Being a health-conscious consumer in the 21st century is a tricky task. On the one hand we have more health challenges related to our food, water, air, and products than ever before. On the other hand, we have more information and choices than ever before. The challenge then, is to find high quality information that is not influenced by corporate agendas and exercise our choices in conscious and intelligent ways.
In this guide, it is my pleasure to share with you 10 resources, which I feel are essential today for any health-conscious individual who is interested in securing optimal wellness. Each of the resources below comes from a source that is working for the greater good of the people and planet, to help us thrive in our modern world.
1. EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
When it comes to healthy nutrition for optimal health, aside from eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, another vital part of optimal eating is to eat organic. This is especially important when it comes to the most vulnerable foods, namely fruits and vegetables. Luckily the EWG, a non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles, whose mission is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment, has created a super practical guide to help us make the most of organic produce. This is the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
You may often hear recommendations to “eat organic whenever possible” and while ideally we would want to have all of our produce (and food) come from organic sources, the EWG recognizes that sometimes organic produce is not available or can cost significantly more, making it difficult for families to make healthy choices. With the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce we can quickly and easily see which fruits and vegetables are most impacted by pesticides—The Dirty Dozen and should only be consumed from organic sources, and which are not heavily (if at all) impacted by harmful pesticides—The Clean Fifteen and can come from non-organic sources.
Access the free Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
2. EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens
Over the past few decades we have been conditioned to fear the sun and do whatever we can to protect ourselves from it. However, this has not worked out in our favor by a long shot. We have a staggering increase in vitamin D deficiency worldwide and numerous health issues related to this, including cancer. We need the sun for optimal health. However, it is all about knowing how to practice sun smart habits, and part of this may include relying on a safe and effective sunscreen.
This is where the EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens comes in very handy. Each year the EWG analyzes over 1,500 sunscreen/sunblock products to test their safety and effectiveness. As shared in the 2015 report, 80% of 1,700 products examined that year offered inferior sun protection or contained problematic ingredients. By using common, commercial sunscreen products, we are putting our health at risk by applying the various harmful chemicals that can in fact increase the risk of skin cancer, and other cancers. Therefore, it is essential that if we are going to use any sunscreen, it is the least toxic or problematic, and the most effective. To check how your sunscreen rates or to find a safe sunscreen option, refer to the EWG sunscreen guide.
Access the free Sunscreen Guide.
3. EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database
If you use any commercial personal care products, whether for face, body, hair, or oral care, it is smart to be aware of how the ingredients that make up your products may be impacting your health. The first place to start is to become aware of the most toxic personal care ingredients and read all of your package labels to avoid them. Additionally, you can consult the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.
This is another outstanding, free resource from the EWG that provides a database of nearly 70,000 personal care products. You can quickly and easily look up any products you are currently using or learn about products you may be interested in using. Each product contains a detailed list of ingredients and concerns associated with each of the ingredients. Both the ingredients and the overall product get a score from 0 to 10, with 0 to 2 being least hazardous and 7 to 10 being most hazardous. The EWG also factors in how much is known about an ingredient with respect to data availability to provide consumers with the most accurate view of the ingredient and overall product.
Access the free Skin Deep Cosmetic Database.
4. EWG’s Food Scores
When we eat whole, unrefined and unprocessed foods, we automatically avoid the numerous problems associated with processed foods and make eating so much simpler and easier. Unfortunately with grocery stores being predominantly filled with processed foods today, chances are that you will have some processed foods in your diet. The level of processing and food quality will heavily depend on your personal understanding, choices, and the stage you are at in your health journey. The more we learn about our food, the more intelligent, typically, are the choices that we make. So for starters get to know your food by knowing what to look for and what to avoid for optimal health, not falling prey to deceptive marketing tactics. Additionally, you can consult another great resource from the EWG — Food Scores.
Like the Cosmetic Database, this is a food database that empowers us as consumers to quickly and easily learn about our food and any of its potential problematic ingredients or characteristics. You can search for any packaged food of interest and Food Scores will provide you with its nutrition, ingredient, and processing concerns, providing ratings and explanations for each, and also provide an overall rating for that food. A score from 1 to 10 is assigned to each food product, with 1 being the best and 10 being the worst. It also features nutrition and ingredient information, as well as healthy highlights and unhealthy concerns for each food product.
Access the free Food Scores resource.
5. EWG’s Meat Eater’s Guide
If you eat any meat or dairy, many factors need to be considered today to do so in a responsible way for your health, our environment, and the animals. We have enough information today that clearly shows that diets high in animal products, negatively impact our health, weight, and wellbeing. This becomes even more problematic if the animal products come from poor quality sources, such as unhealthy animals and factory farms. We also have enough information to know that animal farming is one of the most environmentally destructive practices on our planet today. Therefore, to be a conscious and responsible consumer, it pays to equip ourselves with empowering information that can help us make the best choices for ourselves, and all involved. This is where we can consult the EWG’s Meat Eater’s Guide.
