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Activism Healthy Living Real Food

Questions to Ask Your Farmer – Know What’s in Your Food!

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Knowing how your food is raised is extremely important. It can mean the difference between food that is clean and safe and food that is contaminated with toxins and other harmful substances.

Because there are so many toxins in the environment, we can’t possibly know where they all come from. There are toxins in the water we drink, air we breathe, and all environments where we live and exist. We could be getting contaminated with something at school, work, inside the vehicles we drive, our yards, and our own homes. There are toxins in the water we drink, air we breathe, and all environments where we live and exist. Estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report that approximately 500,000 chemicals are currently in use, and with each passing year more than 5,000 new chemicals are added.

One aspect of our lives where we do have control is over the food we eat. When you buy food from the grocery store, you have really no way of knowing where it comes from and what happens to it before it gets to the shelf. With more and more food recalls and health issues cropping up in the news – all originating from our industrial food system – it is becoming more and more clear that something has to change. If you still doubt the seriousness of the food recall situation going on today, please read this post about why food recalls greatly jeopardize our health and food system as a whole.

When we support local farmers who use sustainable practices, and by educating ourselves about safe and humane farming practices, we are supporting a safe system that will continue to provide us with safe, healthy food. Sustainable practices are those that farmers and food producers used for thousands and thousands of years before the Industrial Revolution occurred over 150 years ago.

Health effects on children

These substances are especially harmful for children, who are still developing and growing, and who have metabolisms which are faster than adults. Children are more likely to be affected by the substances in our food supply now due to several factors – 1) many of them are born with digestive issues which they received as a result of inadequate nutritional support from their own parents’ diets 2) there are more toxins in our environment now than ever before – the EPA estimates that 500,000 chemicals are currently in use, and with each passing year more than 5,000 new chemicals are added. 3) children are continually exposed to toxins and nutritionally deficient foods after they are born. Food companies market these products to children and as a result, they are eating more non-food substances now than ever in history.

Meat and meat products from animals and birds:

  • What type of food do your animals or birds eat? This is very important. Cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and others should be raised on pasture. If they are not, they are often given feed such as corn, grain, soy which are not in their natural diets. These feeds are also often subjected to pesticides and herbicides, and originate from genetically-modified sources (GMOs).
  • Do you use pesticides on feed or the land where your animals are raised? Pesticides are neurotoxins. Consumption of pesticides has been linked to damage to the skin, nervous system, and can lead to the development of degenerative disease like cancer. Pesticides are also an endocrine disruptor. The endocrine system affects development, growth, reproduction, and behavior.
  • Do you use hormones, steroids, other growth promoters or stimulants? The use of hormones in food has been linked to early onset sexual maturation in children which leads to disruption in the endocrine system (such as the thyroid and thymus, adversely affecting their hormones and causing a variety of problems).
  • Do you use medication or antibiotics? Traces of antibiotics and medications can lead to long-term health effects such as reproductive, immune-system, and developmental issues in children.
  • Where do the animals and birds live/exist? If animals and birds are on pasture, this is a healthy environment. If they are on cement, dirt, or confined a majority of the time in cages or holding areas, these are unhealthy environments.
  • Are cattle 100 percent grass/hay fed, or do you also use grain (this includes steers and dairy cattle)? Cattle are ruminants and should only be fed grass. Grain-fed cattle are more likely to become sick and need antibiotics and other medications. Another way of asking the same question is: how are your cattle finished? Many farmers have their cattle on pasture for most of their lives until the last 90-120 days or so, when they are transported to a feedlot and fed grains to “fatten” them up. This activity causes the digestive tracts of cattle to become acidic and makes the animal more vulnerable to disease.

Nutrient quality in grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, poultry, and dairy products is 3-5 times higher than conventionally-raised meats. You’ll be getting 3-5 times more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is an antioxidant and is critical for heart health, Omega 3 essential fatty acids, and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2 – all important for immunity, cardiovascular, bone health, brain and nervous system, digestion, endocrine, and reproductive support.

If animals and birds are eating any types of feed that are not strictly on pasture, find out if the feed is organically-grown and/or organic practices are used. Any feed that animals/birds consume such as pigs, turkeys, or chickens should be pesticide/herbicide/other chemical and GMO-free.

