One of the first changes people think to make when going with a greener lifestyle, is their way of eating. It seems pretty obvious that what goes into our bodies is going to have the greatest effects on our health. But figuring out just what to buy is not always that obvious. There are a lot of conflicting messages out there. And this search for the holy groceries, can easily become another frustrating ordeal. One that has us throwing our hands up in the air, and reaching for the cheetos. Let me share with you what I have learned over the years.
The Produce aisle. At first glance, it seems as if you can’t go wrong. I mean, anything here has to be better for the body than last night’s frozen pizza, right? Well, sort of.
Pesticides are the main thing to steer clear of in this aisle. Chronic low-dose exposure–obtained through consuming produce sprayed by farmers to increase crop yields–can lead to respiratory issues, skin conditions, neurological problems and cancers. Young children are most at risk due to their large amounts of consumption in relation to body size. Pesticide exposure can also lead to miscarriage in pregnant women.
This is where an up-to-date list of the dirty dozen comes in handy. The list currently includes strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and hot peppers. So I would highly recommend purchasing only certified organic for these items. If you find it difficult financially, focus on those closest to the front of the list since they are in order of pesticide levels.
Studies have shown that making this switch can significantly lower the levels of synthetic pesticides in your urine within days. It’s one of the most effective changes you can make in the way you eat
If you include beef in your diet, the most important criteria to look for are “grass-fed” and usda certified organic. You won’t always be able to find both, but either is cleaner than conventional beef.
Grass-fed beef is healthiest because the cattle have been allowed to graze and eat their natural food source rather than gmo grains. A grass-fed diet results in beef with higher levels of healthy fats and antioxidants. Organic, grass-fed is the best option since these cattle must be free from the synthetic hormones and antibiotics that conventional cattle are typically treated with.
USDA organic beef alone means that though the cattle may not have been grass-fed, they only received organic, non-gmo grains.
When shopping for chicken or eggs, the only label that truly makes any difference is USDA certified organic. There are all kinds of sneaky labels that are used to fool us into thinking we are eating differently. Cage-free, Free-range, Pastured, Natural, Hormone and antibiotic-free–essentially they boil down to a whole lot of nothing.
Simply choose USDA organic if you want to avoid eating chickens that have been over-crowded, stressed and drugged. It truly does matter how your food is raised. Because conventional chickens don’t have opportunities to get exercise or gain proper nutrients, they contain lower levels of Vitamins A, E and Omega-3s, as well as higher levels of cholesterol and saturated fats. A great alternative to save a little money is to go straight to the small farms themselves.
Shopping for fish is another animal entirely. Since there are no organic certification standards for this category, I recommend that you refer to my in-depth post on this topic.
When looking for your milks, yogurts, butters and cheeses, you basically follow the same guidelines that I went over in the beef category. Some companies add things like RBST-free or RBGH-free. These are hormones that are sometimes injected into the cattle to increase milk production. Honestly, without the USDA certified organic label, I wouldn’t trust it. Anyone can add what they wish to a label if it’s not certified. Go for the organic, or hit up the local farms for peace of mind
The problem with this category is that most of it has been sealed into a can lined with a combination of BPA and BPS chemicals. We’ve been assured by many companies that they are now “BPA-free,” however, this simply means that the BPA has been replaced by BPS, an equally harmful hormone disrupter.
Look for foods in glass jars whenever possible, especially when buying highly acidic foods like tomatoes. The acids encourage chemicals to leach from the cans into our food. If you have access to Eden Organics, which can be found at most Krogers, they are the only company that has made the switch to a safe can lining made of plant resin. Regardless, glass is still the preferred packaging for tomatoes.
Your clean cart
Let’s take a look at what we have in our carts now. Low-pesticide produce–check! Grass-fed beef–check! Certified organic chicken and eggs–check! Grass-fed/organic milk, butter, eggs and cheese–check! Eden Organics canned goods and jarred organic tomatoes–check! I think we’re all ready to check out and prepare some clean, healthy meals for our families. Bon Apetit!