Grist Magazine started me off on this list by providing the first five packaged foods that are completely unnecessary, as making them at home is not only simple, but far healthier and more inexpensive. I added five more to Jane Mountain's list, for a total of 10.
- Canned soup: This typically contains large amounts of processed salt, additives, MSG, and genetically engineered ingredients. Many companies also still use cans with bisphenol-A (BPA) in the lining. This plastic chemical has been identified as a potent endocrine disruptor, which means it mimics or interferes with your body's hormones and "disrupts" your endocrine system.
Fortunately, making home-made soup is easy to learn and ensures you know exactly what's in it. Jane offers three soup recipes in her Grist article.1 The Internet offers countless more. She also offers the following three tips:
- "Sign up for a CSA [local community supported agriculture] box and you'll have lots of crazy fruits and vegetables on hand to make soup.
- Invest in a hand blender... we use ours every single day and it's so much easier to blend the soup right in the pot.
- Make your own stock!"
- Stock and Bouillon: Making stock is even easier than making soup. Instead of composting potato peels, onion skins, leek tops, eggplant stems and whatever else you happen to be left with, freeze them and make stock when you have enough to make a batch of vegetable stock.
Jane links to a page with instructions for making "Scrappy Veggie Stock" on PoorGirlEatsWell.com2 that looks to be easy enough even for the most intimidated of beginners. I also like Jane's suggestion to: "pour the stock into some flexible ice-cube trays and freeze them. Then it's ready to use in small portions..." Excellent advice.
- Canned Beans: Just like soup, beans taste better and fresher, and are better for you, if you buy them dried and prepare them at home -- and again, this way you'll ensure your beans aren't laced with BPA. CookingManager.com offers all sorts of cooking tips, including how to prepare dried beans from scratch.3 Commercially prepared beans are also typically cooked at very high heat for short periods of time, which is not as good as cooking them longer at lower temperatures.
When foods are cooked at high temperatures, advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are produced. These compounds, which stimulate cells to produce proteins that cause inflammation, can be toxic to the body. AGEs are normally produced at a slow rate, but the rate increases when food is highly heated. There is also a substantial body of evidence supporting the notion that heat treatment of food alters, damages or destroys many nutrients in the food.
Think dried beans are too time consuming? Consider Jane's comment on the matter:
"In reality, it takes around three minutes to put the beans in some water, another minute to change that water during soaking, and then about five more minutes to put them on the stove. All the beans you'll eat all week in less than 10 minutes."
- Hummus: Making your own hummus using fresh chickpeas takes just minutes once you get the hang of it, and gives you the freedom to season it to taste.
- Cereal: Most cereal is a combination of high-fructose corn syrup and GM corn, and cereals marketed to children are the worst offenders. According to one 2008 study, one serving of cereal equated to 11 percent of the daily limit of added sugar for active boys aged 14 to 18 years old, and an astounding 92 percent of the daily sugar intake for sedentary girls aged 9 to 13.4
Reducing sugar intake should be on the top of your list regardless of whether you or your child is currently overweight, because it's been proven over and over that sugar increases insulin levels, which can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, premature aging, and more.
While the featured article points out that you can make muesli in a matter of minutes, sans added sugars, I don't recommend eating grain carbs for breakfast, even if it doesn't have any added sugars. Instead, I recommend focusing on protein for breakfast, such as easily-digested whey protein.
Look for high quality whey protein derived from grass-fed, non-hormonally treated cows that's been minimally processed. This ensures it still contains beneficial immuno components, including immunoglobins, bovine serum albumin, and lactoferins, in addition to all the key amino acids and other beneficial nutrients you typically get from a high quality whey protein. Organic, pastured eggs are another excellent breakfast food, as long as it's consumed as close to raw as possible. Avoid scrambled eggs, as cooking destroys many of the beneficial nutrients.
- Microwave popcorn: Perfluoroalkyls — chemicals used to keep grease from leaking through fast food wrappers — are being ingested by people through their food and showing up as contaminants in their blood. One common source of these hazardous chemicals is — you guessed it — microwave popcorn bags...
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) has been linked to infertility and a slew of other health problems. For example, these "gender-bending" chemicals can disrupt your endocrine system and affect your sex hormones, but they've also been linked to thyroid disease, cancer, immune system problems, and increased LDL cholesterol levels.
Popping popcorn "from scratch" on the stove is simple, and gives you the option to salt and season to taste. I recommend using tasty and nutritious Himalayan Pink salt instead of processed table salt. Microwave popcorn typically contains harmful trans fats (although some brands will use the healthier palm oil rather than canola or soybean oil). If you choose to consume popcorn (it is not the healthiest food out there) you can at least use organic corn and a far healthier oil like organic virgin coconut oil and smoother it with raw grass-fed organic butter.
- Bottled water and "functional" waters: Plain, pure water is by far the most healthful beverage you can conceive of, and you need water to survive. However, slick marketing campaigns have managed to turn an essential part of your diet into a pure disaster... We now have an ever-widening array of flavored water, "zero calorie" water, and so-called "enhanced" or "functional" water products on the market.
