The average grocery store is filled with thousands of products ranging from fresh produce, packaged foods, cosmetics, cleaning supplies and more. On the surface, choice = convenience. When considering the impact a product could potentially have on your health and on the environment your choices begin to narrow. Being an informed shopper not only can protect you and your family but it also can protect your community and the planet. Make your purchases count on a larger scale by learning how to read labels and by putting conscious shopping into practice. Here are few things to keep in mind when venturing to the store.
- The cheaper the item the more suspect it is likely to be.
This tends to be the case with heavily processed foods which are often made with manufacturing by products. Yes, they are literally making “food” with ingredients they used to thrown away. And if it’s too scary to feed to people, don’t worry they feed it to livestock or turn it into pet food.
- The more advertising and hype the more suspect the product is likely to be.
Large corporations have tons of money to throw at advertising to persuade the purchaser. Junk foods, processed foods and alcohol are the most highly marketed foods and the reason for this is because they aren’t actually food. It takes a a lot of money and manipulation to sell ice to an Eskimo, the same can be said of peddling junk food to the general public. Look beyond the packaging and the hype and find true nourishment from fresh and whole foods.
- The more ingredients on the product the more suspect it is likely to be.
Whatever happened to simplicity? Take a look at the back of a jar of peanut butter or “pancake syrup” and you’ll know what I mean. Since when did it take 15 ingredients to make peanut butter? And why did someone have to go and engineer “pancake syrup” when maple syrup works just fine? It’s all about making money at the expense of the health of the public and the planet. If you can turn industrial waste into food additives you can lower your production costs. That’s why the ingredients in these products have unrecognizable names. If the label on your food is confusing, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.
Organic versus Conventional
A quick way to cut out a lot of the guesswork is to buy organic certified foods. Organic certification in the United States insures that the food producer has adhered to a strict set of guidelines put forth by USDA. Aside from USDA organic certification there are other regional groups that give their stamp of approval to sustainably grown and produced products both inside the United States and in countries around the world. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is a great online resource for staying informed on the latest developments in the organic industry. Here is a list of some of the certification stamps you may come across and what they mean.
“‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.” – The National Organic Standards Board Definition of “Organic”
This is the United States Department of Agriculture certification standard based on the Organic Food Production Act of 1990.
Oregon Tilth is a nonprofit research and education membership organization dedicated to biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture. Oregon Tilth offers educational events throughout the state of Oregon, and provides organic certification services to organic growers, processors, and handlers internationally.
CCOF provides certification services to all stages of the organic food chain from farms to processors, restaurants and retailers. CCOF certifies to the USDA National Organic Program standards and CCOF international standards.
COG’s membership is diverse and includes farmers, gardeners, processors, retailers, educators, policy-makers, and consumers. Not all COG members run certified organic operations, but they share a vision for a sustainable bioregionally-based organic food system.
ECOCERT is an organic certification organization, founded in France in 1991. It is based in Europe but conducts inspections in over 80 countries, making it one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world. It should be noted that Ecocert has been challenged in court by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) for not upholding their organic certification standards.
The Soil Association is the UK’s leading organic organization, with over 200 staff based in Bristol and Edinburgh and working as certification inspectors across the country.
Demeter is the brand for products from Biodynamic® Agriculture. Only strictly controlled and contractually bound partners are permitted to use the Brand. The holistic Demeter requirements exceed government mandated regulations.
Australian Certified Organic (ACO) is Australia’s largest certifier for organic and biodynamic produce. ACO is accredited to certify organic operations in Australia, Europe, Japan, USA, Switzerland, the UK and has official recognition by Quebec Qua.
BDIH is the Association of German Industries and Trading Firms for pharmaceuticals, health care products, food supplements and personal hygiene products. “Certified Natural Cosmetics” seal use natural raw material such as plant oils, fats and waxes, herbal extracts and essential oils and aromatic materials from controlled biological cultivation or controlled biological wild collection.
Created in 2002 by the collaboration of about ten cosmetic laboratories working on job specifications for ethical cosmetics, COSMEBIO is today an association with more than 200 members and more than 4000 certified products.
