Over the past few decades, the way we consume and prepare our food has changed tremendously. Almost everything we eat is processed, packed, treated by chemicals and has been grown in non-natural environment. Knowing all that, we can’t really say that foods we are consuming have much in common with real meat, fruit, vegetables and their products.

In times when human lifespan is longer than ever in history, we are having to cope with a serious problem of chronic diseases. At this time, 36 million people die per year because of chronic diseases and it is predicted that the number will grow. One of the major factors in the rise of chronic diseases is bad nutrition. Why is it that as our diet changed so did the prevalence of obesity, heart disease and diabetes?These are the top five substances which may lead to obesity, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, and which you are consuming through industrial processed food:

1. Additives

Flavours, preservatives, colourings, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and even packaging – all of these can be found in almost everything you purchase in your supermarket. They are used to make the food taste better, look better and last longer. We should ask ourselves how was this food before exposing it to such treatment and is there an alternative I could buy without additives?

Although many are approved by the FDA, and they don’t necessarily imply toxicity, there is rarely a food containing only one additive. There are 80 000 chemicals used in industrial processing of food and we are never exposed to only one chemical, but to a whole bunch of substances which may interact and cause serious effects on our health, says Body Burden website. Also, there are several examples of food additives which were once approved by FDA but then banned years later because of their relation to causing cancer.

What can you do to live a healthier, additive free life?

You can buy from local farmers – this food is fresh so it doesn’t need preservatives and it is grown in natural environment so it doesn’t need colourings and flavourings. Learning to cook it is also fun!

2. Antibiotics

Antibiotics are important because they protect us from harmful bacteria. But, they must be consumed with great caution and only when necessary because of drug-resistant bacteria, which are becoming a huge public health problem. Bacteria tend to grow resistance to antibiotics very quickly and it could very well happen that we come to a stage where we won’t have antibiotics efficient enough to cope with bacteria.

We can find antibiotics in our meat products. Animals, unlike humans are not treated by antibiotics for health reasons, but for profit. They help them gain weight faster and help fight against various infections since they live in very unsanitary conditions. These substances are affecting us directly through meat and indirectly through manure which goes into soil and water and is causing rising public health problem.

What are your sustainable alternatives?

A great alternative is to choose to eat meat certified as organic, as they are not treated by antibiotics.

3. Hormones

Similarly as antibiotics, hormones are used to help cattle and other live stock grow faster and to therefore increase income for food industries. But it’s not only through meat, we also consume these hormones through milk and dairy products.

The human body is very sensitive when it comes to hormone imbalance and it is suspected that besides causing hormone imbalance, hormones from food can affect development, reproductive system, and lead to several types of cancer. The most vulnerable groups are children, pregnant woman and embryos.

Besides human health, hormones can influence the environment also – by manure which comes in contact with the soil and the water ecosystem, affecting fish growth and reproduction.

What can you do to avoid hormones in food?

Buy from local, independent farmers. This way you are not only buying healthy, but you are also supporting organic production.

4. rBGH and rBST

These two are genetically engineered hormones used to make cows produce more milk. The consequences of injecting these hormones are mastitis and serious deformation of calves. Mastitis is painful bacterial infection which causes blood secretion into the milk and requires antibiotic treatment.

5. Pesticides

Pesticides are chemicals used to kill rodents, insects, weeds and fungi from plants.

These chemicals are seriously damaging our environment and public health. They are causing water and soil pollution, loss of biodiversity, pest resistance and are even a threat to some species elimination (bees for example)!! In humans, pesticides have been linked with birth defects, cancer, neurological and endocrine disorders. Developing children are most vulnerable to its effects due to their fast development and low body mass.

What are the alternatives and what can you do to eat healthier?

Again, the best solution is to buy organic from local farmers. If you have adequate conditions, you can also grow fruit and vegetables yourself. If you do purchase industrial, wash it with water, or even better – peel the skin.

Adopting a waste free lifestyle seriously reduces the amount of processed, industrial food you buy and therefore consume. It is all part of a holistic approach to improving our own health and the health of the earth.

Everything in nature is inter-connected. Unfortunately, this refers to mentioned substances as well. Plants are treated with pesticides, animals eat plants, we eat animals and plants. Animals are given antibiotics and hormones which are released to environment , they pollute water and soil – so does the meat and dairy products which we consume.

You have a freedom and right to know what you eat. It is time for us to start taking care of ourselves and instead of supporting mass production, start supporting small, local businesses. And keep in mind – although processed food may be cheaper and more accessible, it won’t save your health!