Friday, January 28, 2011

Allergy Friendly Jelly Beans

I was out shopping this morning and came across a brand of candy, Gimbals, that is free of all 8 of the top allergens, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, gluten, soy, fish and shell fish.  Considering that doesn't happen very often, I just had to share my find.

Abigail's birthday is next weekend, and she wants a chocolate cake with pink frosting.  She also wants it decorated with all of her favorite symbols...rainbows, peace signs, hearts and stars.  I'm actually getting off quite easy with this one.  To avoid mixing so many colors of frosting, my original plan was to use the Rainbow Twizzlers Twists to make the rainbow on the cake.  However, on the shelf right beside the Twizzlers was a bag of gourmet jelly beans, in 41 flavors and a ton of colors.  I was pleasantly surprised to see this allergen label on the back:

I think Abigail is going to really enjoy sorting through the colors and to help form a large multi-flavored rainbow on the cake.

I found the bag of jelly beans at Wal-Mart for a little over $3.00.  It doesn't meet my healthy food standard of non-GMO, no artificial flavors or artificial colors, but it is for a birthday cake after all.

P.S.  I was able to find organic, peanut/tree nut safe jelly beans online from both Surf Sweets and The Jelly Bean Planet if you're neither in a hurry or on a budget.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trader Joe's Shopping List

I'm doing it again. I'm singing praises for Trader Joe's. Too bad I don't get paid for these posts or at least get a store discount!

I was talking with my girlfriends the other day about Trader Joe's. One of them has a child with a peanut allergy, and she was frustrated to find so many items with a "manufactured in a facility with peanut/tree nut" warning. I'm with her there. It's very frustrating especially because there weren't always so many products with that label. Our Trader Joe's store changed to a different regional distribution warehouse for it's inventory. This particular warehouse stocks a lot more products made by manufacturers that have more cross-contamination occurrences.

In our conversation I mentioned that regardless of all of those products with a peanut/tree nut allergen label, I somehow managed to still spend over $240 during my monthly trip to Trader Joe's. Because of the distance to the store, I only go once a month. I have to strategically shop, and I usually require 2 grocery carts in my effort to stock up. I can't imagine what I would spend if I could purchase cereals, breads and more boxed ingredients that were safe for Abigail.

My friend was surprised that I could find that much to purchase so for kicks I started making a list of all of the items that I do purchase. As I was putting together my list, I thought I might as well make it double as my grocery list so I ended up putting a little more effort into it. I know I didn't remember everything, but it's a good first start, and I thought I'd share it.  Here's my Trader Joe's shopping list.

Just a couple of quick notes.
  • First, just because it's safe in my store, doesn't mean that it will be in yours especially if you live in a different part of the country so always check the labels.
  • Second, while the majority of the items are safe for Abigail there are a couple of items that I've put a "*" next to because I buy them for my husband, son or myself. We keep those items on the top shelf, and Abigail knows she can't eat them. We're also careful of when and where we eat them. An example of these items are the cereal snack bars and raw almonds that my husband takes to work.
  • Third, all of the items on my list are rGBH free, contain no GM ingredients, artificial colors, preservatives or artificial sweeteners and on average cost less than what I can purchase elsewhere. They're also usually the Trader Joe's store brand.  The aisles that I've listed are for my store and to help me with my shopping.  That also goes for the order it's listed in.
  • Lastly, you might find some key items missing from my list like the milk. That doesn't mean it doesn't meet my safe food criteria, it just means that I prefer the taste of a different brand of milk.
As I'm working on this post, I remembered that Trader Joe's and I go way back. I shopped at one of the first Trader Joe's in 1987 before they expanded out of their Southern California birthplace. I was in high school and visiting an aunt and uncle during my summer break. With their help, I purchased a bottle of the "2 Buck Chuck" wine (yes it was called that even back then) to bring back as a present for my parents. I didn't get to sample it back then, but I've made up for it now. While not on my shopping list, Trader Joe's is still a great place to also buy wine.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods and the Link to Allergies - Part 3

This is the final part to my series on the link between allergies and genetically modified foods.  This post focuses on why our children, newborns and pregnant women are at the biggest risk of developing long-term health concerns as a result of consuming GM foods.

Referencing the article "Moms! GMO Foods Threaten Your Children" on the Nutrition Center Research's website, here's why:
  • Young, fast-developing bodies are influenced most.
  • Children are more susceptible to allergies.
  • Children are more susceptible to problems with milk.
  • Children are more susceptible to nutritional problems.
  • Children are in danger from antibiotic resistant diseases.
  • Young, fast-developing bodies are influenced most.
I reviewed the Institute for Responsible Technology's list of 65 Health Risks of GM Foods for studies applicable to young children or pregnant women.  Here's one that stood out for me.

In this particular study, female lab rats were given GM soy before conception and continuing through pregnancy and weaning.  Here are the conclusions:

1. Of the offspring, 55.6% died within three weeks compared to 9% from non-GM soy controls.
2. Some pups from GM-fed mothers were significantly smaller and both mothers and pups were more aggressive.
3. In a separate study, after a lab began feeding rats a commercial diet containing GM soy, offspring mortality reached 55.3%.
4. When offspring from GM-fed rats were mated together, they were unable to conceive.

