The dumpster lid creaked when I hefted it over my head. I started to throw in my plastic bag of garbage, but then I stopped. Under the dumpster lid, the cardboard box from a 24-can soda pack perched on a mound of bagged garbage. I snagged the cardboard from the dumpster and ripped the UPC bar code from the corner before tossing the box back into the dumpster and adding my garbage bag to the pile.
All that summer I saved soda-case UPC's. I bought boxes and boxes of soda cans and carefully clipped off the bar code squares. By the twisted logic of marketing campaigns, I was eager to spend money on soda just to collect the UPC codes and trade them for a free duffle bag bearing the soda company logo. It made sense at the time.
It also made sense to save calories by drinking the diet soda version, sweetened with the chemical aspartame. After drinking one can of diet soda, I usually had a headache. After drinking two cans, I experienced a buzzing dizziness and blurry vision. I kept drinking, rationalizing that I was enjoying calorie-free soda and earning a free duffle bag.
"Be aware of how food makes you feel," advises Meg, Health Coach for the Dr. Sears' LEAN Nutrition and Wellness Institute. "Explain to your children, 'I ate too much ice cream, and now I have a stomachache.' When we set an example of wanting to feel good, kids will learn that what they eat affects the way they feel."
Meg identifies three food additives we should avoid when making food choices.
High Fructose Corn Syrup is used to sweeten hundreds of foods we find in the grocery store. Corn syrup does not trigger the hormone leptin, which controls appetite; so when we eat foods containing corn syrup, we still feel hungry and will overeat. I found corn syrup lurking in several of the foods in my pantry, including "healthy" cereal, crackers, salad dressing, and even soup.
Hydrogenated Oils have a long shelf life, so are used in many processed and fast foods. Hydrogenated oils make our cell membranes rigid so our calls cannot grow and function properly. They can cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Hydrogenated oils are often disguised on food labels as "trans fats" or "shortening."
Food Additives and Colors, like aspartame, MSG, food colorings and preservatives, are called "excitotoxins" because they alter brain chemistry. Ingesting chemical additives can lead to behavior and learning disorders and long-term neurological diseases. Chemical additives are common in prepared, boxed foods and my habitual diet soda.
The best way to avoid food additives is to avoid eating prepared, boxed foods. Choose foods with only a few, natural ingredients. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy. Learn to cook from scratch and prepare your own homemade snacks and baked goods.
"The better you feel, the easier it is to make the financial sacrifice and buy real, natural foods," Meg advises. "You will see the benefits."
The Dr. Sears website features tips for smart grocery shopping and guidelines for avoiding food additives and chemicals.
My diet soda habit ended when I got tired of the headaches and weird side effects. The free duffle bag didn't last much longer, but ended up in the pile of another apartment dumpster.
How do you avoid foods with added ingredients and chemicals? How do you teach your children to eat healthful, nutritious meals?