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What You Eat Affects Your Health- Illa Jarvis, Nutritional Consultant
It’s easy to be tempted by cheap, convenient food. Money is tight, fast food is easy to find, and ready to eat. Unfortunately, this is where the benefits of commercially produced food end. Cheap ingredients do not contain the nutrients our brains and bodies depend upon to function properly. They contain pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that tax our liver and brain. Ultimately, these foods do considerably more damage than good.
Let’s look at some examples…
What we find in most of our markets and restaurants is meat from animals that live under terrible conditions and are fed the cheapest food possible, namely corn and soy. Corn and soy are crops that are subsidized by the government. This means that the farmers are paid to grow these foods in excess, making these foods extremely cheap.
But growing enormous amounts of food requires a lot of work. The solution? These crops are genetically modified (GMO) so they can withstand the weed killer known as Round-Up, saving farmers time and effort. Unfortunately scientists have found Round-Up to be unsafe for human consumption (1). The large corporations that produce Round Up and GMO seeds have significant political influence so these foods are still produced and appear everywhere, including cow and chicken feed. Unfortunately cows cannot digest corn and soy, causing them to become sick. These animals are treated with antibiotics to keep them alive under unhealthy conditions and fed hormones to make them grow as quickly as possible. As a result, the meat, milk and eggs we find in most markets and restaurants contain antibiotics, hormones, as well as Round-Up, all of which compromise our health. To top it all off, these foods are low in nutrients, since the animals were never fed a nutritious diet to offer benefits to us in return. You can learn more about the meat industry and GMO foods in the film Food Inc.
Better sources of animal protein are grass fed organic beef, and lamb, free-range organic poultry, and eggs and small species of wild caught fish. Choosing these foods ensures better health for us, promotes the ethical treatment of animals, and benefits the environment as well.
Good plant sources of protein are legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, in combination with grains. (Check out the recipe for bean soup further in this book for preparation tips.) Unfortunately, processed soy is added to hundreds of prepared foods to increase protein content and to make these foods more marketable. These foods include nutrition bars, protein powders, pasta, vegetarian foods, dairy-free foods, and infant formulas. Check ingredient labels for “soy protein isolate.”
While soy makes these foods “healthier” by increasing their protein content, ironically most soy is genetically modified, and contains Round-Up. Processed soy also has been shown to be a common allergen, difficult to digest and increases the body’s demand for vitamins E, K, D, and B12. Health foods that contain soy are often promoted as “Natural,” but this claim is meaningless. There are no qualifications that a food must meet to earn this title. There’s nothing natural about processed soy; only a laboratory can convert it into the variety of flavors and textures we find in boxed foods. (2)
Corn is largely hidden as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our foods. HFCS is in everything from soda pop, to canned soup and bread. After years of denial by the corn industry of the ill effects of HFCS, bad press has caused some companies to switch to sugar as a “healthier” alternative. Producers have taken measures to rename HFCS to “corn sugar” on ingredient labels in an effort to disguise its presence in packaged foods. (3) But the truth is, all processed sugar is damaging to our health, regardless of its form and source. Obesity and tooth decay are just the tip of the iceberg. Heart disease, diabetes, mood disorders, frequent illness, and digestive problems are all results of constant sugar and HFCS consumption. (4) The film King Corn beautifully shows how the corn industry works.
So how do you reduce sugar without feeling deprived? Check the sugar content on the labels of all canned and boxed foods. Don’t switch to foods that contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which converts into wood alcohol when heated, or Splenda essentially sugar that is bound to chlorine. These sweeteners are problematic in their own right. Instead, choose simpler, more natural foods like home made tomato sauce instead of canned, homemade soup instead of canned soup, oil and vinegar instead of sweet salad dressing, and plain yogurt with berries instead of the sweetened stuff. Do your best to choose foods that contain 10 or less grams of sugar per serving, and consider if the listed serving size is realistic. If you crave chocolate, get dark chocolate with high cocoa content instead of milk.
And what about fruit? An orange contains about half as much sugar as a can of soda, 4 grams of fiber (which slows down the impact of sugar on the body), nearly 100 mg of vitamin C, and other nutrients. So eat an organic piece of fruit and skip the soda when you want a treat.
Unsurprisingly, corn and soy are the most common sources of fat found in packaged food as well. Fat has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years, but in truth, we need some good quality fat to function properly! The fat you eat affects your brain and nervous system, controls inflammation, hormones, and your ability to heal, and makes strong bones. Unfortunately, soybean and corn oil are not well cut out for the job. They are often chemically processed to create shortening or margarine. These solidified liquid oils have been restructured or “partially-hydrogenated” and contain trans-fatty acids or “trans-fats.” I tend to think of these as “Franken-fats” since the fats are created in a lab and not found in nature. Our bodies have no clue how to use these fats, and studies have shown that they increase risk of heart disease by lowering HDL or “good cholesterol”, increase LDL or “bad cholesterol”, to lower insulin resistance, thus increasing risk for diabetes and much more. (5) Corn and soy oils are high in a fat known as omega-6, which spoils or goes rancid when it is exposed to oxygen. These oils are bleached, which ensures that they have been allowed to go bad, and deodorized, so you can’t tell by smelling them. Rancid oils contain free radicals, wandering electrons that damage our cells and cause serious inflammation in the body.
It is also critical that omega-6 fats are in balance with another essential fatty acid known as omega-3, which is found in organic free-range eggs, wild cold-water fish and certain seeds. Most people eat far too much processed foods that are high in omega-6, and don’t get enough omega-3, causing such common issues as cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, joint pain and inflammation, dry skin, and brittle nails. (6)
Healthy sources of fat include olive and coconut oil to cook with, raw nuts, seeds, and foods that are high in omega-3 such as sardines, wild salmon, flax, and hemp seeds.
Kudos if you enjoy five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, but please resist drowning an otherwise healthy salad in dressings that contain HFCS, partially-hydrogenated oils, and other unpronounceable chemicals.
How fruits and vegetables are grown matter as well. Have you ever seen an old potato or onion sprout? This has become a rare occurrence since farmers have started spraying these crops with an anti-sprout chemical, allowing these vegetables to exist in storage longer. Many insecticides are banned due to high toxicity, and yet they still show up on our food because these pesticides are in the soil. Here’s a list of fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticides, and should be bought organic whenever possible:
Buy organic fruits and vegetables when they are in season. Not only will you skip the scary chemicals, get the nutrients that are only found in ripe, fresh food, such as vitamin C and E, at a lower cost, but also your food will taste better! A winter tomato that only looks red will never hold a candle to a summer tomato that was allowed to ripen on the vine. It’s best to wash non-organic fruits and vegetables thoroughly with soap and water, and peel whenever possible, since most of the chemicals are on the skin. (7)
Choosing and preparing delicious food is a simple when you have good ingredients. You will feel satisfied with less due to the increased nutrients, and you will feel happier and healthier without the burden of pesticides, herbicides and toxins on your body. For more tips on how to cook and prepare food, check out the recipe section at the end of this book.
(2) Daniel, Kaayla, The Whole Soy Story, New Trends Publishing, Washington D. C. 2007 p.93
(4) Appleton, Nancy PhD, Lick the Sugar Habit, Avery, Santa Monica, CA, 1985
(5) Enig, Mary G. PhD, Know Your Fats, Bethesda, Silver Spring, MD, 2000 p. 204