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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Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images
By Jake Johnson
Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.
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BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.
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By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
Waste Mountain<p>The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-27/where-does-all-australias-waste-go/11755424" target="_blank">Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year</a>, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/china-has-banned-foreign-waste-so-whats-the-future-of-world-recycling" target="_blank">banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste</a> and recyclables. Soon <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/malaysia-flooded-with-plastic-waste-to-send-back-some-scrap-to-source" target="_blank">other countries followed suit</a>, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.</p>
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban<p>Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/waste-export-ban" target="_blank">bans on the export of different forms of waste</a>. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.</p><p>"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">statement to Reuters</a>.</p>
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure<p>The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an <a href="http://www.environment.gov.au/protection/waste-resource-recovery/publications/national-waste-policy-action-plan" target="_blank">overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%</a>, and push <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/7381c1de-31d0-429b-912c-91a6dbc83af7/files/national-waste-report-2018.pdf" target="_blank">Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017</a> to 80% by 2030.</p><p>But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.</p><p>"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-australia-waste/australia-to-set-up-132-million-fund-to-boost-recycling-following-export-curbs-idUKKBN247060" target="_blank">told Reuters</a>.</p>
Green Jobs<p>The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.</p><p>In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a <a href="https://wrap.org.uk/buildbackbetter" target="_blank">six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs</a>. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden</a> is taking into November's US presidential election. And the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_940" target="_blank">European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery</a> from the economic shock of COVID-19.</p><p>The World Economic Forum's <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf" target="_blank">Future of Nature and Business</a> report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.</p><p>As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.</p>
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The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.
<div id="e0008" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ffc07febbf5d2d585ad06d3f43e2be56"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290667833999929344" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Breaking News: The President has just signed the bipartisan #GreatAmericanOutdoorsAct. It will help: 🏗️ Restore… https://t.co/RPefKPMn7S</div> — Fix Our Parks (@Fix Our Parks)<a href="https://twitter.com/FixOurParksUS/statuses/1290667833999929344">1596554165.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Andrew J. Whelton and Caitlin R. Proctor
In recent years wildfires have entered urban areas, causing breathtaking destruction.
Survivors left everything to flee the Camp Fire's path. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Wildfires and Water<p>Both the Tubbs and Camp fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Water leaks and ruptured hydrants were common. The Camp Fire inferno spread at a speed of one football field per second, chasing everyone – including water system operators – out of town.</p><p>After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials</a>.</p>
Pipes, water meters and meter covers after wildfires destroyed them. Caitlin Proctor, Amisha Shah, David Yu, and Andrew Whelton/Purdue University
Dangerous Contamination Levels<p>Benzene was found at concentrations of 40,000 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water after the Tubbs Fire and at more than 2,217 ppb after the Camp Fire. According to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, children exposed to benzene for a single day can suffer <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Benzene-Levels-in-Water.pdf" target="_blank">harm at levels as low as 26 ppb</a>.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting children's short-term acute exposure to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-03/documents/dwtable2018.pdf" target="_blank">200 ppb</a>, and long-term exposure to less than <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations" target="_blank">5 ppb</a>. The EPA regulatory level for what constitutes a hazardous waste is <a href="https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/tclp.pdf" target="_blank">500 ppb</a>.</p><p>In early 2019, California conducted contaminated water testing on humans by taking contaminated water from the Paradise Irrigation District and asking persons to smell it. The state found that even when people smelled contaminated water that had less than 200 ppb benzene, <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/resources/Dissipatiion-of-Burn-Related-VOC-From-Water.pdf" target="_blank">at least one person reported nausea and throat irritation</a>. The test also showed that water contained a variety of other benzene-like compounds that first responders had not sampled for.</p><p>The officials who carried out this small-scale test did not appear to realize the significance of what they had done, until we asked whether they had had their action approved in advance by an institutional review board. In response, they asserted that such a review was not needed.</p><p>In our view, this episode is telling for two reasons. First, one subject reported an adverse health effect after being exposed to water that contained benzene at a level below the EPA's recommended one-day limit for children. Second, doing this kind of test without proper oversight suggests that officials greatly underestimated the potential for serious contamination of local water supplies and public harm. After the Camp Fire, together with the EPA, we estimated that some plastic pipes needed <a href="https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety/opinions/Final-HDPE-Service-Line-Decontamination-2019-03-18.pdf" target="_blank">more than 280 days</a> of flushing to make them safe again.</p>
Plastic pipes can be damaged by heat and fire contact. Andrew Whelton / Purdue University
Building Codes Could Make Areas Disaster-Ready<p>Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.</p><p>Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network.</p><p>Adopting codes that required builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.</p><p>Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9540d7e271306ed417112042a3efc9a4"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GnlrzI1wdAI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Smell Test Doesn’t Work<p>Under no circumstance should people be told to <a href="https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2018/pr122418_voc.pdf" target="_blank">smell the water</a> to determine its safety, as was recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many chemicals have no odor when they are harmful. Only testing can determine safety.</p><p>Ordering people to boil their water will not make it safe if it contains toxic chemicals that enter the air. Boiling just transmits those substances into the air faster. "Do not use" orders can keep people safe until agencies can test the water. Before such advisories are lifted or modified, regulators should be required to carry out a full chemical screen of the water systems. Yet, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/aws2.1183" target="_blank">disaster</a> after <a href="https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2017/ew/c5ew00294j" target="_blank">disaster</a>, government agencies have failed to take this step.</p><p>Buildings should be tested to find contamination. <a href="https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2020/Q1/study-your-homes-water-quality-could-vary-by-the-room-and-the-season.html" target="_blank">Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room</a>, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.</p><p>While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although product sales representatives and government officials may <a href="https://undark.org/2019/09/19/camp-fire-california-drinking-water-carcinogens/" target="_blank">mistakenly think</a> the devices can be used for that purpose.</p><p>To avoid this kind of confusion, external technical experts should be called in assist local public health departments, which can quickly become overwhelmed after disasters.</p>
<div id="71cf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e059d199e8368d282a31601e372e4dda"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1204068265980547075" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee signed off on an effort to expand the city's fire-re… https://t.co/fP8Z8mUq7R</div> — IntlCodeCouncil (@IntlCodeCouncil)<a href="https://twitter.com/IntlCodeCouncil/statuses/1204068265980547075">1575907219.0</a></blockquote></div>
Preparing for Future Fires<p>The damage that the Tubbs and Camp fires caused to local water systems was preventable. We believe that urban and rural communities, as well as state legislatures, should establish codes and lists of authorized construction materials for high-risk areas. They also should establish rapid methods to assess health, prepare for water testing and decontamination, and set aside emergency water supplies.</p><p>Wildfires are coming to urban areas. Protecting drinking water systems, buried underground or in buildings, is one thing communities can do to prepare for that reality.</p>
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By Zulfikar Abbany
"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."