Processed food is taking over our supermarkets

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Eating quality food is ESSENTIAL to our health, and is particularly important to growing children so that they can develop to their full potential physically and psychologically. Processed food is slowly taking over our supermarkets and our diets, and I think is one of the most important contributors to disease. Even food that most of us don’t consider as a processed, like milk for example, is actually highly processed and frequently has additives. Next time you pick up a carton of milk, read the ingredients list. If the carton you chose is not organic, I bet “milk” is not the only ingredient in there. Do you know what those other ingredients are that you are drinking? And we haven’t even talked about how the milk is altered through the pasteurization, homogenization and the defatting process! Wikepedia’s definition of food processing “is the set of methods and techniques used to transform raw ingredients into food for consumption by humans. Food processing takes clean harvested or slaughtered and butchered components and uses these to produce attractive and marketable food products.” Funny that they are saying transforming “raw ingredients” into food. I think it is more the other way around. The raw ingredients are the food, and in the processing they become a non-food. My definition of processed food is any real food that has been altered in any way in order to lower its production cost, lengthen its shelf life, make it look more appealing, or makes you want to eat more of it, and that results in the reduction of its nutritional content and/or the increase of toxins.

Processed food is a huge business, and by using slick advertising and packaging methods that make us believe they are healthy, we are replacing the real foods that provide us with quality nutrition with “food products” that not only have less nutrition, but also all kinds of other stuff like transfats, preservatives, flavourings colourings, etc., which greatly adds to our body burden if consumed regularly. So let’s go through a few of these processed foods and suggest real food alternatives.

I haven’t found one brand of commercial salad dressing that I would consider healthy. Commercial dressings are full of refined vegetable oils meaning they are heated in the extraction process oxidizing them and making them rancid. Often soybean or canola oil is used, both of which are usually genetically modified. These dressings are also full of preservatives, flavourings, emulsifiers, colourings, and they often contain MSG or “hydrolyzed protein”, which are a neurotoxins. Homemade salad dressing is so quick and economical to make, that if you care about your health and the health of your family there really is no excuse. Mix some organic extra-virgin olive oil from the first cold pressing with organic balsamic or apple cidre vinegar and some unprocessed mustard, and spice to taste. If you wish to up the omega 3 content, you can add a bit of unrefined flax oil. (Should be in a dark bottle and kept in the fridge.)

The next huge category of processed food that is very popular with families, is boxed breakfast cereal. Sorry folks, but despite the health claims on the box, those cereals that are made into flakes, shapes or puffs are terrible for you. The grains in these cereals are not prepared properly through soaking or fermenting so the phytates that prevent digestion are not destroyed, yet the heat and pressure of the extruding process does destroy most of the nutrition, and in particular the proteins which seem to be rendered quite toxic. These very difficult to digest cereals are often fed to very young children as one of their first solid foods, and one might ask if this is part of the reason for the explosion in gluten/wheat sensitivity. These cereals tend to increase blood sugar very rapidly, which is another major problem that is exacerbated when consumed with skim milk, as there is no fat to slow the sugar into the bloodstream. If you soak stone-cut or rolled oatmeal overnight in warm water with a bit of apple-cidre vinegar, it will cook up in less than 3 minutes for breakfast the next morning. Add pasture-fed butter and/or raw whole milk, sweeten with raw honey or maple syrup rather than white or brown sugar, and you have a healthy breakfast. Or have free-range eggs and vegetables for breakfast! Choose flourless breads made from sprouted grains, and eat them with a quality fat like pasture-fed butter or raw cheese as opposed to margarine or “butter spreads”. (Even if the margarine says “no transfats”, it is a manufactured fat, so it will mess up the body.) Soy cheese, soy milk, soy burgers etc. are made from soy isolate, which is processed junk that is cheap to produce and has been marketed as a health food. There is nothing healthy about it. For more info on the problems with soy, click here. Rice cakes are NOT a health food, and neither are crackers. Crackers often list vegetable oils in the ingredient list, yet the product is solid, so those oils have been turned into transfats. Don’t eat them!

Juices are also touted as healthy, but they are really just bottles of sugar, as almost all juice on the market is pasteurized. If it is in a tetra-pack that you can store for months, that is a tip-off that it has no nutrition and lots of bad stuff! Remember that real food spoils. You are better off eating whole fruit, as you not only get the nutrition, but also the fiber. If you want juice, juice your own and drink immediately as the vitamins degrade quickly once exposed to oxygen. Buy full-fat organic natural yoghurt and add your own fruit, as flavoured yoghurts are also just pots of sugar. Try to avoid all packaged food. If you are not sure, read the ingredients list and if there is anything there that you don’t recognize (what is sodium caseinate? What is xanthan gum?), don’t eat it. If the food did not exist in pre-industrial times, don’t eat it.