This guide offers a quick and practical overview of how to use animal products in the healthiest and most responsible of ways. It includes a full climate report to educate consumers about the impacts of different types of meat, dairy and other foods on our environment, as well as animal waste problems, pesticide and drug use in meat, how to understand animal food labels, practical tips, and more.
Access the free Meat Eater’s Guide.
6. NRDC’s Mercury Calculator for Seafood
If you eat any seafood today, it is imperative for optimal health, that you research the kind of seafood you may wish to eat, its source, and quality. Due to our negligence as a human society over the past one hundred years specifically, we have devastated bodies of water on this planet, including lakes, rivers, and oceans. They are affected by various types and amounts of pollution that includes both radioactive and chemical problems. And these pollutants then impact the life forms in the water, becoming progressively more concentrated as we go up higher on the food chain.
One of the most toxic substances known to harm our health, and in many ways, is mercury. Today several harmful forms of mercury are widely found in what many consider seafood and something anyone who chooses to consume any fish or similar aquatic animals should pay attention to. Mercury that becomes absorbed by our body can lead to serious health problems, including nervous system disorders, organ damage, cancers, and a whole slew of other negative health effects. To help you consume seafood in a more health-conscious manner, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has created a free mercury calculator. This tool is intended to help you estimate how much mercury you may be ingesting via your seafood and whether this is within the proposed safe levels.
Access the free NRDC Mercury Calculator.
7. Institute for Responsible Technology
Aside from paying attention to pesticides and other chemicals in our food, today we also have a biological danger when it comes to our food. These are known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Foods that are genetically engineered include the genetic material of another organism and deviate in various ways from their original counterparts. Although the United States, and for the most part Canada, have taken a very relaxed, almost supportive stance towards GMOs, other parts of the world have not. In fact, GMOs are either restricted to some degree and/or require labelling in over 60 countries in the world.
As consumers, specifically in North America, we may feel confused and frustrated about the lack of information and abundance of misinformation that is injected anytime this topic is brought up. Yet there is an excellent resource that is leading the way in helping consumers make sense of GMO foods and their health and environmental dangers. This is the Institute for Responsible Technology and it provides consumers with a comprehensive view and understanding of GMOs. It covers both plant and animal GMO foods and how to avoid them, the science and research about GMO health dangers and environmental problems, as well as political and economical factors that hinder information in this area and keep consumers in the dark.
Access the free Institute for Responsible Technology resources.
8. Center for Food Safety
Given the many problems that we face today with modern food, water, air and product quality, the onus has really fallen on the consumer to become responsible and accountable for their own choices. And it is here that it is important to exercise those choices by being informed and empowered. We may not always be able to have control over our air or water, but we can always have a big say in the quality of the food that we choose to ingest.
With this in mind the Center for Food Safety helps us understand modern food safety challenges, in order to avoid the harmful and source out the helpful attributes, as related to our food today. These include organics and genetically engineered foods, as well as irradiated foods, nanotechnology in foods, and overall food safety. The center’s site provides consumers with lots of information and practical tips, as well as the free True Food Shoppers Guide to Avoiding GE Foods.
Access the free Center for Food Safety resources.
9. Find a Spring
Aside from our food and personal care products, the quality of the water we drink will have a tremendous impact on our health for the better or worse. Tap water varies from municipality to municipality, though generally has many problems associated with it, including the presence of chlorine, fluoride, pharmaceutical residues, and various pollutants. Bottled water is usually no better and has its own slew of problems, including chemical and bacterial contamination. This may leave you wondering: what is the best water to drink?
The healthiest, highest quality of water comes directly from nature. This can include high-quality well water from deep aquifers and water from real, unpolluted, high-quality springs. Many such springs are located all throughout our planet and there may be one near you that you can visit regularly and fill up glass bottles to have as your main drinking water at home and while on the go. A great resource to help us find such springs is Find a Spring. This is a community-run initiative, so each individual is responsible for making sure the spring water they choose is safe, and individuals can also add springs to the database to provide more options of clean, natural water to others. If there is no spring near you and you do not live on a well, then the best option is to invest in filtering your own tap water, which tends to be the healthiest, cheapest, and most sustainable option.
Access the free Find a Spring database.
10. New Dream’s Conscious Consumer Shopping Guide
Finally, we can also improve the quality of our life, our health and wellbeing based on our overall lifestyle, specifically when it comes to what we buy or don’t buy. The way we approach consumerism and the quantity and quality of the items that we invest our resources into will spill over into every area of our health. The good news is that today we have choices, and lots of them. For starters, an increasing number of us are learning how to simplify our life, in order to experience a higher quality of life. Many of us are thus moving away from a consumption-based lifestyle, and practicing conscious consumption. This means that when products are needed, we are sourcing out the healthiest options for us and our planet.
To help us move effectively in this direction and benefit on all levels of our health, finances, and lifestyle, we can consult the Conscious Consumer Shopping Guide. This resource is part of New Dream’s Beyond Consumerism initiative that is redefining what it means to live a good life and have time for things that matter and add positively to the quality of our life, health, and wellbeing. This resource includes lots of information, inspiration, and practical tips for optimizing your life so that you buy less and spend less, and buy higher quality, more durable and sustainable items.