As consumers, many Americans tend to assume that if a product shows up on store shelves, it must be safe and meet strict regulations in order to be sold. More and more often, we are learning this is not the case. People on the front lines of the organic, sustainable, and natural food movement work hard to provide information on how to eat more natural, healthier, greener foods, but often their information and messages get lost in the marketing machine of the big food companies. Recent information from a new book titled “Rich Food, Poor Food,” by authors Mira and Jason Calton, shows that the problem may be even worse than many feared, especially when it comes to prepackaged foods.

Innocent snack, or something else?

Prepackaged foods are the focus of much debate in the food industry here in the United States. Overly packaged foods are detrimental for both the environment and the health of us and our families, yet the convenience they offer keeps them flying off the shelves and into American homes. Despite the attempt of many food advocates to educate consumers on the dangers of prepackaged foods, advertising and promotion efforts of the companies who produce them, from food manufacturers to fast food restaurants, plays to many people’s desire for quick, easy, and tasty. The toll these “foods” take on the environment in the form of excess waste in landfills, and on our health as the long term buildup of chemicals, additives, hormones and preservatives used to keep these foods edible create disease and health issues, is immense.

In the book “Rich Food, Poor Food,” the authors fill us in on the percentage of foods we buy every day that are banned in many other countries around the world…a full 80%! From cereals with petroleum-based ingredients to drinks that are linked to thyroid disease, the ingredients that are hidden in that ingredient list known to cause cancer, disease, digestion issues and allergies are abundant – and allowed to be put in thousands of food products sold here in our country. This isn’t even taking into account the issue of meat and animal products, from hot dogs to fast food burgers, which are sold to consumers while containing antibiotics, slurry, bugs, and parts of diseased animals.

As concerned consumers, environmentalists, and family members, what can we do to ensure we are eating and giving our families, especially our children, the best nutrition possible? Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate the maze of information out there:

1. Arm yourself with information. Always question advertising and commercials when the goal is to sell a product, and help your children begin to understand that the purpose of commercials and cool packaging is to entice them to buy.

2. Cut down on the packaging you buy. Foods wrapped in individual plastic, wrapped by more plastic and boxed in cardboard are probably processed foods, anyway, and the amount of materials used to preserve the product will only pollute our planet in the end.

3. Take a careful look at the products you are loyal to, and gradually start to replace them with healthier, fresher or more environmentally friendly products if you can. There may be many products you buy that you may not even know contain harmful ingredients! For example, white liquids such as creamer and salad dressing contain titanium dioxide, popular smoothies may contain ground up beetles, and many foods contain a form of ammonia.

By arming ourselves with good information and thinking carefully about the foods we purchase, we can help our families, our planet, and our bodies become healthier, while sending a message that we will not be fooled into buying products that are dangerous to our health or the health of the planet any longer.