used lead pipes (without any coating to it), unlike iron and steel that are commonly used today. In addition to this, they even added lead acetate to makes their wines sweeter!

In 1922, lead in the form of tetraethlyllead as an anti-knocking agent was added to petrol to make vehicles run smoothly. Fifty years down the line i.e. around 1970, the infamous tetraethyllead was everywhere, in all the vehicles around the world. In the year 2002, 50 countries banned leaded gasoline and adopted unleaded gasoline. In 2007, 90% of the world’s countries had banned it. In 2008, 21 countries were still using it. Why did so many countries ban it? Who knew that lead could be poisonous to us humans? The Romans didn’t know. The men who used lead in petrol didn’t know, or did they?

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Leaded Petrol Phase-out: Global Status April 2014, Source: UNEP

One man named Clair Cameron Patterson knew. Elaborated in ‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, episode ‘The Clean Room’, Patterson, a geochemist, unmasked the toxic nature of lead while looking for the true age of the Earth. His efforts to make sure that lead gets eliminated from petrol is commendable. He fought against the political tide all by himself. Why did he do that? He, of all the people, knew how dangerous lead is to people.

Lead bioaccumulates as our body doesn’t know how to deal with heavy metals like lead, mercury, chromium etc. It sits inside you, in your bones, and inhibits the body to function well, havocs it. It attacks your nervous system, your kidneys, and a lot more. In scientific terms, this makes lead a ‘Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) chemical’. As the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) puts it,

“Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause brain damage, paralysis, (lead palsy), anaemia and gastrointestinal symptoms. Longterm exposure can cause damage to the kidneys, reproductive and immune systems in addition to effects on the nervous system. The most critical effect of low-level lead exposure is on intellectual development in young children and like mercury, lead crosses the placental barrier and accumulates in the foetus. Infants and young children are more vulnerable than adults to the toxic effects of Lead, and they also absorb lead more easily. Even short-term low-level exposure of young children to lead is considered to have an effect on neurobehavioural development. Consumption of food containing lead is the major source of exposure for the general population.”

How did lead get into these noodles? It could have entered the noodles through air, water, soil, plastic packaging, ‘masala‘, noodles, or industrial effluent. Lead has been used in storage batteries, weapons, lead paint, and even to protect workers from radioactive elements. It is still one of the most commonly used non-ferrous metals in the world. Any one can become exposed to lead through inhalation or ingestion of lead particles that are generated from industrial and domestic activities. Lead still serves many purposes and used as:

  • a coloring agent in stained glasses for reducing the radiation transmission
  • in fishing sinkers and in balancing wheels of vehicles
  • in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic for coating the electrical metal wires
  • for shielding from radiation in x-ray laboratories
  • in electronics its use as soldering agent
  • as a coolant in lead-cooled fast reactors
  • for sound proofing system
  • in building constructions e.g. sheets as architectural metals in roofing, cladding, flashings, gutters and joints, etc
  • water proofing media
  • in lead-based semi-conductors such as lead telluride, lead selenide and lead antimonide are being used in photovoltaic (solar) cells and infrared detectors
  • in making sculptures
  • a additive to brass to reduce machine tool wear

According to FSSAI, the permissible limit for lead in food is 2.5 ppm, i.e. 2.5 mg of lead per kg of body weight. Some of the samples indicated levels of 17 ppm, that’s about 7 times higher. What does ‘Permissible Exposure Limit’ (PEL) mean anyway? Who decides this? Isn’t it basically a ‘legal’ limit to lead content in food? 2.5 ppm or less, lead is going to accumulate in the human body. If it accumulates in large amounts, it leads to poisoning. PEL is the so called regulatory number, against advisory/recommended values, which can only be advised and not enforced. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.

Moreover, please note that ‘2.5 ppm’ mentioned above is only applicable to ‘Foods not specified’ under the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011. It is not the same, for say, baking powder. For baking powder, PEL is as high as 10 ppm. Standard procedure is followed for testing of elements in food samples and specific determination methods are followed for determining specific elements such as lead.

Lead poisoning is preventable but the damage is done in many cases and people have been exposed to lead. Some believe that they can cure it through Chelation Therapy. Viral messages suggesting chelation therapy with coriander are being passed along. Drugs called “chelators” [KEY-lay-ters] bind to the metals in the blood stream. This metal-chelator compound then gets eliminated in the urine. This therapy has its side effects but is a preferred choice for heavy metal poisoning. Chelation therapy however can only remove lead from blood, and not from your bones as it is difficult to do so. Let’s not forget what Benjamin Franklin said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’

References:

Note 1: One can think on similar lines for MSG and Sweeteners.

Note 2: In Indian languages lead is known as ‘sisa’, ‘ranga’, ‘haridra’, ‘seemak’, ‘cheen’, ‘sindhur’ (Hindi/ Sanskrit), ‘eeyam’ (Malyalam) and ‘tipu’ (Pali).