Monday, September 22, 2008

Food for thought

We’ve all heard the phrase “You are what you eat” but have you really sat down and thought about what this actually means? Are you aware of the impact the food choices you make has on your health and to a greater extent, the impact this has on the environment? Climate change, sustainability, eco-friendly, carbon neutral, genetically engineered, organic, free-range and natural are terms we’re all familiar with and are becoming common inclusions in our modern day language. It’s something that we all MUST embrace in order to protect our individual health and that of our planet. If you haven’t thought much about it as yet, now would be a good time to start.

I remember backyard veggie gardens being more popular in the past compared to today and I’m sure the main culprit here is time, or a lack of. The supermarket has surpassed the veggie garden in terms of convenience and little thought is given towards how and where our produce is grown. Fast food and pre-packaged meals are all too tempting when it comes to those times when we are exhausted and the last thing we feel like doing is cooking. But are we doing more harm than good in purchasing these things?

We’re all aware of the importance of eating a well balanced diet in order to obtain the right balance of vitamins and minerals to sustain good health. It’s no surprise that convenience foods contain little nutritional value and with the preservatives and additives added to keep the food ‘fresh’, we are left with little else but empty calories. Eating these foods too often can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which over time can contribute to much more severe health problems such as cardiovascular disease, weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue, immune deficiencies and many, many more.

Another important factor to consider is where exactly is our food coming from? Our meat and produce supply often travels quite lengthy distances to reach our dinner plate and during transportation, freshness and nutritional quality can often be compromised. Fruit and vegetables are often picked early and chemically ripened to ensure they are looking bright and fresh when they hit supermarket shelves. Add to this the fuel costs, the burning of fossil fuels and the resources used in production and transportation and you’ve got yourself an expensive, nutritionally challenged food source.

Synthetic chemicals have gained popularity in modern farming practices to ensure maximum results for minimal time and effort. Poultry and livestock are pumped full of growth promoting hormones and chemicals and our fruit and vegetables are sprayed with an assortment of pesticides to keep those pesky critters out. As these practices are only relatively new, we are unsure of the long term health and environmental effects this will have but we do have evidence of the short term effects.

These synthetic hormones and chemicals mimic our natural hormones and can contribute to greater hormonal dysfunction. Xenoestrogens, man-made oestrogens found in plastic products and synthetic hormones, add to our natural oestrogen pool and can contribute to an oestrogen dominant environment. This has implications with stubborn and persistent weight gain, fertility (for both males and females), endometriosis, uterine fibroids and possibly some forms of cancer[1][2]. They have also been detected in the offspring of some animals that have been exposed[3]. Don’t you think it’s reasonable to question the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding the effects on ecology or human health? The same argument can be made for genetically engineered foods.

It’s not just important, but absolutely imperative, to be aware of these things and equally important to know it’s not all doom and gloom. Keep the following points in mind next time you are shopping and you will be putting a foot in the right direction. Change has to start somewhere so why not with you?

  • Buy local and organic wherever you can. This will ensure your food is fresh and free of synthetic chemicals-better for your health and hormonal well being. Local produce cuts down on transportation costs, which will make your purse and the environment happier.
  • Have a look around for farmers markets in your area and don’t forget to take a re-usable shopping bag.
  • Always read labels to be aware of genetically modified ingredients, additives and preservatives.
  • Plant a veggie and herb garden. If you don’t have much garden space, get creative with containers and pots.
  • Supermarket produce needs to be labelled with its place of origin so keep an eye on this.
  • Always buy local or Australian grown produce that is in season.
  • Eat as much raw, fresh foods as possible. This should be easier to do now that the weather is warming up and will provide you with essential nutrients to sustain good health.
  • Reduce your exposure to plastics to avoid unnecessary hormonal disruption and to reduce the environmental impact these products have. Always re-use shopping bags, recycle and carry a non-plastic water bottle that you can re-fill as you go.
  • Limit your consumption of fast foods and pre-packaged meals. Keep a range of nuts, seeds, legumes, fresh fruit & vegetables, fish and lean meat on hand to prepare your meals. They don’t have to be 3 course masterpieces; a salad, stir-fry or omelette is quick, easy and nutritious.
  • Walk to the shops instead of driving. You’ll save on fuel costs, save fossil fuel emissions and get fit at the same time. Exercise is also a great way to help your body eliminate excess toxins and hormones that can impact on your health.
  • Look after your liver to ensure it is able to process toxins and excess hormones. Limit alcohol consumption and increase your intake of bitter foods such as endive, chicory, silverbeet, radicchio, outer leaves of cos lettuce, dandelion root, and grapefruit.
  • Choose natural household and beauty products.

We are beginning to see the impact our food choices are having on our health and the environment. As consumers, we have a big say in what and how our food is farmed, produced and delivered and this is just one of the ways we as individuals can make a difference. What are you waiting for?

Emma Scasni is a qualified naturopath at MassAttack Health Clinic and has a keen interest in women’s health. Emma is passionate about all aspects of natural health and is happy to offer support and advice to new and existing MassAttack members. MassAttack specializes in natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis & thyroid imbalance. Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is the recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006 and can be contacted at narelle@massattack.com.au

[1] http://www.fwhc.org/health/xeno.htm
[2] http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/65/1/54
[3] http://topics.scirus.com/Behavioral_effects_of_Xenoestrogens.html