part three of a three part series
It is hard enough to wend your way through America's sick relationship with food and to disbelieve the American myth that eating on a budget means you have to eat unhealthy food, but then you have to face the bewildering maelstrom of what is actually considered “healthy” which will probably flip one hundred and eighty degrees by next month. Without even getting into the false advertising involved in the weight loss market there is still an almost unending list of topics that have people up in arms on both sides. It is possible to make some sense of all of it and there are some common sense practices that anyone can use to help maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Taking a look at current hot button topics is a good place to start. Organic is one term that will bring people roaring out with pitchforks from both ends of the argument. The simple fact is that many pesticides have been shown to cause problems. DDT is one well known example. Small residual amounts may not have long term effects, but at the same time they might build up in your body over time and contribute to cancer or other health problems. Proponents of pesticides point out that they have greatly increased crop yield, which is true, but organic farming methods can equal or come close although they are often more labor intensive. Do you have to eat organic to be healthy? At this point with current research, not necessarily. Is organic more expensive? Usually. Would it be a good idea to keep the amount of possibly dangerous chemicals in your diet down to a minimum? Absolutely!
So what do you do if you want to cut down on pesticides, but do not have the paycheck or desire to invest in only organic food? Some foods have more pesticide residue than others. Anything with a thick skin, especially a thick skin that you will not eat like bananas or avocados or oranges, will have less pesticide residue in the part you actually eat. Food with a thin skin, especially one you eat like strawberries, tend to have a much higher pesticides residue. If you are really worried, peel your food. You can also make sure to wash everything thoroughly and a soak in a water and cider vinegar bath will remove some of the pesticide residue.
Sugar and fat free foods are popular with dieters. The problem is that to take out one thing another is generally added to make it more palatable. Fat free foods tend to be high in sugar and salt to fool your taste buds. Sugar free foods use chemical additives that fake the sweetness of sugar without the calories and often have extra ingredients added to them to make them more palatable.
Unless you are diabetic, sugar is not a bad thing in moderation, neither is fat. In fact, a healthy diet requires fats because certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients require fat to be metabolized properly. A small scoop of good quality ice cream can be more satisfying than a huge scoop of sugar-free, low-fat ice cream and you might end up eating fewer calories because a smaller amount is actually satisfying. The problem is that both sugar and fat are everywhere and generally in unhealthy amounts in most processed foods. Reading labels and being aware of what healthy amounts are for your body will help you navigate fat and sugar in your diet in a positive way.
A recent and contentious topic of interest is gluten. Gluten is a combination of proteins found in wheat and many other grains that affects the texture, elasticity and ability of dough to rise. Some people have a medical condition called celiac disease that requires them to eat a gluten free diet. Other people have gluten sensitivities or allergies that cause a physical response to eating food containing gluten. Unless you have celiac disease or an allergy or sensitivity to gluten then it really does not matter if you eat it or not (the same is true for dairy, by the way). If you are not sure if you react to gluten, trying going completely gluten free for at least two weeks and see how you feel. If you feel better, then it is probably a good choice for you. If you do not then there is no need to be concerned about it. There are also tests your doctor can run.
The last in the list of contentious food topics this article will address is possibly the most hotly debated topic in food and health today, GMOs. Genetically Modified Organisms are foods and other organisms whose genetic code has been altered by scientists, usually by adding in pieces of the genetic code from other organisms, to cause it to have certain traits that the unmodified food does not, examples are insect resistance and resistance to herbicides. Many countries have banned GM foods based on studies that have shown that they could have long term health consequences. They are not currently banned in America and in most areas of the U.S. there are no labeling laws to let people know which food are genetically modified and which are not. People who support GM foods argue that humans have been genetically altering foods for as long as we have been farming, relating gene-splicing to selective breeding. The difference is that in selective breeding you are working over a long period of time and generally using one type of organism or closely related ones. GM foods can contain genetic material from completely different species and can be altered dramatically in one generation.
With no GM labeling how can you know what is GM and what is not? The simplest thing to do if you want to avoid GM foods is buy organic. Foods that are certified organic cannot contain GM ingredients. If your budget is tight and all organic is not a goal, try to avoid the most common GM foods. The top five are corn, soybeans, canola, cottonseed and sugar beets. If a product has corn or soybeans, like chips or tofu, and is not organic, it most likely has GM ingredients. If a product lists sugar, as opposed to pure cane sugar and is not organic, it likely contains GM sugar beets. A good percentage of dairy contains GM growth hormones, so look for products that say no artificial hormones, rGBH or rBST.
There will always be new food scares in a society that has such an unhealthy relationship with food. Protect yourself with knowledge. Learn to search for actual reputable studies instead of believing articles full of scare tactics. Double blind studies with a large test group are generally reliable. Studies from large well known locations like universities or government bodies are also generally reliable.
It is nearly impossible to avoid everything that can possibly be detrimental to your health. You need to pick and choose what topics are important to you and that is where you allow yourself to spend extra money. It is up to each person to decide what fits with their life and their view of the world, their beliefs.
We are born with one body. Even with modern medicine that one body has to last us for as long as we are here in this life on our mother Earth. It is common sense that we should take care of the body we arrived here in. Eating foods that are minimally processed and are free of unnecessary chemicals is a good start. Eating foods that support health (high fiber, lots of nutrients, a balanced amount of fats) in healthy portions is part of caring for your body. Eating when you are hungry and not gorging is also respectful of the body you inhabit.
Society is what we make it through our choices. If more and more people choose to have a healthy and balanced relationship with food societal views will change. There is proof in the fact that organic foods can now be found in major markets. Make your choice.
Here is a good article with a similar theme:
For those concerned about pesticides:
For those concerned about GM foods: