A few weeks ago I spent some time talking with a dear friend who said, “my sister tells me I will feel better and have more energy if I switch from conventional food but I don’t even know what that means. I don’t want to eat NOTHING but vegetables and water for the rest of my life. Then she tells me I should stop using deodorant. What is THAT all about?!”
GMOs & biotech, Glyphosate, neonicotinoids, Bt, aspartame, parabens, Dimethyl-polysiloxane, and rbGH are just the beginning of the “natural vs. conventional” discussion. To really be fluent in the language you need to know the difference between “organic” and “natural.” What is “raw?” Which foods are considered “processed?” Is “whole wheat” and “whole grain” the same thing? What do the labels on meat mean? Aren’t they the same as the labels on other items? Why does some produce have a 5 digit code? What’s the big deal about fluoride?
If you try to read up on it you find comments like these. They are a sampling I’ve come across on “natural living” sites over the past few days.
Mollyann H: NEVER eat any processed food – there is an accepted limit of insects in every processed food.
David T: Medicine is drugs. Don’t do drugs, prescription, over the counter, under the counter, street corner, doesn’t matter, don’t do drugs. Remember this…you do not get a headache because you are aspirin deficient.
Nikki H: I don’t understand why the people who continually shovel this crap into their pie holes aren’t held accountable. (In response to health care costs related to diabetes and other issues that may be linked to high consumption of processed foods)
It’s enough to make anyone crazy! No wonder people get overwhelmed and go back to their old, familiar habits!
Here’s the thing: I waded into this sea of information very slowly. I went looking for a good detergent for my cloth diapers. I learned one or two things about dyes and perfumes and ended up where I am now… blogging about natural living.
The same is true of most of the people I know who have begun to turn away from the “mainstream” choices. Consider Lisa, who writes at 100 Days of Real Food. She started out a few years ago just trying to encourage her family to make healthier choices for a few months. Now she has hundreds of thousands of followers and she is one of the leaders of the “real food” movement in the US!
What makes it even more complicated is that there isn’t always agreement. People have huge debates over certain products.
It doesn’t have to be THAT complicated!
There are some changes that pretty much everyone – not only in the “natural living” community, but in the world of medicine & environmental science as well – agrees will go a long way toward benefiting your health and our planet.
No more margarine.
Margarine is cheaper and lower in calories than butter but the fats in butter are natural and actually aid the body in the proper digestion of the nutrients in your food. On the other hand, the polyunsaturated fats found in margarine oxidize easily which causes inflammation and mutation in cells. Contrary to the claims of these products being more heart healthy the inflammation can actually clog arteries. Choosing whipped butter will lower your caloric intake without adding chemicals and toxins to your body. Using olive oil or coconut oil may be an even better alternative. If you MUST choose a “fake” butter go with something like Earth Balance that contains no transfat. It is one of those products that would fit in the “controversial” category (mentioned above) but it’s pretty universally accepted as better than most.
No more processed drinks – especially diet drinks.
Processed drinks such as soda and punch are an abyss of bad nutrition. Everyone from your dentist to your doctor will agree that they hold no benefit. The sugar content is extraordinary and they are full of artificial colors and toxic preservatives. Unfortunately, the diet versions may be even worse. Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, are linked to a host of illnesses from reproductive issues to join pain, to migraine headaches. The dyes used are associated with a variety of issues (see below). Brominated vegetable oil, found in many soft drinks, has been associated with extreme fatigue, tremors, and memory loss.
100% fruit juice, milk, tea and other natural beverages are better by far. Your body recognizes these foods and digests them properly.
Even better? Drink water. Yes, it seems bland at first. It can be a hard switch and there is an adjustment period but you will find, over time, that you will start to crave fresh, clean water over anything else. That’s coming from a girl who regularly drank 6-8 cans of Diet Coke a day. No other drink is healthier or cheaper than water. It’s a win-win.
No more white food.
White bread, white rice, and treats made with white flour throw off your body’s glycemic index in a serious way and hold almost no nutritional value. Some processed “white” foods have been “fortified” with vitamins, which sounds impressive, but your digestive system does not break those vitamins down in the same way it would if they were naturally-occurring. Opt, instead for choices that list “Whole Grain” as the 1st ingredient.
It can get tricky because some products say, “made with whole grains.” If I bake cookies that call for 5 cups of flour and I use 4 cups of the bleached stuff and 1 cup of whole-wheat I could say they are “made with whole grains.” Read carefully! Remember – ingredients are listed by weight/volume so the lower down the list an item is the less of it is in your food.
No more high fructose corn syrup.
We all know that too much sugar in any form is bad for us but HFC is like sugar’s evil twin. It is absorbed into the blood faster than sugar, potentially causing metabolic issues, liver problems, pancreatic issues and more. It is known to contain contaminates such as mercury and it is pretty much always from genetically modified crops (more on that, below).
Don’t believe the line that all sugars are created equal. That’s like saying wine coolers, tequila and rubbing alcohol are all the same since they are all alcohol. Sugar cane and “table sugar” have been around for thousands of years. People ate it in TINY quantities. People have eaten raw honey even longer. If you must sweeten things up, use these real foods and keep your portions sane. I confess – my personal downfall lies in portion control.
No more artificial colors or flavors.
There is NO benefit to artificial colors or flavors. Zip. Zero. Zilch. None. Perhaps one can argue for the use of vegetable oil spreads over butter or artificial sweeteners over sugar but artificial colors & flavors… I can’t fathom why these are still in our food. Especially when you consider that MOST of the world has now banned them. They come from petroleum. They are associated with a whole array of medical issues including symptoms like those associated with ADHD and autistic-spectrum disorders.
Many manufacturers now offer choices colored and flavored with vegetable extracts or other natural items. Some of these, such as Castoreum or Cochineal may come from sources that sound less than palatable but the body DOES recognize them as food and digests them properly. They are always a better choice than their petroleum-based counterparts.
Avoid the “dirty dozen.”
People who say it isn’t more expensive to eat naturally in America are lying. Perhaps… if you grow all your own food you can pull it off but most of us don’t have the resources to do that. There are certain foods, however, that are more effected than others by the chemicals used by farmers. Apples, for instance, absorb toxins like crazy. Bananas… not so much. Each year the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the foods most and least effected. If you can’t afford to buy all organic put the list in your phone’s memo pad and make your choices accordingly. Another option, usually fresher and cheaper than the grocery store and better for the planet, too, is to buy from your local farm stand or farmer’s market. Often these farmers are not “certified organic” which is a complicated and costly process, but their produce is grown without pesticides. Since the farmer is right there, you can ask.
Other steps you may want to consider…
No more deodorant.
Commercial deodorant contains some very harmful toxins including aluminum (a neurotoxin) and parabens (linked to breast cancer). There are some natural products, such as “Tom’s” that are pretty easy to find in big retailers but, in my experience, they are not as effective as the chemical stuff. If you have a natural health store you may be able to find something a little stronger and still natural, like Primal Pit Paste. However, it’s cheap and easy to make your own at home.
No more laundry detergent.
Anyone who’s ever had a sneezing fit when they walked into the detergent aisle at the supermarket knows that these products are FULL of perfumes and chemicals. They are harsh on skin and on our planet. Making your own detergent couldn’t be an easier and it is ridiculously inexpensive. It’s effective and, if you just love that lavender (or whatever) smell you can add a few drops of essential oils to get a great scent. Lemon juice and vinegar can be great stain and odor fighters.
No more sunscreen.
All those doctors who told us to slather ourselves in sunscreen every single day are now re-thinking their approach. Many commercial sunscreens have been linked to a HIGHER incidence of skin cancer. That’s not just a hippie rumor. It’s actual AMA news. This is one of those areas that can be complicated but keep in mind: The sun is not evil and all sunscreen is not created equal. If you’d like more information, you can go here to read about it.
No more bug spray.
DEET is a really powerful chemical. It is very effective but it has been linked to serious neurological issues. The links are strong enough, in fact, that there are warnings on your bug spray can. Having had a child suffer through West Nile Virus I understand that there are times when extra protection may be worth the risk. If you are exploring the deep woods, perhaps the risk is worth it. On the other hand, it is a very bad idea to spray yourself, or especially your children, with such a powerful toxin every time you leave the house. There are dozens of natural products on the market that are quite effective as a repellent under “normal” circumstances. Consider one of these for more common use. For more info, click here.
Why GMOs are not on this list.
I’m not going to get into the GMO (genetically modified organisms. AKA: biotech. Not to be confused with hybrid plants, which can occur in nature.) debate in this post because it is such a massively huge topic that it needs its own space. I have discussed it in great detail in another post. I will say this: every day this issue becomes more hotly debated and for good reason. Organics are never GMO. Anything else is uncertain as there are no GMO labeling laws in the US. I think that biotech is an issue that will be at the forefront of global discussion for generations to come and everyone needs to become educated on the topic. Don’t just listen to the rhetoric from either side of the debate. Become truly educated. I can not overstate how important I feel this is. The single thing that people on both sides of the debate agree on is that there is nothing less than the future of our planet at stake.
Try not to make yourself crazy!
“I’m freaking out! FREAKING OUT!”
When people start to read that this is bad and that is bad and it all causes cancer and other horrible diseases they often have one of two reactions: they give up and figure there is no hope or they become terrified of the very foods and products that are supposed to be nourishing them.
Try hard to keep some perspective.
Spinach is full of good nutrients whether it’s organic or conventional, canned, fresh or frozen. Sugar needs to be kept to a minimum in all its forms. You already know that. Start there, with your own common sense. If you can cut out 1/2 of the processed foods and chemicals from your diet you’re way ahead of the curve. Your body will have an easier time processing the toxins it will inevitably encounter in day-to-day life. “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” Keep taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle and it won’t seem so overwhelming.
If you’d like the chance to try out a few natural products without breaking the bank we have a great give-a-way going on right now through Friday, July 26, 2013. Click here for a chance to win a $25 gift card to Squishy Tushy Natural Boutique.
Not just cloth diapers – they have natural bug spray, lotions and more!
If you would like to know more, get some great recipes and share a few laughs, here is some recommended reading for you.
100 days of real food
mind body green
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