How Comfortable Are You with the Food You Feed Your Family?

Written for Illinois Farm Families Field Mom blog


Have you read about pink slime or heard another beef recall and started to question what’s really in the food you eat? Being a mom of two, who has now added Food Detective to my list of roles, I wanted to do something to help me better understand how the food I feed my family is produced. I am thrilled to be a 2014 Illinois Farms Field Mom-an opportunity that allows me to visit farms, talk to experts and ask as many questions as I can manage. I don’t promise to know all the answers. But this mom is doing her best to figure out what she can. Please come along for the journey and feel free to share your thoughts along the way.

Our first Field Moms tour was to an Ultra Foods in Wheaton, where we met with store management, some Illinois farmers and a registered dietitian. Jodie Shield is the president and founder of Healthy Eating for Families, has co-authored the American Dietetic Association’s Guide to Healthy Eating For Kids, writes for the Chicago Tribune, teaches and does many other credible, valuable things. I basically tried to stay as close to her as I could the entire trip.

I was immediately reassured by Jodie’s recommendations of moderation and doing what works best for your family to eat healthily. If a little salt and butter help the vegetables go down, vegetables are better than greasy alternatives. Like Jodie, my children’s pediatrician recommended a little chocolate in the milk if it helps kids get their calcium and vitamin D. She also said to eat within reason and structure your diet to your family’s health history. For example, if high blood pressure runs in your family, a low sodium diet is a good idea.

Coming into the trip, most of my concerns revolved around the safety of hormones, pesticides and preservatives in our food. My question of how hormones in milk affect kids’ growing bodies was a large topic of conversation. Michele Aavang, a cattle farmer, brought up that there are hormones naturally occurring in all living things, such as broccoli and cabbage. Jodie furthered the argument that the concerns over hormones are exaggerated by saying that our bodies’ digest all of the hormones we eat. To further explain it after the field trip, she sent me this link.

The above article basically explains that protein hormones are digested vs. steroid hormones, like birth control pills, which are absorbed. Therefore, am I to assume all protein hormones we consume are totally safe? It also states that the hormones found in meat and dairy are at minuscule amounts versus what are naturally produced in human bodies on a daily basis. I wonder, even if the amounts of hormones are minimal by comparison, isn’t there a cumulative affect of consuming these over time?

Many have questioned the link between early onset, precocious, puberty, and the consumption of milk. Jodie stated she believes early puberty could be more closely correlated to the growing body mass indexes of young girls. After the tour I did some more research. I found this article from The Huffington Post to be very helpful.

The experts cited in the article agree on the increasing size of our children being a large factor in the early onset of puberty. They, like Jodie, also stated that while buying organic milk may make some consumers feel better, there is in fact little proof to confirm that it is safer. They also confirm that rBGH, the synthetic cow hormone injected into dairy cows to increase their milk production, should not be a concern to your health. However, this article brought up another hormone I had not previously been aware of- IGF, insulin-like growth factor. Evidently manipulating growth hormones in our food sources could increase IGF in our bodies. A number of cancers, such as breast and prostate, have been linked to higher blood levels of IGF. So is drinking milk really safe?

The only thing that seems to be clear about technology’s implications on our food is that more research is needed. At the end of the day, food choices simply become a matter of what you feel comfortable with.

Whether your decisions are based on budget or fear of the unknown, you have to do what you think is best with the tools and information you have. Being a mom requires a lot of judgment calls. In our justice system, I appreciate the fact that we are innocent until proven guilty. When it comes to the food I feed my children I tend to lean to the opposite end of the spectrum. However, I also live in today’s fast-paced society, shop at the same stores everyone else does and don’t have the time or energy to grow and cook all my own food. So I’ve got to figure out what works best for me in today’s food system. You can bet I’ll be asking a lot of questions on the Field Moms’ upcoming hog, cattle, corn and dairy farm tours. Is there anything you’d like to add or that I can look into for you?