Stick to organic or biodynamic vegetables and fruit, medication-free pasture-fed meats, dairy, poultry and eggs, wild fish, whole grains, nuts and seeds that preferably have not been ground into flour many months ago (soak before you eat!). If you have access to raw dairy from organic pasture-fed cows take advantage, as that is indeed healthful food. Adding some unpasteurized fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kavass, natural yoghurt (milk and bacterial culture should be the only ingredients in yoghurt), fermented meats etc. to our diet is a good idea, as the fermentation process increases the nutrition and the digestibility of the food. So stop the processed food, choose quality real food, and notice how much healthier, happier and more calm you and your children become. I feel like I have barely scraped the surface with regard to this critically important topic. For more info on the GRAS list and how food companies manipulate food to make you eat more, see You are what you eat – processed foods.

Related tips:
Food – Our Raw Material
Maintain bone mass by preparing grains, nuts and seeds properly
It’s not what you eat but what you digest that counts
The Soy Controversy

Farlow, C.H. Food Additives: A Shopper’s Guide to What’s Safe and What’s Not KISS For Health Publishing, 2001.

Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary; Nourishing Traditions, Revised 2nd Edition NewTrends Publishing Inc., Washington, D.C., 2001.

Chek, Paul; You Are What You Eat CD Series  Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2002. 

Online, www.chekinstitute.com You are what you eat – processed foods.

Schlosser, Eric Fast Food Nation Houghton Mifflen, New York, 2002.

Price, Weston Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Pottenger Price Foundation, 1945.

Online www.westonaprice.org

Chambers, Judy, personal communication, online www.dynamicbynature.com

www.wellnesstips.ca

14 Comments

  1. lynda craven said,

    May 21, 2007 @ 9:44 pm

    I am working with my daughter’s daycare is create a new menu and no processed food policy but am needing some: basic information, menu ideas for a centre of about 100 children focusing on ages 3-7. We are really needing some guide for finding a balance menu regarding healthy snacks, variety for lunch, and VERY BASIC reading material.
    Any information would be greatly appreciated
    Lynda
    Ontario mom

  2. Vreni said,

    May 22, 2007 @ 1:40 am

    Hi Lynda,

    I am so happy to hear that you are working on such an important project. Quality food is so vital for children so that they can develop in the best possible manner both physically and mentally.

    I’m racking my brain trying to think of a simple book that would assist you. Nourishing Traditions is a fantastic recipe book for healthy eating – you can’t beat it, and the nutrition info in it is worth its weight in gold – but I wouldn’t say it is very basic reading material, although it certainly is very understandable. The link is just above … I LOVE this book. It’s also got a section for feeding babies.

    The main thing kids need are quality fats – free range eggs, butter, raw cheese, whole unhomogenized milk (Harmony brand makes one). Fats are high in fat -soluble vitamins, and fats are necessary to be able to absorb many minerals as well. Diets that are very low in saturated fat are therefore often nutrient deficient.

    Stews might be good, made with pasture fed meats, stock actually made from bones to get the gelatin, and then lots and lots of colourful vegetables. Fatty fish like salmon make a good choice – lots of omega 3s which kids need desperately. If you are going to use breads, choose sprouted grain breads made without flour. If you stick to foods that existed in pre-industrial times, you will probably be choosing appropriately. Raw fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, nut butters, cheese and hard-boiled eggs make great snacks that include a mix of protein, fat and carbs. Plain, non-homogenized yogurt with berries, mangos or other fruit, possibly some flavoured cod-liver oil, and some raw crushed walnuts or almonds would make a nice smoothie. Another good idea is to take nori sheets (the seaweed sushi comes wrapped in, and spread it with nut butters and then roll them up to eat like a wrap. Obviously you must make sure the kids are not sensitive to nuts.

    Avoiding sugar and high fructose corn syrup vital in my mind. Nothing destroys our health faster than sugar, and it is so easy to get kids hooked on sugar. Pretty much all packaged food is processed, anything with a capital letter, like Triscuits, Pepsi, Oreos, etc., anything shrink wrapped, or with a list of ingredients a mile long I would avoid. The other big category to avoid are all vegetable oils, except for extra virgin olive oil from the first cold pressing, unrefined flax oil, and virgin coconut oil. All other vegetable oils are highly inflammatory to the body and therefore damaging.

