Insights by Goldie
Rocket fuel in lettuce

Sound Consumer | June 2003

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

Q: From numerous telephone calls and e-mails: "I recently heard a news report about 'rocket fuel in lettuce in California.' What's the background? Are lettuces at PCC affected, or other crops?"

A: The Environmental Working Group recently issued a new report on this shocking problem and has extensive information at their Web site, www.ewg.org. However, it has been known for a number of years that perchlorate, the explosive main ingredient of rocket and missile fuel, has contaminated drinking water in certain areas in all 50 states.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working on establishing "safe" limits. The defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, has major responsibility for the contamination and it appears, from previously sealed court proceedings now available, that Lockheed Martin stonewalled and did not share the extent of the problem with the EPA in litigation.

The newer information is that test results on leafy vegetables grown with irrigation water contaminated by perchlorate indicate that leafy greens, a high-water content vegetable, take up, store and concentrate the perchlorate, a thyroid toxin, in exceptionally high amounts.

It appears that even minute doses of the toxin affects the thyroid gland, inhibiting its ability to take up iodide, a necessary nutrient important in production of thyroid hormones. More serious are the potential dangers to developing fetuses and children. Small disruptions of the thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy can cause lowered IQ, retardation, loss of hearing and speech or damage to motor skills.

Although the entire length of the Colorado river is affected, lettuce and many other vegetables generally come from the areas of highest concentration, in the lower Colorado River area and the nearby Imperial Valley of California and southwestern Arizona. Consumers in the Puget Sound region rely heavily on lettuce and other produce from these areas from November through March, if they're buying greens that are out of season locally. Whether grown organically or conventionally, irrigation water is the main concern.

This is going to be an ongoing issue as we monitor where product is coming from at any time, but especially during the winter season, when other choices are very limited. Our produce buyers are tracking this story closely and have redoubled their intent to buy only the cleanest produce available. If you have any questions about the origin of your produce and don't see it posted on our produce signage at stores, ask your produce experts in-store. By the month of May, none of PCC's lettuce comes from any area of concern.

Keep in mind that consumers always have choices, no matter the season. In the fall and winter months, instead of tender greens, choose hardier ones such as kale and chard grown locally, and remember the squashes and root vegetables. We in the mild Northwest are lucky to have locally-grown, organic baby greens by May and by June, most of our leafy greens come from local farms.

This issue provides another argument to eat seasonally and locally.

The value of sprouted grains

Q: From Michael Neukirchen, PCC Kirkland staff member, and numerous consumers: "Are there any nutrition or health differences between regular whole-grain breads and the 100 percent sprouted-grain breads at PCC?

A: When any type of dried grain (or other seed) is soaked, drained and kept moist for optimum time and temperature conditions for it's particular needs, the seed "germinates" (i.e. "sprouts"), responding as if in soil, preparing to become a new plant. Starches convert to natural plant sugars, a process also called "malting," as maltose sugar forms.

Germination is accompanied by substantial changes in the seed, including increases in various nutrients. Altogether, germination is an awesome "alchemy" of transformation.

For example, some researchers examined malted wheat grains and reported that thiamin (B1) increased by 28 percent, riboflavin (B2) by 315 percent, niacin (B3) by 66 percent and pantothenic acid (B5) by 65 percent. They also found a 111 percent increase in biotin, a 278 percent increase in folic acid, and a 300 percent increase in vitamin C.

It is possible that sprouted products may be more easily digested by consumers who have problems digesting wheat and possibly other grains or seeds. A local medical doctor that taught classes for PCC a few years ago shared his personal experiences and those of his patients. He said he has significant intolerance to regular wheat products, but found he digests sprouted wheat products easily.

He did not recommend that persons with severe gluten (wheat protein) allergies try this, but said that for himself and many patients, using 100 percent sprouted-grains had put bread back on the menu. (Of course, please check with your health care provider first).

There are several sprouted-grain breads to choose from. Some are non-wheat, but most are combinations of sprouted-grains and seeds. Most are organic. It usually causes a "double-take" when reading a bread label saying "no flour," but sprouted grain breads are one of the oldest bread forms.

One ancient example is referred to as "Essene bread," akin to what we see from the Manna brand in PCC's refrigerated cases. The Essenes, some historians say, were people to whom Jesus reportedly was related. Their tradition was to sprout, pound and bake loaves of bread on stones in the hot desert sun — perhaps the earliest "solar oven!"

While most omit flour, most sprouted breads do have yeast and other typical bread ingredients and yield flavors comparable to other home-style breads. Local brands are sold from the shelf, but most from other areas are refrigerated to extend freshness. The higher moisture content of the Manna label requires keeping it frozen or refrigerated.

More about: Environmental Working Group

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