My grandfather Roman was a Russian coal miner in NE Pennsylvania from 1913 until the 1960s. This man ate bacon and eggs each morning, white bread with butter each meal, had a shot of whiskey and a beer every evening while smoking just about anything that burned.
He sired seven children, survived five mine cave-ins, led a full life and died at the age of 85. The difference between then and now is that his days were filled with physical activity and most of the food he ate came from either his back yard garden or from a farm or butcher shop no more than fifty miles away.
These days are gone forever, replaced by large corporations that process food by the truckload and infuse them with chemicals that increase shelf life and enhance the flavor to make it more palatable.
I have been aware of some of the evils of processed foods for quite some time; but let us first get to know what I will be referring to when I say “processed foods”.
When a farmer cuts a head of lettuce, rinses it and sends it to market, that food has been minimally processed. Likewise, foods raised by the neighbor or farmer down the road, or harvested from your own garden, may be washed, bound and taken to market and home, some of it canned or bottled, are not really processed.
What we are talking about here is having foods over-cooked, highly-heated, frozen and manipulated/combined with chemicals, preserving agents and processes that either rob the foodstuff of their natural beneficial vitamins, minerals and enzymes for the sake of taste or increasing the shelf life of the final product.
These include heavily processed foods such as canned pastas, deli meats and “ready to eat” meals of any type. I am reminded of the running joke that should a nuclear war decimate the world, the only survivors would be Twinkies & cockroaches; the joke being the cakes contain so much chemicals they could not go bad and that not even the cockroaches were dumb enough to eat one (my sincere apologies to the Hostess Corporation).
Evolution has designed our taste buds to navigate us towards foods that are all salty, sweet and fatty because these foods contain both nutrients and provide easily converted energy for our survival. But since we no longer need to run from saber-toothed tigers while crossing vast grassy plains, this natural inclination makes day to day eating all the more treacherous.
It is this hard-wired desire for salt, sugar & fats that gives processed food providers the recipe for appealing to our taste buds; and now it actually hurts us.
Because what once took even a minimal amount of energy (i.e. rolling up a car window or changing the TV channel) we now have buttons that provide us with every convenience with little to no effort.
It is this hard-wired desire for salt, sugar & fats that gives processed food providers the recipe for appealing to our taste buds. Our natural attraction for salt, sugar & fat has additional drawbacks as these foods manifest symptoms of many diseases that decimate our ranks such as coronary heart disease, strokes, obesity, cancer and diabetes.
Additionally, the very nature of our attraction to what can hurt us gets even more sinister when you add the total amounts these substances in the contents of the processed food is being broken down into “serving sizes” that are not what is consumed in one sitting. They are so small we consume several times of the listed single serving thereby consuming that many more calories, grams of fats & sugars at one sitting.
Sulphites are preserving agents found in processed meats, dairy products, dried fruits & vegetables that have been linked to headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and asthma.
Studies have also found that a diet heavy in processed foods, specifically MSG, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, can negatively impact an individual’s mood, memory functions and concentration.
Refined carbohydrates such as breakfast cereal, breads, pretzels, pancakes & waffles breakdown into sugars more rapidly and become ticking time bombs for diabetics and those with weight issues.
And even when a grain is labeled “whole grain”, that whole grain can be pulverized to the point that they have just as decimating effect as their white flour brethren.
Recommendations: It’s a minefield out there. Labels can be misleading. What we read one day has evidence to refute the claim the next day and every corporation has its lobbyists. While information is open to interpretation; but there is one truth I have found to be consistent… the Devil is in the Details.
- You need to take responsibility for your health into your own hands by reading the labels and making yourself an informed consumer. Sixty seconds in the supermarket aisle can easily manifest itself into years of enjoying a richer and healthier life.
- You need to evaluate the actual serving size as determined by the manufacture and just how many servings are in one container. For example, the sugars contained in one serving of a popular iced tea shows it has 22 grams of sugar per serving; but the can contains 3 servings, giving you a total amount of sugar of 66 grams should you finish the can. And you know that you’re gonna’ finish the can. And when you do, your blood sugar level should read similar to the blood sugar level of a 5 lb. bag of Domino’s sugar.
- Buy fresh. Buy local. I have found that for me personally, I prefer to purchase fresh ingredients and use them within 48 hours. I like making my own soups from scratch as well as my own vegetable & chicken broths and freezing them to be used in future dishes. By purchasing local fresh goods, you will consume more vital nutrients and less chemicals while greatly benefiting you and your family’s health.
- Avoid foods that are processed to the point of being ready to eat. The preservatives, the sodium, and the oils are offering you and your family hollow calories and unintended side effects as presented to you in the previous text. While it takes more time to make your meals with whole foods and bypass the convenience factor, you will be healthier and happier for it.
The suggestions outlined here have a cumulative effect. We did not arrive to the sorry state dealt us by over-processed foods overnight, and getting our bodies and systems back up and running well will not be fixed by these suggestions overnight as well.
Highly processed foods are by in large cheaper than the same foods that contain fewer preservatives and require more preparation time.
An Axiom to use as a compass setting our president, Ron Radstrom – “The Fresher the Food, the Better it is for You” (including meat & fish).
In addition, the less processing a food has been subjected to the more nutritious and beneficial the food will be for you. When you weigh the evidence for the benefits for foods that have not been processed as much as their over-processed counterparts, you may just decide to take the extra time in preparing your meal and have a friend with you when cooking or just find an excuse to play your favorite music while in the kitchen.