Produce, legumes, rice, grains:

  • Are you certified organic or do you use sustainable/organic practices? Farms that use organic and sustainable practices do not use any commercial or conventional practices in their farming methods (see next questions for more detail). Many farms which are not certified organic still adhere to organic principles in farming, so inquiring about their status can also lead to a conversation about which category the farm you are buying food from falls.
  • Do you use genetically-modified organisms? GMOs have been shown in research to cause liver damage, food allergies and sensitivities to many different foods, infertility, and cancer, among other health issues.
  • How do you manage disease, pests, and other problems? Do you use chemical fertilizers or herbicides/pesticides on crops? Farms that use organic and sustainable methods to control weeds and pests are healthier and create far less damage to the environment and their crops such as integrated pest management, crop rotation, chemical-free, organic pest control.
  • Who is in charge of growing fruit/vegetables and where is the farm located? Very important because even sustainable and organic farms can become contaminated if they are too near  factories/companies emitting toxic chemicals and pollutants, or other farms which use conventional methods, and especially farms which are GMO (genetically-modified), or if any known spraying occurs from airplanes that might fly over the farm.  Many organic farms are in “no spray” zones and similar areas which ban the use of chemicals, so finding a farm which is mindful of these practices is important.
  • How large is the farm? This can also be important due to the location of the farm (see previous question) and its exposure to other operations/farms/businesses.
  • Is the farm a diversified operation (using poly cropping techniques, as opposed to the mono cropping used by conventional farming practices) with many varieties of vegetables and fruits? Farms using poly cropping farming methods are more likely to have better success with keeping pests, weeds, and other issues away.
  • Does the farm grow any heirloom varieties of fruits or vegetables? These plants and crops are of particular importance to the success of poly cropping and diversity of soil cultivation to help sustainable farming efforts become more pervasive. It’s always a good idea to support farms who grow these varieties as they are not only more sustainable, hearty, and resistant to disease/pests, and also more nutritious as they are from seeds that have been around a long time, and from plants that contained more nutrients.
More information?
 
Activism Green Living Kids & Family Real Food

Organic Is Only Part Of The Story…

www.mypicshares.com

We hear a lot about organic this and organic that…but I think the most confusing thing is that a lot of people believe just because something is organic, it must be healthy…

Right?

It’s true that to be assured you are getting something that is at least 95 percent organic or better, you should look for the USDA symbol on the package or food you are buying. It is a green and white label. But is that the only thing you need to worry about when choosing food?

That can be a really tricky question, and one that needs a bit of discussion since organic, by its very mention, sounds like it’s all good and healthy.

Processed foods with “organic” on the label

Good examples of processed foods are cereals, crackers, cookies, or other similar products.  Does the organic label make these foods healthier? Why or why not?

These and other foods like potato chips, tortilla chips, rice cakes, granola and food bars, pretzels, and other snacks are processed foods whether they are conventional or organic. They are almost, if not equally as processed, as their conventional counterparts.

There’s no room for fudging on this one. If you don’t believe me, just read the ingredients. What you’ll find in these products are a lot of unhealthy, rancid vegetable oils like canola oil, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oil. These oils, besides being rancid because of the high heat they are subjected to during processed are also too high in Omega 6s – a major cause of inflammation in the body and one of the major sources of disease and illness we have in the modern world.

You’ll also find a lot of other junk like hydrolyzed vegetable and soy protein (sometimes called soy protein isolate), whey protein (which is healthy if eaten from real whey, not the processed kind),  rennet (which, if not animal-sourced – and there’s probably no way to tell if it is – can be derived from ingredients like soy), non-fat milk, skim milk, powdered milks or cheese, and even undesirable sweeteners like dextrose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, agave nectar, or high fructose corn syrup (whoever heard of organic corn syrup? Horrifyingly enough,  yes, it exists!).

Many ingredients contain soy, corn, wheat, or other highly allergenic and processed substances that are not easy to discern by reading. All products containing any type of grain, “granola”, muesli, or other similar substance – unless noted, are most likely extruded. These are not real foods. If you come across something like this, avoid it like the plague!

