By Cathy Cassata
While you plan to stock up on groceries during the pandemic, you may be wondering which items with a longer shelf life are the healthier choices to add to your cart, and which are the unhealthy ones to stay away from.
Though some items may seem obvious, it isn't always easy to tell the difference — or make the healthier choice.
"It is important to keep in mind both shelf life and the nutritional value. It can be tempting to pack your cart with cookies and sweet treats to get your mind off the stressors we all face, but these foods won't support your immune system or keep you feeling your best," Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, and author of "Belly Fat Diet for Dummies," told Healthline.
Instead, she said look for foods rich in antioxidants, fiber, protein, and healthy fats to support your energy needs and keep you at your best.
Here are 9 healthier choices you may want to consider, and 6 items you should consider limiting or avoid altogether.
With a shelf life of a year, prunes make a great option for increasing your produce intake even when you can't get to the store.
"This no sugar added dried fruit not only provides a good source of fiber to promote digestive health, [but] prunes are also incredibly versatile. Enjoy them alone as a sweet treat, add into homemade trail mix, or purée and use as a substitute for added sugar in any baked good," said Palinski-Wade.
Eating 5 to 6 prunes per day can prevent bone loss, she added.
Canned and frozen fruits and veggies are also go-to shelf stable options, said Alyssa Pike, RD, manager of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation.
"There are tons of options depending on your needs and preferences, and they can be cooked to add extra nutrients to a meal or easily thrown into a smoothie," Pike told Healthline.
Pulses, including lentils, chickpeas, beans, and dry peas, have an average of 8 grams of protein per half cup serving, which is more than double the protein of quinoa, said Palinski-Wade. This makes them one of the best sources of plant-based protein.
"Eating just a half cup three times per week can help you to increase your healthy protein intake while adding fiber and nutrients to your diet. Both canned and dried options have a shelf life of one year and can be added into a variety of recipes such as salads, soups, and even baked goods," she said.
Visit pulses.org for a variety of recipe ideas and information on how to best prepare them.
3. Winter squash and cabbage
When looking for vegetables that have a long shelf life, those that have a thick peel or rind are best, said Amanda Frederickson, cook and author of Simple Beautiful Food.
"Winter squash has a thick peel that can last for at least a couple of months on your counter. Winter squash includes everything from butternut squash to spaghetti squash to pumpkins," she said.
Cabbage can last for at least a month in your refrigerator, she added.
"It is a hearty vegetable that can be used in everything from salads to stir frys, or even braised on its own," said Frederickson.
4. Riced/spiralized vegetables pasta
It can be tempting to stock up on boxes of white rice and refined flour pasta, but eating too many of these foods can lead to unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels, said Palinski-Wade.
"Instead, head over to the frozen food section to stock up on rice vegetables, such as riced cauliflower along with precut spiralized vegetables. Not only do these options save time with food preparation, but they have a much longer shelf life than their fresh alternatives," she said.
She recommends the Green Giant brand, which has a variety of options offered nationwide.
Frederickson said whole grain oats can last a year or two in your cabinet and longer if the container isn't opened.
"You can obviously use them in oatmeal, but they also work in cookies, bread, or even as the base for oat milk," Frederickson told Healthline.
Pike agreed, noting their biggest health benefit is fiber.
"Enjoy rolled or steel cut varieties for breakfast or add to baked goods to increase the nutrient-density of your creations," Pike said.
6. Canned salmon and tuna
Because salmon and tuna are packed with protein and will last a long time in the pantry, Pike said she advises adding them to your grocery list.
She also suggested buying lean meats, poultry, and seafood and storing them in the freezer to extend their shelf life.
7. Coconut milk
Frederickson said she always has canned coconut milk in her pantry because it will last at least a year, if needed.
"Coconut milk can be used in anything from sweet to savory dishes, some of my favorites are coconut curries, base for oatmeal, or even whipped cream," she said.
8. Pyure Organic all-purpose stevia blend
It may be tempting to bake a lot while being quarantined, but making too many treats packed with added sugar can start to have a negative impact on health and weight.
Instead, Palinski-Wade suggested using Pyure Organic all-purpose stevia blend.
