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Reading Food Labels as a Mom!

Where do I begin? Raise your hand if you have been confused one time or another when choosing items from the grocery store shelves? We hear such mixed opinions in mainstream media, from heath experts to "quote on quote" influencers. We hear buzz words all the time; organic, conventional, cage free, hormone free, antibiotic free, natural, local, GMO free, free of additives, free of dyes, low carb, sugar free, grass fed, farm raised, plant based etc... the list could go on.

Motherhood is hard enough, let alone the pressure from the world to choose the "healthiest" and most "sustainable" food for our families. We just can't win, no matter what choices we make, someone will tell us we are wrong. I was listening to a Podcast the other day and they were talking about screen time (oh yeah we have to worry about that too) and the one mom said to the other mom, "Coco Melon is one of the worst shows for toddlers, the way they design the show is meant to be similar to an arcade. It is addicting for young minds." Coco Melon is literally Dean's favorite show. We keep screen time in moderation but my first reaction was to feel guilt. I contemplated switching it to good old fashion PBS and Elmo haha. Can't go wrong with the tried and true, right?

Transitioning back to food, I follow a few nutrition/holistic experts on Instagram and one of them advocates for almond milk and other plant based milks. It is lower in calories, carbs, and sugar. The other one advocates for 100% whole milk because it has natural sugar and calcium. She claims she would rather drink a more natural milk. Two experts in the health field and two very different view points. I think this just goes to show us that we need to follow our own intuition and learn to listen to our bodies again. What might feel good for one person, may not work for another. For example, eggs are a great source of protein and for my body it feels great to start the day with a hard boiled egg. Dean loves eggs but doesn't love chicken, therefore I am more than happy to give him a scrambled egg to provide his body with the protein he needs for growing big and strong. What I love about America is that we have CHOICE! We have the choice to choose from 1000+ foods at the grocery store. There is a place for choice, we all have different situations. We may have allergies, food intolerances, beliefs, lifestyles, etc and it is so good to have options to meet all of our needs.

Even as I type this, I know there will be differing opinions and that is okay! We live in a world where everything is polar opposites and I think we need to go back to meeting in the middle. What do I personally look for when I shop for groceries? I look at the food label. I look to see how many grams of sugar is in the product and I view the sodium content. I also like to shop local when I can. If I can support a local farm while in the process, I call it a win win! I pick the fruits and vegetables that look fresh and ripe. I look at prices because right now Tyler and I are trying to build a house and we are on a budget. I like to try new things and it is my goal to try one new item a week! I also do my best to diversify our family's gut microbiome, meaning I diversify the type of plants we are eating. We buy our beef from a local farmer and I hope we can start to consume our own beef in the next few years but we buy chicken and pork from the store. I have met and worked with hundreds of farmers and majority of farms are doing it right, both small and large farms! Their family's are consuming the product too and they have the same family values we do! For example, the label antibiotic free is just a marketing tactic, all meat is antibiotic free. There is strict guidelines farmers must follow when administering antibiotics and the animal must go through a withdrawal period before entering the food system. Now the label "never been given antibiotics" means that, that animal never received any antibiotics but in my opinion I wonder about that. I would rather know that the animal was treated if sick. We will treat our cows if they are sick and then we follow the mandatory withdrawal period. I don't want to see our animals suffer. Many antibiotics are required to be administered by a vet or with vet approval.

Just a side note, the term "natural" does not have a set legal definition. Anyone can slap the label natural to something.

Okay now to the very controversial one, GMOs. GMO stands for genetically modified organism and even though it sounds scary, genes have been modified for hundreds of years. It starts with selective and cross breeding. Many of us have pets at home that are mixes. That is a cross! There are traits that have been passed down from each parent. GMOs are a similar practice but we speed up the process. Instead of naturally breeding to obtain the traits we desire, we are inserting, deleting or rearranging the genes to read a different outcome. There is only 11 GMO crops on the market. Therefore it is misleading to see that orange juice is GMO free. There are no GMO oranges! It is all a market based approach and the company wants you to choose their product. Now I don't believe GMOs are the sole answer, I am not sure there is one answer. I think there is a place for them in our growing world. With climate change and extreme weather lately, I believe GMO crops are one tool in our kit. Crops with GMOs are more tolerant to diseases, drought, etc. Our population is growing at a record pace and we need to figure out how to produce more food on less land. I do believe we need genetic diversity and we need to protect our heirloom varieties so we don't loose the pureness but that is why I don't think we should have the one size shoe fits all mentality.

We need small, large, conventional, organic, specialty, commodity, crop and livestock farms. We need them all and I truly trust the farmers. Now what I don't fully trust is all of the processed foods we have at the grocery stores. I look at the labels to see if I can read and understand the ingredients. Have you looked to see how many ingredients are in the impossible burger at fast food restaurants? Yikes! I try to limit the amount of sugar Dean eats and we stay away from processed foods as much as we can. Whole foods are the way to go!

Also another side note, lets not shame one another. If you are a mama and you can't afford to buy everything organic, I want you to know that it is okay to buy conventional! Organic vs conventional is not a health claim, it is a farming practice. For example, GMO crops allow farmers to spray less. I know we can't afford to buy all organic, but you know what I can do? I can buy locally and I can get to know the farmers in our area. I can learn about their practices and I can trust the farmers growing my food. Organic is also a very expensive certification to receive, there are many hoops one has to jump through to get that sticker. Many small vegetable farmers are already following the same practices, they just don't have the label.

Both conventional and organic farmers make educational decisions about what inputs they use on their farm. For example, inputs are very expensive right now. Farmers aren't going to waste putting inputs on their field if it is not needed. Technology today allows us to spot spray and/or apply fertilizer only in the soil where it is needed. Many farmers have also started to implement sustainable conservation practices, cover crops, crop rotation, buffer strips, etc.!

Just to summarize, trendy food labels are often a marketing strategy. My recommendation is to find what feels good. I love almond and dairy milk... and that is okay! I will buy conventional carrots and organic apples on the same day... and that is okay! I look at the ingredient and nutritional labels above anything else! I also will try to buy from the perimeter of the store- meats, fruits, veggies and other whole foods! This goes for other household items too! Sure it is great to buy the most sustainable and "natural" products but everything we discussed above still applies. There is so much to think about; availability, cost, convenience, etc. and it is so good to have choice. AKA it is okay to buy the Bath and Body Works candle if it makes you feel good (there has been a trend on social media lately to boycott the candles because of their ingredients but if you like them, you do you)!

Food for thought, let's not put this pressure on ourselves. YOU ARE DOING AWESOME. I need to remind myself of this also. Sometimes we are are own worst critic.

I hope that eases your mind! I would love to know your thoughts on this post!

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