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Mama Talk: There’s WHAT in that hamburger?

5 Feb

Well, horse meat if you got it from Burger King.

Okay, let’s get real – nobody wants to eat horse meat. And we don’t go through the drive thru at a fast food place because we want to consume extraordinary amounts of trans fats and all the chemicals that are used in the mass production of the food. But let’s face it – it’s much easier and, in most cases, cheaper, to eat stuff that’s bad for you. And many of us shrug it off, assuming that if it’s being sold to the public it can’t be that bad for you. If this is you, I suggest you watch the documentary Food, Inc. all the way through – no matter how grossed out you get – because the thought that things can’t possibly be that bad has got to go. Yes, they can be that bad, and they are, and you’re paying for it.

I’m not going to go deeply into detail about the dangers of processed foods and the fast food industry. Watch the documentary, read Fast Food Nation – or simply do a few minutes of non-government funded research for yourself. What you will find in just five minutes of exploring is that a huge portion of the foods available to us everywhere we go is loaded with junk that is truly terrible for our bodies. This is the food that’s being sold in our country – it’s the food that’s profitable, that is the easiest to sell because it’s cheap to make and cheap to consume. Sadly, this is the reality and it probably won’t be changing any time soon. So if you want to be healthy, you truly have to be actively engaged in choosing healthy foods for you and your kids, or you will undoubtedly become a victim of the food industry.

The most important thing to remember when thinking about your family’s nutrition is what I have said repeatedly about almost everything I’ve talked about: it is your responsibility, and yours alone. The food industry, which profits from your blind consumption of their crap, certainly doesn’t care. The pharmaceutical companies making billions off your medications definitely don’t care. The government has bigger fish to fry, and they’ve got the food industry lobbyists so far down their throats it makes no difference whether they like it or not. No one is going to be responsible for your health and well-being but you. You must play an active role in choosing the foods you consume. That being said, yes, it will cost you. You will absolutely pay more for locally-grown meats and vegetables, organic snacks and non-processed foods. But… I hear triple-bypass surgeries are also quite expensive, so you’ll have to pick your poison.

Here are just a few of my humble suggestions for how to keep your family eating as clean as possible:

1. Be an obnoxious label-reader.

I know it takes longer to read the ingredients. I know people glare at you when they’re waiting behind you in the aisles. Just do it. Read the label, find out what in the world you’re putting into your body, and then decide if you’re going to purchase it or not. If one of the main ingredients is high fructose corn syrup or it’s loaded with preservatives with names you can’t even begin to pronounce, it probably isn’t safe.

2. Don’t assume the front of the box is a reflection of the back.

The nutrition label is on the back of the box for a reason. It’s also in small print for a reason. The front might say 50% less fat or High in Fiber! in big bold letters, but the back could be home to 20+ ingredients chock full of bad stuff. Companies are required to list all of the ingredients for you, but they can say whatever nonsense they want on the rest of the box. Don’t be fooled by the box.

3. Stock up.

If your kid is anything like mine, she probably wants to eat… all… the… time. Instead of having to constantly stop for food (and consequently go through the drive thru all the time because you know you don’t want to waste the time unbuckling, shuffling into the store, rebuckling, etc.) make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks available. That means spending more at the grocery store initially, but saving money when you’re out and about, and, more importantly, being kind to your baby’s belly. My favorites are Trader Joe’s applesauce crushers and cereal bars, fresh bananas and other fruits, and trail mix.

4. For the most part, stick to the outer layer of the grocery store.

Basically avoid everything within the center aisles of the store if you can help it. The outer perimeter of the store is where you’ll find meats, veggies, fruits, and eggs. The middle is generally jam-packed full of processed foods that’ll last on those shelves for years because they’re so stuffed full of chemicals. Stick to the stuff that either came out of the ground or once had a face, as much as you possibly can.

5. Local is best.

Most places have at least a handful of farmer’s market-type local food spots. Go to them as much as you can! The less traveling your food had to do to get to you, the better off you are eating it. Not only are you being kind to your body, but you are also supporting the local farmers in your area – and really, in this day and age, those guys need all the help they can get. And if you’ve never been to a farmer’s market, don’t think that it’s just local vegetables. Most of these places have organic jams, dried fruits, trail mix type snacks, and other items that you can feel good about eating. You don’t necessarily have to go and buy bushels of kale.

I know we can’t always eat perfectly healthy, and I understand the limits of a budget that make it even harder. Just remember that investing in your health and the health of your kids now is just as important as investing in their education and financial future. Helping them understand the importance of healthy eating at a young age is the best way you can contribute to their outlook on food in the future. Do your part as the parent by setting the example that their culture refuses to set for them.

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