Unless the food has been made that day with freshly ground and soaked flour, for example, most of these kinds of foods go through something called an extrusion process whereby grains are forced through a little hole at high temperature and pressure. The process effectively strips nutrients out of the grains before they are put in the package. Then, the manufacturer adds synthetic nutrients back in to be able to claim the food has anything worthwhile in it. We all know synthetic vitamins and minerals aren’t something your body knows how to use.

Consuming extruded foods not only fails to provide the nutrition claimed on the label, it also contributes to nutritional deficiencies where minerals are leached from the body. Read more about why processed grains actually leach vitamins and minerals from your body in What Are Sprouted and Soaked Grains?

Organic milk

Is it healthier because it’s organic? Unfortunately, that probably isn’t the case. Organic milk, by organic standards, may not contain growth hormones, antibiotics, nor genetically-modified ingredients. However, at the very minimum, all milk sold in commercial environments is pasteurized, which destroys the valuable lactase enzyme, among others, and renders the milk indigestible to humans. Lactase is one of the main enzymes necessary for digestion of proteins and fats in milk. Many organic milks are ultra-high temperature pasteurized (usually labeled as UHT), which destroys even more of the essential bacteria critical to the digestion and absorption process.

Lactose-intolerance? If you or someone you know is “lactose-intolerant”, it is probably from consuming pasteurized milk. My son and husband were both diagnosed with a dairy “allergy” some years ago. My husband had congestion every day of his life for over 15 years. When he stopped consuming pasteurized dairy, his allergies went away. When we started consuming raw milk and other dairy, we have never had any issues whatsoever. For more information on the health benefits of drinking raw milk and consuming raw milk products, read The Truth About Raw Milk, Part I and Part II.

People can still have lactose intolerance or problems that result from consuming pasteurized dairy. They may not realize the connection between a symptom they believe is just “normal” or simply may not associate a health problem at all with the intake of pasteurized products.

How pasteurization destroys nutrients    High heat temperatures applied to milk actually completely destroy or denature important vitamins like A and can remove around 38 percent of B vitamin content. Heat also weakens or destroys Vitamin C. The enzyme phosphatase, necessary for absorbing calcium, is also destroyed. It changes or destroys many amino acids, reducing the digestibility of milk protein by about 17 percent. These modifications of the milk protein are responsible for causing an immune response. This response by the immune system causes allergies and digestive difficulties. It also contributes to many other health issues from eczema to osteoporosis to heart disease.

Milk naturally contains beneficial bacteria or probiotics necessary for digestion and health. When milk is heated, these beneficial bacteria also become denatured. This bacteria aids in keeping milk from going sour too soon. That’s why when raw milk finally does go sour, it is still a living food that can be used for all sorts of purposes – cooking, buttermilk, yogurt, clabbered milk, cheese, and the list goes on. If you drink pasteurized milk past the date on the label, it will be completely rancid.

And now, milks are not the only foods that are pasteurized – nuts, juices, pickles, and some canned foods as well. Pasteurization is an affect of our modern society’s need to control “bad” bacteria by heating up and “sanitizing” everything and anything possible. The bottom line is, this process removes all bacteria and leaves you with nothing except dead bacteria and no nutrition.

Homogenization   In this process, fat particles are broken down into even smaller pieces to allow them to be suspended. That’s why you don’t see the fat in homogenized milk – it’s been broken down by this process. Then, when the pasteurization occurs and the milk is heated, the fat becomes oxidized. Oxidized fat is rancid fat. Consuming rancid fats contributes to health problems like weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

What the cattle are fed    Even organic milk often comes from cows on feedlots who are still eating grain, soy, and/or corn.  The practice of feeding these substances fattens the animals up quickly, but they are not natural feed for cattle, who are ruminants and should be on pasture most of the time. Cattle that regularly consume something besides grass and pasture plants develop health problems which start in the gut. Corn, soy, and grain contribute to a variety of issues that make the digestive tract acidic and adversely affects the overall health of the cow and its milk.

For more information on real milk and the benefits of consuming it, visit the Real Milk site.

