Healthy Lifestyle Tip #7: Cut Back on Processed Foods

In Healthy Lifestyle Tip #4, I talked about becoming more aware of the food you are eating. As part of thinking about what I was eating, I read a couple books, Fat Chance by Robert H. Lustig, and Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss. Lustig believes that sugar is the main reason for the obesity epidemic in this country, while Moss believes salt and fat are also to blame. They both talk about processed food manufacturers, and how the manufacturers tweak their formulas to make them taste as wonderful as possible, adding more and more sugar, salt and fat until they find the “bliss point,” so you will buy more of their foods. They have also highly refined the food, removing parts that might spoil, and adding chemicals to it, to extend the shelf life as long as possible.

When you really think about it, in doing these things, manufacturers have made it so most processed food hardly qualifies as food anymore. For example, when they make white flour, they take all of the nutrients and fiber out of the grain. It might taste great in baked products, and never spoil, but it also doesn’t provide your body with anything it needs. When you eat products with white flour and sugar, you are eating mostly empty calories that aren’t fueling your body, only adding to the number of calories you eat that day. They don’t have protein or fiber to fill you up, and they taste great, so you eat more and more useless calories. It is no longer any mystery to me how I ended up as overweight as I was.

We now eat much less pasta and bread, and when we do eat them, they are whole grain. We now use brown rice instead of white–white rice, as in white flour, has had all the good stuff removed to make it more highly palatable and give it a longer shelf life. We buy a small amount of snack foods for the kids, and I try to find ones that are minimally processed. We hardly ever buy cookies. I have made it a fun adventure to replace processed foods with something homemade as often as possible. One great resource for whole food ideas and recipes is 100 Days of Real Food.

When I do buy something in a can or box, I look for products that are as minimally processed as possible. I read the label, and look for real, healthy ingredients. I found a fantastic smart phone app, Fooducate–you can scan a product’s barcode and it gives each product a letter grade, as well as discussing the positive or negative qualities of that food. It also has product reviews from other users. If the product you scan doesn’t have a good rating, it can provide you with healthier alternatives.

As I have removed processed foods from my diet, I have found that my tastes have changed. If I eat ice cream or cake now, they taste disgustingly sweet to me, and I would rather have a piece of fruit or homemade banana bread.

Try starting small, replacing processed foods with real foods as much as possible. For example, try eating less pasta, and having sweet potatoes, corn, quinoa, farro, or other whole foods as your starch. Try using whole wheat pasta  (best brand we have found so far is bionaturae, which I found at Whole Foods), and whole wheat bread. Instead of having ice cream or cookies for dessert, try having a piece of fruit and some dark chocolate.

Try to keep in mind, as I do, some words of wisdom from Michael Pollan: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”

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