We live in a country and an age where buying food has never been more convenient. Your options are almost unlimited when it comes to the desired quantity and quality of the products you buy. Although there seems much uncertainty when it comes to comparing organic versus inorganic foods (thanks to the recurring changes in standards by the USDA), it is certain that paying attention to product ingredient labels is crucial.
Preservatives, emulsifiers (soys and gums), hormones, antibiotics, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes— the terms should be of familiarity, but how much do you really know about these additives you may be consuming?
Examples: brominated vegetable oils, nitrates, nitrites, sodium benzoate, sulfur dioxide (sulfites), BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). These preservatives are listed as carcinogens (cancer-causing) and have been linked to causing diabetes, increase in allergy sensitivity, neurological disorders, and reproductive disorders to name a few.
Whether it comes from a plant or animal, real food either is or was living at some point. Real food SHOULD go bad.
Examples: soy lecithins, carrageenan, guar gums, xanthan gums, and locust bean gums. Not only is soy heavily genetically modified, it is laden with pesticides and chemicals that you would find in your household cleaning products. Carrageenan is derived from seaweed and is a carcinogen to the gastrointestinal system. Gums are actual secretions from trees and shrubs in which adhesives and other products are made from.
Emulsifiers serve as to prevent the water and oil parts of particular processed foods, such as milk, from separating/settling into two layers. Between gumming up your insides and consuming small doses of toxic chemicals daily, it adds up. It may sound a bit extreme, but upon doing your own research you will be surprised to find that it is true.
[Hormones and antibiotics]
Although these are two different things, hormones and antibiotics seem to go hand-in-hand when it comes to the mass-production of livestock. Hormones are used to increase the sellable mass per animal. When profit is your priority, it makes more sense to favorably alter the growth of your product. Unfortunately, these hormones become condensed in the parts of the animals that we consume. No thanks.
As a farmer, bringing your chicken coop or pasture to maximum capacity might sound like the way to go, but over-population increases the likelihood and spread of disease. In an attempt to cut costs, these farms settle with providing cheap but low quality feed for the animals. In turn, this means that the animals will routinely need a dosage of antibiotics and you are now consuming drugged-up, poor quality food that ALSO ate poor quality food. Opting for humanely-raised and better-cared-for animal protein can get pricey, but it’s the best option when it comes to the health of your own body.
The debate about whether or not real sugar is good for you is for another day. However, allow me to be clear by saying that artificial sweeteners are known carcinogens. Aspartame, a popular sweetener that goes by the name “Equal”, is at the top of the FDA’s list for the most negative side effects and complaints caused by an additive. Splenda is a laboratory-made “sugar” crafted by the combination of bleach and raw sugar. Splenda has been known for causing organ and genetic issues. I do realize that the purpose of consuming these low or zero calorie sweeteners is to prevent high blood sugar or hyperglycemia.
Bear with me—quick lesson:
Carbohydrates come from plants, which means that any fruit or vegetable you eat is a carb. Kale, bananas, rice, cantaloupe, squash, apples, green beans, processed wheat products (bread)— all carbs.
One teaspoon of real, raw sugar is 4 grams of carbohydrates or 16 calories. If the average human eats between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day, with 40-60% of that coming from carbohydrates, then worrying about a packet or two of real sugar seems to be a matter of “splitting hairs”. If you are a diabetic and your insulin response is the issue, then it would make sense to do without picking your colorful packet of poison altogether.
Don’t get me wrong— vibrant colors are enticing and exude this feeling of vitality and youth, but what does this say about the foods that require some sort of dye before they hit the shelves? Real food should be enticing on its own. Food coloring and dyes are easily some of the most studied additives when it comes to child development issues, hyperactivity, and ADD/ADHD. These colorful foods are often marketed most for kids’ consumption, too. When tested in animals, these dyes have been found to be carcinogens as well as detrimental to DNA and increase in allergic reactions. These conclusions are based off of studying one dye at a time, yet multiple food dyes are compounded into the same products that we eat. Natural dyes, such as those from beets and carrots, are healthy, natural alternatives.
If you pick up a product and the ingredient list is never-ending OR consists of words that you have trouble rhyming with, then put it down and opt for a “cleaner” product. Finding products with clean ingredients takes practice and determination seeing as though it’s not necessarily convenient to eat clean.
As for myself, I am unable to do all of my grocery shopping at just ONE store. Yes, it was a pain in the butt at first, but it’s truly my only means to buying clean, additive-free products without overpaying for food.
Trader Joe’s: Super cheap and pretty damn clean when it comes to ingredients on minimally processed foods. I’m able to buy the majority of my produce here and they have a great selection of cheese minus the food dyes, emulsifiers, etc.
Whole Foods: I fill up my 5-gallon water containers here ($.45 a gallon) and purchase my milk here. Aside from select local grocery stores, Whole Foods is the only place I can find cow’s milk without any carrageenan or synthetic vitamins added to it. The prices at Whole Foods can be unreasonable, but I always browse throughout the store as items of interest frequently go on sale without notice (which makes me feel glooorious!)
**Although I am technically shopping at two different places, they are conveniently located next to each other, giving me zero reason to complain about it.
Walmart: Although a trip to Walmart is deemed unfavorable by most, their prices on grass-fed beef, hormone/antibiotic-free, organic chicken, AND pasture-raised/roaming, organic eggs are the absolute lowest. Skeptical? These same organic farms distribute to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart, where the ground beef is then sold at $9.99, $7.99, and $5.60/lb respectively at these locations. They also sell grass-fed cuts of beef. SAME FARMS. SAME PRODUCT.
Farmer's Market in your area: This is a great way to become familiar with local farmers and the seasonal availability of produce in your region for optimal taste. The farmer's market is an easy and surprisingly enjoyable way to find the freshest produce, eggs, milk, and some uncommon finds such as real honeycomb!
For the New Orleans locals-- If I’m in the mood for seafood, the markets in Bucktown on Lake Avenue sell local seafood at remarkably low prices.
High quality food doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. While shopping for health and longevity lacks convenience, your body will thank you for it. Create a routine for yourself when it comes to grocery shopping to keep you from feeling overwhelmed to complete all of your shopping in one day. Opt for buying your protein in bulk and freezing it or schedule a particular grocery store for a particular day of the week that suits you best. By making good food a priority, you’re making health a priority. And we could all stand for a little more of that. :)
My best in health and happiness,