Eat Clean Organic Foods for Better Health

Eat Clean Organic Foods for Better Health

Does the news that every year 16 million pounds of antibiotics are fed to chickens, pigs, cows and fish that end up on your plate have you worried? If so, you're not alone. Many surveys report that food safety is a big concern for North Americans.

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested that livestock producers cut back on low-dose antibiotics routinely added to the feed of chickens, pigs, and beef cattle. These antibiotics promote faster growth, but this dangerous practice could to the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs that infect about 1.4 million people each year and kill at least 63,000 in North America. (Are your reusable grocery bags a food safety concern?)

The FDA's new stand is a start, but is it tough enough? We think an outright ban (the kind the European Union's had in place since the 1990s) is a better way to at least partially close the door on antibiotic-resistant bacteria and start eating clean. True, feeding animals antibiotics isn't the only reason for the rise of superbugs (overuse of antibiotics in humans, such as using antibiotics to treat a sinus infection caused by a virus, is part of the problem), but antibiotics fed to livestock are significant troublemakers.

This questionable use of antibiotics in the food chain is one aspect of the food pollution problem. Growth hormones, artificial dyes, and pesticides may be lurking in your food, too. Also, label claims, such as "all natural," don't necessarily rule out the worst offenders. Here's how to eat clean and protect against harmful foods:

  • Avoid antibiotics. Careful cooking kills off bacteria in meat, poultry, and fish, but handling the raw stuff raises your risk of coming in contact with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In one study, half of the beef, chicken, pork, and turkey in supermarkets was infected with strains of the methicillin-resistant superbug Staphylococcus aureus, so choose cuts labeled "no antibiotics added" or pick certified organic foods, such as meats, poultry, and wild fish. (Learn why smart food safety starts at home.)

    It's true that eating clean and buying organic costs more, but you can save money -- and your health -- by pairing smaller portions of clean meat with veggies, beans, and grains. Or, skip the red meat entirely and dine on antibiotic-free fish, skinless chicken, or a meatless alternative. Cutting out meat is great for most people (lower odds for heart disease and cancer), as long as they get essential proteins, vitamins, and some good fats from supplements.

  • Get beyond growth hormones. Adding growth hormones to beef and milk nudges a consumer's cancer risk upward. Growth hormones have been banned in Europe since 1989, but in the U.S., about 60% of cattle get them. These days, you can buy dairy products from cows that received no growth hormones. When it comes to meat, look for cuts labeled "no hormones administered" or "certified organic." By the way, chicken and pork are raised without growth hormones, so don't pay extra for a label saying so!

  • Think twice about artificial dyes. Can food colorings affect kids? One study shows that six artificial dyes may influence the hyperactivity and attention spans of some sensitive kids. Steer clear of Yellow #5, Yellow #6, Red #3, Red #40, Blue #1, Blue #2, Green #3, and Orange B on ingredient labels. We like food that looks like it did when it came from the ground.

  • Push away pesticides. Some organic foods are worth the extra money, including veggies and fruits. Pesticides used in agriculture -- and on lawns and in homes -- can increase the risk for everything from Parkinson's disease to childhood cancers and diabetes. Limit your family's exposure by choosing organic versions of The Dirty Dozen (the Environmental Working Group's annual list of produce with the highest levels of pesticides): apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, spinach, imported nectarines and grapes, U.S.-grown blueberries, lettuce, cucumbers, and potatoes.

Medically reviewed in July 2018.

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