Fairtrade is a term that refers to products and services that are cultivated through sustainable and balanced trade practices. Fairtrade focuses on providing fair compensation to producers and decent working conditions for hired labor. This is especially important in farming practices like cacao (chocolate), sugarcane, coffee and banana where slave and child labor practices still exist. The Fairtrade Labeling Organisation is the main certifier of fairtrade products although there are other certifiers and labels out there. Fairtrade products aren’t guaranteed to be organic or chemical free but they are products you can purchase with a clean conscience which in turn reduces your stress levels. Detoxing stress from your life goes a long way in maintaining your health so buy fairtrade when possible and rest easy knowing you’ve done your part to support fair sustainable trade.
GMO stands for genetically modified organism and is applied to plants and animals that have been genetically engineered (GE) to have specific “desirable traits”. GM/GE foods were approved for public use and consumption in 1996 despite an ever increasing wave of concern regarding their health and environmental impact. A quick search of headlines regarding GM/GE foods will reveal concern is real and serious. Conscious consuming says “no to GMO”. Purchasing foods that don’t have GM/GE ingredients in them is easier said than done due to the fact that industry regulations and regulators have gone out of their way to make labeling of GMO food as transparent as mud. Although the majority of the public is against GM foods (USA 55%, Canada 63%, Germany 81%, France 89%) and is in favor of GMO food labeling (USA 90%) no mandatory labeling standards have been put in place. The fact is in the United the FDA and USDA have gone out of their way to prevent the labeling of foods that contain GM ingredients and also prevent food producers that do not use GM ingredients from labeling their products as “GM Free”. Your best solution at the moment is to purchase organic certified foods and products you know to be GM free. Do your part in supporting transparency in GM/GE labeling by signing petitions online and contacting your local government and voicing your concerns. Start by visiting Seeds of Deception to find out more about the dangers of GM foods.
Preservatives and Additives
Many of the food preservatives and additives used by food manufacturers are known to be toxic. Food allergies and food sensitivities can be attributed to these food additives as well. When you buy fresh whole foods you can avoid running into the chemical snags that additives and preservatives present. If you end up having to purchase processed foods, here are some of the main offenders to look out for.
Flavors, Flavoring, Natural Flavor
- Aspratame (Equal, Nutrasweet) – artificial sweetener
- Sucralose (Splenda) – artificial sweetener
- Acesulfame-K – artificial sweetener
- Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated Oils
- Potassium Bromate – bulking agent used in breads
- Propyl Gallate – preservative
- BHA and BHT – preservative
- Sodium Nitrite and Nitrates – preservative and flavoring in processed meats
- Sulfur Dioxide – preservative
The cleaning supplies hiding under your sink and through out your house could potentially contain a variety of hazardous chemicals. What happened to the days of using vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice to clean the house? Slick packaged chemical cleaners now come in a variety of colors and flavors. These products may be pleasing to eyes and nose but it is likely not pleasing to your body. Don’t think that because a product is labeled “natural” that it is safe. Some brands that can be trusted are:
Personal Care Products
Next to food which goes in your body, personal care products that go on your body are a major source of toxic burden in our daily lives. My philosophy is, “if it isn’t safe in my mouth, it’s not safe on my skin.” The best way to avoid toxic personal care products is to research brands and find ones that you trust. I purchase hand-crafted soaps at the farmer’s market and make some of my other personal care items myself. Once again “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean non-toxic or safe. Here are a few chemical ingredients to avoid in your personal care products:
- sodium fluoride – toothpaste, mouth wash
- alcohol, isopropyl (SD-40) – skin, hair, perfume, hand sanitizers
- DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine) – shampoo, shaving cream and bubble baths
- DMDM Hydantoin and Urea (imidazolidinyl) – cosmetics
- FD&C color pigments – all products
- Fragrances – all products
- Mineral Oil – baby oil, moisturizers
- Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) – laxatives, skin creams
- Propylene Glycol (PG) and Butylene Glycol – deodorants, antiperspirants, moisturizers, lotions, shampoos, perfume, toothpaste
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – soap, shampoo, shaving cream, bubble bath, toothpaste, mouthwash, lotion, sun cream
- Triclosan – toothpaste, antibacterial cleaners
For an A-Z list of chemical click here.
Refer to online resources like the Organic Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org) for an up to date list on consumer products that are safe and sustainable.
Avoiding toxins in consumer products doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Follow these simple suggestions and you’ll be able to cut through the misinformation and find truly healthy products in no time:
- If it has more than 10 ingredients be suspicious.
- If it has several ingredients you’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce than avoid it.
- If it’s really cheap, it’s probably really cheap.
- When in doubt go with simplicity in ingredients and packaging.
Stay informed and shop and live a conscious life. Until next time… Keep it Live!