Obesogens: 6 Steps to Kicking These Metabolism-Disrupting Chemicals Out of Your Diet
Everyone knows that our food supply is a bit messed up. You can’t take two steps without coming face to face with a food fight. Whether it’s the cereal makers claiming that their chocolate laden puffs are a healthy choice or it’s the corn industry telling us not to worry our little heads about high fructose corn syrup, everyone appears to have something to say.
As the CDC reports that the rates of obesity have tripled since 2007, new studies “indicate how the consumption of sugar, animal fat, and calorie-dense foods in industrialized countries” are contributing to “new diseases such as allergic, autoimmune disorders, and inflammatory bowel disease both in adults and in children” and “Western allergies.”
And in the midst of these American epidemics that have taken the health of our country and our economy hostage, along comes a term that stopped me in my tracks: OBESOGENS. Obese-ogens.
According to The New American Diet: How Secret Obesogens Are Making Us Fat by Stephen Perrine and Heather Hurlock, obesogens are metabolism altering chemicals that are natural and synthetic compounds that work by mimicking estrogen (“which you may remember is the hormone that doctors DON’T want women taking anymore (as a large clinical trial linked hormone therapy to increased risk of heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, blood clots and abnormal mammograms”). And obesogens can have a big impact on your body’s endocrine system which is responsible for regulating glands, cells and the hormones in our body that all play a part in managing our metabolism.
“Obesogens are thought to act by hijacking the regulatory systems that control body weight,” says Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., curators’ professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri. That’s why endocrine disruptors are so good at making us fat — and that’s why diet advice doesn’t always work — because even strictly following the smartest traditional advice won’t lower your obesogen exposure. See, an apple a day may have kept the doctor away 250 years ago when Benjamin Franklin included the phrase in his almanac. But if that apple comes loaded with obesity-promoting chemicals then Ben’s advice is way out of date”, according to Perrine and Hurlock.
So what is a family to do? Especially since the CDC just reported that the number of states with obesity rates over 30% has tripled since 2007, and it appears that we’re getting exponentially fatter at lightning speed?
Thankfully, you can do a lot. And you don’t have to be rich and famous to do it either. What it basically comes down to is thinking about a calorie not only as a fat, protein or carb, but also as a chemical. Not all calories are created equal. Some calories are produced with lots of chemicals (pesticides, growth hormones, preservatives and antibiotics) and others aren’t.
So here are six tips to help you avoid those industrial pollutants now found in our food supply:
- Eat Less Pesticide: Sounds kind of obvious, but the fact of the matter is that “the average American is exposed to 10 to 13 different pesticides through food, beverages and drinking water every day”. And a recent study shows that eating an organic diet for just five days can reduce the pesticides circulating in each of us to non-detectable or near non-detectable levels. The problem is that most of us can’t afford to go organic, since the organic industry doesn’t receive the same financial support from our government that the conventional growers using heavy pesticides do, so we have to get smart. And an easy way to do that is simply to eat fewer foods that are loaded with pesticides (some of the biggest offenders being strawberries, apples, and peppers). You don’t have to opt out of your favorites all of the time, but just be aware that they may come with hidden, fat inducing obesogens in them!
- Eat Less Plastic: Who eats plastic, you ask? Unfortunately, most of us do. Plastic finds its way into our food by leaching out of the packaging that it’s contained in while sitting on grocery store shelves. Those packages are made out of a petroleum derived plastic called Bisphenol A (BPA) that is used to preserve food’s shelf life here in the US (though our savvy counterparts in Europe don’t allow for it!). What are petrochemicals doing in our food, you wonder? Well, you may want to ask Kellogg who just issued a recall due to a petroleum product that was found in their cereal packaging. So in an effort to reduce your family’s exposure, you may want to try to opt out of buying meats in prepackaged plastic wrap and head over to the meat counter to buy it fresh. You can also reduce your family’s exposure by not using plastics in the microwave, as the process leaches additional obesogens into your meal.
- Eat Less Canned Food: The petrochemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is used as a liner in cans to help preserve their contents on store shelves. So whether you’re consuming beans or diet sodas, if what you are eating or drinking comes out of a can, you are also probably ingesting a few obesogens, too (which apparently make no discrimination between preserving contents on grocery store shelves or on your “shelves”). So when you can, opt-out of the can.
- Eat Less Added Growth Hormones: In 1994, the US was one of the only developed countries to introduce a synthetic growth hormone into its dairy supply. The hormone was designed in a lab to mimic naturally occuring hormones in cows, in an effort to help them make more milk. The problem (as the rest of the world saw it) is that when injecting the cows with these additional hormones, the cows got sick and an increase in antibiotics was required. “No matter!” said the US, despite all 27 countries in Europe, the UK, Australia, Japan and others not allowing this growth hormone into their food supplies. And we introduced this artificial growth hormone into our food supply. Fortunately, you don’t have to consume it, and you can look for dairy and meat that is labeled as “rBGH-free” when shopping for your family at Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, Costco and Sams.
- Filter Your Water: We are all painfully aware of the toxins that are pouring into the Gulf, but we may not be quite as aware that our drinking water is becoming equally polluted by the medications that we flush down the toilets and the chemicals being used on our crops. All of these industrial pollutants find their way into our drinking supply, so a quick trip to Home Depot or your local drug store to purchase a water filtering device just might be the best diet tip around, as we work to avoid slurping up obesogens (and who knows what else) in every glass of tap water.
- Kick the Artificial Can: As evidence mounts over the controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners (do they cause leukemia? what about weight gain?), governments around the world have removed artificial sweeteners like aspartame from children’s food. That’s right, Kraft, Coca Cola, even Wal-Mart, just took this fake sugar out of their products in response to growing consumer awareness and demand. So why not do the same thing here? Mother Nature’s sweeteners like sugar and agave have been around for thousands of years. Aspartame (also known as Sweet and Low and Equal) was introduced in 1980. With the jury still out on this one (and the fact that it’s not used in other countries), you may want to exercise precaution the same way eaters in other countries are doing and kick the artificial sweeteners out!
And remember, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be aware. And by taking a few simple steps, you can do so much to protect the health of your family from these industrial pollutants like obesogens that just might be taking a big toll on your waistline (not to mention on your growth and development, sexual function, reproductive processes, mood, sleep, hunger, stress…you know, your life, in general!).