Organic food is expensive – I get it. I can’t afford to buy my groceries at Whole Foods either, so I learned to pick and choose those items that matter the most to my health and those that my family consumes the most of. We didn’t change things overnight. What you find in our fridge and pantry now has been a process over the past 4 or 5 years and will likely keep changing. So don’t get overwhelmed – start at your own pace. I started by buying organic milk and eggs, followed by organic fruits and vegetables, and just recently we switched to organic cereal. It’s not cheap, but I know that I’m eating for my body’s health and not just to curb hunger.
I want my food to provide me with long term health benefits, not long term illness.
Don’t try to do everything at once, but start by choosing those items that can cause the biggest harm to your health, your children’s health and that of our planet. One step in the right direction is better than doing nothing at all.
Here’s a list of items that have the biggest impact (and why):
The produce on this list are the 12 most contaminated produce items, ranked by the amount of detectable pesticide residue. It’s continuously updated by the EWG (Environmental Working Group). By choosing the organic version of at least these 12 (or more), you can significantly lower your exposure to toxins and free radicals. There is also a list called the “Clean 15” which consists of those fruits and veggies with the least amount of pesticides. To save your money and sanity, you can buy those conventional. Know how to recognize organic vs conventional vs GMO produce? It’s all in the numbers on the little stickers:
2. Milk, yogurt, and cheese
Conventional dairy cows are crammed in small spaces, injected with growth hormones to bring their milk production to unnaturally high amounts, fed a diet of GMO grains (soy/corn), and given tons of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick of living their short lives this way. They never roam on any green pastures. The milk from these cows often contains residues of puss from their infected udders, antibiotic residues, growth hormone residues, and pesticide residues from their GMO grain diet. The bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been shown to cause breast cancer (source). If you can’t afford organic dairy, make sure to at least look for products that are labeled rBGH-FREE.
I buy organic eggs because of the GMO feed that the conventional layer hens get. A better choice would be organic, pastured eggs because those come from chickens that can actually roam freely. The term “free range” and “natural” doesn’t mean squat. Free range simply means that the chickens have some time to spend outside. There are no standards on how much time or how much space is given for that “outdoor time” and most likely it’s not a beautiful pasture, but more like a prison courtyard. The better the chicken’s diet and living environment, the more nutritious the eggs will be. Happy chickens lay happy eggs
4. Breakfast Cereal
When I started to read ingredient labels more closely I was mainly looking for chemical preservatives and things like BHA and BHT. They seemed to be in a lot of cereals. Later I learned about GMOs and what they’re found in – ingredients like corn, soy and soy-products like soy lecithin. Almost every box of Kellogg’s, Post, or General Mills cereal contains GMOs. I no longer wanted my kids or my husband eating those, so we switched.
Just like dairy cows, the cattle that ends up as your hamburger or steak comes from what’s called a feedlot. The name alone makes me squirm. Our modern society eats so much meat because the cattle industry has been making it cheaper and more affordable for everyone. Just like the processed foods that are full of cheap fillers, this beef is not all beef: the cows are also given a GMO grain based diet, hormones and tons of antibiotics, which make it into your bloodstream. Organic, grass-fed beef is best, but it’s also quite pricey. We buy grass-fed ground beef when it’s on sale and then throw a few packs in the freezer. We also started to eat less beef. What used to be 3x a week is now just 1x a week. The other days are filled with chicken, fish, or vegetarian dinners. We also use less per recipe.
6. Baby Food
When the USDA recently evaluated hundreds of samples of baby food made with green beans, pears, and sweet potatoes, they found significant pesticide residue. Alarmingly, 92% of the pear samples tested positive for at least one pesticide, and 26% contained five or more. They even detected the fungicide iprodione, which the EPA has labeled a probable human carcinogen (source: prevention.com). Your baby’s gut does not have the immune strength like that of an adult. They’re much are more sensitive to the effects of pesticides, so it’s even more important to avoid those in baby and toddler food.
That was one of our later changes. I used to see no harm in sugar until I learned about GMO sugar beets. I even thought brown sugar was healthier than white sugar (it’s not), maybe I was confusing it with sugar in the raw… We use a lot less sugar now and I often bake with honey, maple syrup, or apple sauce. In general sugar should be avoided anyways but refined white sugar is the worst. It’s genetically modified, and stripped of its vitamins and minerals. The less refined the better. Molasses for example still has the vitamins and minerals – the darker the better.
Bonus Tip: Popcorn
Microwave popcorn is probably one of the worst foods ever. The linings of microwave-popcorn bags contain PFOA, a toxic chemical which is used to prevent the food from sticking to the paper. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PFOA is a likely carcinogen (=causes cancer). It also usually contains GMO corn and GMO canola oil, artificial flavors and preservatives. You can go buy organic microwave popcorn, but honestly, save that cash for a grass-fed steak and just get a bag of organic popcorn kernels to pop yourself. That $5 pack will give you 10x more yield than the packaged stuff, and YOU get to decide what kind of oil, how much salt, and what flavor you want. Check out my suggestions here!