Letters to the editor, March 2017

This article was originally published in March 2017

Potassium in PCC salads

I’m wondering how much potassium is in a one-fourth-pound serving of each of these PCC deli salads: Moroccan Yam, Emerald City, and Pecorino Quinoa and Kale.

— Leanne

PCC replies: These three salads are good sources of potassium because they contain potassium-rich ingredients such as yams. (A cup of yams provides more than 400 mg potassium, and a cup of quinoa has about 320 mg.) Unfortunately, we’re not able to provide the exact amount of potassium in our prepared foods because the software we currently use doesn’t provide that level of analysis. It only allows us to calculate fat, protein, carbs, etc. Starting in 2018, however, nutrition labels will require the amount of potassium to be listed on food labels.

For more information about potassium in food and why it’s important, see “All-essential potassium”.

Frozen vegetable nutrition

I have a few questions on frozen vegetables, in particular: Stahlbush Island Farms butternut squash and cauliflower florets, Cascadian Farm organic cut broccoli and kale, and Woodstock Farms Brussels sprouts.

  1. Are they certified USDA Fancy?
  2. Are the vegetables frozen immediately after picking?

My main concern is the nutritional content of these vegetables vs. fresh ones, and online research tells me that I should be asking the above questions about frozen vegetables.

If you have any other points on nutritional content of the frozen vegetables listed above, it would be appreciated. Thanks!

— Steven

PCC replies: Nutrient level differences between fresh and frozen produce are so minor they aren’t likely to impact overall health. Certain nutrients are completely resistant to freezing, such as fiber, minerals and protein. Vitamins and antioxidants are less stable when vegetables get heated and processed.

In some cases, frozen produce actually can be higher in certain nutrients, because some vitamins and antioxidants deteriorate as “fresh” produce is shipped and sitting on the shelf at the supermarket, while freezing prevents this type of nutrient loss. There’s much more nutritional loss that occurs with cooking than with freezing.

The New York Times recently gave an overview of research on this topic.

Stahlbush Island reports it “freezes [produce] immediately after harvest, sealing in the perfect flavor.” Freezing immediately after harvest is standard in the industry, so it’s likely Cascadian Farm and Woodstock do so as well.

The grade of vegetables is unlikely to influence the nutritional properties as it reflects just physical appearance, rather than nutritional quality. The brands you mentioned aren’t labeled with “Fancy” or any other grades. FYI, for frozen vegetables, “Fancy” has been replaced with “U.S. Grade A” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Drinking water quality

Thank you for the timely, thorough and accurate article on our water quality (“Go with the flow?” January). We’re all thinking about this. As a clinical toxicologist in the area I want to emphasize the water filter option.

Though our tap water is some of the country’s safest, lead is understood to be “toxic without a threshold,” meaning no exposure is the ideal, particularly for children with their growing nervous systems. A family can do a lot to push lead exposure closer to zero by using a rated, inexpensive filter. For other simple lead exposure guidelines visit www.cdc.gov.

Lead screening guidelines for children rapidly are becoming more rigorous. The Centers for Disease Control essentially recommends that all kids with any significant lead exposure be screened by blood testing at 1 and 2 years old.

Significant exposure can be as simple as living in a city with total population greater than 1 million people, or in a neighborhood where more than a quarter of the residences were built before 1950. North Carolina in 2013 led the way at the state level by legislating funded blood lead testing for all children regardless of individual risk at ages 1 and 2 years old, with a catch-up schedule if earlier testing was missed. Other states will follow and I think this standard is appropriate for all families.

— John Hibbs, Professor, Bastyr University

Thanks to Bill Thorness for his well-researched article on current water quality and its contaminants. Unfortunately, years ago, some communities on the Eastside felt that adding fluoride to water would help strengthen the enamel of their children’s teeth.

Fluoride still is used for this purpose in toothpaste. Some dentists now offer a fluoride application to patients as part of their regular teeth cleaning.

We should take responsibility for exposing ourselves to fluoride and take steps to take it out of our tap water.

— Sandy in Sammamish

PCC replies: We encourage investing in a high-quality water filter that will remove lead, fluoride and other contaminants. Inexpensive carbon filters will remove some lead but typically they are not effective in taking out all four forms of lead, nor do they typically remove “dissolved contaminants,” such as fluoride — or microorganisms, such as cryptosporidium or giardia.

The key question when shopping for a filter is whether it can remove dissolved and undissolved contaminants. About 95 percent of known water contaminants are dissolved inorganics. That means inexpensive carbon filters remove only 5 percent of the contaminants, leaving 95 percent of the problems behind in your water.