Meats and dairy products

In the past, organic did not specifically mean meat and dairy products were 100 percent grass-fed, pasture-raised, or humanely-raised. Organic meats and dairy products could still have originated from feedlots, as long as the animals or birds had outdoor “access”, which was vague.

For years, the organic label has meant only that animals raised for food could not be fed genetically-modified organisms, or administered hormones or antibiotics. Fortunately, things are starting to change. According to the Organic Consumers Association, organic milk will now be required to originate from cows on pasture eating grass, engaging in natural behavior and getting access to sunshine.

“We’ve been trying to get the pasture rule clarified and educate consumers about the organic frauds going on,” said Honor Schauland, campaign assistant at the Organic Consumers Association. “This is a big victory for us.”

This occurrence comes after a five-year consultation process and over 25,000 comments submitted by farmers, retailers and trade associations. New regulation laws now require access for dairy cows to grass for a minimum of 120 days during grazing season. Previously, the language stated it had to be merely “access to pasture”.

“There’s no longer this gray area of ‘what is the requirement’,” Schauland said. “The next step is enforcement.” While this change is definitely a move in the right direction, this is still not the most ideal situation available for animals being bred for meat and to produce milk. Why not allow the animals access to pasture most of the time, weather permitting, to allow for healthier conditions and consequently, healthier meat and milk?

However, because labeling is still vague and conditions where animals are raised are largely unknown when you buy meat and milk from somewhere you don’t know much about, the best solution is to know your farmer and buy meat and milk locally.

Canned, packaged, bottled, and frozen foods

These foods are what I would call a gray area because depending on what you are buying, they are processed to a certain extent. If you are talking about canned “meals” like soups, broths, boxed macaroni and cheese, salad dressings, syrups, mayonnaise, frozen dinners or breakfasts, side dishes, burritos, breakfast sandwiches, pizzas, and any other prepared food, these should always be suspect.

Vegetables, fruits, jams, sauces, legumes and other foods in cans or packages are also somewhat of a gray area. Many of these products, although organic, may have had something added to them that is not natural. To make certain they are just the whole food and nothing else, you have to check the label.

Many canned, jarred, and other types of packaging contain the chemical Bisphenol A – a hormone-like chemical that acts as a xeno or false estrogen – and therefore are subject to the contents being leached with this dangerous chemical. Adding additional estrogen to your body from an artificial source contributes to disease and illness – especially the development of cancer:

According to Greenhouse from USA Today, “Research has linked the chemical to cancer, heart disease, Type-II diabetes, obesity, sexual dysfunction and early-onset puberty. FDA officials said they are especially concerned about its developmental  impact on fetuses, infants and young children.”

“BPA, used to harden plastics, leaches from containers into food and drinks, even cold ones. It’s so ubiquitous that more than 90% of Americans have traces of it in their urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Liz Szabo, a reporter from USA Today said that FDA said it has “some concerns” about health effects and “encouraged people to limit their exposure”.

Food in jars can also be sealed with BPA in the lid, so those are not always safe solutions. The only company I know of that doesn’t use BPA in their cans is Eden Organic.

Frozen foods can be an okay way to go as long as the food is just food, and no additives or preservatives. Check labels! Organic frozen food won’t contain pesticides or other chemicals, but can be more expensive and sometimes may have questionable packaging (again, think BPA). So look for sales, and also check the Dirty Dozen list to find out which produce should be bought organic and which are less critical.

What about truly organic foods with no preservatives, chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, or anything harmful?

I’ve looked at a lot of different brands of organic packaged foods like Amy’s, Cedarlane, Nature’s Path, Newman’s Own, Earth’s Best, Cascadian Farm, Walnut Acres, Eden Organic, Ezekiel grain products, and many others. These foods may be somewhat healthier than their conventional counterparts in varying degrees. In order to know the net load of your purchase, you must know the real expense of buying any processed food – which comes down to the following:

  • the upfront cost you pay at the store
  • the quality of the food you are getting versus what it does for your health
  • the after cost of the product – how it affects your health and how much it costs to dispose of the packaging

Cost of how it impacts your health down the road and cost of disposal of packaging is critical. To me, those are the real determinants of the effect the product you are buying has on your pocketbook, your well-being, and the planet. Remember that even foods that are completely healthy on the label may have some ingredients you really don’t know anything about as well as the packaging may be toxic in more ways than one.

