We all know the basics, right? Avoid sugar, corn syrup, soda, and processed foods to lose weight or prevent weight gain. Know the sneaky places sugar hides: yogurt, cereal, ketchup, fruit juice (extra credit: “fat free” snack items). Maybe you’ve even taken your weight loss journey a step farther and have removed wheat products (shown to increase appetite) and even dairy, which can cause bloating and acne in some people. But there’s a class of endocrine disrupting chemicals hiding in otherwise healthy foods, and these toxins cause weight gain, infertility, and hormone imbalance.
New research shows that these chemicals in our food—even seemingly healthy picks, such as meat, fish, fruits and veggies—could be encouraging your body to hang on to fat. These toxins, known as obesogens, disrupt the function of our hormones and alter our gut microbiome, causing an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. When your good:bad ratio of gut bacteria is skewed, the pendulum swings in the direction of weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
Where do you find obesogens?
- Fake and processed foods (especially soy isolates)
- animals we consume, fed artificial hormones and antibiotics
- plastic pollutants in some food packaging
- chemicals added to processed foods
- pesticides and herbicides sprayed on our produce
These chemicals disrupt our endocrine systems and program the body to store fat. They also add to our toxic burden and contribute to estrogen dominance (linked to hormonal cancers and hormone imbalance in both men AND women), making us feel bloated, tired, depressed, and unhealthy.
How do you stay away from obesogens? The following foods are sources:
Conventionally raised meat, including chicken and beef. There’s a saying that goes, “you are what you eat… ate.” Feedlot beef cattle are fed corn (an obesogen when it’s GMO, as most of it is) and a cocktail of antibiotics and hormones to both make them grow faster and bigger and to offset disease and illness caused by unsanitary conditions. It all does the same to you, and you’re getting it via the conventionally raised meat you eat.
Corn is not a cow’s natural diet, believe it or not: They are ruminants and are meant to graze on grass. Corn makes cows sick (more antibiotics), but corn-fed beef is more marbled and in demand by the U.S. palette. Aside from the corn, we’re getting a dose of the antibiotics and hormones that also make us fat. That steady dose of antibiotics kills the good bacteria in our digestive tracts, making us more susceptible to immune issues, digestive problems, and weight gain (yes, your gut bacteria help maintain a healthy weight). The extra hormones cause estrogen dominance and further turn on our fat storage genes. To top it all off, corn fed beef is unnaturally high in the inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids associated with so many diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Please do not support concentrated animal feedlot organizations (CAFO). They’re inhumane, terrible for the environment, and unhealthy for humans. Choose locally raised, grass fed beef, and limit beef consumption to once weekly.
CAFO chicken are fed soy feed (an obesogen), steroid hormones, and more antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. Again, choose organic.
What about fish? Farmed fish is one of the worst offenders. Farmed salmon are fed a combination of fish meal (horrifying) and obesogenic soy feed, both of which are not even close to their natural diet. They’re also given antibiotics to prevent disease because of crowded conditions. Farmed salmon are dyed so their flesh is unnaturally pink. Farmed salmon are up to 10 times higher in pesticides like PCBs as wild salmon. Avoid all farmed shrimp and fish–especially salmon–at all cost. It’s more detrimental to your health than beneficial. And you know what? Wild salmon tastes NOTHING like the farmed salmon, which tastes fishy and even smells unhealthy. Wild salmon has a mild, buttery flavor.
Non-organic produce also makes the list. The average American is exposed to 10 to 13 different pesticides through food, beverages and unfiltered drinking water every day. Most of these common pesticides are endocrine-disrupting, which have been linked to weight gain and infertility.
A special shout-out goes to GMOs and “Roundup Ready” (glyphosate-resistant) crops, including include soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, beets, and cotton. Roundup ready crops are genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, active ingredient glyphosate. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that links glyphosate to health and environmental harm, and the WHO recently ruled it “probably carcinogenic,” though Monsanto is jumping through hoops to negate that. In cases like this we are all the guinea pigs in this grand experiment. I take the precautionary principle to heart here: unless something is proven safe (GM crops and glyphosate AREN’T), err on the side of caution. Aside from cancer, some pretty clear evidence is emerging about how Roundup ready, genetically modified crops affect our digestive and immune function. This is one theory for increasing allergies and autoimmune diseases.
I know eating organic gets expensive, so my rule of thumb is to buy anything with a peel– citrus, kiwi, avocado, pineapple, mango, banana–non-organic, and check the dirty dozen list to see the worst offenders. It’s pretty much anything with a thin skin (berries, greens, stone fruits). Apples, peaches, pears, and grapes are heavily sprayed. Finally, non-organic coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so always buy your coffee organic.
Plastic compounds and can liners that contain bisphenol a (BPA) are also obesogenic. Think water bottles, canned tuna (the worst offender), canned tomatoes, soups, baby formula, and beans. BPA and the pollutants in plastic are xenoestrogenic (add to your estrogen load), contributing to weight gain, infertility, estrogen dominance, and hormone imbalance.
How do you stay away from obesogenic foods? Top priority is to source your meat carefully. Please buy organic or locally raised meats, and if they’re not available near you, you can check out online retailers. I recommend US Wellness meats and Vital Choice seafood. Buying organic meat supports humane treatment of animals, supports the environment, and keeps you healthy!
Secondly, try and avoid conventional versions of the dirty dozen fruits and veggies. Talk to the farmers at your local farmers’ market: often they’re growing organically but cannot afford the permit.
Third, filter your drinking water and avoid plastic bottles! I use a stainless steel Kleen Kanteen. Choose BPA-free can liners, which are becoming easier to find these days.
I know it can be frustrating to navigate all the info out there on toxins in our food supply, Keep it simple and try to eat as organic and local as possible.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.