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Scary Foods: Aspartame, rBGH, Artifical Food Colors, Pesticides

Safe food from my garden {please don’t tell me I’m wrong}

Ignorance is bliss. 🙂 The more I learn, the more discouraged I get. I have long tried to avoid what I consider to be scary food ingredients: aspartame, rBGH, artificial food coloring, and pesticides. Some of the ingredients are easier to avoid than others. Here’s what I consider to be scary foods and how I try to avoid them.

1. Aspartame – Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, is found in all kinds of diet products (think Diet Coke) and yogurt. Avoiding it for my kids has been easy. I just don’t buy products (mostly yogurt) that contain it. However, I have had less success avoiding it for myself because I’ve been struggling for years to end a diet coke addiction. I {think} I have finally been successful. 🙂 If you’re curious about the dangers of aspartame, which range from headaches, to brain lesions, to cancer in animals, you can read this post by Dr. Group. After years of drinking diet coke {and yes I shudder to admit to drinking it even while pregnant}, I have decided aspartame is really addictive, dangerous garbage that should just be avoided.

2. rGBH – rGBH is harder for me to avoid. A growth hormone used by many American dairies to increase milk production, it can be found in all sorts of dairy products. I consider it pretty easy to avoid it in milk. I see more and more milk jugs lately that claim to be rGBH free. However, what about the other dairy products? We eat a lot of butter, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream to name a few.

According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, unless dairy products specifically state they are free of rGBH, they most likely are not.  Also according to the CPC, rGBH “promotes transformation of normal breast cells to breast cancers” (http://www.preventcancer.com/consumers/general/milk.htm). Unfortunately, my $250 a month food budget does not really permit me to buy organic dairy products.

While I am able to avoid rBGH in milk pretty easily, butter and cheese especially are now on my radar. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it. I’ll probably start by researching specific brands and progress to buying my own cow! 😉 Interestingly, Europe and Canada have banned rGBH from their own dairies. While researching this post, it’s been eye opening to note all the potentially dangerous chemicals banned by Europe and Canada but allowed in the US.

Update on rBGH: Please read the comments below for a note from Janelle Sorenson, Chief Communications Officer from Healthy Child, Healthy World, about rGBH. It might be easier to avoid than I initially thought! After more research today, it appears the Walmart brand of dairy products are rGBH free, as are Starbucks, Chipotle, Kroger, Safeway, and Trader Joes. Read here. Aldi claims its milk is rGBH free ~ maybe that also means the rest of its dairy? The Organic Consumers Association claims that Kraft’s 2% dairy line is rGBH free, but it appears that the majority of its other products still use the hormone. I’m still researching Fareway and HyVee. Roberts Dairy in Iowa claims to be rGBH free. If this is a concern to you, I suggest you do a google search on the brands you buy! Let me know what you find out.

3. Artificial Food Colors – Have you looked at the ingredient list in most products marketed to kids? Cereal, Dora yogurt, Kool-Aid, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese – they all contain artificial food coloring. Artificial food coloring has been linked to hyper activity in children, among other things (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/health/policy/30fda.html). An another interesting tidbit, Kraft has a different set of ingredients for their products marketed in Europe which doesn’t include, you guessed it, artificial food colors! (http://healthychild.org/blog/comments/us_vs_uk_mac_n_cheese_smackdown/).

Yesterday, I tried to buy popsicles for my kids, but every single package contained artificial food coloring. My compromise: fudgesicles that contained HFCS as I couldn’t find a single package that didn’t contain either food coloring or HFCS and my kids were standing there in anticipation. 🙁 I’m now researching easy, homemade summer kid snacks. Do you have any suggestions?

4. Finally, pesticides – I’ve been trying to combat pesticides by thoroughly washing (and/or peeling) my conventionally grown produce in water and vinegar. I had hoped that step would eliminate a lot of the dangerous residues on the produce as I have previously read about vinegar being effective doing that.

However, after reading EWG’s 2011 Shopper’s Guide, I’m not so sure. Here’s what they say about washing and peeling in their FAQ’s page: “EWG has not evaluated various produce washes for efficacy or potentially [sic] toxicity. However, since some plants absorbed pesticides systemically,  a produce wash would have limited effect.” ARGH!! Frustrations abound today. Every time I read something like that, my organic garden gets a little bit bigger.

