Real Food Has Curves, a new book written by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, offers a 7-step plan for weaning yourself off processed foods:
- Seek true satisfaction. Enjoy genuine flavors, rather than fat, sugar, and salt added to mask the metallic taste of chemical additives.
- Read labels wisely. You can find food with "real" ingredients in the supermarket if you read labels carefully.
- Relish what's on your plate. Devote time solely to enjoying the pleasures of eating.
- Wean yourself off excess salt, fat, and sugar. You can also cook with smaller amounts of these ingredients by using natural substitutes like strong spices.
- Give your palate time to change. You'll gradually lose your taste for excessively sweet and salty foods.
- Go for high-quality foods. Look for products that contain the least amount of processed ingredients.
- Treat yourself well by not skipping meals. Try eating three meals a day at fairly regular times, plus a mid-afternoon snack.
If you have ever seen or heard my lecture live you will know I typically say that someone has to spend quality time in the kitchen to prepare high-quality meals for your health.
If you rely on processed inexpensive foods you will simply exchange convenience and short-term cash savings for long-term health miseries.
Swapping your processed food diet for one that focuses on real, whole foods may seem like a radical idea, but it’s a necessity if you value your health.
And when you put the history of food into perspective, it’s actually the processed foods that are “radical” and “new.” People have thrived on vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods were only recently invented.
It’s easy to forget that the processed, packaged foods and fast food restaurants of today are actually a radical change in terms of the history of food production. The frozen food business didn’t begin until the mid-1920s when the General Seafoods Company set up shop and began selling crudely frozen fish fillets, and fast food restaurants didn’t get a foot hold until after World War II.
TV dinners didn’t even come around until the 1950s … before that it was a home-cooked meal or no meal at all.
The Generational Effects of a Processed Food Diet
It’s now well known that dietary changes can prompt epigenetic DNA changes that can be passed on to future generations. For instance, pregnant rats fed a fatty diet had daughters and granddaughters with a greater risk of breast cancer.
It could be that we’re just now starting to see these types of generational effects showing up in humans, caused by our grandparents’ and parents’ penchant for processed foods.
If that’s the case, then we have even more incentive to make drastic changes, and soon, because the disease trends we’re now seeing are only going to get worse as much of the processed foods consumed today are not even food-based!
So who knows what kind of genetic mutations and malfunctions we’re creating for our future generations when a MAJORITY of our diet consists of highly processed and artificial foods. As it stands, 90 percent of foods Americans purchase every year are processed foods!
It’s a frightening prospect, to say the least, especially when you consider that the White Castle’s and Big Mac’s of yesteryear were FAR healthier than the denatured, trans fat- and sugar-filled fare that’s being served today.
With nearly 7 out of 10 Americans being overweight, and 1 in 4 being affected with diabetes or pre-diabetes, the standard American diet, SAD, is clearly in dire need of a radical overhaul. Drugs won’t fix these dismal health statistics. Only a return to sane, healthy eating habits will.
Four Major Offenders in Processed Foods
Since their introduction, processed foods have really taken over American mealtimes because they’re relatively inexpensive, they taste good, and they make fixing dinner a snap. No longer do you need to fuss with actually cleaning or chopping a vegetable. Simply pop their prepared boxes of food in the microwave and you’re ready to go.
But remember that whatever you think you’re saving now, time or money-wise, by using processed foods, you’ll end up paying many times over later on when your health begins to fail -- and it likely will, if you’re on a fast food/processed food diet long enough.
So what, exactly, makes processed foods so bad? Processed foods often have little nutritional value and are chemically altered to increase the appeal to your taste buds, so they can override your body’s signals that would otherwise tell you it’s time to stop eating and try something else. They are also loaded with additives that are harmful in their own right.
As most of you know about 35 years ago the technology to produce this sweetener became commercially available. This radically reduced the price of sugar and now it has become the number one source of calories in the US.
The majority of processed foods contain high-fructose corn syrup or some variation thereof. Consuming fructose suppresses feelings of satiety in several ways, which eventually will have serious consequences for your weight and overall health.
Fructose diminishes your feelings of fullness because it does not stimulate a rise in leptin, one of the most powerful hunger- and fat storage regulators in your body. Fructose also reduces the amount of leptin crossing your blood-brain barrier by raising triglycerides.
Leptin resistance, in turn, is perhaps one of the most significant factors underlying human disease. For example, it plays a significant if not primary role in the development of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, reproductive disorders, and perhaps the rate of aging itself.
