My little sister, who just completed her first year of college, was forwarded this buzzfeed page containing a list of 8 common ingredients in food that are banned in other places of the world. She wanted to know if it was “legit”, and my answer was YES YES YES this is a big deal and if you don’t know all about this already you should!
Because most of the blogs I read are written by other like-mindedly green people, they (and subsequently I) tend to write about more nuanced aspects of green living, like for example my last post on how to minimize organic kitchen waste. This post is for those of you, like my sister, who not only don’t have a worm bucket, but don’t know how to navigate a grocery store without inadvertently buying carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
- The FDA does not protect you. As stated in the buzzfeed article, many common ingredients in American food and body products are banned in other parts of the world, especially Europe. That’s because in America we have this great system where corporations have more power over health and environmental legislature and enforcement than the people do.
- Buy local and/or organic whenever you can. Join a CSA, visit a farmer’s market, or shop at your local coop or even Whole Foods. Although organic produce does not necessarily contain more nutrients than conventional produce, it does lower your pesticide exposure, and supporting organic farming, especially the small and local type, is beneficial for the environment.
- Avoid processed food. This means anything from Cheetos (a former favorite of mine) to bleached flour (unbleached is better) to tv dinners. The opposite of processed food is “whole” food. When you grocery shop, challenge yourself to buy one ingredient food items.
- Instead of buying a whole pre-made meal full of who knows what, cook from scratch with those single ingredient foods. The internet is full of recipes, ideas, and blogs that can help you with this. Even better, grow your own food.
- When you shop for food or body products, read the ingredients list. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce it because it sounds too scientific, don’t consume it.
- Watch out for greenwashing. Companies want a piece of the “green” market, so they’ll use unregulated words such as “free range,” “natural,” and even “organic” to get you to buy their product.
- Be informed on the GMO debate. Whether you want to avoid GMOs or you support biotechnology, you need to know what is going on.
Some tips for grocery shopping:
- PRODUCE: Use the EWG’s dirty dozen to guide your choices in organic vs. conventional. Also take note of where the produce originated from; the further away, the more energy was used to get it to you.
- FATS: Avoid fat free food substitutes. Natural, whole fats are good for you (in moderation, of course). Cook with olive oil and butter instead of chemically engineered substitutes.
- DAIRY: Again, fats are good for you. Many real food advocates drink only whole milk, but once you know a little about the chemistry of pesticides you may want to knock it down to low fat. Pesticides and other toxins are “fat loving,” so they dissolve into the fat molecules in dairy. More fat means more toxins, even in organic milk, so I tend to stick to 2%.
- MEATS AND SEAFOOD: Look for local, organic, grass fed, cage free, etc. To read about sustainably sourced seafood, check out my blog posts here.
Although I have a few plugs here for eating sustainably, in a way that is not harmful to the environment, the main issue is your health. If you do nothing else, at least put your health first by avoiding toxins in your food and body products.
Here are some more resources on real food:
- The Environmental Working Group’s guide to food issues
- 10 tips for Real Food Newbies from the Nourished Kitchen
- NYTimes Magazine article “Sugar Salt Fat” on the science of junk food. Read this and you’ll never want to eat it again.
- Take the Real Food Pledge.
- To learn more about GMOs and organic vs. conventional farming, just do a little googling. These debates are everywhere.
Good luck, and enjoy your real food!