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Activism Healthy Living

What Is Your Health Worth?

Some say I’m an extremist when it comes to health and food. That’s okay. I want my unconventional and often controversial ideals to cause people to think about the choices they make. Over the years I have listened to consumers complain about the prices of food. With the cost of living as high as it is, most people take advantage of sales whenever they can. Of course, things aren’t going to get any cheaper. When you purchase something, is spending more money going to guarantee the quality is better? It depends on what you are buying. Some restaurants use low quality food and make fancy, gourmet meals and then turn around and sell them for a high price. Nowadays it can be difficult to tell. But some restaurants proudly offer organic and natural choices on their menus and also charge a premium price for their meals. A visit to the grocery store may provide a similar finding, but again it depends on what you are purchasing. You can find packaged and processed meals sold by brand names that are more expensive than their store name or generic counterparts (such as Kraft macaroni and cheese versus the lesser known variety), but does that necessarily mean they are better quality?

A prime example of low versus high-quality food is peanut butter versus almond butter. Peanut butter is typically cheaper than almond butter, even if you choose the organic variety. You can usually purchase a jar of organic peanut butter anywhere from $5 -10. Organic almond butter is much pricer and you can expect to spend almost double the amount. If mainstream peanut butter is your thing, you will probably only spend $1.79 to roughly 3.75 a jar (such as Jif or Skippy).

Now, here’s the kicker: all peanut butter contains a mold fungus called Aflatoxin. These toxins are known cancer-causing agents and are responsible for liver disease, immune disorders, and a host of other problems. Alflatoxins, produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus, can grow as a result of poor storage conditions and before and after harvesting of various foods such as corn, tree nuts (including peanuts), wheat, rice, and oilseeds such as cottonseed. The FDA claims that no animal species is impervious to the effects of this known carcinogenic substance. Some say higher levels of these toxins are actually found in the organic variety of peanut butters because there is less tampering with the peanuts during the process of grinding them into butter. This may be one of the rare cases where organic is not necessarily better. I’ve read that mainstream brands like Jif monitor toxin levels while processing their peanuts, and actually require their workers to wear protective safety covering to avoid over-exposure.

The point is, peanuts are not just something some people are allergic to. Peanuts affect everyone to some degree, it just depends on the person. Some people don’t show any reaction at all, and some are deathly allergic. Although many peanut companies claim their products contain these toxins in such minute amounts that it makes little difference, it seems logical that consumption of peanuts and peanut butter should be minimized. The overall better choice is definitely almond butter. Almonds and almond butters also contain a better essential-fatty acid profile for health.

How many of us grew up eating peanut butter on weekly, or perhaps daily basis? We have been taught that peanut butter is one of the most indispensable staples in our kitchens. Peanuts are one of the most widely used ingredients in packaged and processed foods, toppings, baked items, salads, cereals, desserts, and other consumed items. Another interesting but certainly not surprising fact to note is that besides wheat and dairy, more people are allergic to peanuts than ever before in history. Like gluten, the ingredient in wheat and wheat foods that is so common and causes allergic problems for such a large number of people, peanuts find their way into an overwhelming amount of food products, recipes, and prepared meals. Many people wonder why peanut allergies are so pervasive. In 2004, 1.5 million were reported to have this type of allergy. Now in 2007, with more than three million people in the United States alone allergic to peanuts, the answer should be obvious.

The other day I was listening to my local NPR affiliate broadcast, and caught an episode of a nationally syndicated food show that runs in the mornings for about five minutes each weekday. The chef who appears on this show listed favorite items often requested by children for lunches they take to school. This was the rundown of most wanted items in a sack lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwich, soda or juice, a candy bar, chips, and grapes. Not only is this one of the most unhealthy lunches I’ve ever heard of, but the show’s host cheerfully extolled the virtues of giving your children what they like best to eat – not what was actually healthy for them. Not a single vegetable, healthy protein, nor whole grain was included in this list for children’s lunches. As if that weren’t folly enough, the affirmation to consume one of the most problematic foods which causes allergies was being strengthened right there on National Public Radio, with millions and millions listening. I was appalled and realized that this type of rhetoric and ideology is partially to blame for the poor health state of the average citizen in our country. It’s no secret that we are among the most obese and unhealthy in the world, and that conditions such as Diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders, high-blood pressure, and high cholesterol are among the top listed ailments that plague our population. Simply because someone has a title or has been given some transfer of authority does not necessarily give their words truth.

The important lesson to be learned is not to merely accept whatever information you are given. Do your homework. Question everything. Read labels. Become a detective. Don’t just swallow what the establishment tells you to do. Instead of taking cues from traditional health rhetoric, be the master of your own destiny. Most importantly, listen to your body. If you think something is making you sick, chances are, it probably is. The old saying about you are what you eat couldn’t be any truer in today’s modern food climate.

Some years ago, I was a walking basket case of nerves, anxiety, uncertainty, and indecision about myself and my life. I used to eat a lot of processed and packaged foods, a lot of wheat products, very little fresh fruits and vegetables, and didn’t make certain that most of the food I was buying was organic, natural, or came from a good source. Since cleaning up my act and walking the clean and narrow side of nutrition, I am a more confident person who makes decisions and takes paths in a much more deliberate manner. For the first time in nearly twenty years, I no longer have panic attacks and anxiety issues. I deal with stress well. My body doesn’t succumb to sicknesses in the same way it used to. And yes, I spend a lot of money on food and health supplements to make sure I really am getting what my body needs each and everyday.

So back to my original question: is it worth it? Without a doubt. I’ve put myself in debt numerous times for much lesser causes and found out just how far that brought me. Time and time again, I will answer — besides family and friends, there is nothing more important than good health. Absolutely nothing. Just ask yourself the following: do you want to go to food stores and catch all the great “sales” only to put garbage in your body and receive a similar return, or do you want to feel confident about your health knowing that most of what you put in will equip your body to perform its optimal best and stay away from the doctor’s office? The choice is yours.

For more information on the benefits of paying attention to what you eat and choosing healthful, organic food, visit the following web sites:

Dr. Mercola and Organic Foodee.