In the article, Genetically Engineered Foods Pose Health Risk for Children, written by Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, a UK government-funded study demonstrated that young rats fed a GM potato developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, partial atrophy of the liver, and inhibited development of their brains, livers and testicles. When the lead scientist went public with his concerns, he was promptly fired from his job after 35 years and silenced with threats of a lawsuit.

According to that same article, differences in GM food will likely have a much larger impact on children because they are three to four times more susceptible to allergies. Children convert more of the food into body-building material. Altered nutrients or added toxins can result in developmental problems. Here are a couple more blurbs..

Kids are regularly fed GM soy-based infant formula. The digestive capacity of small children is less than adults, suggesting that more GM DNA might survive with more transgenes ending up inside gut bacteria or possibly inside organs.

What about corn genetically engineered to create its own pesticide? If the inserted gene were to transfer from the corn that children eat into their gut bacteria, it could theoretically transform their intestinal flora into living pesticide factories.

Children prone to ear and other infections may be at risk of facing antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, due to the use of antibiotic resistant genes.

Milk and dairy products from cows treated with the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH) contain an increased amount of the hormone IGF-1, which is one of the highest risk factors associated with breast and prostate cancer. “rbGH and its digested products could be absorbed from milk into blood, particularly in infants, and produce hormonal and allergic effects, i.e., premature growth and breast stimulation in infants.”

I did a lot of cutting and pasting in this post which I really hate to do.  There's a lot more information to further explain these blurbs that I pulled from the article written by Jeffrey Smith.  I'd encourage you to read it in it's entirety.

One last thought to leave you with.  While we have the choice to limit our childrens' exposure to GM foods by packing safe lunches, what about the children that depend on the school system for hot lunches and often breakfast too?  Wonder about the quality of food our kids are getting for $2.00 (or that matter, us, on the $$  menu in fast food restaurants)?  You can bet it's below par.  Here's one more reference article published on the Center for Environmental Education's website outlining how school food effects the health of students.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods and the Link to Allergies - Part 2

I've struggled with writing this post. I'm not a scientist, doctor or other type of medical or allergy specialist. I'm just a mom that's spent the last 6 1/2 years trying to learn everything I can about my daughter's peanut allergy.

Information regarding the link between genetically modified foods and allergies is not only hard for me to fully comprehend, but it's even harder to put those thoughts together in a post without simply cutting and pasting from other resources.  I'm going to try hard not to, but here's credit in advance to the articles I'm referring to to write this post.  Here goes.

In it's simplest form, GM food is food that has had genes from other plants, bacteria and viruses inserted into it's genetic structure. This in turn creates a new protein that may/may not have been present before which may/may not trigger an allergic reaction.

It's considered inhumane to test these newly formed proteins in GM foods on humans prior to releasing it into our food supply.  I find it ironic that it is considered okay to put it on our grocery store shelves in the form of a processed food ingredient and then wait to see what happens. Because it takes humans eating a food several times before the protein causes us to be allergic, there is really no good way to then go back and see if a particular engineered food is the culprit.

I'm going to use GM soybeans as an example of why there is a possible link between GM foods and allergies simply because that's the one used by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) in their article, "Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies".  There are plenty of examples with other GM crops like corn, cottonseed, sugar beets, canola, Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini and crook neck squash.

The GM soybean was created in the U.S. in 1996 by using a bacteria that formed a new protein that's never before been consumed by a human. Scientist must run all newly formed proteins through an International database comparing it's amino sequence with amino sequences that have been known to trigger allergic reactions.  If known allergens are found to be present, it is required that either additional testing be performed or that the GM crop not be released. In the case of the GM soybean, there were sections of a protein that are identical to known allergens, but the crop was released prior to the creation of the database.

For us dealing specifically with peanut allergies, there is at least one known protein in natural soybeans that has a cross-reactivity with peanut allergies.  Whether genetically modified soybeans might increase that chance of cross-reactivity remains to be seen.  It's certainly coincidence that the number of peanut allergies has doubled in the years following the introduction of GM soybeans.

According to the OCA, another study verified that GM soybeans contain a unique, unexpected protein, not found in non-GM soy controls.  Scientist tested that protein and determined that it reacted with the IgE antibody which is responsible for allergic reactions. "The fact that the unique protein created by GM soy  interacted with IgE suggests that it might also trigger allergies."

Using a question posed from the article "Ah-tchoo!: Do Genetically Modified Foods Cause Allergies" written on, if you are allergic to fish and you eat a tomato that has been genetically modified with genes from a fish, is it then possible that you would then react as if you'd eaten fish?  According to that article by OCA, it is.  The OCA article gives this example. In the mid 1990's, there was an attempt to produce healthier soybeans by using a gene from Brazil nuts.  Blood tests from people with allergies to Brazil nuts showed an allergic reaction to this new soybean.  This was one case where the product never went to market.

