We indeed are what we eat and what we are eating in many ‘first world nations’ is quite scary. The chemicals added to these ‘foods’ are disrupting our hormones, causing cancer and leading to a variety of health issues.
“In the 21st century our tastes buds, our brain chemistry, our biochemistry, our hormones and our kitchens have been hijacked by the food industry.” ~ Mark Hyman
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is one of my favorite books. He describes his journey through 4 different ways of obtaining food: industrialized (or fast) food, conventional farming practices, organic/symbiotic farming practices, and people that hunt/forage for their meals. He follows the food chain literally from the ground to the table.
“Much of our food system depends on our not knowing much about it, beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner; cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it's a short way from not knowing who's at the other end of your food chain to not caring--to the carelessness of both producers and consumers that characterizes our economy today. Of course, the global economy couldn't very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds.This is why the American food industry and its international counterparts fight to keep their products from telling even the simplest stories--"dolphin safe," "humanely slaughtered," etc.--about how they were produced. The more knowledge people have about the way their food is produced, the more likely it is that their values--and not just "value"--will inform their purchasing decisions.” ~ Michael Pollan
I highly encourage you to do your own research in regards to not only the products that you put into your body but also the products you put onto your body (check out the Skindeep website to research your personal care products). If you’d like to live a life full of health and vitality, start by controlling your food choices. This is the easiest and most controllable factor in regards to health. I always aim for fresh, local and in season produce. And in regards to what I DON’T ever eat, well that’s this list below.
1. Canned Foods - We live in a world where convenience is king. I know this. It’s hard to find fresh produce and to only eat what is in season, kind of. When you buy canned foods, however, you are also buying BPA - a toxic chemical linked to reproductive abnormalities, neurological effects, diabetes, heart disease and a heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers. Canned foods that are highly acidic, such as tomatoes for example, cause the BPA to leach into your food. I recommend you avoid canned foods, whenever possible, and stick to what’s fresh and season. You can also switch over to glass containers or frozen foods instead.
2. Processed Meats - Most deli meats are typically made with meats from animals that are not raised in an ecologically sound fashion. They are given growth hormones, antibiotics and other drugs that stick in their bodies and are passed on to you when you eat their flesh. They are also raised in horrible conditions that gives rise to innumerable diseases that are then treated with more drugs. These meats are also treated with sodium nitrite (which adds color and flavor) which your body converts to nitrosamines, which are cancer-causing chemicals. Most processed meats also contain a variety of other cancer-promoting chemicals including HCAs, PAHs, and AGEs. Says Michael Pollan in his book the Omnivore’s Dilemma, “were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” If you’re going to eat meat, avoid all processed meats at all costs. Go for local and sustainably raised (and grass-fed) meat. Wild caught salmon (and other fish) are a great alternative as well.
3. Margarine - The low-fat diet craze is perhaps one of the worst diet fads to happen in the last 50 years. Healthy fats are ESSENTIAL to your diet as your cells are built with fat. Margarine, and other butter impostors, are loaded with trans fats, free radicals, emulsifiers, and preservatives. Any of these alone can lead to: heart disease, cancer, bone problems, hormonal imbalances, skin disease, infertility, and many more health problems. Don’t let clever marketing fool you. Good old fashioned butter, when made from grass-fed cows, is a healthy substance filled with conjugated linoleic acid which actually helps to fight cancer and diabetes.
4. Vegetable Oils - Vegetable oils (and margarine, made from these oils) are oils extracted from seeds like the rapeseed (canola oil) soybean (soybean oil), corn, sunflower, and safflower. They were practically non-existent in our diets until the early 1900s when new chemical processes allowed them to be extracted. Vegetable oils are manufactured in a factory, usually from genetically modified crops that have been heavily treated with pesticides. Unlike butter or coconut oil, these vegetable oils can’t be extracted just by pressing or separating naturally. They must be chemically removed, deodorized, and altered. These are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets. Vegetable oils are found in practically every processed food, from salad dressing to potato chips to mayo to conventional nuts and seeds. Today, people consume, on average, about 70 pounds of vegetable oils throughout the year! Anytime you cook a food, you run the risk of creating heat-induced damage. The oils you choose to cook with must be stable enough to resist chemical changes when heated to high temperatures, or you run the risk of damaging your health. One of the ways vegetable oils can inflict damage is by converting your good cholesterol into bad cholesterol--by oxidizing it. When you cook with polyunsaturated vegetable oils (such as canola, corn, and soy oils), oxidized cholesterol is introduced into your system. As the oil is heated and mixed with oxygen, it goes rancid. Rancid oil is oxidized oil and should NOT be consumed--it leads directly to vascular disease. Trans-fats are introduced when these oils are hydrogenated, which increases your risk of chronic diseases like breast cancer and heart disease. Instead, whenever I cook, I use either butter or coconut oil. Coconut oil is practically 100% saturated, which means it is stable at high temperatures. It also is very beneficial to the health of your body.
