Before we venture into various alternative diets, let’s take a look at what types of food everyone should avoid that have negative health consequences and other ecological implications. One of the first things I learned in my quest for health, was to avoid the three “white poisons”. These are everyday items that get included in nearly every processed food product today. The Three White Poisons: Salt White Sugar Bleached Flour Over the intervening years, most of the world has come to recognize that salt and sugar are unhealthy and overused, if not abused. Salt raises our blood pressure and is added in very high quantities as a flavoring agent, but also as a preservative. Why it’s needed in such quantities in canned and frozen food items defies reason, since they’ve used other means to preserve the food. Always check the sodium levels on the nutrition label. You will see as much as a full gram or more per serving in both canned and frozen foods. Compare labels to see the variation between products and brands. Low sodium offerings are increasing, usually with a 40% or more reduction. If a product contains more than 400mg of salt per serving, find another brand or a different product if you can, or just avoid it. Most foods already have a natural sodium content, so it usually not necessary to add salt to dishes (I never do, just a bit of tamari, occasionally). As we cut back on sodium, we desire it less. So hide the salt shakers! Most baked goods contain a lot of salt too, usually too much. I should mention, as a professional baker, that you still need to add some salt to all baked goods you make from scratch, but this can be reduced a bit too. White sugar is highly processed (a very nasty, smelly process at that!). It contains no nutritional value other than the empty calories. But it’s not just about white sugar, as all sugars are detrimental, especially if over consumed. It’s just that some sugar does have residual nutrition, like raw sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, etc. Consuming sweets is a big pitfall for those attempting to go vegetarian. When we cut out meat from our diet, our bodies seek to replace all that energy from meat with another high energy source. Sugars provide energy in abundance, but it can really mess up our bodies by altering our blood sugar levels too quickly. Diabetes is just one disease that relates to our sugar intake, and is a major result of obesity from too many sweets (although some would argue it’s genetics). Plain old white flour is another health nemesis. Again they’ve taken a healthy natural product, wheat, and processed it into a health damaging commercial product. To make white flour, they remove the husk of the wheat berry (bran), the most fibrous part, the wheat germ, the part high protein and nutrition, leaving the least desirable and least healthy part to made into baked goods. There are numerous studies that show that a diet high in white, bleached flour leads to more stomach cancer and digestive problems. All that fine flour without fiber accumulates in small pockets in our intestines, clogging them up, leading to digestive problems and eventually cancer or other disease. Likewise the lack of nutritional value in white flour means we deprive ourselves of needed vitamins and minerals in everything we eat containing it. Plus the lack of fiber in our diet is known to increase health risks, esp. cancer. So whenever possible substitute whole wheat flour, or other whole grain meals for white flour. You can get whole wheat pastry flour to replace all-purpose flour. Check those labels to see if whole wheat bread is really made from whole wheat, instead of white flour and a few bran flakes. Trans-Fats And speaking of baked goods, it’s now a well established fact that trans-fats, which were invented to withstand higher temperatures and extend the shelf life of baked goods are very bad for our health. Trans-fat is one of the leading causes of obesity today. That’s why it’s being restricted, if not outright banned in the US and Europe. What is trans-fat? Basically it’s hydrogenated vegetable oils. These replaced natural fats like lard and butter in baking when Crisco was invented around 1912. So that margarine you eat is likely to contain some hydrogenated oils unless it specifically says otherwise. So now when you go to buy margarine, you must not only look out for genetically modified ingredients (like soy and corn) and saturated fats, but trans-fats too! I’m now using Earth Balance, also known as Soy Garden margarine. (NOT Healthy Balance!) This product contains organic canola, soy and olive oils, no GMOs, no trans-fats, and it tastes like butter! This is the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. It’s too bad you can’t find it everywhere. I highly recommend avoiding using butter, substituting olive, canola or organic soy oils when possible. Butter and other animal fats do contain a different type of trans-fat but in much reduced levels. But they too are known to contribute to obesity and heart problems due to their high cholesterol content. Meat and Dairy Products There are so many reasons to avoid meat and dairy products, I doubt I can list them all. It’s not just about health, either. There are also many environmental, economic, social, political and spiritual reasons not to eat meat. The health reasons alone should make one think twice about the wisdom of eating a dead animal, especially one raised in a