Impact on the environment

It may seem as though organic foods have less impact on the environment than conventional, and in general that is true. However, when you support the processed food industry, you are really just helping to contribute to more pollution and toxicity. Processed organic foods have to be packaged and sold in boxes, cans, plastic, and other containers – some of which just end up in landfills and pollute our soil, water, and air.

Those same packages also require transportation dollars and create emissions and pollution to be shipped all over the world. So that means the use of more petroleum and other forms of energy expended to bring those products to their destination.

Recycling helps these issues, but in my opinion reducing your overall use of containers that cannot be recycled, those which have a long disintegration cycle, and those that don’t get recycled has a better overall impact. Avoiding processed foods as much as possible, whether organic or conventional, will reduce the overall toxic load of our planet.

Visit the EPA Waste site for What you Can Do to learn more ideas about reducing the amount of waste you and your family produce.

What’s really in your organic food?

Even if your food is truly sustainable and organic, you are not getting benefit from your food without the all-important presence of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dr. Weston A. Price who traveled the world in the 1930s to various locations discovered that all healthy populations had something specific in common – they consumed these nutrients in greater amounts than those living in developed countries such as the U.S. – in some cases, TEN times the amount.

This meant that the foods those people consumed were high in real fats - raw dairy foods like butter, milk, and cream from pasture-raised cattle, fish roe (eggs),  animal fats such as lard, tallow (beef fat), chicken, and others, organ meats, cod liver oil, egg yolks from hens raised in the open and eating a natural diet, seafood, and grass and pasture raised meats and poultry.

These foods have not only sustained but allowed civilizations to thrive and have robust health. These foods support conception, pregnancy, and nursing mothers, and also their unborn fetuses and children.

Today, the emphasis on health that comes from nearly all angles is on processed, low-fat foods. When you lose the fat, you lose nutrients. As a result, your health will eventually decline and you will experience chronic disease.

So even though something says organic, it won’t support your health unless you include with regularity these critical components of overall health – nutrients that support digestion, immunity, reproductive, excretory and detoxification, circulatory, pulmonary, endocrine (hormonal), brain and nervous system health; these essential fat soluble vitamins that Dr. Price discovered in all healthy populations worldwide.

Conclusion

Because many foods labeled organic do not meet the kind of standards you would expect, the best policy is to avoid processed foods as much as possible and buy food in the most whole form available. This means making efforts to buy your food direct from the source whenever you are able.

Other healthy choices include foods that are produced sustainably without chemicals, hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics. You can find good choices in this category by knowing where your food comes from and how the farmer or food producer uses farming practices. If you are buying something that is not local and you’ve checked the ingredients, the best thing to do is some research by contacting the company or food producer where the food is made if you want to be assured the food is safe and nutritious to eat. You can also find out about packaging and materials used to package your food.

To review, here’s how to make sure what you are eating is safe and healthy:

  • Learn about where your food comes from – for more information, read How Well Do You Know Your Food? Find Out!
  • Support local agriculture and farming efforts by looking on the Internet, Craigslist, and checking out your local farmer’s market
  • Avoid packaged and processed foods to save money and health – read Reading Labels in The Store – Don’t Be Fooled By Marketing Lingo!
  • If you aren’t doing so already, learn to cook and make foods at home from scratch so you know what you are putting in
  • Make a food budget – use creativity and prioritize to save money on healthy food; create schedules and plan your cooking and food preparations
  • Embrace and perfect your home-keeping skills
  • Use networking and resource opportunities with others – in real life and on the Internet – to make this process easier. Start a blog or get on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. You can find like-minded people on these sites to help find the things you are looking for.
  • Learn to can and jar fresh foods for later use in winter months. Check out Marisa’s site – an excellent resource for this process!
  • Plant a garden or plants in pots to enable yourself to save money on food, or get involved in a local garden effort in your area
  • Start a compost bin to enable your garden to produce healthier food

Do you have ideas to share? What ways do you save money, your health, and the environment?