By Dr. Mercola
Pre-packaged processed foods may be convenient, but cooking from scratch using fresh unprocessed ingredients is a must if you want to improve your health. Remember, if you fail to plan you are planning to fail.
While this means that someone – you, your spouse, or someone else – needs to spend regular time in the kitchen, it typically does not require nearly as much extra time as people imagine.
One of the most important strategies is to make the appropriate food swaps. For example, does it take more time to use real butter instead of margarine? Of course it doesn’t!
The following list will give you an overview of some of the most important food swaps you can make. They can go a long way toward making you healthier.
Choose Organic Over Non-Organic
Whenever you have the option, choose organic varieties of food over non-organic. As a general rule, organic foods are safer, and probably healthier, than conventional foods, for the simple fact that you’re ingesting fewer toxins.
And, contrary to popular belief, this is actually even more important when it comes to animal products such as meat, dairy products, butter, and eggs.
While conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and berries are typically heavily sprayed with a wide assortment of pesticides, non-organic animal products tend to be among the most contaminated, as the animals are fed a steady diet of these conventionally grown, pesticide-contaminated and genetically engineered grains...
While I believe organic foods grown in healthy soils can be far more nutritious than their conventional counterparts grown in depleted soils with synthetic chemicals, a major benefit of organically grown foods really is the reduction in your toxic load.
A 2012 meta-analysis by Stanford University1 confirmed that organic foods expose you to fewer pesticides – about 30 percent on average. Organic meats also reduce your risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by an average of 33 percent. Conventional meats are in fact a major contributor to antibiotic resistance, which poses a grave public health threat these days.
Swap CAFO Meats for Organic, Grass-Fed Meats
If you can only afford to buy some foods organic, make it organic, grass-fed meats. This will cut down on your exposure to toxic pesticides. Factory farmed meats are also typically contaminated with hormones and antibiotics.
Most cows raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are fed grains (oftentimes genetically engineered grains, which make matters even worse), when their natural diet is plain grass.
This difference in the animals' diet creates vastly different end products in terms of nutrition. When left to feed on grass-only diets, levels of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA are three to five times more than those fed grain-based diets. And that’s just for starters.
A joint effort between the USDA and Clemson University researchers in 2009 found a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed for human health. In a side-by-side comparison, they determined that grass-fed beef was:2, 3
|Lower in total fat ||Higher in total omega-3s
|Higher in beta-carotene ||A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
|Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) ||Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
|Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin ||Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
|Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium ||
Pass on Pasteurized Milk, and Opt for Raw Organic Milk
Several studies have demonstrated the superior safety of raw milk compared to pasteurized. For example, raw milk is:
|Loaded with healthy bacteria that are good for your gastrointestinal tract ||High in omega-3 and low in omega-6, which is the beneficial ratio between these two essential fats
|Full of more than 60 digestive enzymes, growth factors, and immunoglobulins (antibodies). These enzymes are destroyed during pasteurization, making pasteurized milk much harder to digest ||Loaded with vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, and K) in highly bioavailable forms, and a very balanced blend of minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron) whose absorption is enhanced by live Lactobacilli
|Rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which fights cancer and boosts metabolism ||Rich in healthy unoxidized cholesterol
|Rich in beneficial raw fats, amino acids, and proteins in a highly bioavailable form, all 100 percent digestible ||It also contains phosphatase, an enzyme that aids and assists in the absorption of calcium in your bones, and lipase enzyme, which helps to hydrolyze and absorb fats
While both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC warn that raw milk can carry disease-causing bacteria, they completely overlook the fact that these bacteria are the result of industrial farming practices that lead to diseased animals, which may then in turn produce contaminated milk.
There are basically two types of raw milk, and only one is suitable for raw consumption. Raw milk from a CAFO must be pasteurized in order to be fit to drink, whereas raw milk from cows raised on pasture does not. Cleanliness and pasture are critical parameters for producing healthy milk fit for raw consumption.
