Three things you ought to about our food system

A good friend of mine, Debbie, just got back from a ten-day vacation in Europe. She ate bread. She drank wine. And she ate all the seafood Portugal would give her.

When she got back though, her stomach was in a lot of pain and, after a few texts back and forth, we knew it was the food here that was causing her stomach to hurt – a lot.

The same thing happened to me when I was in Tanzania for a summer. I ran off to Arusha to find myself through volunteering (yep… I was that girl) and, while there, I ate off the land for two-months. I didn’t eat any processed foods and, if I ate meat, I knew the goat. I was having stomach issues in America previously, but they cleared when I was in Tanzania so I totally forgot about them. Within days of returning home though, I was in the ER for severe stomach pains.

Doctors found nothing wrong with me and just gave me codeine to deal (…which, really??). At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but it clicked a couple years ago that my body was reacting to the shift in my diet. While in Africa, I only ate clean, whole foods. When I came home, I went right back to my protein bars and shakes.

I tell you this story because, for a long time, I just trusted what was told and sold to me by the American food, diet and fitness world.

I didn’t think twice to analyze the back of a 100-calorie pack of pretzels. And I didn’t think it mattered where my food was grown. An apple was an apple was an apple.


Don’t worry. This isn’t a push to make you eat organic, but it is a nudge to learn more about our food system.  

I say this because of stories like Debbie’s and the ones many of our friends have told us (I know you have those friends or colleague). I say this because of all the research I’ve done and all the research people way smarter than me have done. And I say this because it’s true. We’re sold things we shouldn’t be, and we’re taught not to question what’s put in front of us. But if you want to get healthy:

You have to question. You have to read. And you have to be your own detective.

The good news is it’s not a hard as you might think it is. Reading labels and a few Google searches is all it takes. And to help you minimize those searches, here are three things you really ought to know about our food system:

  1. USDA allow substances in our foods that are banned in Europe, Japan, Canada and a host of other countries (including Russia – that’s how you know it’s bad). We allow colored dyes in food, which are banned in Europe because they are known to cause allergies and ADHD in kids. We allow rBST, an artificial growth hormone that increases milk production in cows, even though its banned in every country I just listed because it’s been proven to increase inflammation and cause cancer. And there’s more… just Google TBHQ, Brominated vegetable Oil and Potassium Bromate.
  2. Lobbyist influence what we eat and how much we eat. Ever notice that there isn’t a daily value (DV) listed for sugar? And that we didn’t talk about how added sugar affected our waistlines for years? That’s not a coincidence. That was the sugar lobby. Lobbyists have also helped our politicians make decisions on pesticide usage and which foods should cost less and which don’t (Congress FTW…).
  3. Food companies do not have to disclose their ingredient lists for proprietary menu items. That’s why we didn’t know azodicarbonamide, the chemical used in yoga mats to make them soft and bouncy, was also used to make bread soft and bouncy at Subway, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and a few other restaurants. And that’s why we don’t know what natural flavors are in drinks we drink and bars we eat. Natural flavors can come from nature… or they can come from items like petroleum.

I don’t tell you this to scare. I tell you this because I want you to control of your health. You are completely capable of doing so. So, if you’re ready, start by being your own food detective. And if you want a little help, try these out next time you’re out at the grocery store or a restaurant:

  • Read the package’s ingredient labels. Next time you’re reading a food label, take a gander at ingredient list too. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t say it, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. That being said, if it has a word on it you don’t know – Google it and decide if it’s something you want to eat or don’t want to eat.  
  • Ask your server questions. We hate doing this, but it’s the only way to get your questions answered. Ask what ingredients are in the mash potatoes. Ask them if the food is frozen or fresh. And, lastly, ask for what you want. Remember, his job is to serve you. Trust me, I served for 15 years. You’re not his most annoying customer.  
  • When in doubt, eat fresh, local and/or organic produce, meats, and animal by-products. I’m just going to say it: These items are usually the best for you. They have more nutrients, less pesticides, no antibiotics, and no fake or artificial flavoring, coloring, or additive. If this is available to you, take advantage. It’s the best thing you can do for your body. 

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