- Avoid suspect food additives, especially artificial sweeteners, flavour enhancers, certain preservatives and colours.
The artificial sweetener aspartame 951 and the flavour enhancer MSG 621 are the two most complained about additives in history. For good reason - as they can cause a range of symptoms from mild and transitory, such as headaches, to debilitating or life-threatening such as seizures and visual disturbances. Both are excitotoxins, overstimulating the brain cells to death. Children and asthmatics especially should also avoid artificial colours (eg 102, 110, 123) and the benzoate and sulphite preservatives (eg 211, 220).
For more information see handout 'Additives to avoid' and other material on this site, www.mpwhi.com and www.holisticmed.com/aspartame , www.truthinlabeling.com on MSG, the books 'The Chemical Maze' by Bill Statham, 'Excitotoxins - the taste that kills' by Russell Blaylock MD and 'Aspartame disease: an ignored epidemic' by HJ Roberts MD
- Lessen your buying of processed food.
Food in packets, apart from being more expensive generally, is designed to appeal to consumers and make money for the manufacturers. Less priority is usually given to such things as nutrient value and whether the additives used may have an adverse effect. By reducing processed food, you will also be reducing your exposure to potentially genetically engineered ingredients such as soy, canola and corn, with their essentially unknown long term effects on our health. Many additives are used to add eye appeal or flavour to a product that would otherwise not have much appeal. Tip: if the list of ingredients of a food is long and contains lots of names you don't recognise, or lots of numbers, don't buy it. If you buy food in the supermarket, concentrate your buying in the outside aisles, where the real food is, and don't buy so much from the inner aisles, where the processed food often is. Another tip: don't buy food your great-grandmother wouldn't recognise!
- Use organic flour and buy organic bread.
Conventional flour in New Zealand contains high levels of insecticide or organophosphates because the grain is fumigated post-harvest to stop insects eating it. Almost all non-organic bread, pasta, sausages, bran, biscuits and anything else containing wheat can be expected to contain these residues. Children and the foetus in the womb are particularly susceptible to the poisoning effects, both acute and long term. A particularly undesirable residue is chlorpyrifos, a type of organophosphate, which has been linked to abnormal brain development, nervous, genetic and immune system damage.
- Avoid buying imported fruit and vegetables, especially ones you may not wash or peel.
Imported non-organic fruit and vegetables contain higher residues of pesticides because they are either fumigated or dipped in pesticides to ensure they do not bring unwelcome bugs into New Zealand. Depending on where they come from and the grower, they may have also had more pesticides applied during their growing season. Washing and peeling may remove some pesticides, but not necessarily all.
- Grow your own fruit and vegetables where you can. After that, buy local and organic.
Nothing beats the flavour and nutrients of a ripe tomato just harvested, or capsicum or strawberry! Even if your garden is non-existent, plants can be grown in pots, and sprouts, which are bursting full of nutrients, can be grown on your kitchen bench. Reduce your overall costs and your carbon footprint by growing and buying local and organic.
- Reduce the amount of pesticide residues going into your body significantly by buying organic fruit.
Apart from wheat, significant quantities of pesticide residues are found in fruit such as grapes (that includes sultanas and raisins), pears, apricots, strawberries and other berry fruit. In the last Total Diet Survey published by the NZ Food Safety Authority in 2005 a total of 17 different pesticides were found in 8 samples of raisins and sultanas. These 17 pesticides included 9 known or suspected endocrine disruptors and 7 known or suspect carcinogens. Endocrine disruptors can damage the hormonal system even in minute doses and can have wide-ranging effects such as abnormal brain and sexual development, infertility, prostate and breast cancer, depending very much on the nature of the chemical and the timing of the dose. It is especially important for young children and pregnant women to eat organic fruit, and also those whose immune systems are compromised.
- Reduce the amount of pesticide residues going into your body significantly by buying organic salad vegetables.
As well as fruit, non-organic salad vegetables such as tomatoes, celery, cucumber and lettuce are likely to contain higher levels of pesticide residues in New Zealand. In the last Total Diet Survey, for example, 16 samples of tomatoes and tomato sauce contained a total of 15 different pesticides, including 10 known or suspect carcinogens and 9 known or suspect endocrine disruptors. Mancozeb is a type of fungicide used on a wide range of fruit and vegetables, including celery, tomatoes, onions, grapes and apricots. It has a metabolite or breakdown product, ethylene thiourea, which is known to cause cancer, endocrine disruption, thyroid damage and birth defects. It unfortunately increases on exposure to heat. Think of that before you add non-organic celery to your soup!
- Increase the amount of raw and fermented food in your diet.
Raw as well as fermented food has valuable enzymes and many nutrients that cooked food doesn't have, or has less of. These can help the body to better digest and assimilate the food. Children are more likely to eat raw vegetables than cooked ones, because the flavour is sweeter. As you increase the raw food in your diet, it becomes more important to ensure you eat organic food. As well as bread, organophosphate residues may be found in a range of fruit and vegetables, especially ones which are not exported. Organophosphate poisoning is more likely to happen with those who include a bigger proportion of fruit and vegetables in their diet. Short term effects of organophosphate poisoning include flu-like symptoms such as headaches, sweating, stomach pains, diarrhoea, joint pains and also tingling in the mouth.
- Reduce your meat intake, especially if processed.
Consumption of processed meat such as bacon, sausages and meat pies has been linked to cancer. By reducing your meat intake you will also be reducing toxic residues such as DDT, dioxin and PCBs which are found in meat fat, especially important for breastfeeding mothers. By eating organic meat, particularly pork, chicken and eggs you are reducing toxic residues, avoiding antibiotics and supporting a system which better looks after animals.
- Don't panic, go organic!
Conventional food does not include the cost of biodiversity loss and other environmental degradation. With organic food you pay the real cost for real food, and you give the grower a fairer return. You can enjoy more flavour and nutrients, and avoid questionable additives, pesticides and processes, such as genetic engineering, factory farming and irradiation. 'Eat a variety of fresh food in moderation.' Make an informed choice every time you buy food, and support a system which better protects our children and the environment.
By Alison White, Safe Food Campaign March 08