CAFO milk must be pasteurized to prevent the spread of potentially hazardous pathogens, which are the result of crowded, unsanitary living conditions and the routine administration of antibiotics that are needed to keep these cows well. In the process, all valuable enzymes are also destroyed, such as lactase for the assimilation of lactose; galactase for the assimilation of galactose; and phosphatase for the assimilation of calcium. Literally dozens of other precious enzymes are destroyed in the pasteurization process. Without them, milk is very difficult to digest, and gives rise to allergies.
The quality of grass-fed milk and other grass-fed dairy products can easily be ascertained by its color. The carotenoids in the plants cows eat on pasture gives grass-fed products a more yellow-orange cast. When cows are raised on dried grass or hay, opposed to fresh-growing grass, you end up with a whiter product, which is an indication of reduced carotenoid and antioxidant content.
Getting your raw milk from a local organic farm or co-op is one of the best ways to ensure you're getting high-quality milk. You can locate a raw milk source near you at the Campaign for Real Milk Website. California residents can find raw milk retailers by using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.
Swap Margarine for Organic Butter (Preferably Raw)
The unfortunate result of the low-fat diet craze has been the shunning of healthful fats such as butter, and public health has declined as a result of this folly. There are a myriad of unhealthy components to margarine and other butter impostors, including:
- Trans fats: These unnatural fats in margarine, shortenings, and spreads are formed during the process of hydrogenation, which turns liquid vegetable oils into a solid fat. Trans fats contribute to heart disease, cancer, bone problems, hormonal imbalance, and skin disease; infertility, difficulties in pregnancy, and problems with lactation; and low birth weight, growth problems, and learning disabilities in children. A US government panel of scientists determined that man-made trans fats are unsafe at any level.
- Free radicals: Free radicals and other toxic breakdown products are the result of high temperature industrial processing of vegetable oils. They contribute to numerous health problems, including cancer and heart disease.
- Emulsifiers and preservatives: Numerous additives of questionable safety are added to margarines and spreads. Most vegetable shortening is stabilized with preservatives like BHT.
- Hexane and other solvents: Used in the extraction process, these industrial chemicals can have toxic effects.
A far better choice is good-old-fashioned butter. When made from grass-fed cows, it’s particularly rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—just like grass-fed beef. CLA is not only known to help fight cancer and diabetes, it may even help you to lose weight, which cannot be said for its trans-fat substitutes. Butter is also a rich source of easily absorbed vitamin A (needed for a wide range of functions, from maintaining good vision to keeping the endocrine system in top shape) and all the other fat-soluble vitamins (D, E, and K2).
These vitamins are often lacking in the modern industrial diet. It also contains important trace minerals, including manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, and selenium (a powerful antioxidant). RealMilk.com4 can help you locate a source of raw butter. If you want to try your hand at making it yourself, check out Positron.org.5 They have an excellent web page with step-by-step instructions6 for making your own butter from scratch, using raw, grass-fed milk.
Switch from CAFO to Organic Pastured Eggs
While proteins are found in many types of food, only foods from animal sources, such as meat and eggs, contain “complete proteins,” meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, choline for your brain, nervous and cardiovascular systems, and naturally occurring B12. Eggs are powerhouses of healthy nutrition, provided they’re harvested from organically raised, free-range, pastured chickens. True free-range eggs are from hens that range freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.
Conventional large-scale CAFO egg-producers raise their hens indoors and in cages. Egg-laying hens confined to cages do not have space to move or stretch, and they show more fearful behavior and become prone to skeletal problems. Large numbers of animals confined in small spaces also pollute the air, water, and soil with the vast amounts of manure they produce. CAFO eggs are also far more prone to harboring pathogens that can cause foodborne illness.
The nutritional differences between true free-ranging chicken eggs and commercially farmed eggs are again a result of the different diets eaten by the two groups of chickens. Instead of seeds and insects, the main ingredients of commercially raised hens' diets are genetically engineered (GE) soy and corn. Commercial eggs, even if they state “free-range” on their label, will typically fall into this category. You can tell the eggs are free range or pastured by the color of the egg yolk. Foraged hens produce eggs with bright orange yolks. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you're getting eggs from caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet.
