Friday, March 15, 2013

Elevated Eats - The Simple Truth About Processed Food

I want to introduce you to my friend & fellow blogger, Lisa, of  Lisa is certified as a Nutrition Educator and is based in San Francisco, where she also offers cooking classes.  I consider her to be a great resource on healthy living - she has this ability to put things into very clear & simple terms.  With her permission today, I wanted to share one of her posts on processed foods/additives.  To read more of her, and to see what she's cooking in HER kitchen these days, please visit her website,

Simple Truths About Processed Food

People generally know that whole foods are good for you and processed foods aren’t but I don’t think most know exactly why processed food is such garbage.  Here are a few of the many undesirable items you’re ingesting when you eat those convenient, attractively packaged items lining the grocery store shelves:
  • Preservatives such as sodium benzoatesodium nitritepotassium sorbate and sulphur dioxide are used to prevent the growth of fungus, mold and bacteria on our food and to ward off oxygen damage.  In our body, however, they can cause toxic, allergic reactions, birth defects, vitamin deficiencies, cancer and brain damage.
  • Sweeteners like fructose are common in a lot of processed foods.  Fructose lowers your sense of fullness causing you to overeat. Apparently, that’s happening on a grand scale since fructose is now the #1 source of calories in the United States.  Overconsumption of fructose leads to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and diseases of the immune system, all of which are on the rise.
  • Chemicals such as aspartame and MSG.  Aspartame has been linked to tumors, cancer, seizures, hallucinations, depression and infertility.  Diet Coke anyone? MSG overexcites our nervous system causing cells to actually excite themselves to death. Brain cells, to be specific.  It also causes obesity, nervous system disorders, hormone fluctuations and liver inflammation. Think you’re not eating MSG?  If you consume products with malted barley, brown rice syrup, yeast extract or hydrolyzed vegetable protein you might be.
  • Stabilizers like carageenan and guar gum give foods like ice cream, nut milks, soups and protein drinks a better texture and “mouthfeel.”  They also increase inflammation.  Carageenan does this by depressing the activity of the immune cells that remove debris and pathogens while simultaneously producing compounds that trigger inflammation as part of our immune response.  Guar gum is derived legumes and contains lectins, protein molecules that are resistant to stomach acid and digestive enzymes making them indigestible for some people.
Did you know that processed foods contain additives that can even be listed as “natural” on a label if the FDA considers them Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS)?  Check out this link to see the list of substances that was evaluated by the FDA.  Do you know what most of these items are?  Chances are that if you don’t recognize them your body won’t either.  If the FDA decides they fall into the GRAS category, you won’t ever see these ingredients listed individually, they’ll be hiding on the label as artificial flavor, artificial coloring, natural flavor or natural color.   This is extremely problematic and outright dangerous for people with food allergies and sensitivities who can unknowingly end up eating substances that will make them very ill.
Foods that are ultra-processed can be manipulated in a number of ways:  pasteurized, sterilized, bleached, deodorized, refined, stripped, mechanically separated – the list goes on and on.  In addition to the many substances added during this processing, food loses something as well:  nutrients.  Processing exposes food to high heat, temperature changes, light and water, all of which damage unstable nutrients like Vitamin C.  Vitamin E and some B Vitamins are also unstable and risk loss when exposed to some of these same elements.
Don’t be fooled by the many processed foods that manufactures market as “healthy”, they are anything but.  Take a look at the ingredients inNature Valley Fruit and Nut Trail Mix Bars:  Whole Grain Oats, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Raisins, Almonds, Roasted Peanuts, Sugar, Rice Flour, Chicory Root Extract, Fructose, Cranberries, Canola OilMalodextrin, Vegetable Glycerin, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Barley Malt Extract, Baking Soda, Natural Flavor, Mixed Tocopherols added to retain freshness.
So in addition to those fruits and nuts you’re also consuming MSG, GMO’s, rancid oils, several types of sugar, 4 of the 8 most common foods people are allergic to (gluten, soy, corn and peanuts) and who knows what else.  Yum.  Those of us that buy processed food for the ease and convenience might feel stuck when it comes to finding other options here, especially for snacks.  I’m happy to share a few of them with you:
Make your own snack bars:  throw some soaked dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon, vanilla and salt into your food processor.  Pulse it, press it into a square dish and cut it make bars.  How about grabbing a banana, apple, carrot sticks or some nuts and seeds?  Do you like snacks that are both sweet and salty?  Add a smidge of almond butter to a date along with a sprinkle of coarse salt, it’s dangerously delicious.  Bake some kale chips for a crunchy snack, make hard-boiled eggs for some protein or grab some briny olives.  The options are endless.
If the thought of making real food is overwhelming do it gradually, one thing at a time.   When I say ”real food” I’m referring to whole, unprocessed/minimally processed, hormone and chemical free food that doesn’t need a label or list of ingredients to explain what it is.  Things like oranges, kale, sweet potatoes, grass-fed beef, honey, cilantro, coconut, olive oil, tomatoes.  Real food doesn’t have to be complicated, hard to make or time-consuming.  Keep it simple and it will naturally be delicious.

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