    Another book that might help is Real Food Real Fast by Rico Caveglia. I’ll ask a few of my nutrition gurus if they have other suggestions for recipes and menu planning for kids….

    Good luck!

    Vreni

  3. Mart said,

    August 29, 2007 @ 4:07 pm

    Yo, nice read i appreciated it alot even though its hard to eat accordingly!

  4. Sasha said,

    March 12, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

    Wow I never thought…there are so many foods that are processed and I eat some of them every day. Like 1% nilk. I’ve always had that. And Salad dressings…what is this world coming to? and I love wheat puffs…how are cheerios? are they good, what breakfast is good to eat anymore? I’m a strong althetic 16 year old, and I’m poisoning myself with all this stuff. I’ll tell my mom to get us organic foods. This a real wake up call. I’m glad I read this.

  5. Vreni said,

    March 12, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

    Hi Sasha,

    Yes, it is rather crazy how we have been led to eat all these unhealthy foods! As for cereals, try rolled oats, soak them overnight and cook them up. Boxed cereals simply are not healthy – they are processed. Think of it this way – if the food came from a factory it is probably unhealthy. If there are ingredients you don’t understand, don’t eat it. Stay away from foods that contain sugar or vegetable oils. Real food comes fresh from a farm or the wild.

    Good luck! You are young, so if you can switch to real foods now, you will remain very healthy.

  6. Khosi said,

    April 12, 2008 @ 3:37 am

    Hi

    I’ve discovered that I am insulin resistant and have been given dietary tips by my dietician. That includes a tip on high fibre diet and low fat diet. I was encouraged to eat high fibre cereal in the morning and either low fat or fat free milk. Reading about boxed cereals and how unhealthy they are, how can you advise me? Which foods fall into the category of non processed which are suitable for diabetics?

    Thank you

    Khosi

  7. Vreni said,

    April 12, 2008 @ 11:56 am

    Hi Khosi,

    I have to admit I disagree with your dietitian. I think that if you are insulin resistant, you need to remove all foods that turn into sugar in your body, including all forms of sugar (honey, syrups, and any food that has ingredients that end in “ose”,) all starch and flour products, including baked goods, and pasta, below-ground vegetables like potatoes, and even grains. In my opinion, low-fat milk = high sugar milk and should be avoided. If you are insulin resistant/pre-diabetic or even type 2 diabetic, there is a huge body of research that shows that quality fats, including saturated fats are not your enemy. Breakfasts can be eggs, served with above-ground veggies like asparagus, kale, chard, spinach, tomatoes etc. If you want to eat cereal, forget the boxed cereal and get some rolled oats, soak them overnight and cook them up in the morning. Eat them with whole milk, plain whole yogurt and you may want to put a generous pat of butter on it to prevent the sugar rush from the oats. Then make sure that every day (after dinner would be perfect but it can be any time) go for a half-hour to an hour walk. Your diabetes just may go away completely, and you will probably lose weight if you follow these guidelines. For more on the reasoning behind all this, read the following posts:
    Obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease – what does history tell us?
    Obesity – a behavioural or a metabolic problem?
    How we get fat

    And if you are extremely interested in this topic, get the book Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It is very well researched, and pretty much goes against the idea of low fat for diabetics, because low fat = high sugar, and that is the last thing a diabetic needs.

    Good luck, and I’m sorry that this info is conflicting that of your dietitian. I know that makes your life more challenging, so bottom line is you will have to do some research yourself and see which advice makes the most sense to you.

    All my best.

  8. Kate said,

    January 27, 2009 @ 2:24 am

    This is a great article. I completely changed my diet around over 3 months ago and follow a decent amount of tips here but… I’ve learned of many new ones! The thing about “eating healthy” is that you always learn new things, and something that you switched to because you thought was healthy, isn’t considered so healthy any more. It’s something where you constantly evolve, constantly learn, and you can’t let yourself get discouraged. It’s a lot of work, but completely worth it!

    I refuse to let myself be brainwashed by the multi billion dollar companies of heavily-processed foods and the government that lets them continue business. No, it’s NOT normal and okay to eat the way that the majority do these days. I hope more and more people learn to pay attention to the food that they’re feeding themselves and their families.

    Now I need to go back to my Eat Smarter! blog (http://nocrapdiet.wordpress.com/) and add in some extra tips! There’s always so much to learn and share!