factory pumped up with antibiotics, hormones, chemical laced feed, that’s been hacked up, shipped around the country, colored with dye and left waiting for weeks to be purchased on a shelf while putrefaction continues. Yup! Eating factory farmed meat is one of the worst things we can do for ourselves and our planet! Every farm animal is injected with antibiotics that when consumed by humans lowers our resistance to disease. They’re fed hormones to fatten them up when they’re still young. These same hormones end up in children who eat meat, causing them to fatten up for the slaughter as well. Cattle and other animal feed is now mostly genetically modified grains, meaning they contain more pesticides than before. Those chemicals, once in the food chain, accumulate in meat eaters, more than ever before. GM crops are tolerant to much higher doses of pesticide. Rather than genetically modify the crops to be resistant to bugs, they just make them more resistant to pesticides so they can sell more chemicals to farmers! Factory farms process animals as though they were just fiber, not living beings. Nothing is done to make the animals lives comfortable. They live in deplorable crowded conditions, where disease runs rampant, thus the need for high doses of antibiotics. So the use of these chemicals from antibiotics to hormones to pesticides, all benefit the farmer and the industry that sells them, to the detriment of the consumer. They increase the yield of feed crops, the size of the animals and the viability of them under extremely stressful living conditions. Thus it increases profit at the expense of public health. But hey, isn’t that what business is all about? So this is not only about meat, but all non-organic dairy products too! They can contain even higher concentrations of these dangerous adulterants, especially in cream and butter. So if you must buy dairy, buy organic… Meat takes much longer to digest than most vegetables. Before you even cook meat, it has begun to rot (putrify). This is unlike fruit and vegetables which ferment when they rot. So when you eat meat, it continues to putrify in your intestines, releasing nasty, carcinogenic chemicals. Fruit and vegetables digest much faster, with barely enough time to ferment, so very little, if any turns to alcohol in your body. Besides your health, there are a number of other issues associated with the massive meat industry. The amount of land devoted to raising beef cattle is enormous and has resulted in the loss of millions of acres of pristine forest in places like the Amazon jungle. The amount of farm land dedicated to animal feed has grown too, land that could be producing 12 times as much protein for human consumption each year! So eating beef deprives us of valuable farm land needed to feed the Earth's growing population. The deforestation of course has knockon effects to the world's ecosystems. Global warming is an indirect consequence of the loss of those forests and the addition of billions of methane excreting animals (methane is far worse than CO2!) See Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet for more on this. Spiritually, many people realize they don't need to kill animals to eat. This is a great reason to stop eating meat. It means you've become conscious of your karma and don't wish to burden yourself with the unnecessary deaths of innocent animals. In this case, even organically raised meats will leave you cold! Organic vs. Non-Organically Grown Foods As consumers wise up to the nature of the food they’re eating, more and more are opting to buy organically grown products. Each year the organic food market expands another 20%, and this has been happening for more than a decade now. Farmers are learning that organically grown food is better for the land, for the farmer and for the consumer. It’s even becoming cheaper as Monsanto corners the market on genetics and chemicals, making them more expensive and farmers more dependent on the company. It doesn’t take a scientist to discover that organically grown foods taste much better than non-organic, commercially grown foods. Because organic foods are not GMO, their genetics were selected due to qualities other than shelf-life and resistance to pesticides. Rather you get produce that’s tastier, more nutritious, without chemical additives. Tasting is believing! Tomatoes are redder, juicier, far more intensely flavorful if organically grown. Even with something like eggs, you notice the difference. Organic eggs usually have real yellow yokes, harder shells and more flavor. Of course organic foods usually cost more. Although the gap in price is decreasing, and I’m starting see some organic foods selling for the same price as non-organic foods, at least here in California. As that gap closes, more people will opt for organic and the market will explode! There are many other types of food that are not fit for human consumption, but most of these contain one or more of the things I’ve already mentioned. So once you cut out those items above from your diet, that will include many more things you never realized might be harmful to you. Of course for many it will be impossible to cut out all these things. But a conscious reduction in consumption of these items will yield immediate and long-term health benefits. Assignment: Look at the food in your house. Read the labels. What things would you need to remove from your diet if you were to follow the advice given above?