Meat, dairy and poultry. They’re on millions of American plates every day and most people don’t give ‘em a second thought, because our food supply, according to the FDA, is perfectly safe. Or is it? Those of us in the wellness community would likely disagree! Our food isn’t quite as healthy or wholesome as they’d have us believe. In fact, many of our staple foods in the U.S. contain ingredients and undergo chemical treatments that are banned in other parts of the world because of mounting health concerns. As a physician dedicated to sustainable wellness, these bans certainly set off a few alarms – and it’s why I advise my patients to re-think what they’re eating every day, to choose foods that will help them feel and be well. Here are three common foods to re-think – and healthier ways to enjoy them:
1) Dairy Products That Beat Up Your Belly
Got milk? If so, then you may also have gut issues. You may have a chronically upset stomach, acid reflux and heartburn, or an adverse reaction to milk sugars or the milk protein casein, which some scientists believe may be carcinogenic. There’s the problem of factory-farmed cows pumped up with antibiotics leading to antibiotic resistance in humans. There are also concerns over the use of banned-in-Europe growth hormones rBST and rBGH which may disrupt the endocrine system. Given the daily digestive problems milk can trigger, not to mention the subtle long-term health issues, ditching milk and dairy altogether is for many people a quick and simple way to tame the gut and cool inflammation. What to drink instead? Try switching to organic, non-GMO-certified nut milks. Keep in mind though, many commercial brands contain the thickener carrageenan which can also trigger gastrointestinal inflammation – so look closely at the ingredients. The fewer on the label, the better.
BE WELL Workaround: The best way to get your milk – make your own homemade nut milks. Barring that, look for organic versions that are carrageenan-free. Click here for a list of carrageenan-free milk and dairy alternatives. If you feel you just have to drink cow’s milk, buy from a local producer at the farmer’s market or a source whose milk is organic, full-fat, hormone and antibiotic-free.
2) Processed Meats, With a Side of Slime
Supermarket ground beef, processed burgers, so-called ‘all-beef’ hot dogs and sausages – if you knew what was in ‘em, you’d likely lose your appetite. Among the most unappetizing ingredients? ‘Pink slime,’ the filler made from simmered beef trimmings (aka waste) and treated with ammonia to make it ‘safe’ to eat. Back in 2012, when the foul ingredient was outed by an ABC News exposé, consumption of the stuff took a nose-dive in the U.S. – score one for consumers! Wisely, The European Union banned it altogether, but our own FDA did not, so for those of us in the States, it’s still a case of buyer beware. Turns out, as beef prices have risen, pink slime has quietly been making a comeback in supermarket meat products, so all I can say is leave processed meat where you found it.
BE WELL Workaround: To steer clear of slime, step away from factory-farmed, processed beef buys and invest in smaller quantities of grass-fed or organic beef to grind yourself, guaranteed slime-free. Stretch home-ground beef by adding healthy ‘fillers to burgers or meatballs, for example, grated carrots, zucchini, spinach, beans, flax seed, etc.
3) Chicken, With a Side of Chlorine and Phosphates
OK, so maybe you’re not a major red meat-eater – poultry’s your animal protein of choice. If that’s the case, the type of bird you choose makes a big difference. If you’re buying factory-farmed chickens, you’re guaranteed to get a lot more than you bargained for and virtually none of it’s good for your health. Raised on cheap, virtually nutrient-free feed, chickens are packed in filthy, pathogen-drenched conditions and eventually sent off to the processing plant. There, after they’re killed and plucked, they’ll get an antimicrobial, chlorine-and-chemical bath – a practice that was banned in Europe decades ago as a precautionary measure amidst concerns about possible cancer links. From there, most will receive a jab of phosphate – another banned-in-Europe ingredient – to boost taste, texture, plumpness and moisture, despite the fact that it’s a vascular toxin. Why either of these treatments are OK with the FDA here is beyond me, but as long as they’re standard industry procedure, the common sense, precautionary approach is to avoid factory-farmed chicken and poultry.
BE WELL Workaround: If you’re a poultry fan, there are a few ways to cut the chemicals. First up, head to the farmer’s market for local, humanely and pasture-raised birds. Organic, free range poultry from a known supplier who air chills instead of chemically bathes is also a good bet. To mitigate the extra cost, cut portions down to size. Instead of a whole chicken breast, eat half. Shred it, cube it or chop it and fill out your meals with more plant fiber to truly satisfy your belly and feed your body well.
For more ways to eat clean on a budget, read here.