My sister is so afraid of salmonella poisoning, she practically dons a Hazmat suit when preparing raw chicken.

Yet, I’ve caught her feeding my daughter chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-flavored toaster pastries and chocolate milk for breakfast.

As consumers, we obsess on the rare, media-hyped dangers-du-jour while ignoring the less sexy but far more dangerous hazards of a poor diet.

Maybe we’re not as easily spooked by sugar, refined flour and additives because gastroenteritis from eColi shows up quicker than diabetes.

After a series of scary food-related deaths and illnesses (Listeria in cantaloupes, hepatitis in pomegranate seeds) I don’t blame my sister for being wary of foodborne illness. But I think she (like most of us) is being a little naïve about other food dangers. We’re hypervigilant about some dangerous substances that might be lurking in our foods, but not other stuff that studies show can make our kids really sick.

It’s right there on the labels of our processed foods: aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, salt, trans fats. Those are the real killers. Yet we invite them into our homes by the boatload.

Just because it comes in a colorful package with a smiling cartoon animal on the front doesn’t make it any less dangerous, just as having a picture of an old country farm and the words “all natural” don’t make it wholesome.

But how evil can a box with a smiling cartoon tiger really be? Especially when the words, “Made with whole grains!” and “Good source of vitamin D!” are splashed across the front?

Call me Debbie Downer, but the leading cause of death in this country is heart disease. Do you know what causes heart disease? Poor diet.

We mommy consumers do not have it easy. If you took out all the “edible, food-like substances,” as author Michael Pollan calls them, and left only the “real food,” our supermarkets would be several thousand square feet smaller than they are today.

Advertisers target our kids as mercilessly as tobacco companies used to. Even eating junk in moderation is a problem. The bad stuff in food (trans fats, sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup) actually increases hunger hormones and makes you crave more of it. That’s why “you can’t eat just one.”

The junk is everywhere, and it’s delicious. We barely stand a chance with the deck stacked so high against us.

So choose whole foods. Processed foods are only inexpensive in the narrowest, most immediate sense. What you don’t pay for now, you’ll pay for later.

If anyone can rise to the challenges facing consumers, it’s parents.

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