here’s so much confusion regarding “organic” food. And rightly so! As one walks down the Natural Foods section at the grocery store, it’s common to feel like you’ve died and gone to health-food heaven! If you’re like me, these packages are filled with clever wording, alluring promises and marketing ploys. But the real question is – Does Organic = Healthy?
Sadly, no. Organic does not equal healthy. I know…I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.
Because of this, we need to understand and question the goals of marketers, manufacturers and the food industry. Packaging and strategic wording has made it extremely difficult to sift through all the information to know and understand what healthy truly means. You see, having myself come from a highly processed, boxed-food diet, I thought if I just started buying organic alternatives we’d be healthy. But the truth is, eating organic isn’t necessarily any healthier than the Standard American Diet.
This is where the danger lies. It’s easy to believe if we swap out our non-organic, highly processed and pre-packaged Mac & Cheese for an organic, grass-fed counterpart that we’re taking a step in the right direction. Truthfully, our shopping carts are now just filled with slightly less unhealthy products that cost us twice as much. So now we’re unhealthy and broke! In believing what the package of “Organic, Grass-fed Macaroni and Cheese” says, I’m thinking my family is eating a healthy, nutritious meal. When in reality we’re still eating “food” that’s highly processed and includes unnecessary emulsifiers and texturizers. But “organic” and “grass-fed” sure sound healthy, don’t they?
We shared in Healthy Change #33 how to recognize real food. And if we’re serious about wanting to fight unnecessary inflammation in our body, we’ll take a good hard look at what foods are lurking in our homes. In order to truly understand what’s in our food, we need to become label readers. Over the next month, your healthy change is to add 15 minutes to your grocery shopping time and start reading labels as you shop. There’s a good chance many ingredients will be unrecognizable, and quite possibly, unpronounceable.
Don’t freak out if you see ingredients you can’t pronounce, just take note of them and realize it may be time to look for a better option to whatever food product it was on. Now if you’re like many American households, and like us, this label reading is going to get discouraging real quick as product after product turns up with no-no ingredients. But take heart, and know that simply having an awareness of the ingredients in your food is a step in the right direction.
Reading Food Labels Can Be Tricky
There are a few methods when it comes to determining whether a food product is worthy of your money. The words Organic and Natural may have had you jumping for joy as you toss those “healthy” oreo cookies into your cart. But once you learn the basics, you’ll be armed with proper knowledge to make an educated decision for you and your family. Here are a few simple questions to help while reading food labels.
- Did Great-Grandma eat it? My favorite rule of thumb is, if your great-grandma didn’t use the ingredient in her kitchen, then it doesn’t go in the shopping cart. This will eliminate so many unwanted chemicals (even organic ones) that can cause inflammation in our bodies.
- Does it have more than five ingredients? One of the first blogs I started following when changing my family’s diet was 100 Days of Real Food. Lisa’s basic rule of thumb was to only consume products that had five ingredients or less. This can get tricky when you look at cans of soup. There are some brands of soup that contain more than five ingredients, all of which are great! But these will be the exceptions to the rule. Bottom line, following the “five ingredients or less” rule forces you to focus more on the perimeter of the grocery store to fill up your cart with whole foods like meat, dairy and produce.
- Can I pronounce it? As I mentioned before, if it can’t be pronounced, or I don’t know what it is, there’s a good chance it doesn’t go in the cart.
Once reading labels becomes the norm, certain ingredients will start popping up all over the place! Since packaged foods tend to be processed and engineered for a long shelf life, certain chemicals are added to prolong the “sell by dates”. Although these ingredients have passed the testings of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), it’s difficult to know just how sensitive each individual might be to these “GRAS” (Generally Regarded As Safe) ingredients.
Take carrageenan for instance. Definitely not an ingredient found in grandma’s kitchen, but possibly one ingredient in a list of five or less (like certain brands of coconut milk), and I can actually pronounce it. But what is it? And is it good or bad? In short, carageenan is a thickening or emulsifying agent that’s extracted from red and purple seaweeds. Sounds harmless enough, right? Wrong! Though many will tell you carageenan is a known carcinogen (I used to be one of them, I’m sorry!), the truth is there are two forms of carageenan. One is degraded (not approved for use in food), one non-degraded (approved for use in food). Only the degraded carageenan has been tested and shown to be a carcinogen. But this doesn’t mean non-degraded carageenan is in the clear. Quite the contrary! For some, consuming foods containing carageenan causes an inflammatory immune response in the body, similar to the reaction one has when exposed to pathogens such as salmonella. This inflammation, if not eliminated, can ultimately lead to many much more serious diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer. (Source)
Keep it Simple
As we’ve said before, instead of focusing on all the chemicals, stabilizers, emulsifiers and “food-like” substances lurking within our foods that we shouldn’t eat, start focusing on what we can eat. By doing this we eliminate uncertainties, doubts, fears and concerns regarding our health. Revisit our list of “Real Foods” and print out a copy for your fridge. Keep a copy in your purse or wallet so when you’re at the grocery store you can pull it out and see if that food item belongs in your cart. Keep it handy while meal planning to keep you on track and remind you what foods you can choose from. Get creative, get excited, and most importantly, don’t get bogged down and overwhelmed by the food industry. They’re out to make money, and not necessarily with our best interests at heart.
Take control of what comes into your house, make a plan and stick to it. If you do this even 80% of the time you’ll notice huge health benefits if you’ve constantly been battling inflammation due to diet.