Summer Fun, Food, and Safety by Julie Freeman, MA, RD, LD, RYT

When one thinks of summer, never-ending days of pleasure accompanied by sunshine, cookouts and ice cream come to mind.  How wonderful and yes, there is also the need to consider limiting sun exposure and of not char-grilling the meats too much and choosing real ice cream – YES – the kind with butterfat, eggs, a dash of vanilla and some sugar!

Statistics abound regarding the chemical sea that we are exposed to daily and in fact, over 200 chemicals have been found in newborn cord blood, many known to be potentially toxic.  Many of you are familiar with the pesticides, herbicides and aspects of plastics that increase risk, but did you know that skincare, make-up, sunscreen products often have plasticizers in them that are now known carcinogens, especially affecting women who use multiple products daily?

While only a partial list of chemicals found in sunscreens is addressed in this article, look at for a more complete listing and checkout companies such as for skincare lines that avoid these harmful substances.  Ethanolamine (MEA, DEA, TEA), adjusts pH and is known to affect fetal brain development, is a hormone disruptor and increases skin toxicity and allergy.  Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), used as a solvent and softener, is linked to cancer, and synthetic fragrances are associated with hormone disruption and an increased allergic response.

Onto the barbeque!  There is nothing like the aroma of grilling meat and while very delicious, the charred parts of the meat, are composed of cancer-causing chemicals.  The chemicals are heterocyclic amines  (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  HCAs may damage DNA, which then stimulates the growth of cancer cells, and PAHs are formed from the grease hitting the coals, creating smoke that settles on food, thus increasing risk of breast cancer.  While I am not suggesting that people completely avoid barbeques, consider not cooking the meats to such a charred state and also be sure not to use treated coals and woods.  These additional chemicals are in the pool of “problem-promoters”.

Lastly, let’s discuss America’s favorite summertime treat – ice cream.  Over the past 20 or so years, the development of “faux” ice creams has emerged and has created much confusion about health implications.  During the peak of the lowfat craze, ice milks and frozen yogurts emerged.  Not only do these products have a laundry list of chemicals, many of which cannot even be pronounced, but the sugar and salt contents are usually much higher than conventional ice creams.  In our country, the major health concerns for developing diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other inflammatory disorders are surrounding sugar, refined carbohydrate and increased intake of salt.

When considering a frozen treat on occasion, think about portion – order the kiddie size or small, look for real ice cream made with few ingredients such as cream, eggs, sugar, real vanilla and a dash of salt (salt helps with the crystal formation).  Ideally, dairy that is organic and hormone-antibiotic free, would be a better choice, but “ideal” is not always an option.  For dairy sensitive folks, there are coconut, rice and almond options that can work nicely for an occasional treat.

The take away here is to be informed, be moderate with choices – occasional is a great rule of thumb for the majority and enjoy this time of sun and fun!