11 Scary Toxins in our Food
As the last post in this little series on toxins, let’s talk about the toxins in our food supply!
Preservatives are added to many foods to extend their shelf life and make them look healthier longer. Unfortunately, some of the most common preservatives (sodium benzoate, BHT, BHA, sodium nitrate, etc.) pose serious health risks.
Many foods also have high levels of sugar to help preserve the product.
If you start reading labels on packaged food, you will notice that preservatives are pretty much everywhere. This makes sense, because a food can’t sit on the shelf for very long without going bad, unless it has preservatives.
So, how do we avoid preservatives in our food?
First, try to limit the amount of packaged and prepared foods you buy and consume. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from the middle aisles of the grocery store and stick to the outside edges, where the frozen and refrigerated sections are. And be sure to always read labels and know what the ingredients are before buying.
Fresh produce also often has preservatives to make it last longer. Buy organic whenever possible to avoid these.
Pesticide residue can be found on fruits and vegetables that are not organic. It makes sense that if these chemicals are killing bugs on the plant, they are probably not good for humans, either!
Again, buying organic (or growing your own!) produce is the best option; but if you can’t always buy organic, reference the Clean Fifteen/Dirty Dozen List ( find it here ) to choose which items to prioritize as organic.
rGBH, or recombinant bovine growth hormone, is a synthetic hormone that is used to increase milk production in cows. The hormone gets into the cow’s milk and, by extension, our bodies when we drink that milk. This has been linked to breast and prostate cancer and fertility problems in humans.
We know that unnatural levels of hormones (even hormones that are not synthetic) lead to a whole host of health issues and even mental disorders. It is reasonable then, that a synthetic hormone in our food would also cause these problems!
The solution? Buy organic milk whenever possible, or at least milk that is rBGH- and rBST-free. (rBST is another synthetic hormone used on cows.) Keep in mind though, that even milk that is labeled as free of these hormones has other dangers if it is not organic.
Another great option is to buy raw milk from a local dairy (if available in your area) that doesn’t use any harmful chemicals or hormones. An additional advantage of this is that small, local dairies often grass-feed their cows!
Found in the lining of cans and in plastic food containers and water bottles, BPA (bisphenol A) is a chemical that acts like estrogen in the body. Because of its hormone-like properties, it can affect all sorts of hormone-related processes in the body; from cell growth to thyroid function to energy levels and reproductive health.
It is important to also be aware of the fact that many items that are BPA-free have BPS (bisphenol S) or BPF (bisphenol F), which are also toxic.
The best ways to avoid all of these bisphenols is to stay away from canned food (unless it is canned in a glass jar), plastic bottles, and plastic food containers. The chemicals can enter our bodies when we consume food or drink from any of these things.
5. Food Colorings
Food colorings are surprisingly common in our food supply. If you read ingredients labels on food, you have probably noticed this!
But while food dyes make the food more colorful and prettier, they are very dangerous for our health.
One of the main concerns around food colorings is the effect it has on children: it has been linked to hyperactivity and other behavioral issues. Add to this the fact that many artificially-colored foods are also loaded with sugar, which is well-known to negatively impact behavior in children, especially.
But, we adults shouldn’t be consuming unnatural food dyes, either! They are thought to be carcinogens, and may cause birth defects as well. And, some people are allergic to them anyway!
The solution is to always read labels and don’t buy foods with artificial colorings. And avoid food dyes in your own cooking and baking, as well!
6. Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats)
Hydrogenation is a process that oil is put through, to increase its shelf life and change the flavor. This ruins the oil in many ways, resulting in a product that poses risks to our health.
Partially-hydrogenated oils have high levels of trans fats, which have been linked to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
To reduce your risk of being affected by hydrogenated oils, be sure to only use fats in their natural state: virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, real butter, and other fats that are as close to their natural state as possible.
It is important to also be aware of the way you heat your oils. Some fats have higher smoke points than others. This means they can be heated to a higher temperature without being damaged. Oils that are rancid or heat-damaged are very dangerous to our health.
I personally like to use coconut oil for baking and cooking over higher heat, while saving butter for low-heat uses and keeping olive oil cool or at room temperature. Learn which fats can be heated and which cannot, so that you don’t risk damaging them!
This is such a big deal, and there are so many factors and potential health risks associated with genetic modification. If you want to learn more, I recommend checking out the work of Jeffrey Smith or other experts who are educating on this important topic.
Meanwhile, stick to the non-GMO label and organic whenever possible!
8. Artificial Flavorings
Artificial flavorings are chemicals that are used to make food taste different or better. These are created in a lab and are not real food!
Artificial flavorings have been linked to many, many health problems; not the least of which are obesity, high blood pressure, and migraines.
As always, it is so important to read labels and avoid foods with these ingredients! If you are eating real, whole foods and staying away from packaged and processed foods, avoiding artificial flavorings will be very easy!
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is another chemical added to foods to “improve” their flavor. It is common in Chinese food, processed meats, and canned foods.
While it is debatable whether research backs claims that MSG is harmful for our health, many people have reported symptoms associated with it: headaches, numbness, chest pain, and nausea, among others.
Read labels! It is the easiest way to avoid MSG. And be careful when eating out as well. It is wise to be aware of what’s going into your food at your favorite restaurants!
10. Artificial Sweeteners
Sucralose, aspartame, saccharin - these are a few of the chemical sweeteners that often get added to our food. None of these are whole or real foods, and each has a long list of health dangers connected to it. Eating white sugar, as bad as that is, is better than consuming these chemicals!
There are other low-glycemic sweeteners that are safer than these artificial sweeteners, and healthier than refined sugar. Stevia (in moderation) is a good option. Check out this article for more information on how to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners, while still getting to have sweet foods!
And check the labels to be sure the food you buy does not have artificial sweeteners in it.
11. High Fructose Corn Syrup
This one is hard to get around if you eat packaged or processed foods! It is so common, and gets sneaked in all over the place.
Besides the fact that HFCS is made from corn (which is usually genetically modified), it also poses other likely health risks, including unnaturally high levels of fructose in the body (which can be hard for the liver to metabolize in large amounts); diabetes; and obesity.
Read labels. Stay away from HFCS as much as possible! Again, by avoiding packaged and processed foods, you will naturally be avoiding high fructose corn syrup.
There are just so many benefits of eating food in its natural form, as close to the way it was grown as possible! All of these toxins have to be added to our food supply; they don’t just grown there. So, the best way to avoid them is to get food in its natural state.
This is the last post in this series on toxins! I hope you have learned a lot and found some ways to make small, lasting lifestyle changes to limit the toxins you and your family are being exposed to.