It is important to change how we shop. Why? Everything is not always as it seems. Even the healthy labels are not always healthy. In my last post I provided evidence about how chemicals and pesticides in our food have a negative impact on our health.
Over the next 3 posts, I will take you through some suggestions on how to change shopping practices to reduce exposure to chemicals and pesticides, and hopefully make changes that will benefit our health and that of our loved ones.
I will start by going through recommendations for produce, meats, eggs, seafood, and packaged foods. Next week I will go through packaged foods in more detail, and on the third week I will cover health claims.
Fruits and Vegetables
I have mentioned in a previous post that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a list of produce with the highest amount of pesticides, called the Dirty Dozen™ list. This list is updated every year, and includes fruits and vegetables with the highest quantity of chemicals and pesticides. We should make sure to buy the organic version of the fruits and vegetables included in the list. For 2017, the list includes strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes (EWG, 2017b).
But, all of our produce does not need to be organic. The EWG also publishes a list of the produce with the lowest quantity of chemicals and pesticides called the Clean Fifteen™. Items on this list can be purchased from non-organic sources, if so desired. In 2017, this list includes sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, sweet frozen peas, papayas, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, and grapefruit (EWG, 2017a).
If and when possible, support local farmers. Not only does that help our local economies, but it also ensures that we get produce that is fresh and has been picked from the plant just a few hours or days before purchase. Produce available in grocery stores has often traveled for several weeks or months. In addition, produce from local farmers has not traveled a long distance, which reduces carbon footprint.
Most commercially available meat, including beef, pork and others, are fed with antibiotics, grain or food that is genetically modified, or grain or food that has pesticides, which end up in the meat and eventually in our bodies (Dessy, 2013).
Instead, look for organic choices. For example, USDA organic beef are fed 100% organic feed, and are not given antibiotics, hormones, or synthetic pesticides (Stewart, 2007).
Also, support local cattle farmers when possible. This may require seeking for local butcher shops. But, even then, ask about how the cattle were treated and cared for, including feeding practices, humane treatment of animals, and use of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.
Chicken & Eggs
I was one of the many who was fooled by the marketing ploy that chicken should be hormone-free, and did not know that all chicken was hormone-free (Stewart, 2007). Instead of looking for hormone-free chicken, buy organic chicken. Organic chicken is fed organic feed without animal by-products, does not receive antibiotics, and has access to natural environments, such as the outdoors, fresh air, sunlight, shade, and shelter, among others (Stewart, 2007).
Be aware that grass-fed is not a possible label for chicken, as chickens do not consume grass, but instead require a varied diet that includes protein (Stewart, 2007). Also, free-range or cage-free does not mean that the birds were not caged and roam freely (Stewart, 2007). Animals are still enclosed, but have relatively most space to roam around.
Buy eggs that come from chickens exposed to more natural and open environments, even if they are still enclosed. Organic eggs are treated to the same conditions as organic chicken, and should be the ideal choice. Also, look for the free-farmed certification on the eggs to ensure claims of cage-free or free range are genuine (Stewart, 2007).
Fish & Seafood
Organic seafood is hard to define, so do not be fooled by organic labels on fish and seafood. Organic labels require certification, and the only way to certify fish and seafood as organic is by controlling the environment they grow in, which would be by farming them. Farmed fish and seafood are grown in artificial environments. They are confined to small spaces, instead of swimming freely in oceans, lakes, and rivers. Often, this results in overcrowding, which in turn requires antibiotics and other additives to reduce the incidence of diseases (Dessy, 2013). It is best to opt for wild seafood. Also, look for labels indicating the fish and seafood was obtained through sustainable methods to ensure we are not depleting our wildlife resources.
As you can imagine, packaged foods can be laden with artificial ingredients, chemicals, preservatives, and many others. In The Pantry Principle, Mira Dessy (2013) simplifies how to handle pantry items by providing 7 rules. She suggests we should not eat foods containing ingredients that:
- We cannot identify or do not know what they are because they are likely synthetic
- Have a number because they are likely a food coloring or manufactured ingredient
- Have 4 or more syllables because they are likely processed
- Are hard to pronounce because they are likely artificial
- Ends in “ate” because they are likely a flavoring
- Are “enriched” because they have been stripped of natural components, and some of these components, or others, have been added back artificially
- Are in all capital letters because they are not food items
In order to apply these rules it means that we need to spend time reading food labels, which takes more care and consideration while shopping.
Look for the USDA organic label when purchasing items on the Dirty Dozen™ list, as well as beef, chicken, and eggs. Opt for wild fish and seafood. Read the list of ingredients for other food items, and avoid foods with ingredients that are unidentifiable or unpronounceable, since this could help avoid eating items that are not real food.
Dessy, M. (2013). The Pantry Principle: How to Read the Label and Understand What’s Really In Your Food. The Woodlands, TX: Versadia Press.
Environmental Working Group. (2017a). EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. EWG. Retrieved on June 15, 2017 from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/clean_fifteen_list.php
Environmental Working Group. (2017b). EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. EWG. Retrieved on June 15, 2017 from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php
Stewart, K. L. (2007). Eating Between the Lines. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.