There is a bit of good news, though. EWG’s list includes a list of the 15 cleanest produce. They say that by restructuring grocery shopping to include mostly “cleaner” produce, you can significantly reduce your pesticide contamination even without buying organic. You just don’t get apples or strawberries – two of the most contaminated conventionally grown types of produce.

So, is that enough doom and gloom for one day? 🙂 How do you make sure to eat healthy foods, but still stick to a budget? Do you have a scary foods list? I’d love to know what’s on it!

Please visit Healthy Child, Healthy World for more information on harmful chemicals of all sorts.


  1. You can also freeze chunks of fruit...like berries and watermelon. They make great summer treats!
  2. Thanks for the great post, Michelle!

    I wanted to ease your mind about rBGH. While it used to be used in most consumer dairy, due to consumer demand, many dairy farmers have stopped using it. Often it's not mentioned on the label because the manufacturer of rBGH has taken many companies to court for implying that rBGH-free is safer. Sadly, the remaining dairy still produced using rBGH is now being dumped on institutions like schools and hospitals.

    Still, at the store, you can find many rBGH-free options (if I remember right, even Wal-Mart's house brand dairy is rBGH-free). Here's a resource to help identify safer brands: http://www.sustainabletable.org/shop/dairymap/

    Thanks again!
    Janelle Sorensen
    Chief Communications Officer
    Healthy Child Healthy World
  3. I shop all the time at Trader Joe's and I don't think they have a single diary product with rBGH in it. Even the ice cream says its rBGH-free. And they have very affordable cheese and sour cream and other dairy if you live nearby one.

    I find that a great place to find affordable organic product is the farmer's market. Hopefully you have one near you (check localharvest.org). I've been buying half-flats of organic strawberries for $8 every Saturday -- but I do live in CA. Even if a farmer isn't certified organic, ask if they spray their produce with pesticides. Many smaller farmers don't, and I trust a farmer to tell me the truth about these things when I'm standing there with a 2-year-old and 4-year-old in tow.

    And, I agree, it is depressing to learn about our food supply. More and more depressing the deeper you go down the rabbit hole!
  4. Thanks for posting, Betsy. I was surprised to read that about Trader Joe's as I know they won't sell foods with artificial colors in them. Also, TJ and Aldi are owned by the same company, so if Aldi sells rGBH free milk products, surely TJ does! Unfortunately, we live in the sticks. No TJ near me!! I grow a lot of our own organic produce. I mostly buy conventional produce to get us through the winter and spring as my garden is maturing. It's always something! With a lot of conventional farms around here, I think many people don't think pesticides are harmful.
  5. Michelle... we often make our own popsicles from orange juice or lemonade. THe kids love make them and they taste fresh. Other good ones... cranberry juice and apple juice pops. Use the 100% no sugar added juices. It's fun to treat the popsicles like jello... add in sliced/ diced fruits like strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, etc.

    I love reading your stuff. not sure how you have time to do your blog, but appreciate that you do!?
  6. Anon - thanks for your tip! And thanks also for your nice comments. I appreciate them! I've found I have time for what I prioritize... :-) I really enjoy the blogging so it gets done. The house sometimes suffers, though! ;-)
  7. Thank you for such an informative and inspiring post, Michelle!

    I have felt this way for a long time; the discord between budget and good food. When we moved here from France, I was completely freaked out about the hormones in milk, the GMOs in produce, the dyes in candy and medicine, all forbidden in Europe. Our solution (though we are nowhere near your $250 per month): is simply to make it all ourselves. Things creep in and I try not to let it stress me out, we now buy tortillas, but I am going to try to make them next week! The kids get popsicles at kung-fu...I let them have one.

    Locally, FYI, Swiss Valley dairy products all are labeled "Our farmers pledge not to use artificial growth hormones." We switched to SV after Heartland Dairy quit making milk.

    Glad to see your post, I'm going to link to it from my blog.
  8. A little more sleuthing today and I found this: Trader Joes's dairy is rGBH free for sure. Hy-Vee has no published statement. I sent them an email and will update when I hear. You can read more here:

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