January 4, 2010

Eating Better, Eating Greener


I don’t think any of us would argue that eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and foods rich in nutrients is bad for us. And I think we all can agree that the idea of consuming pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, growth hormones, steroids, and antibiotics is quite unappealing. But that’s what you are eating when you eat conventional foods. So join me and together we will learn about the good and the bad of the food we eat. I promise you this- you’ll never look at your food the same way again.

There are three types of chemicals used in the growth and processing of conventional foods:

• Chemicals that kill things (pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides)
• Chemicals that make things grow fast and big (fertilizers, growth hormones, and antibiotics)
• Chemicals that make things look better than they are and last longer (artificial colors and
flavors, preservatives, and other additives)
Green Goes With Everything, page 143

Pesticides have three classes: chlorinated hydrocarbons (such as DDT); organophosphates; and chemical elements. DDT does not break down, which means that it stays in your body for years on end and organophosphates have been found to cause nervous system disruption.
Our government sets limits on how much of the above chemicals can be used in the farming and production of the crops and food we eat, but there is no system for checking these levels. Furthermore, we are a global economy, and that means that often the strawberries, grapes, or cucumbers come from different parts of the world where there are less or no regulations on the use of these chemicals.

“According to a report of the National Research Council, 30% of commonly used insecticides, 60% of herbicides, and 90% of fungicides can potentially cause cancer.” Green Goes With Everything, page 145

So the things you are eating to stay healthy could be the very things that are waging war on your body.

Ever notice how large a conventionally-grown apple looks when compared to an organic apple? There’s a reason for that: fertilizer. And I don’t mean good, old fashioned cow poop. I mean chemical fertilizer. Hmmm, wanna take a bite out of that apple now?

Think about how most conventionally-raised animals such as cows, chickens, and pigs are raised. They are not raised on a sprawling farm and grazing on natural grass and seed. No, they are raised in filthy factories or crowded barns and you can imagine what happens when animals are living so close together. They get sick and in order to prevent sickness from killing off all of their livestock, farmers pump them full of antibiotics. And so now you are not just enjoying a tasty burger, you are getting a dose of antibiotics.

Because time is money, farmers will pump growth hormones into the animals they are raising because the faster the animal matures, the faster they get slaughter, and the faster the farmer gets paid. So now you are taking in growth hormones when you eat that bacon.

Preservatives are just that. They preserve the life of food. Additives come in the form of food coloring and flavors and are used in food to make them look and taste better. Here’s how the FDA defines additives: any substance that results or may be expected to result in its affecting the characteristics of food. So additives are not natural. And they are not food.

Here is a list of food additives to avoid:

Butylated hydroxyanisole(BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and propyl gallate- commonly used in cereal, ride products, and dried soups; known to increase the risk of cancer, cause liver damage, and may cause ADHD in children

Potassium bromate (unbromated flour)- banned in most countries but not in the US; strengthens wheat dough and helps it rise; causes cancerous tumors in animals

Nitrates and nitrites- found in processed meats, such as lunch meats, cooked hot dogs, etc.; acts as a carcinogen when heated up and mixed with amines, a chemical found naturally in some foods

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)- commonly found in Chinese food, but it also appears in canned soups and such; causes headaches, diarrhea, stomach cramps, heart rate change, just to name a few

Artificial sweeteners- most commonly used in diet sodas and diet frozen dinners; linked to cancer

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)- used in sodas, juices, and many sweets; linked to obesity

Hydrogenated fats and trans fats- related to heart disease and diabetes

Olestra- inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and nutrients in the body

Dyes- blue #1 and #2, red #3 and yellow #6- have all been banned in other countries but not in the US

A Shameless Plug for Whole Foods
These things alone are enough to keep me shopping at my local Whole Foods. Part of the appeal of shopping there is knowing that the products that line their shelves do not have any of these dangerous chemicals in them. They take the guess work out of it for me. Thank you, Whole Foods!

You Are the Solution
But what if you do not have a Whole Foods near you (or similar grocer) or can’t afford to shop there? Well, do not despair because there is a solution. You. You are the solution. You are the solution to protecting yourself and your loved ones away from these chemicals. But how are you the solution?

You read the labels! That’s the solution. Jot these “most not wanted” chemicals down on a list to take with you when you shop and read every label on a box and can. Remember, these chemicals lurk in your cereal, bread, frozen dinners, sodas, lunch meats, cookies, candy, etc.

The author of the book “Green Goes With Everything” gives these three great principles to live by when food shopping:

• Can’t pronounce the ingredient- don’t buy it
• Ingredient has more than four syllables- don’t buy it
• Ingredient name has a number in it- don’t buy it

But do you want a sure-fire way to stay away from all of the harmful chemicals we have talked about so far? Well there is one way- BUY ORGANIC.

The Organic Label
Have you ever seen this label?

That is the official USDA Organic seal. Not just anyone can use this seal on their products. A farmer has to spend at least three years turning his soil into chemical-free soil, then the farm has to be formally certified as organic according to USDA organic standards, and then every year inspectors look at the farm’s fields and processing facilities and test the farm’s soil just to make sure that the farm is operating according to organic standards. All this to make sure that the crops being grown on this farm are absolutely free of chemicals.

By the way, food labels that say “all natural” are NOT organic. Only if it as the USDA Organic seal is it organic.