While there is really no concrete evidence here in the U.S. to prove a link between GM foods and allergies as well as other health dangers, there have been limited studies in other countries. Funny how those same countries both restrict the use of GM crops grown as well as require imported GM food from the U.S. to be labeled accordingly.  By the way, why aren't GM foods tested in the U.S.?  According to that article in, the FDA (Richard Herndon, an FDA spokesperson) says that it doesn't subject GM foods to the same testing as, for example, a new chemical additive, because new gene introductions do not "materially change the composition" of food.  "FDA has no basis for concluding that bio-engineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding."

I hope all of this information has at least got you thinking about a possible link between food allergies and genetically modified foods.  I urge you to continue to do your own research about all of the possible health risks with eating these types of foods as well as to follow the links in the posts and read the reference articles in their entirety.   Also, here's a link to a past post I wrote about avoiding GM foods.  There's more information in that post on health hazards as well as tips to avoid GM foods.

Author Note:  I just found an Organic Soy Scorecard on The Cornucopia Institute's website.  It rates companies on their organic soy production.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods and the Link to Allergies - Part 1

There are not many subjects that get me as worked up as the subject of genetically modified food.  The fact that one company has decided that their bottom line is more important than the health of the world's people and the future of our country and that a handful of U.S. governmental agencies have decided that it's more important to protect that business than to prevent their constituents from becoming human guinea pigs absolutely infuriates me.  Not only are we all at risk of damaged immune systems and digestive systems, infertility and increased risks of cancer, to name a few, but GM foods might actually also be the cause of the food allergy epidemic.  And, our beloved children face the greatest risk of all.

It all started in the 1990's when Monsanto determined a way to boost the sale of their product, RoundUp.  By gene-splicing corn, soy, cotton and canola with foreign DNA, Monsanto scientist were able to create a plant that could survive massive doses of RoundUp allowing farmers to repeatedly spray their crops.  Now,
 75 million acres, or 85%, of U.S. corn production is GM, 72 million acres or 91% of U.S. soy is GM, 8.8 million acres or 88% of U.S. cotton is GM, 3.2 million acres or 85% of U.S. Canola is GM and 1.2 million acres or 95% of U.S. sugar beets is GM.  Eighty percent of these crops get converted to animal feed and end up in our beef, dairy and eggs.  The other 20% ends up on our grocery stores shelves in the form of non-organic processed foods.  Just reading these facts on the Organic Consumer Association's "Millions Against Monsanto" link makes me nauseous.  The reach of GM food and the resulting damage is far too extensive to cover in a couple of posts.

Why do we stand for it?  Only a fourth of all Americans even realize that we are eating this toxic food.  There's no labeling laws requiring GM foods to be identified.  If that was the case, over 80% of the foods found on our store shelves would have to have a warning label

Avoiding it takes knowledge and time, at least in the beginning.  I've heard from family and friends that have decided after reading my blog to take the challenge to make shopping changes in order to avoid foods made with GM ingredients.  I think the goal to completely avoid GM food is next to impossible to achieve.  For our family, I try to just minimize how much we eat.  I will say that now that I know the health risks, I find it extremely difficult to put an item I know to contain GM ingredients in my grocery cart.  I'd rather do without.

I'm hoping that I've given you enough food for thought, no pun intended, to also consider making a New Year's Resolution to learn about the risks of GM food, what brands are the biggest users of GM ingredients and what steps you and your family can take to minimize the intake of GM food.  If I haven't, maybe this list published by the Institute of Responsible Technology giving 65 Health Risks of GM Foods will.  My personal goal for 2011 is to now tackle our restaurant exposure.

I still want to touch on why our kids are at biggest risk as well as cover the link between GM foods and allergies.  Those topics are too big to cover in this post so there's a Part 2 and Part 3 still to come.

Thanks for giving me a minute to get up on my soapbox!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Great Find

I was recently doing a little shopping when I came across this cute cupcake container.  What a great find!  I just had to buy one for Abigail.

This CupCake To-Go container is absolutely perfect for a child with a food allergy, food intolerance or Celiac.  For 6 years now, I've sent cupcakes with Abigail to almost every peer birthday party she has attended.  Most of the time in containers either too small for the cupcake resulting in mushed frosty or too large also resulting in a rather messy cupcake from all that bouncing around.  Now, she can take her "special" cupcake and take pleasure in eating it because 1. it's no longer unsightly, and 2. it came out of such a adorable container. 

Abigail, of course, loved it.  I knew she would.  I went back to the store and bought more just in case you guys loved them and also wanted one too.  I bought them in 3 different colors: pink, white and blue. They're about 4" x 4", the perfect size to hold a large cupcake or even muffin.  The lid twists on/off and there are interior side anchors to keep the cupcake in place (assuming your child doesn't drop it and send it bouncing).  My resell price is $5.00, and I still have to figure out actual shipping cost.  If you want one, send me an e-mail at, and I'll let you know what that cost is once I've packed it in a shipping box.  I use PayPal for billing, and I don't ship outside the U.S.

This cupcake container just makes me happy.  It's so hard to see your child or loved one have to struggle with something like not being able to eat a piece of their friend's birthday cake.  It makes me happy because it's a simple object that makes a huge difference.  If you've got to be different and made to stand out in a crowd, you might as well do it with style!