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How to Avoid Processed Foods

As most of you know, I’m a mom of boys and that keeps me pretty busy. In addition to that, I write for this blog and I am a contributor to the Vegan Housewives blog, which is such an honor. As a mother, it is hard to make time to cook healthy meals and especially snacks. Even if you’re not a mom and you work full time, you probably have the same problem. We live in a culture where everything is “go, go go” we barely have time to run our errands, much less to stop, sit and just be.

I go back and forth between giving my kids convenience foods for snacks and going overboard on making them not eat anything processed. My conscience beats me up every time they’re eating something processed. I decided there has to be a balance. I found that there definitely is. I decided to share my tips and tricks to avoiding processed foods and on the occasion that you can’t avoid it–some ideas for healthier options.

One thing I noticed, is that when I’m making lunch for everyone I usually want to cut corners. I don’t want to sit there and chop up fruits and veggies. Lunch was definitely the one meal a day that I noticed my kids were getting mostly processed foods. I found that if I had already chopped up fruits and veggies in my refrigerator I was more likely to give that to them than crackers or chips. After I do a grocery store run or a Farmer’s Market run, I chop up my fruits and veggies and put them in air tight containers (BPA-free plastic or glass ones of course!)

Here I am chopping up my onions. A fun cooking tip: By breathing through your mouth and wearing big glasses you can stop yourself from crying while cutting onions. I cut up 3 large onions I got from my sister’s garden and I didn’t even shed a tear.

To recap, storing veggies and fruit chopped up means you’re more likely to use them in a hurry.

I also like to make my own snack foods. I make muffins in large batches as well as my mother-in-law’s infamous “Protein Balls” (really they should have a better name). I find by keeping a large amount on hand, the kids can grab them if they’re hungry. I control the ingredients that go into them so I know they’re organic, vegan and preservative free.

Protein Ball recipe:

1 cup oats

1/2 cup raisins or dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup ground flaxseed

1/3 cup agave nectar

1 tsp pure vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and then roll them into a small ball (like cookie dough before you bake them) then put them in an air tight container and let them set in the fridge. After an hour or so they’re set. They remind me of the filling inside a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. I usually triple the recipe and make a huge batch because my kids go through these like crazy.

Usually 2 nights a week I dedicate to my baking night, my sweet husband will stand with me in the kitchen and we spend quality time together while baking, cutting up veggies and fruit, talking and sometimes we read books together while cooking. I actually look forward to those nights. If he has an event he has to be at one night, I’ll make that my baking night and turn on some music and bake the night away.

We all have those weeks where we are exhausted! The kids have a bunch of events, we have a full schedule and baking nights did not happen that week. Been there! We have to pick something up at the store real quick, so what do we do? READ LABELS, “natural” doesn’t mean anything, it could be filled with chemicals and considered “natural” by FDA “standards”. Look for organic labels, read the ingredients to see if you can pronounce the ingredients, if you can’t, don’t buy it! Some of my favorite snacks I get for the kids are Clif Z Bars (vegan, organic and totally delicious, plus you can buy them in bulk at Costco) and Clif Z Ropes (fruit ropes that are 100% fruit). Look for whole grains, organic labels and foods with few ingredients. While these are not processed I think we over look some things like whole fruits that are easy to eat without being peeled or cut up such as apples and grapes. Organic baby carrots, raisins, peanuts (for kids over the age of 3).

What are some of your tips to avoid processed foods for your family?

Genetically Modified Organisms “GMO” and What You Need To Know

Another frequently asked question I get asked is, “What are GMOs?” I talk about them a lot because they’re foods that should be avoided. GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

The problem with GMOs are:

  • They cross pollinate with non-GMO plants and through cross pollination, they contaminate organic plants. 
  • Some studies have shown that animals fed a GMO diet suffer from organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems 
  • Numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in 1996. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years; food allergies skyrocketed, and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders, digestive problems, and others are on the rise. Although there is not sufficient research to confirm that GMOs are a contributing factor, doctors groups such as the AAEM tell us not to wait before we start protecting ourselves, and especially our children who are most at risk.
  • GMO contamination has also caused economic losses for organic and non-GMO farmers who often struggle to keep their crops pure.
  • Most GMO crops are engineered to be “herbicide tolerant”. Monsanto, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide. Between 1996 and 2008, US farmers sprayed an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs. Overuse of Roundup results in “superweeds,” resistant to the herbicide. This is causing farmers to use even more toxic herbicides every year. Not only does this create environmental harm, GMO foods contain higher residues of toxic herbicides. Roundup, for example, is linked with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects, and cancer.
  • GMO crops and their herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable. GMO crops are eliminating habitats for monarch butterflies, whose populations are down 50% in the US. Roundup herbicide has been shown to cause birth defects in amphibians, embryonic deaths and endocrine disruptions, and organ damage in animals even at very low doses. GMO canola has been found growing wild in North Dakota and California, threatening to pass on its herbicide tolerant genes on to weeds.
  • Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by more than 400 scientists and backed by 58 governments, stated that GM crop yields were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.” The report noted, “Assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” They determined that the current GMOs have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.
  • On the contrary, GMOs divert money and resources that would otherwise be spent on more safe, reliable, and appropriate technologies.

These are just a few concerns. Please research this on your own to learn more. It’s such an extensive subject I can’t cover it all. 

How do I avoid genetically modified foods?

The best thing for your family’s health and for the environment is to avoid GMOs. By not supporting companies that use GMOs, you can show them with your dollars (the most effective way) that you don’t want them in your food supply. 

  • There is an organization called the “NON-GMO Project”, companies that are members proudly display a label on their products so you know they’re GMO-free. 
  • Buy organic products, organic products are not allowed to intentionally put GMO ingredients into the food. If it’s also NON-GMO Project verified, you can be extra sure it’s safe.
  • When buying produce, read stickers. If it starts with a 4, that means it’s conventionally grown (it still has pesticides so wash it really well, but it’s not GMO) or better yet buy produce that has a serial number that starts with a 9 (organic)
  • If no labels say it’s GMO free, then most likely it is. Don’t buy anything that doesn’t say it’s Non-GMO and has these ingredients in it, if they do you’re at a very high risk for buying something with GMOs: Corn, Soybeans, Canola oil, Cottonseed, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papaya (most) and a small amount of Zucchini and Yellow Squash. Sugar If a non-organic product made in North American lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets. Dairy Products may be from cows injected with GM bovine growth hormone and fed a GMO diet. Look for labels stating No rBGH, rBST, or artificial hormones. Also, avoid non-organic or non-grass fed animals if you’re not vegetarian or vegan. They are fed GMO soy beans and it’s in their meat. 
  • Get the ShopNoGMO app on your phone, it has a guide of safe brands to buy that you can have on hand while at the grocery store. It’s free in the App Store.