How to choose the cleanest, safest, and healthiest foods
About two months ago, I went to a local farmers’ market with my colleague and his daughter. She was shopping for some fresh groceries to take back to college with her. No processed, unhealthy dorm food for this smart, young woman!
While shopping the aisles, I was astounded by all the non-scientific “marketing speak” being used. Nearly everywhere I turned, there were chalkboards a-plenty, claiming their food was “natural,” which sounded great. Except for the fact that the term “natural” basically has no meaning…or regulation.
Let’s face it—if Frito Lay can produce “Natural” Cheetos Puffs, anything can don the label.
On the other hand, “organic” has a formal definition from the USDA. But consumers still don’t really understand what the label indicates. And the government hasn’t done much to clear up the confusion over what “organic” implies, despite attempts by Big Food to take over the agenda. (For the real definition—and tips on how to get the most bang for your buck when buying “organic” foods—see the sidebar on page 3.)
Then there are all of the “Non-GMO” labels sprouting up on packaged foods like weeds.
And while some of these labels may actually be beneficial, how do you know which is which?
Well, as the saying goes “knowledge is power.”
Let’s go over some important information you need to know in order to look past the marketing hype, so you can bring home the safest, cleanest foods for you and your family.
The sad, disturbing prevalence of GMO foods
GMOs are so pervasive today that they dominate traditional crops that might otherwise still be considered “healthy.”
According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), about three-quarters of the foods we eat today contain GMO ingredients.1 (The GMA is a big fan of GMOs— which isn’t surprising, considering its extensive ties to Big Food.)
And more than 90 percent of all corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are GMO.2 Other GM crops (in order of pervasiveness) include: apples, canola, papaya, potatoes, sugar beets, summer squash, and zucchini.3
To make matters worse, any attempts to enforce transparency regarding GMO-containing foods have been thwarted by the powers-that-be in Big Food and Big Government.
In other words, the federal government isn’t here to help you proactively avoid genetically modified food. In fact, here’s the latest ridiculousness regarding GMO labeling…
USDA released toothless new GMO labeling guidelines in May
Back in 2014, Vermont voters decided to take matters into their own hands, and passed a sensible, effective GMO labeling law. Other states followed suit, putting similar initiatives on their ballots.
But conventional food manufacturers panicked and started lobbying the federal government. The result? In 2016, state GMO labeling laws were superseded by a vague federal law pushed by Big Food—and swallowed whole by the Obama administration.
This May, as part of the new law, the USDA released its new guidelines for labeling GMO foods.4 Food manufacturers are supposed to start using the new labels by 2020.
But here’s the watered-down part. Food manufacturers claimed the terms “GMO” and “genetically engineered” have a stigma. (Hmm, wonder why?) So they lobbied the USDA to label foods as “bioengineered” or the nonsensical “BE”—rather than “genetically modified” or “GMO.”
And they convinced the USDA to create labels with the non-threatening initials “BE” surrounded by a sun with a smile icon underneath.5
Unfortunately, this subliminal messaging may turn out to be more deadly propaganda…
So what’s the problem with GMOs anyway?
Of course, conventional food growers and manufacturers repeatedly say GMOs are healthy and safe. Their explanation? The genetically modified crops haven’t been “proven” to be unsafe. (Well, that’s a comforting thought…) But they were never required to go through testing to establish safety data in the first place.
In fact, various studies over the past few years have found that when rats and mice are fed GMO food, they have differences in their vital organs and physiological systems compared to animals that don’t consume GMOs. Unfortunately, the significance behind these changes is currently unknown.
In my view, the real problem is the way GM crops are produced. They require the use of dangerous herbicides (like Roundup) that not only contaminate the crops, but also kill every other plant nearby (while also taking down Nature’s invaluable pollinators—the bees, birds, and butterflies).
This poisonous pesticide is an obvious disaster for the ecology of the planet. But Roundup’s manufacturer, Monsanto, insists the herbicide is supposedly safe for human consumption—claiming it’s toxic to plant cells but not human or animal cells.
However, two years ago, a research team led by U.S. naval scientist Dr. Nancy Swanson found a striking correlation between the increased use of Roundup and the rising incidence of dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver cancer, obesity, stroke, and thyroid disease.
Of course, as I always point out, correlation is not causation. In other words, just because scientists uncover a link between two events, it doesn’t mean one event caused the other.
But biological plausibility is also important. And mounting evidence shows that Roundup interferes with many metabolic processes in plants and animals.
Plus, even if Monsanto’s claim that Roundup doesn’t affect human cells is true (which is highly unlikely), they failed to consider the effect of Roundup poisoning on the probiotic bacteria in the human GI system. These bacteria make up the all-important microbiome, which is critical for optimal health.
As I’ve mentioned before, probiotic bacteria influence your digestion, metabolism, immunity, central nervous system, and other bodily functions.
And several studies link glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, with damage to the microbiomes of rats and mice.
