Dear EarthTalk: I really want to eat healthy and organic but am constantly
traveling and on the go. How can I eat fast food without having to always end up
at McDonalds and Burger King?
-- Dylan Baker, Seattle, Washington
The latest trend in fast food is healthy and organic, and luckily for
conscious consumers, several chains offering just such fare are taking root in
different parts of the U.S. One of the leaders of this small but scrappy pack of
fast food upstarts is ONaturals. The small chain currently runs two stores of
its own in Maine (Falmouth and Portland) and one in Acton, Massachusetts, and
franchises out additional locations in Kansas and Florida. ONaturals menu
contains lots of vegetarian-friendly items, including build-your-own flatbread
sandwiches, salads, noodle stir-frys and soups. The meat the restaurant does
serve is grass-fed and hormone-free, while the chickens are free-range and the
Alaskan salmon is wild.
Another healthy option is EVOS, which currently runs five quick-casual
restaurants in Florida and is planning a major expansion into the western U.S.
Vegetarians can rejoice in the chains wide selection of vegetarian and vegan
items. While its hormone- and antibiotic-free burgers are still only about as
healthy as red meat gets, their soy burger satisfies without the guilt or the
cholesterol. Also, EVOS uses organic field greens in its wraps and salads,
organic milk in its milkshakes, and fresh fruit in its smoothies. Additionally,
the restaurant air-bakes its fries and other typically deep-fried items to keep
the fat content as much as 70 percent lower than the same kinds of foods found
Meanwhile, Seattle-based Organics-To-Go, with five locations in Washington
and California, lays out a wide array of grab-and-go organic and natural foods
so customers can make up their own meals out of a cornucopia of healthy choices.
Other fast food alternatives offering lots of health (as well as vegetarian and
vegan) options include Au Bon Pain, Brueggers Bagels, Noahs Bagels, and World
Wraps, while Subway and Quiznos alike can be good options for those willing to
study the menu carefully.
Even though many alternatives exist, it is hard to beat the reach of the
major fast food chains, several of which are making small steps toward healthier
menus and will undoubtedly continue to do so if consumers bite. McDonalds, KFC,
Burger King and Wendys have reduced or eliminated trans-fats. Burger King now
offers a veggie burger, and McDonalds is testing one in California. Taco Bell
offers many non-meat options, including a bean and cheese burrito, a veggie
fajita wrap, and a 7-layer burrito, which can be had without the cheese and sour
cream. Carls Jr. also has many tasty and healthy vegetarian options despite an
otherwise standard fast-food menu. Vegetarians and vegans looking for more ideas
about what to eat when time is of the essence should consult any number of
websites with pages devoted to the topic, including Vegetarian-Restaurants.net,
VegCooking, FitWise and Vegetarian Resource Group.
And remember, nothing beats seeking out local restaurants when youre on the
road, to soak up some of the local culture. And with trends as they are it
shouldnt be too difficult to find many that do serve healthy menusjust not
quite as fast as fast food but probably fast enough.
CONTACTS: ONaturals, www.onaturals.com;
EVOS, www.evos.com; Vegetarian-Restaurants.net,
VegCooking, www.vegcooking.com; FitWise,
www.fitwise.com; Vegetarian Resource Group,
Dear EarthTalk: Are sunscreens safe? Which ones do you recommend that will
protect my skin from the sun and not cause other issues? -- Bettina E., New
Getting a little sunshine is important for helping our bodies generate
Vitamin D, an important supplement for strong bones, and f or regulating our
levels of serotonin and tryptamine, neurotransmitters that keep our moods and
sleep/wake cycles in order. Like anything, though, too much sun can cause health
issues, from sunburns to skin cancer. For those of us spend more time in the sun
than doctors recommendthey say to stay indoors between 11 AM and 3 PM on sunny
days to be safesunscreens can be lifesavers.
Getting too much sun is bad because of ultraviolet radiation, 90 percent of
which comes in the form of Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays that are not absorbed by the
ozone layer and penetrate deep into our skin. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays make up
the rest. These rays are partially absorbed by the ozone layer (which makes
preserving the ozone layer crucial for our health), and because they dont
penetrate our skin as deeply, can cause those lobster-red sunburns. Both types
of UV rays are thought to cause skin cancer.
Yet while most sunscreens block out at least some UVB radiation, many dont
screen UVA rays at all, making their use risky. According to the non-profit
Environmental Working Group (EWG), by far most of the commercially available
sunscreens do not provide adequate protection against the suns harmful UV
radiation and may also contain chemicals with questionable safety records.
In all, 84 percent of the 831 sunscreens EWG tested did not pass health and
environmental muster. Many contained potentially harmful chemicals like
Benzophenone, homosalate and octyl methoxycinnamate (also called octinoxate),
which are known to mimic naturally occurring bodily hormones and can thus throw
the bodys systems out of whack. Some also contained Padimate-0 and parsol 1789
(also known as avobenzone), which are suspected of causing DNA damage when
exposed to sunlight. Furthermore, EWG found that more than half the sunscreens
on the market make questionable product claims about longevity, water resistance
and UV protection.
As a result, EWG has called on the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to
establish standards for labeling so consumers have a better idea of what they
may be buying. In the meantime, consumers looking to find out how their
preferred brand stacks up can check out EWGs online Skin Deep database, which
compares thousands of health and beauty products against environmental and human
The good news is that many companies are now introducing safer sunscreens
crafted from plant- and mineral-based ingredients and without chemical
additives. Some of the best, according to Skin Deep, are Alba Botanica Suns
Fragrance-Free Mineral Sunscreen, Avalon Babys Sunscreen SPF 18, Badgers SPF
30 Sunscreen, Burts Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen SPF 15, California Babys SPF
30, Juice Beautys Green Apple SPF 15 Moisturizer, and Kabanas Green Screen SPF
15. Natural foods markets stock many of these, or they can be found online at
websites like Sun Protection Center and Drugstore.com.
CONTACTS: Environmental Working Group,
www.ewg.org; Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database,
GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental
Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at:
www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek, or e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read past