Actually, it depends what you're putting in your bowl (or grabbing as you run out the door). To find out what's really in your breakfast food—and what to avoid—we asked Stuart McMillan, farm manager for Legend Organic Farms, for the real deal.
And Legend Organic Farms is a smart barometer, because it exclusively grows ingredients for Nature’s Path Foods, an OG of organic cereal, granola, and snacks that's making a name in radical transparency. On its site, the brand publicly answers all of your questions when it comes to organic foods (just ask and you shall receive). For more real-talk, find out what could be in your bowl right now below.
Keep reading for 5 controversial food additives in popular breakfast foods.
1. Pesticide residues
One place you might not have considered pesticide residue? Your breakfast cereal. According to a recent report published by the Environmental Working Group, your morning bowl of oatmeal, oat-based cereal, or granola isn't exactly safe from chemical weed killers, which can seep in through direct application on crops (like the oats in your ’meal) or spraying of the land itself.
"While the levels are generally low, there remain questions about cumulative effects at these levels or interactions between the chemicals," says McMillan.
You can lower your exposure by stocking up on breakfast foods made with organic ingredients, because “organic standards prohibit the use of things like synthetic pesticides,” McMillan explains. Which means every vanilla pod, piece of quinoa, and corn kernel in your Nature’s Path Sunrise® Crunchy Vanilla Cereal was produced without harmful chemicals.
2. Synthetic fertilizers
QQ: Would you rather eat plants grown in soil enriched with natural fertilizers like compost or seaweed (and kept naturally healthy with aerating worms)—or petroleum-based fertilizers? Lucky for you, Nature's Path Foods thinks the answer to that is a no-brainer, too.
At organic farms that strive for next-level sustainability, farmers rely on healthy microbial-rich soil rather than chemical additives, which can lead to higher concentrations of nutrients and antioxidants in crops. “Organic farmers are required to maintain and improve soil fertility and biological activity,”McMillan says. “A biologically rich soil can lead to more nutritious food.”
3. Artificial colors and flavors
You might be a huge proponent of eating the rainbow—the full color spectrum of fruits and veggies, that is. Artificial dyes and flavors? Not so much. "Artificial colors are typically petroleum-derived and have been linked to adverse health outcomes," says Desiree Nielsen, registered dietician and spokesperson for Nature’s Path Foods, citing allergic reactions as one possible issue.
Trust: You want your flavors to come from fruits, veggies, and spices—not grown in a lab. “Artificial flavors [...] are made in the lab and may contain incidental contaminants not listed in the ingredients label,” Nielsen notes.
4. Sewage sludge
Other than being the two words you least want associated with your breakfast, sewage sludge refers to treated wastewater deemed suitable for fertilizing farm land. The main concern is anything dumped into the drain system from homes to businesses has the ability to end up on crops.
“Since modern sewage systems receive drainwater from industrial activities, it generally has various persistent pollutants present in the sludge, which we want to avoid applying to the land,” McMillan says, referring to heavy metals, radioactive material, and drug residues. To avoid it, go organic. "The application of sewage sludge to farmlands is prohibited in organic foods."
5. Genetically modified ingredients
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) make up the majority of the processed foods we eat, but despite being hotly debated, there's no conclusive research about their long-term effects on us. “Unfortunately, we may never have a conclusive evidence base because we have been consuming GM foods for so long that having a proper control group (one without GM consumption) is impossible,” Nielsen says.
Whether you’re on the fence about GM seeds or not, supporting organic companies that use non-GM seeds, like Nature’s Path Foods, is a vote for food diversity. “Over half of the global seed market belongs to just three companies: Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta,” Nielsen says. “Choosing non-GM foods is a vote for food democracy and greater autonomy for farmers in their growing practices.” So with every handful of Summer Berries Granola, you're supporting the conscious food movement, too.
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