5. Microwave Popcorn - Honestly, you shouldn’t eat anything that’s been put in a microwave, but especially microwave popcorn! The bags of microwave popcorn contain chemicals called perfluoroalkyls which keep the grease from leaking through the fast food wrappers. These ‘gender bending’ chemicals disrupt the endocrine system and are carcinogenic. They are linked to infertility, thyroid malfunction, cancerous tumors, and immunological problems. I highly recommend you toss your microwave out today. Opt for the old fashioned route of stove-top or air-popped popcorn. And also know that most fast food or junk food wrappers contain these chemicals and are adding toxicity to your body.
6. Non-Organic Produce - I’ve read plenty of articles about the ‘safest non-organic’ produce to eat. Which simply makes me laugh. Sure, the thick skin of the fruit or vegetable may ‘protect’ the edible portion inside, but what about the fact that the chemicals are sprayed on the plants, leach into the groundwater and are absorbed into the plant by the roots? And what about the workers and the surrounding areas of conventional farms that are affected by the toxic chemicals? Produce that has been treated with toxic chemicals affects the planet as a whole regardless of the thickness of the skin of the product. Do yourself, and the rest of us a favor, buy local and organic whenever possible.
7. Table Salt - Did you know that processed salt is 98% sodium chloride and the remaining 2% consists of dangerous chemicals like ferrocyanide and aluminosilicate in addition to fluoride? Natural salt, like sea salt for example, is only 84% sodium chloride with the remaining 16% consisting of trace minerals like silicon, phosphorous and vanadium. Salt is essential to your health in it’s natural form. I personally enjoy the flavor of Himalayan sea salt. But there are a variety of salts out there. Try black lava salt from Hawaii or Fleur de sel from France. But like anything, go easy on the salt in your diet. Even though the minerals are good for your body, too much can still lead to a variety of health problems like high blood pressure. And remember, most processed foods are loaded with sodium, so avoid them at all costs.
8. Soy Products - Soy is one of the leading genetically modified (GM) foods on the planet today (along with corn). GM soy has been shown to cause damage to the female reproductive system and is toxic to the placenta. Soy can be found in practically everything from protein bars to bottled fruit drinks to soups and sauces to baked goods and even breakfast cereals! It’s important to read labels as soy is hidden in many processed foods. The only soy which can promote health is organic fermented soy products.
9. Artificial Sweeteners - Without going into too much scientific detail, aspartame forms methanol in the body. Methanol is carried into the brain and bone marrow, where it’s converted into formaldehyde, which damages DNA. All animals, except humans, can harmlessly break down methanol into formic acid. This is why animal testing is incorrect in regards to the safety of artificial sweeteners and humans. If you need to sweeten something go for natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup or stevia.
10. Sugar - As a continuation of the point above, sugar suppresses the immune system, leads to weight gain and leaches precious minerals from your body. Sugar, even in small amounts, is detrimental to your health. It suppresses the immune system for hours and plays significant effect on your hormones, throwing your body out of balance and into a state of biochemical chaos. If you eat sugar, morning, noon and night, your body is always in this state of chaos leading to disease. Furthermore, sugar is actually an anti-nutrient, meaning that it leaches nutrients from your body! Because certain nutrients are removed from sugar in the refining process, your body cannot process it. So, it leaches minerals from your body to attach to the refined sugar molecules in order to move the sugar through your body. Also, because it’s an anti-nutrient, sugar also causes calcium to be lost in the urine, which in turn is replaced by calcium from the bones, leading to osteoporosis.You may say ‘but I don’t eat sugar,’ but what you mean is that you don’t ADD sugar to your meals and drinks. Once you start reading labels of boxed foods, you’ll soon learn that sugar (in all of its chemically created/altered forms) is present in most, if not all, processed foods. It’s almost impossible to avoid! Stay away from processed foods and drinks in order to stray away from sugar and stick to the natural sweeteners.
Honestly - the easiest way to stay healthy is to eat whole un-refined and fresh foods. As Michael Pollan stated beautifully: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” Words to live by, my friends.
Erin Schumacher is a Certified Natural Health and Holistic Nutrition Practitioner (CNHP; CHNP) She specializes in detoxification programs, internal cleanses, and helping clients build strong immune systems. She also travels internationally to do raw food workshops, yoga retreats, and personal coaching. In addition, Erin is a Certified Power Yoga Instructor and a Certified Raw Food Chef from the SunKitchen. For more information, visit ErinSchumacher.net.