The Importance of Choosing Organic Lettuce

This important health food could harbor fat-promoting compounds, new research suggests.

By Leah Zerbe

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Your Salad Could Be Making You FatEver wonder if there's really that much difference between conventional and organic lettuce sold at the supermarket? On the outside, the two may not look very different at all. But what's on—and even inside—some of those greens could predispose people to weight gain. New research appearing in the online version of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives suggests you may want to fill your cart with the chemical-free version, particularly if you're pregnant or have young children in the house.

A new animal study found that when a pregnant mouse ingested tiny doses of the fungicide triflumizole, she gave birth to babies that were more prone to obesity. Researchers believe triflumizole, a chemical fungicide commonly used on ornamental plants and leafy greens, acts as an obesogen, an environmental chemical that disrupts our bodies in ways that makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight. The negative effects were seen in tiny doses that are believed to be present in the food system.

Researchers believe the sharp rise in obese and overweight infants has something to do with the chemicals that a mother's exposed to during pregnancy. Between 1980 and 2001, the rate of overweight infants 6 months of age and younger increased by 73 percent.

While obesogens may act in many ways, they appear to have more impact on developing babies during gestation, a time when the new baby is forming important bodily signaling systems that will help determine his or her health even decades down the line. Young children are also more at risk.

Obesogen research is uncovering different ways that environmental chemicals interfere with our ability to maintain a healthy weight. Some obesogens cause a rise in fat cells in the body, while others tamper with a healthy metabolic system. And some obesogens actually alter your hormones in a way that makes your body want to store fat cells or by making you feel hungry when you are really full.

Certain chemicals used in farming and gardening have been implicated as obesogens, along with other everyday chemicals like bisphenol A and those in vinyl plastics, nonstick cookware, and stain-resistant carpeting and furniture.

To better protect you and your family from the chemical obesogens health threat, eat organic as much as possible, opt for fresh or frozen foods in place of canned foods, and avoid plastics. (Never heat food or drinks in plastic containers—doing so accelerates chemical leaching.) Opting for untreated cast-iron, glass, or ceramic cookware and avoiding products marketed as being stain resistant will also cut down on your exposure to these harmful chemicals.

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