Avoid them all.
Typically, they will add artificial sweeteners and dyes, listed in virtually microscopic four-point font hidden on the bottom or side of the bottle. These enhanced water products can also contain enormous amounts of sugar and fructose, adding to the numerous health problems caused by both excessive fructose consumption and genetically engineered ingredients (as an unknown amount of high fructose corn syrup is made from genetically engineered corn). Clearly, any type of water other than purified water is NOT going to improve your health, and should be avoided entirely.
Additionally, plastic chemicals can leach out of the bottles and contaminate the water, like phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA). Then there's the issue with all that plastic trash being generated, which is wreaking havoc on our environment. Your best bet for clean, pure water is to simply install a high quality water filter for your tap, or entire home.
- Fruit and vegetable juices: Fruit juices are far worse then vegetable juices and should be avoided as it is far better to have the whole unprocessed fruit. While labels promise the contents are "100 percent juice," there's virtually no such thing when you're buying commercial juice. Not only does the flavor come courtesy of professional flavor and fragrance chemists, fruit juice is also notoriously high in fructose, whether it's from added high fructose corn syrup or naturally-occurring fructose in the fruit.
You're better off juicing vegetables at home to boost the nutrition of your overall diet. Raw vegetable juice teems with valuable and sensitive micronutrients that become damaged or destroyed when the juice is pasteurized, so avoid the store-bought versions and juice your own from scratch instead. Raw juice can be likened to a "living broth." It is the closest transfer of solar energy (biophotons) directly to you that we know of. Additionally, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes can be rapidly absorbed. The benefits of raw organic vegetable juice are numerous. For example, it can help:
- Promote weight loss.
- Boost your immune system by supercharging it with concentrated phytochemicals.
- Increase energy. When your body has an abundance of the nutrients it needs, and your pH is optimally balanced, you feel energized. Since it can be utilized by your body immediately, those who juice report feeling the "kick" of energy almost instantly.
- Support brain health. People who drank juices (fruit and vegetable) more than three times per week, compared to less than once a week, were 76 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, according to the Kame Project.5
I have previously written an extensive guide to juicing, which I highly recommend reading to help you get started. One important factor to keep in mind is that, since vegetable juice is very perishable, it's best to drink all of your juice right after you make it. However, if you're careful, you can store it for up to 24 hours with only moderate nutritional decline.
Additionally there is the concern that free methanol will be created once you process the juice and store it in a container. Methanol (wood alcohol) has been associated with autoimmune diseases like MS. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain small amounts of naturally-occurring methanol. Normally this is not a problem as the methanol is typically bound to pectin, and since your body has no enzyme to metabolize that bond, it is simply excreted in your stool and none of the methanol is absorbed into your body. However, the problem occurs when you can or bottle fruit or vegetable juice, as the methanol tends to then dissociate from the pectin into free methanol, which you do absorb.
The methanol you absorb readily passes the blood brain barrier where it can be converted to form formaldehyde, which is a potent toxin that actually causes most of the damage. An exciting paper that delves into this topic is food scientist Woody Monte's "Methanol: A chemical Trojan horse" as the root of the inscrutable U,6 published in the March, 2010 issue of Medical Hypotheses.7
Yogurt: Kefir or traditionally fermented yoghurt is chock full of healthful bacteria (probiotics). In ancient times, food preservation was accomplished through lacto-fermentation, a process that adds a host of beneficial micro-organisms to food. This makes them easier to digest, and increases the healthy flora in your intestinal tract.
But don't expect to be able to pick up the real deal in your local supermarket. Pasteurized products will not provide you with these health benefits, as the pasteurization process destroys most of the precious enzymes and other nutrients. In addition to beneficial probiotics, traditionally fermented kefir also contains:
||Minerals, such as magnesium
||Essential amino acids (such as tryptophan, which is well-known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system)
||Vitamins B1, B2, and biotin (B7)
Fortunately, kefir or fermented yoghurt is both easy and inexpensive to make at home using a starter culture and raw grass-fed milk. While raw grass-fed organic yoghurt has many similar immune-boosting benefits, kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria not commonly found in yogurt, including Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species.
Fermented vegetables: Cultured or fermented foods have a very long history in virtually all native diets, and have always been highly prized for their health benefits. The culturing process produces beneficial microbes that are extremely important for human health as they help balance your intestinal flora, thereby boosting overall immunity. Moreover, your gut literally serves as your second brain, and even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin — known to have a beneficial influence on your mood — than your brain does, so maintaining a healthy gut will benefit your mind as well as your body. Fermented foods are also some of the best chelators and detox agents available, meaning they can help rid your body of a wide variety of toxins, including heavy metals.
As with kefir, you'll want to avoid any product that's been pasteurized or contains preservatives or other additives. Fortunately, culturing your own vegetables is much easier than you might think, and more economical than buying from someone else. For instructions on making your own, see this previous article featuring an interview with Caroline Barringer and discusses the health benefits of fermented vegetables in greater detail.
Download Interview Transcript