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By Julene Tripp Weaver

Review of a book: Diet for a Poisoned Planet: How to Choose Safe Foods for You and Your Family, By David Steinman

I've been reading this book since May when I first heard of it and found it in Canada. I read it sporadically, a chapter at a time. It is educational and a reinforcement of the strong urge I have to eat high quality healthy food. Finding quality in today's world is the main challenge when it comes to what we ingest in our body. The history since the late forty's with the rapid development of pesticides, insecticides, and other toxic chemicals that have been used freely and in large quantities has had a massive effect on our health. Other new advances also may adversely affect our health: irradiation, radiation fallout, genetically altered food, hormones and antibiotics fed to animals that become our food, dioxin, chlorine bleaching and plasticides in packaging, the list can go on.

I have long been active politically when it comes to food, Diet for a Poisoned Planet is a book that gives a good overview of things we should know but the government does not tell us. We need to do our own research. I applaud David Steinman for the extensive research he has done to help the average consumer be aware of the pitfalls that will adversely affect our health. This book examines carefully the food we eat, the pesticides, insecticides, and other toxic chemicals that have been detected in them, and how this relates to our health picture, and helps us make healthy decisions when we shop at the local grocery or eat at restaurants.

The author, David Steinman, grew up in the Los Angeles area and growing up he sport fished and ate his catch from the local waters. In 1985 a warning appeared at the piers and on the beaches that eating fish caught in these waters may be harmful due to chemical contamination. He was shocked and began to research the why, what and how's of this news. It turned out a pesticide manufacturing plant was dumping barrels of waste into the bay, and to keep them from floating they opened them first! DDT waste was building up in the fish who were feeding in these waters, and people who ate the fish were having DDT build up in their bodies. As he researched he found that government officials who knew about the dumping for years had withheld the information from the public. He did a study testing the blood of people who'd been eating the fish like he had, his own serum results where extremely high.

A recent International News article, the June 21 to July 4, 1995 issue, covered the hazards of fishing locally here in Puget sound. "Shellfish harvesting may be putting APIs (Asian Pacific Islanders) at risk from toxins." The waters of our Puget Sound area are contaminated from redtide, bacteria, chemicals, and dioxin. DDT and PCBs are toxic chemicals that act as carcinogens and neurotoxins (meaning they impair mental ability). Both of these chemical formulations are commonly found in seafood today. Although neither of these chemicals are still being manufactured the effects are still present more than 20 years later. They store in the fatty tissues of the fish and when we ingest the fish the chemicals do their damage and store in our fatty tissues. From there they are hard to get rid of, if we fast to release them we become poisoned again.

Toxins cause illness. And toxin is a generic term that covers a range of specific chemicals that are used by farms for fertilizer, insect control, antifungals; there are fifty thousand pesticide formulations and seven hundred chemical ingredients farmers can buy. Then there are chemical additives used as preservatives, flavor enhancers and coloring agents.

David Steinman used the Freedom of Information Act to look at chemical analyses of food; some sources include the Food and Drug Administration's pesticide monitoring data (one example of their recordings indicate "that virtually 100 percent of the cheese produced and sold in the US has detectable pesticide residues," (pg. 122), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (they have records of the urethane levels in whiskeys, fruit brandies and wines), the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, and the Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health. This book relays abundant information that indicates what foods are safe. He also shares how he detoxified, reducing his levels of DDT and PCB's, and how you can do it too.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets levels of safety in foods, but they do not take into account that we are eating many foods that have toxins in them, what David Steinman calls the "chemical cocktail syndrome." We are at risk for multiple chemical exposures daily.

The chapters of the book are laid out in terms of the types of foods: plants, vegetables and fruits, grains, meat and poultry, dairy, seafood, eggs, prepared foods, beverages, drinking water, baby food. In the back of the book is a glossary of pesticides and toxic chemicals that have been detected in food.