"This granular all-purpose sweetener can be used in the same way as traditional sugar without the added calories or carbohydrates and it has a shelf life of 2 years. With 0 grams of net carbs and 0 calories, this sweetener works for almost any diet plan and can be used to sweeten everything from baked goods to beverages," she said.
9. Veggies Made Great double chocolate muffin
When you need a chocolate fix, Palinski-Wade said her go-to is the double chocolate muffin by Veggies Made Great.
"Eating foods packed with produce helps to provide your body with immune-supporting antioxidants. That's why I love these double chocolate muffins by Veggies Made Great. They taste like a decadent cupcake, but with the first two ingredients being zucchini and carrots, they are packed full of good-for-you nutrition to give your body what it needs right now," she said.
Less Healthy Choices
1. Instant pancake mix
While just-add-water pancake mixes are convenient and have a long shelf life, many are also a source of refined carbs without much nutritional value.
"Instead choose an option rich in protein and whole grains, such as Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes," said Palinski-Wade.
2. Toaster strudel
What you choose to eat in the morning makes all the difference in how you'll feel throughout the day.
"Toaster strudels are packed full of refined carbohydrates and added sugar, leading to a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. As an occasional treat, these can be included in the diet, but I don't recommend stocking up on them as a meal choice now," said Palinski-Wade.
3. Frozen pre-fried chicken
Frozen fried chicken can make a great option for a quick meal because of its long shelf life, but Palinski-Wade said breaded and fried options contain a large amount of added calories and saturated fat.
She recommended opting for a precooked option that has been breaded and baked, or forgo the breading all together for a more nutritious alternative.
Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation, compares fats to fonts.
"It's the type that matters most. The type of fat we eat is more important than the amount of fat we eat. So, look for items with less saturated fat than unsaturated fat (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated)," he told Healthline.
4. Frozen pizza
A frozen pizza is a great option to have in the freezer and to eat occasionally. However, Palinski-Wade said avoid ones with lots of processed meat or stuffed crust (like this DiGiorno one).
"With the stuffed cheese crust and addition of extra bacon, this frozen pizza contains a high amount of saturated fat (one serving contains 50 percent of the recommended daily value), calories, and sodium," she said.
Instead, she suggested choosing a thin crust frozen pizza topped with vegetables, such as the DiGiorno Thin & Crispy Garden Vegetable option with only 210 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat per serving.
5. Creamy canned soup
Stocking up on canned soup makes sense, but canned varieties with a cream base are often loaded with saturated fat, calories, and sodium, Palinski-Wade said.
Instead, she suggested opting for select broth-based options labeled "low sodium" that contain lean proteins, vegetables, and whole grains, such as a low sodium minestrone soup.
Sollid agreed, noting that sodium is essential for the body to thrive, but too much can have a negative impact on health.
"If you are watching your sodium intake closely, opt for lower sodium items. Items that have 140 mg of sodium or less per serving are considered 'low sodium.' Items that have 35 mg of sodium or less per serving are considered 'very low sodium,'" he said.
6. Ice cream
Having gallons of ice cream stored in the freezer can lead to overindulging.
"If you do want to enjoy a frozen dessert, try purchasing single-serving ice cream bars to help control portion size or even better, make your own 'nice' cream by blending up those overripe bananas you stored in the freezer," said Palinski-Wade.
Sollid noted that added sugars are not an essential part of the diet, though there is room for small amounts of added sugars in a healthy diet. (He advised to aim for less than 10 percent of your total calories.)
"Keep your added sugar intake in check by choosing foods that are higher in fiber and lower in added sugars," he said.
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By Brian Bienkowski
Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?
By Laura Beil
Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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By Elliot Douglas
In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."
The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.
“Rather than a Moonshot 🌕, we need Earthshots 🌍 for this decade.” Watch Prince William’s @Tedtalks talk in full:… https://t.co/m5NCj6TQzH— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge)1602408749.0
But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.
With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?
'Count Me In'
"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.
Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.
"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.
"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."
Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.
German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.
"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"
"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.
Assessing Success Is Complex
But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.
"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.
Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.
"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."
A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.
"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.
Awareness Is Not Enough
Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.
"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."
But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.
"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."
However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.
Choosing the Right Celebrity
Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.
For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.
"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."
McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.
But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.
But Does It Really Work?
While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.
"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.
This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.
The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.
"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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