  9. Jennifer said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

    After my second child was born I took a good look at what I eat and changed my diet drastically. I am still perfecting the art of healthy eating and learning what is processed (i.e. de-programming myself). Thank you Vreni so much for sharing your understanding in such a clear manner. I do have some questions though. First, you suggest eating pasture-fed butter and raw cheese. How are those foods not processed? Since I have vastly eliminated processed foods from my diet, I noticed that any dairy is extremely disturbing to my system. Also, you suggest various oil (like olive oil) and balsamic vinegar or apple cider, but those items are also processed, right? I think that maybe in my overzealous attempt to be healthy, I blindly eliminated “processed food” when really many processed foods are actually healthy. How do we differentiate between healthy and unhealthy processed food? Is it just a matter of learning each foods’ value individually? Please advise. Also, it’s pretty hard for me to sit through literature on healthy eating, I am not medically-minded, can you suggest a simple guide? Thank you so much!

  10. Vreni said,

    February 3, 2009 @ 6:45 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    Great questions. You are right that raw butter and raw cheese are minimally processed, but they are healthy. It is very possible that even though the dairy is raw that you may be sensitive to it, and in that case, you should not eat it. Many that cannot tolerate dairy do okay with ghee (clarified butter) because the milk solids have been removed, and raw yogurt, because the lactase (which is the common allergen) has been eaten by the bacteria.

    Olive oil is made basically by squishing olives. There is no chemical process or heat used, no deodorizing or bleaching, so it is considered unprocessed, unlike most other oils that are sold to us for cooking. Just like if you were to squish garlic, or squeeze and orange, one could argue that they are minimally processed, but they are healthy if you consume them quickly before the vitamins degrade. As soon as they are pasteurized, the nutrition is destroyed.

    I include raw apple cidre vinegar in my diet – all fermented foods that have not been pasteurized afterwards are very healthy – often more healthy than before they were fermented. Fermentation is an old way of preserving food that actually increases nutrition.

    I understand your dilemma in trying to understand what is okay and what isn’t – generally it sounds like you are on the right track. So if you choose foods that existed before the industrial revolution, you will probably be fine. So butter was made by hand, as was cheese. Foods were fermented, and olives were squished. I hope that helps!

  11. Kristen ALtbaum said,

    July 23, 2009 @ 1:48 am

    It’s time America did away with employer paid healthcare plans, individual plans, Medicaid and Medicare. We need a total revamp of the system, paid for, by taxing all processed food in America. Foods that should NOT be taxed: fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, meat and dairy should be government subsidized to the extent that local farmers, dairies and butchers can provide these foods whenever possible.

    Processed foods, on the other hand, SHOULD be taxed…BIG. A common sense system, such as this, would:

    - Generate the taxes necessary to provide healthcare for ALL Americans, rich and poor, young and old.

    - Reduce global warming by eliminating some of the demand (manufacturing, packaging and transport) of processed food.

    - Reduce healthcare costs by decreasing future demand.

    - Increase the future productivity and ingenuity of America as a whole.

    Continuing our current system, but requiring that the rich pay for the poor, will do NOTHING to change the overall health of our nation. We ARE what we eat. As long as government makes it easy to make unhealthy choices, many of us will choose to do so, dooming ourselves and our planet at the same time.

    It’s time we do something drastic to help our health, economy and environment. Being economically enticed to eat more raw foods would do wonders. We need to feel good, be proud of ourselves and go back to being a country the rest of the world admires.

    Kristen Altbaum

    Lafayette, CA

  12. vargas said,

    January 24, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

    The rich get rich by robbing others and cheating the government. Usually it’s disguised as “business” and “tax loopholes”. So I see no reason why they shouldn’t give back.

    I do, however think that junk food should be taxed into the ground while good foods should be subsidized. That’s a good idea.

  13. Harry Warman said,

    November 17, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

    Don’t you think it’s important that we trust and enhance our belief in our incredibly marvelous god-given bodies to differentiate between what is beneficial and what is s harmful to them?

    I feel certain even the individual cells of the human system are perfectly capable of this activity and can very easily compensate (within reason) when they are left to do so , without our conscious meddling.

    Just an alternative thought.

  14. Jack said,

    January 15, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

    I think home organic grown food is the best kind of food for your health. I does taste better not to say it is rewarding. It is not hard to grow organically I use things like worm castings fertilizer, manure, and fall tree leaves.

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