And a new study found that long-term dosages of Roundup affected the probiotic composition in the guts of eight out of nine female rats. Plus, those rats exhibited signs of liver dysfunction.6
Of course, these are animal studies. But there are enough of them to create concern over what Roundup may be doing to the human microbiome—and how that could be affecting virtually all aspects of our health.
5 easy ways to make sure your foods are toxin-free
So what can you do to avoid GMOs, pesticides, and other harmful contaminants—and find healthier foods in general?
Here’s what I recommend:
1) Avoid the top genetically modified foods:
• Soy, including soybeans and soy flour. Soy is also found in vegetable proteins, textured vegetable proteins (TVP), tofu, tamari, and tempeh.
• Corn, including corn flour, cornstarch, and cornmeal. And by all means, avoid high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
• Processed vegetable oils, inlcuding vegetable oil, vegetable fat, and margarines. These are made with GMO canola, corn, cotton seed, and soy oils. Instead, use organic sources of coconut, grape seed, hemp seed, and extra virgin olive oil.
Unfortunately, these are common ingredients in most of the packaged goods you’ll find lining supermarket shelves. So, the easiest way to keep these GMOs out of your kitchen is to avoid processed foods altogether.
2) Limit your sugar consumption.
Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve told you this. But here’s yet another reason why you should avoid sugar. More than half of all U.S. sugar beets produced today are GMO. And sugar beets are often mixed with cane sugar to make what we call “table sugar.”
If you absolutely must eat sugar, look for products made with 100 percent cane sugar—or, even better, use organic honey as a sweetener.
And don’t try to swap out artificial sweeteners for sugar. As I’ve written before, research shows these fake foods can actually cause you to gain weight. Plus, aspartame—the ingredient in NutraSweet® and Equal® artificial sweeteners—is often genetically modified.
3) Know the “Dirty Dozen.”
Every year, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) researches which types of produce are most contaminated with pesticides. The EWG’s 2018 “Dirty Dozen” list includes7:
• Apples* • Celery
• Cherries • Grapes
• Hot peppers • Nectarines
• Peaches • Pears
• Potatoes* • Spinach
• Strawberries • Sweet bell peppers
(* also GMO)
So if you’re only able to buy select organic fruits and vegetables, these are the ones you should focus on.
If you don’t know whether or not the produce in your supermarket is organic or not, look for a PLU, or price look-up code. I’m sure you’ve seen these before. They’re the small numbered stickers you peel off your produce before you eat it.
A four-digit number on the label means the produce was conventionally grown. Five digits, starting with 9, means the item is organic.
4) Embrace the “Clean Fifteen.”
These are the fruits and vegetables the EWG has found to have the fewest pesticides.
So if you’re buying conventional, you’ll be safest with this list8:
• Asparagus • Avocados
• Broccoli • Cabbage
• Cantaloupe • Cauliflower
• Eggplant • Honeydew melons
• Kiwi fruit • Mangoes
• Onions • Papayas*
• Pineapple • Sweet corn*
• Sweet peas
* Due to GMO concerns, I recommend buying organic.
5) Buy locally.
It’s generally less likely that the food you buy from a local farmers’ market will contain GMOs, compared to food from a large commercial farm or supermarket.
Plus, local foods grown within 50 “food miles” (the number of miles food travels from farm to consumer) are exempt from counterproductive federal regulations that favor Big Food.
I suggest getting to know the sellers at your neighborhood farmer’s market. The truth is, many farmers at my local market sell produce grown without pesticides…but they can’t afford to apply for federal “organic” status. The same often goes for farmers who raise grass-fed beef and free-range chickens.
So, ask around and talk to the farmers themselves. You might be surprised by what you learn. Very often, you can get “organic” and “sustainable” produce right down the street. And it will cost a whole lot less than what you’ll pay at Whole Foods.
There’s no getting around the fact that our food is getting “dirtier” and less safe every day. But if you follow this guide, it will ensure you’re eating the cleanest, healthiest, and most nutritious, food year-round.
How to get the most value when buying “organic”
For the record, if a food is labelled organic, it should in no way include chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.
It’s also supposed to be free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for the obvious reason that they can’t be grown without the obligate use of pesticides.
But, keep in mind, many of the designer, organic foods on supermarket shelves are a waste of your money. Just because something has the organic label doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
For instance, you can eat all the organic macaroni and cheese you want…but that doesn’t make it healthy.
Also, be wary of overpriced, marketing-focused grocery stores like Whole Foods. These profitable purveyors of foods claim health and environmental benefits for their trendy products. But you pay far more for their products than necessary.
To find more affordable organic foods at local farmers markets and in the supermarket, use the tips I outlined on pages 3 and 4.
These are the real problems government agencies should be dealing with, instead of chasing down their favorite politically correct health and environmental
risk factors—about which they have been all wrong, all along.
6“Sex-dependent impact of Roundup on the rat gut microbiome.” Toxicology Reports Volume 5, 2018, Pages 96-107.