Each of these chapters lays out a pattern of green light, yellow light or red light foods. Green light foods are those you can eat without too much concern, they have little to no pesticide residue and you can eat them as often as you like. Based on a standard government formula for cancer risk assessment green light foods would cause up to five excess cancers in one millions persons. Yellow light indicates caution, these foods have a fair amount of residue and should be cut back on or organic food should be sought to replace non-organic. These foods would cause five to ten cancers in one million persons. Red light is clear these are dangerous foods to eat, do not eat unless organic, or eat very seldom. These foods had cancer risks beyond ten cancers in one million persons. Note that the government formula used, "does not take into account the cancer burden created by the combination of many carcinogens, or by other dietary sources of the same chemical."(pg. 29)

The premise of this book is that there is a lot of safe, good, healthy food and that you don't have to accumulate more poisons in your body. It enlightens and encourages non-toxic farming and animal-raising methods. By your choices in the food you buy you can begin to not only improve your own health but change the food industry. He terms his diet the "low-toxin high-energy diet."

So, lets look at a couple of areas. Plant foods include vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Although plants are heavily sprayed they are the lowest on the food chain, and David calls them the cornerstone of his low-toxin high-energy diet and suggests they make up two thirds of all your meals. "When you eat plant foods the only toxins you'll get are the ones that were fresh sprayed on the crop or that those plants pulled in from the limited span of their own root networks." (pg. 13) Red light has only two items: peanuts and raisons. These are easy to find organic or substitute. Yellow light recommends certain "saturated" fruits and vegetables be purchased organic, these include peaches, potatoes, spinach and of course the red light peanuts and raisons.

There is also a warning about the waxing used on many vegetables and fruits (some include: peppers, apples, cucumbers, eggplants, squashes, lemons). The wax contains cancer producing fungicides and many pesticides from the fruit's surface.

He recommends organic apples and apple juice. You probably remember the Alar scare several years ago, although Alar has been taken off the market many other chemicals are still used; "red apples had eighty pesticide residues in sixteen samples." Also "chemical apples may still have Alar traces because of this chemical's long-lasting presence after orchards are sprayed." (pg. 35) Even when no longer used many pesticides are then sold to other countries and make their way into our stores and diets. In a section on radiation he points out that apple juice concentrate from several countries in Europe being sold here today is radioactive.

A sample of the green light foods include bananas, sprouts, carrots (although be wary of Mexican carrots that arrive in the US from Oct. through Dec.), cranberry juice, grape juice, grapefruit, dates, lentils, onions, sunflower seeds, lemons. Consider plant foods your safest choices but shop with caution.

Grains are part of the two thirds mix. Grains are essential to detoxify and to prevent cancer, they provide the fiber in our colon that moves potential carcinogenic materials out of our body quickly. At a chemical level they attract and absorb toxic chemicals that are composed of carbon. No grains made it on the red light list. This does not mean they are totally safe, and he does advise to seek out organic grains because all chemically grown grains had some pesticide traces. Under yellow light is raison bran cereal, white bread, rye bread, whole wheat bread, muffins with fruit fillings, dinner rolls (the soft white enriched kind). A sampling of green light grains included biscuits, corn bread, corn flakes, crisped rice cereal, egg noodles, farina, granola, oatmeal, grits, pancakes, popcorn, rice (he points out that some white rice sold in Latin or Asian food stores is coated with talc which may contain asbestos impurities, pg. 65), saltine crackers, tortillas, shredded wheat cereal and pastas that are whole grain.

As we proceed up the food chain you consume stronger concentration of toxins. What is the food chain? The order up the chain runs: plant and grains, dairy and poultry, seafood and meat. Animals are higher on the food chain, their food is laced with chemicals and it gets stored in their fat. So when you eat meat or dairy you are getting far more toxins than you would from the majority of plant foods.

The author has been labeled a "food terrorist and a threat to national security" by the food industry and the government who have both tried to suppress his book. It is an expose of information that our government has not wanted to be as available as he has made it. Chemically grown food is cheaper, but organic food is richer in nutrients, and it helps the body support the body's ability to heal better. Organic foods are virtually pesticide free, and if you are eating from less prepared foods and more fresh vegetables and grains it really doesn't cost so much more. What I like about this book is that it gives you the information to make healthy decisions. When you cannot afford to shop totally organic it lets you know what is safer and gives a plan of eating that maximizes health.


Steinman, David, Diet For A Poisoned Planet: How to Choose Safe Foods for You and Your Family, New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1990. (cost: $12.50)
"Getting The goods: David Steinman's new book uncovers the secret ingredients -- and dangers -- in common products," Common Ground (Vancouver, B.C.), May - June 1995. (Review of The Safe Shopper's Bible)

P.S. David Steinman has since co-authored a new book, with Dr. Samuel Epstein, M.D., called The Safe Shopper's Bible.