Additionally, whereas glucose suppresses ghrelin (also known as “the hunger hormone,” which makes you want more food), fructose, again, does not.
Fructose also increases your insulin levels, interfering with the communication between leptin and your hypothalamus, so your pleasure signals aren’t extinguished. Your brain keeps sensing that you’re starving, and prompts you to eat more.
For the sake of your health, I strongly advise keeping your fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, but this is virtually impossible if you eat a lot of processed foods.
- Genetically Modified Ingredients
Some 75 percent of processed foods contain GM ingredients, which are being increasingly linked to serious health problems.
Just last year the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) reviewed the available research and issued a memorandum recommending that all doctors prescribe non-GMO diets to all patients because they are causally linked in animal feeding studies to:
- Immune system problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Organ damage
- Dysfunctional regulation of cholesterol and insulin
- Accelerated aging
One of the first steps to avoiding GM ingredients is to cut back on processed foods in your diet.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer, is added to thousands of processed and restaurant foods.
MSG is one of the worst food additives on the market and is used in canned soups, crackers, meats, salad dressings, frozen dinners and much more. It’s found in your local supermarket and restaurants, in your child’s school cafeteria and, amazingly, even in baby food and infant formula.
MSG is so popular because it actually enhances the flavor of foods, making processed meats and frozen dinners taste fresher and smell better, salad dressings more tasty, and canned foods less tinny.
However, it is also an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain damage to varying degrees -- and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more.
- Food Additives
More than 3,000 food additives -- preservatives, flavorings, colors and other ingredients -- are added to foods in the United States. While each of these substances are legal to use, whether or not they are entirely safe for long-term consumption -- by themselves or in combination -- is a different story altogether.
Many of them, such as sodium nitrate, BHA, BHT, aspartame, Blue 1, 2, and potassium bromate, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Others are estrogen-mimicking xenoestrogens that have been linked to a range of human health effects, including reduced sperm counts in men and increased risk of breast cancer in women.
Studies have also shown that a variety of common food dyes, and the preservative sodium benzoate -- found in many soft drinks, fruit juices and salad dressings -- cause some children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible.
Meanwhile, E-numbered food dyes (such as tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red AC (E129) do as much damage to children's brains as lead in gasoline, resulting in a significant reduction in IQ.
Fortunately, when you avoid processed foods you’ll also automatically avoid virtually every one of these toxic food additives.
Returning to Your Whole Unprocessed Food Roots
I’ve said this for many years, and it’s worth repeating many times over because it’s one of the main solutions to many of the health problems plaguing modern-day humans -- cook your food from scratch, at home!
Remember, someone, you, a relative, your spouse, or someone you employ, has to spend some time in the kitchen.
This is the “secret” to getting healthier, losing weight and really enjoying your food.
Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough have tackled this issue head-on in their book Real Food Has Curves, which is a great starting point to “relearn” the basics of how to enjoy and prepare real, healthy food.
Many people are under the mistaken impression that cooking from scratch is an extremely complicated affair that takes lots of time and costs more than they could possibly afford. More often than not, this is simply not true.
In a previous article, Colleen Huber offers a list of helpful guidelines on how to cook whole food from scratch, while keeping your day job, and British chef Jamie Oliver offers a variety of free recipes on his site, plus tips on what’s in season. You can even subscribe to his RSS feed so you don’t miss any of his newly added recipes.
Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find you can whip up a healthful meal from scratch in the same amount of time it would have taken you to drive down the street to pick up fast food. Of course, you’ll be way more satisfied when you eat your home-cooked meal, both physically and mentally, than if you ate a “value meal #5.”
Finally, learn how to recognize “real” food from the chemical-laden, artificially flavored concoctions that line most supermarket shelves. Whether you’re shopping at a supermarket or a farmer’s market, here are the signs of a high-quality, healthy food:
- It’s grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers (organic foods fit this description, but so do some non-organic foods)
- It’s not genetically modified
- It contains no added growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs
- It does not contain artificial anything, nor any preservatives
- It is fresh (if you have to choose between wilted organic produce or fresh local conventional produce, the latter is the better option)
- It did not come from a factory farm
- It is grown with the laws of nature in mind (meaning animals are fed their native diets, not a mix of grains and animal byproducts, and have free-range access to the outdoors)
- It is grown in a sustainable way (using minimal amounts of water, protecting the soil from burnout, and turning animal wastes into natural fertilizers instead of environmental pollutants)
If you prepare your meals using primarily foods that meet these eight criteria, you will be making major strides (and delicious ones, at that!) for your family’s health.