Systems using distillation, reverse osmosis or Custom Pure’s ion exchange can remove up to 95 percent of all contaminants, undissolved and dissolved. We recommend Custom Pure’s filtration system and use it for the misting water in our produce departments to ensure the integrity of our organic produce is maintained. We also sell bulk Custom Pure water in our stores.

Non-GMO pork

Is there such a thing as pork that has not been fed any corn? I’m concerned there is no such thing as non-GMO corn in the United States. Aren’t even “natural” pigs fed corn?

— Monica

PCC replies: Yes, there is such a thing as pork from pigs not fed corn and we carry it at PCC! It’s from Pure Country Pork, a Washington producer and the first Non-GMO Project Verified meat vendor in the country (see here).

Pure Country Pork pigs are fed Northwest grains (triticale, wheat, barley and peas) plus vegetable protein, flax seed, vitamins and minerals. As with all meat sold at PCC, the pigs are raised without antibiotics, added hormones, growth stimulants or animal byproducts.

Pure Éire Dairy nutrition

I recently purchased your Pure Éire skim milk in a glass bottle. Only the cap says it is skim milk and although I know that it is grass-fed and not homogenized, the milk seems so creamy, even allowing for imperfect separation of milk and cream, I believe it is whole milk. Am I mistaken?

I can find no nutritional information on Pure Éire’s skim milk on the bottle, on its website or on PCC’s website. Is that not required by law to provide a nutritional breakdown of the product?

— Maribeth

Pure Éire Dairy replies: Our skim milk does sometimes have a small cream line at the very top. It shouldn’t be a significant amount. This appears because we don’t homogenize. We separate as much of the cream out as possible but a little cream can still occur and naturally separate. We routinely test the fat percentages to make sure there is no significant fat in it. Our skim milk also is creamier naturally than other skim milks on the shelf, just because of the makeup of the milk. We often hear the milk has much more flavor and creaminess than other brands.

We ship only within the state of Washington, so are exempt from nutritional labeling requirements. However, we have established nutritional info for our yogurt. This information soon will be on our website and packaging.

Vegan diet and vitamin B12

My husband has eaten a vegan diet for more than 35 years and has used spirulina for about 30 years as his vitamin B12 supplement. We were just reading that B12 from algae and seaweed is not considered true B12, rather pseudo B12, which supposedly can mask a B12 deficiency. My husband’s health appears good and he has a very physical job so we’re confused.

We’re wondering if your supplier of spirulina, which we assume is grown in ponds in order to be organic, adds the B12 supplement or is this B12 solely from algae? And what are your thoughts on B12 vs. pseudo B12?

— Linda and Ken

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: B12 is not added to the supplement, because it would have to be declared as an additional ingredient (listed as cyanocobalamin, or methyl cobalamin on the label). So the B12 reported on the nutrition label reflects the amount of B12 in the spirulina itself.

Spirulina and other forms of algae are not considered reliable sources of vitamin B12. These foods may contain B12 when analyzed, but the form of this nutrient is not bioavailable and therefore is called “pseudo-vitamin B12,” as you note.

Research published in the journal Nutrients in 2014 suggests that nori (aka purple laver) might be the best possible vegan food source of vitamin B12 (see here). It’s unclear, however, whether nori contains an active or pseudo form of B12.

Vegetables grown organically can contain traces of B12, as a result of natural fertilizers (manure). Spending time in your own garden and eating produce directly from the soil are suspected to provide traces of vitamin B12 in a vegetarian/vegan diet. It’s not clear whether or not this soil form of B12 is the active or pseudo form.

We don’t need very much vitamin B12, and it can take up to five years for a deficiency to develop. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends vegans consume a daily vitamin B12 supplement or B12 fortified foods.

Also in this issue

Your co-op community, March 2017

Vitamin sale benefits Vitamin Angels, Families Helping Families, PCC Cooks, and more

Washington wine

With its arid, high desert climate and singular geology, Washington is becoming a major player in world-class wines — and the best is yet to come. It's our pleasure at PCC to collaborate with some of the most passionate producers, whose wines express the vividly unique flavor of our state in every bottle. Help us celebrate Taste Washington month by raising a glass (or three)!

Edible City: a delicious journey

Through artifacts, photographs, films and recipes, this 5,000-square-foot exhibit at the Museum of History & Industry explores our city's culinary history and what it truly means to be a Seattle food. Besides the exhibit, many special events at the museum and around the city over the coming months are sure to instill appreciation for our wonderful local food culture — and whet your appetite.