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When I started on this healthy living journey over 8 years ago, I started with food. My parents gave me a book called Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman. This really opened my eyes about what the standard American diet was really doing to us, and how “processed” and fake our food has become.
This eventually led me to discover the top ingredients of concern in our food.
After my eyes were opened, I read book after book, took classes and followed experts online. That ignited my passion for healthy living. I went straight to my cupboards and looked at what I was fueling my body, and my family’s bodies with.
I started swapping out food with cleaner, healthier choices. Remember, this didn’t happen overnight. This isn’t a quick-fix. This is one-thing-at-a-time, one-day-at-a-time, doable. Do the very best you can every day with the budget that you have. ZERO GUILT. Start with what you use the most.
I also want to mention that I do not promote any certain diet. I have tried just about every diet out there. I have found for me that diets left me hangry (hungry + angry), unsatisfied, and counting the minutes until they were over. Don’t get distracted by the shiny new diet that promises everything.
I have chosen to eat in a way that is extremely satisfying, has no guilt, and is 100% doable all the time. I do do cleanses about 4 times a year to give my digestive system a rest and reboot, but those are short, about 3 days, and only because I feel amazing when I do them.
I eat real food, unprocessed as much as possible. I avoid inflammatory foods. I eat tons of veggies and fruits. I eat healthy fats. I eat whole grains. I make whole food treats with natural sweeteners and avoid processed sugar. I eat organic as much as possible and avoid GMO foods.
Planning ahead and prepping has been key to me on this journey. I know myself, and if I don’t have a healthy option ready, I will grab whatever is closest and easiest, and usually not the healthiest option. It’s important to have your kitchen stocked with healthy options.
If you’re ready to swap out some of your food with healthier options, follow me on this journey.
Let’s talk about some of the top ingredients of concern in our food:
This is an excitotoxin, which are molecules that are so stimulating to the nervous system that they can excite neurons to death. It is added to many processed foods such as chips, soups and packaged meals. It excites the taste buds and makes food taste better so we want to eat more. This is linked to obesity, hormone imbalance, free radical damage and inflammation.
What to look for: natural flavorings, spices, vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, glutamic acid, enzymes, protein fortified and yeast extract.
This is the process of forcing genes from one species into an entirely different species. The injected genes can come from bacteria, viruses, insects or animals. One example is the Arctic Apple which never browns. “New GMO foods are being released with little understanding of their potential health and environmental consequences. So far, no safety assessments specific to these new techniques are required, and no regulatory oversight is in place for this swiftly moving set of new technologies.”
There is much controversy about the safety of GMO’s. There is concern about crop contamination and the end of organic food options. There has been no evidence of increased crop yield which is touted as a benefit of GMO’s. The growth of herbicide-resistant pests has emerged. Twenty-six countries have either partially or fully banned GMO’s and many more have some form of restrictions.
What to look for: The Non-GMO Verified or USDA Organic labels. This certifies that the product is non-GMO. The current crops that are most likely to be GMO (unless they are organic) are: Alfalfa, Canola, Corn, Cotton, Papaya from Hawaii, Soy, Sugar Beets, Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash. Animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs are also considered high-risk because of contamination in feed. According to www.livingnongmo.org the following are common ingredients derived from GMO risk crops:
Amino acids, aspartame, ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, vitamin C, citric acid, sodium citrate, ethanol, flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), high-fructose corn syrup, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lactic acid, maltodextrins, molasses, monosodium glutamate, sucrose, textured vegetable protein (TVP), xanthan gum, vitamins, yeast products.
Trans Fats and Refined Fats/Oils
Trans fats are artificial fats that are more solid at room temperature and have a longer shelf life. They have been found to increase risk for heart attack, reduce immunity, and make your fat cells bigger and create more of them. Sounds lovely, right? Refined fats/oils have been heated and treated which creates free radicals and removes antioxidants. They also have toxic preservatives to improve shelf life.
What to look for: canola oil (this is mostly GMO and damaging to the immune system), margarine, and anything with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on the label.
Approximately 94% of the U.S. crop of soy is genetically modified. Soy can mimic estrogen and reduce testosterone. Soy is still a highly debated topic as to the health benefits.
What to look for: Your best bet is to choose only organic and preferably fermented which makes it easier to digest. Examples of fermented soy foods are: soy sauce, tamari, tempeh, miso and natto.
Examples of unfermented soy foods are: edamame, tofu, soy nuts, soy milk, soy lecithin and meat and cheese substitutes.
Farmed fish are much less nutritious than wild-caught and contain high levels of toxins due to what they are being fed, which can include GMO feed.
What to look for: Wild caught fish.
This is the most highly genetically modified crop. Corn and corn by-products create inflammation.
What to look for: Organic corn. Avoid products that contain corn by-products such as: corn syrup, corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup. These are hidden in many processed foods.
Dairy is mucous producing and a major cause of allergies and inflammation. Many health experts recommend to avoid it altogether.
What to look for: Choose only organic, grass-fed dairy if at all.
Refined and Enriched Flour
This has been milled and heated which strips the flour of its nutrients. Manufacturers then have to enrich it with synthetic nutrients. Still the flour doesn’t look and feel appealing so manufacturers use chemicals to improve the shelf life and aesthetics. These chemicals are not all on the labels.
What to look for: Avoid white breads and pastas or “enriched” products. Whole wheat flour is more nutritious than white flour, however manufacturers often add chemicals to extend the shelf life.
Foods that are going to sit on our shelves for long periods of time are altered by manufacturers to increase shelf-life.
What to look out for:
Nitrates/nitrites- These are widely used in meats. These preservatives are linked to Alzheimer’s and cancer.
BHA and BHT- These are petroleum derivatives used to preserve fats, are linked to cancer, and are banned in other countries.
Sulfites- These are most often found in wine, beer, dried fruit and pharmaceuticals. They have been linked to asthma, rashes and abdominal pain. Watch out for these ingredients on the label: potassium disulfide, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, sodium sulfite, sulfur dioxide.
Potassium bromate- This is used in bread and flour products. It has been linked to cancer and is banned in other countries.
Azodicarbonamide (ADA)- This is a chemical foaming agent that has been found in bread products at fast food chains and in the grocery store.
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO)- This is often used to stabilize flavors in sodas and drinks. It is banned in other countries due to safety concerns.
Artificial Food Dyes
These are found in packaged/processed foods. They are linked to hyperactivity, allergies and asthma and cancer.
What to look for: FD&C Blue No. 1 (or any other combination of colors and numbers.)
This additive is found in everything from almond milk to toothpaste. There is much debate over the safety of this ingredient. This is inflammatory and has been linked to gastrointestinal issues.
What to look for: Carrageenan
Sugar suppresses the immune system, can cause hyperactivity, speeds up the aging process, can damage organs, and contribute to obesity and disease. Yikes!!
What to look for: Here are alternative names for sugar (sucrose): beet sugar (most likely GMO), brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioners’ sugar, invert sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, saccharose, and turbinado sugar.
These are chemicals used to sweeten food. They may slow your metabolism (I know I don’t need any help here!), increase your cravings for sweets and carbs, decrease good gut bacteria, increase inflammation and more.
What to look for:
Aspartame- this is an artificial sweetener as well as an excitotoxin.
Saccharin, Acesulfame-K, Neotame, and Sucralose.
According to the FDA, Natural Flavors can include “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” Companies can use anything found in nature including GMO’s and MSG. ANYTHING-and they aren’t required to tell us what it is. Beaver butt anyone?
What to look for: Natural Flavor
Now that we know what to avoid, what’s next? Look for an upcoming post on healthy swaps for common food.
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