Your best source for fresh eggs is a local farmer that allows his hens to forage freely outdoors. To find free-range pasture farmers, ask your local health food store or refer to EatWild.com7 or LocalHarvest.com.8 Cornucopia.org also offers ahelpful organic egg scorecard9 that rates egg manufacturers based on 22 criteria that are important for organic consumers.
Ditch the Soda for Sparkling Water
Soda and other sweetened commercial beverages have no nutritional benefits, and are loaded with chemical additives and high amounts of refined sugar, typically in the form of high fructose corn syrup—or even worse, artificial sweeteners. The average 12-ounce can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar, at least half of which is fructose, so one can of soda alone exceeds your daily recommended allotment of fructose (15 grams/day) if you’re insulin resistant, which about 80 percent of Americans are.
Excess sugar has been unequivocally linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, Alzheimer’s, and many other serious health problems, so the less sugar you consume, the better. If you really feel the urge for a carbonated beverage, try sparkling mineral water with a squirt of lime or lemon juice, or sweetened with stevia or Luo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. (Keep in mind that if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would likely benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.)
Swap Bottled Water for Pure Filtered Tap Water
Nothing beats pure water when it comes to serving your body's needs for fluids, and when it comes to water, your best bet is to filter your tap water. Many are still under the mistaken impression that bottled water is more pure, but about 40 percent of bottled water is nothing but regular tap water, which may or may not have received any additional treatment. In fact, most municipal tap water must adhere to stricter purity standards than the bottled water industry. The plastic bottle itself is also extremely detrimental to the environment, and can further contaminate the water inside it by leaching hormone-disrupting plastic chemicals into it. This includes:
- Cancer-causing PFOAs
- PBDEs (flame retardant chemicals), which have been linked to reproductive problems and altered thyroid levels
- The reproductive toxins, phthalates
- BPA, which disrupts the endocrine system by mimicking the female hormone estrogen
Just remember that the caveat to drinking tap water is to make sure you filter your tap water. I've written a large number of articles on the hazards of tap water, from fluoride to dangerous chemicals and drugs, to toxic disinfection byproducts and heavy metals, so having a good filtration system in place is more of a necessity than a luxury in most areas. A whole house water filter is your best bet, as it will remove harsh chlorine disinfection byproducts from your whole house. These toxins pose a health hazard not only in your drinking water, but also in your shower and appliances.
The best option for your home's drinking water is to filter at the point of use with an NSF certified water filter. This addresses all of the chemicals found in well water or an urban water supply, along with any lead that might leach into the water if you have old plumbing. You can also optimize your drinking water by injecting physical energy into the water. The simplest way to do this is by vortexing, where you simply stir the water with a spoon or use an automated device that spins the water at high speed over high powered magnets before drinking it. This helps create “living water,” or EZ water—so named by Gerald Pollack, PhD, author of the groundbreaking book: The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor.
Another option to consider is to bottle your own water from a gravity-fed spring, which provides natural living water. There's a great website called FindaSpring.com10 where you can find natural springs in your area. The best part is that most of these spring water sources are free! Remember to bring either clear polyethylene or glass containers to collect the water so no unsafe chemicals can contaminate your water on the way home. If you choose to use glass bottles, be sure to wrap them in towels to keep them from breaking in the car.
Simple Food Swaps Can Have a Great Impact on Your Health
Make no mistake about it. A few strategic food swaps can go a long way toward improving your health. Basically, what you’re doing is replacing processed food items and factory farmed foods for less contaminated—and in most cases more nutritious—options. While the list could be far longer, the food swaps covered above are, I believe, among the most important. Swapping adulterated and pasteurized dairy products, such as milk and butter, for organic, raw varieties will allow you to reap the true benefits of dairy.
Likewise, swapping factory farmed animal products like beef, chicken, and eggs for grass-fed or pastured varieties will automatically reduce your toxic burden and exposure to hormones and antibiotics. Last but not least, since soda is clearly at the top of the list when it comes to promoting obesity and related health problems, swapping them out for pure filtered water and/or mineral water can be one of the most potent health changes you could possibly make. For even more nutritional guidance, please see my free, optimized nutrition plan.