If you buy something that says “made with organic ingredients,” that means it is made up of at least 70% of organic ingredients. It’s not at least 95% organic and that’s why there is not a USDA Organic label on it.

If you see a label that says “transitional,” that means that the producer of that product is in the process of converting their conventional farm into an organic farm. Buy transitional products. It sends a strong message of support to the producer that they are doing the right (though costly) thing.

Why is Organic Food Expensive?
I think it’s important that we understand what we are paying for when buying organic food and perhaps knowing why organic food is more expensive than conventional food will help you to feel better about paying a few dollars more. I’ll break it down into three points:

1. It’s more expensive to produce organic food. Organic seeds cost more than conventional seeds. Without pesticides and fertilizers, a farmer has to do more manual labor. There are more inspections to comply with, which means more out-of-pocket expenses for the farmer.

2. The demand for organic food is bigger than the supply. It’s just that simple.

3. Farm subsidies paid by the government to conventional farmers lower the cost of your ground beef, but those subsidies don’t just come from thin air. Subsidies are our tax dollars, so really you are not paying $3 a pound for that beef (or whatever the price is…..I never buy it!), but more because your tax dollars went into those subsidies. Bottom line is that when a farmer gets money from the government, they can charge you less at the store.

A Word About What is Happening to Our Environment Because of Conventional Farming:
It goes without saying that all of the chemicals used in farming eventually end up in our streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Conventional farming isn’t just harmful to us, it is harmful to the environment.

The Cost of Buying Organic
I’ll be the first to tell you that buying organic food costs more than their conventional counterparts, but that is not always the case. Yes, you will definitely pay more to buy organic milk, cheese, eggs, meat, and produce. But I have found that buying things such as organic pasta, mustard, tortillas, and baking supplies can be bought at a comparative price of their conventional counterparts even if you do not get them on sale.

We are currently eating about 90% organic at the Simpleton house and I’ll share how I buy organic for as little money as possible- I’ll even include prices on items that I think are especially close in price range of their conventional counterparts…..

We bought a Costco membership because there are some things that you can get there that are undeniably cheaper than if you bought them at a “normal” store. I buy only the following items from Costco- all of these items are organic:

• Spaghetti sauce (3 jars for less than $6)
• Cereal
• Eggs (18 eggs for less than $4)
• Butter
• Spinach (1 pound for less than $4)
• Carrots (5 pounds for $5)

I buy these items from Trader Joe’s because they are typically cheaper than Whole Foods- all of these are organic:

• Yogurt (less than $3 for 32 ounces)
• Milk
• Pears ($3.99 for a 3 pound bag)
• Apples ($3.99 for a 3 pound bag)
• Bread
• Pasta ( about $1 for whole-wheat spaghetti)

I buy these items from Whole Foods at what I feel are fair prices- all of these are organic:

• Sweet potatoes
• Ground turkey ($3.99 per pound)
• Turkey bacon
• Black beans, pinto beans, etc. ($1 per 15 ounce can)
• Baking ingredients

Everything else not listed I buy at either Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, it just depends on who is having a sale that week.

I do not buy the following items in organic form:

• Bananas- because you do not eat the peel
• Avocados- because you do not eat the skin
• Orange juice- because Simple Guy is in love with a particular non-organic brand
• Chocolate chips- because not even I can stomach paying $4 for a bag of chocolate morsels

Organic on a Budget
Most people are on a budget and simply cannot afford to buy all organic food. Here is a list of the top 12 things you should buy organic. If you cannot buy anything else organic, get these. A study by the Environmental Working Group found that just by buying these items in organic form can reduce your pesticide intake by 90%! Wow!

• Peaches
• Apples
• Bell peppers
• Celery
• Nectarines
• Strawberries
• Cherries
• Pears
• Grapes
• Spinach
• Lettuce
• Potatoes

As for meats and dairy products, if you cannot buy these in organic form, look for items that say things like “antibiotic free,” “hormone free,” “made from cows not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones,” “cage-free,” and “fed a vegetarian diet.”
I discovered that Applegate Farms makes lunch meat that is not treated with antibiotics and this particular brand is widely available.

Not sure what’s in your meat at the deli counter? Ask the butcher if he has any meat that is not treated with antibiotics or steroids, and was raised on a vegetarian diet.

Also, a while back on posted on my success in having many coupons mailed to me of some of my favorite organic items. Click here to see the post and a list of companies that sent me coupons. It took 15 minutes of my time and I got nearly $40 in coupons!

Why Organic Food is Healthier
Organic food really is better for you. I wouldn‘t keep buying it if I didn’t believe it was providing a health benefit to me and Simple Guy. Organic food contains more nutrients and cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventional food. Want to know why organic food has more antioxidants than conventional food? When plants are challenged by pests they produce antioxidants. Conventional farming would kill the pests with pesticides, therefore, not giving the plant the opportunity to produce antioxidants. So there you have it!

Being Realistic About Not Eating Organic 365/24/7
Naturally, not everyone eats organic and most dining establishments do not serve organic food. So when Simple Guy and I accept an invitation to dinner or head out for breakfast somewhere in our neighborhood, we know that we are most likely not eating organic food. And that's it’s okay with us because it is the exception to our lifestyle and not the rule.

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