Depending on where you live in the world, processed food can vary greatly on how it is manufactured and what less-than-healthy ingredients it contains. Basically, processed food is that food that comes packaged and ready to eat in a box, a container or a can.
USA processed food
In the US, the majority of processed foods are filled with additives and stripped of nutrients. If you look at the list of the ingredients you will find plenty of evidence of this. Our systems evolved to eat healthy whole foods and not processed foods which, in the US especially, are laden with sweeteners, salts, artificial flavors and colorings as well as chemicals that alter texture and preservatives – many of these ingredients are downright toxic and dangerous to our health. And not only that, too many of the nutrients (the good stuff in the food) have been taken away.
The 4 baddies in processed foods are:
including margarine (which has been described as the biggest food-processing disaster in history”). Transfats boost your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease “good” HDL cholesterol; they help to clog up your arteries; are twice as dangerous for your heart as saturated fat; and cause an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 premature heart disease deaths each year. Replace with good healthy fats like butter from grass-fed cows, coconut oil and olive oil to cut your heart attack risk by a whopping 53 percent. You will learn to recognize the presence of trans fats when you see the words “partially hydrogenated” or “fractionated”. The higher up the phrase “partially hydrogenated oil” is on the list of ingredients, the more trans fat the product contains.
2. Second on the list is refined grains
(as opposed to whole grains). So all the white refined products are the ones to avoid as they raise the risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks, insulin resistance, diabetes and belly fat. Products made with refined grains include white bread, rolls, sugary low-fiber cereals, white rice or white pasta and be aware that the manufacturers use slick advertising agencies to market their products with misleading slogans and claims. Be one step ahead of them. Practice being cynical at all times.
3. The third item to avoid is all the salt or sodium
added to processed food. We just need a small amount every day which we can get naturally or from our own salt shaker. What happens when you eat more salt than your body needs? Your body retains fluid simply to dilute the extra sodium in your bloodstream which in turn raises blood volume, forcing your heart to work harder while making your veins and arteries constrict. This is a bad combination and can raise your blood pressure.
4. The 4th baddie is high fructose corn syrup
which is used as a cheap alternative to sugar but at what cost to your health. Other names for this additive (when checking out the ingredients list) are corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids and the latest name change is corn sugar which has come about because the consuming public were beginning to cotton on to the dangers of high fructose corn syrup and the manufacturers had to come up with a new name and a new marketing strategy. You may have seen recent TV adverts talking about corn sugar and how it is just the same as regularly sugar. Do not be fooled. Regular sugar is bad enough but corn sugar is so much worse for your health and is added to the vast majority of processed foods including beer, bacon, whole wheat bread and much more. To add insult to injury, the syrup's chemical structure encourages overeating.
If you have been used to an almost exclusive diet of processed food, it is not easy to make the change to whole foods and it will take some strong will power for both you and your family.
Here are some tips to help you on your way
1. Always check labels.
2. Go through your food stores at home and give away any processed food and make a fresh start.
3. Stick to simple recipes that do not use too many ingredients especially at the start of your new lifestyle. Collect healthy recipes – if you check out “primal” or 'paleo” recipes online, they only use whole foods and you will find them very helpful.
4. Make a meal plan and shop carefully with a list derived from your meal plan. Shop only from the fresh produce sections and those shelves with whole food products. Do not even venture down the aisles with processed foods.
5. Be careful of snacking. Don't be tempted to fall off the wagon by resorting to processed food at snack time but rather go for snacks like nuts, fruits and raw veggies.
6. Stay far away from take outs and fast food restaurants – far too tempting.
7. Drink plenty of pure filtered water.
If you are really not sure whether or not you should eat something, ask yourself if your great grandmother would recognize it or whether you understand the name of the ingredient? If the answer is no to either question, the chances are that you are about to buy or consume a processed food and put your health at risk.