The Secret Cost of Eating Cheap

Being a college student, I probably know best how draining a trip to the grocery store can be on the wallet. Between trying to buy organic and avoiding junk food, the cost of just two weeks’ worth of groceries can reach triple digits. Sometimes it’s tempting to fall back to the “college student diet” and just buy 12-packs of ramen in the interest of saving money. But eating cheap won’t save me from harmful chemical contaminants in many common foods.

 This is the lesson from a recent study by researchers at the University of California, summarized here, who found that many foods contain harmful chemical contaminants. The study, the first to the first to collectively look at exposures to multiple food contaminants in children, noted that the diets of preschoolers and school-age children contain a large number of these food contaminants, and that children are therefore at greater risk of exposure to levels of chemicals that have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

The study notes that contaminants in food can come from the ways that foods are cooked, processed, and packaged. For example, a cancer-causing chemical called acrylamide is produced in some foods cooked at high temperatures. Under California’s strong consumer protection law known as Prop 65, foods with high levels of acrylamide must carry a warning label. To avoid labels stating that their products contain a cancer-causing substance, many food companies are now looking for ways to reduce this harmful chemical, including using food enzymes.

So what can adults do to help both children and themselves minimize exposure to these contaminants and diseases?

  1.  Reduce your exposure to cancer-causing acrylamide by staying away from highly processed cereal, grain, chips, cookies, French fries, and crackers.
  2. Reduce your exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by eating less meat, dairy, and fish, or to choose low-fat versions of these foods.
  3. Reduce your exposure to mercury by eating catfish, salmon, and scallops instead of shark and swordfish.
  4. Reduce your exposure to pesticides by substituting organic produce and milk for non-organic produce and milk.

Buying organic foods might be more expensive and changing the eating habits of your family may be tough, but investing a little extra in the health of you and your children can make the difference in spending a fortune on medical expenses years down the road. I don’t know about you, but I’d choose the rabbit food any day!