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By - Zonya Foco, RD, CSP, CHFI
Are you aware that in their report on food additives, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI, the reputable, accept-no-advertising food industry watchdog) advises Americans to avoid twenty-four widely used foods additives while urging us to cut back on fifty-one more? That’s a total of seventy-five food additives that are meant to make our food prettier, creamier, tastier and stay fresh and safe longer, that instead may very well be stoking the fire of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and even attention deficit disorder, depression and Alzheimer’s. Yet many Americans persist in swallowing these seventy-five additives. Why? It’s thanks to the love of convenience, and the infinite smorgasbord of processed foods, accessible morning, noon and night. From the color, to the texture, to the chemically balanced sweet/tart/salty/fatty flavors, topped with grab-and-go availability, we are hooked.
So what’s on this list of food additives that we should avoid? Of course, there are the ones with which you’re probably familiar, like partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrates and artificial colors like Red Dye numbers 3 and 40. There are also some surprising ones like caramel coloring (Coke and Pepsi), potassium bromate (some breads) BHA (potato chips and cereals) and TBHQ (crackers and frozen foods). Feel free to view CSPI’s entire list, with explanations for each, at www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm
Now, are you going to carry this extensive list to the store and read every food ingredient label, searching for words you can’t even pronounce, to make sure these seventy-five weird words are not on the list? In case you can’t see the problem with that, let me just say:
1) I’ve tried this. I was in the store for hours. It was exhausting. Just when I thought none of these ingredients was on the list, bingo, there one was!
2) This list changes frequently as new data is acquired. One by one, I’ve watched various hard to pronounce words move from the “safe” category to the “caution” and then to the “avoid” category. A particular chemical additive that is not on the avoid list today might very well be there tomorrow (examples include NutraSweet, Splenda, Red Dye #40 and carrageenan). Our hours of detective label reading to “search and eliminate” then, is done in vain. Ugh!
3) Besides, it’s not just the chemicals that are added that we should be concerned about, but also the “stripping” of beneficial nutrients that occurs with “processing.”
And not to be the total bearer of doom, but we can’t forget that added sugar, salt and fat, natural or not, cause even more problems. According to recent studies succinctly reported by David Kessler, MD, former FDA Commissioner and author of The End of Overeating, hyper-palatable foods - those high in any combination of fat, sugar, and salt - can literally “rewire” and change the circuitry in our brains. By stimulating neurons, these foods can lead to the release of dopamine, endorphins, and opioids, ultimately becoming only one step less addictive than cocaine. YIKES! The result: true food addictions. This means, the more regularly a person eats hyper-palatable foods, the more difficult it becomes to say no.
What, then, is a simple, common sense and realistic position to take, to protect yourself and your family from harmful additives, and excess sugar and salt? Go vegan? Or Paleo? I tried both (read about it at www.zonya.com/health_paleo_vs_vegan.html), and while both diets certainly do result in the removal of most processed foods, they were both so restrictive (saying good-bye to entire groups of food!) I decided I could never live either long term, nor could I get my whole family on board! And most importantly, analysis of both diets revealed nutrient deficiencies, while eating “processed-free food” from ALL food groups met all my nutrient requirements!
So... is there not a simple one- or two-step guideline that can help us avoid harmful additives, without entire food group deprivation?
Yes, and here it is: Adopt a “no processed foods” mentality, focusing on whole, REAL food first...
And here’s the second step: ...while supplementing safe, minimally processed foods to keep life realistic.
In other words, keep it simple, and eat REAL!
REAL food grows from the ground or in a tree, swims in the ocean or grazes on the prairie. It then “stays close to the farm” by avoiding unnecessary chemical processing and therefore stays as close to its natural state as possible. It includes fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, fresh fish and meats, whole grains, nuts, minimally processed dairy and oils, and herbs and spices. It also includes bread and canned and jarred foods with clean whole food ingredients and minimal (and safe) additives. Eating REAL doesn’t mean you have to grow your own ingredients and cook everything from scratch, or eliminate entire groups of food.
For anyone who has embraced my eight DIET FREE habits, you’ll know that what I’m talking about here is simply a continuation of Habit 6, “Replace Processed Food for Wholesome... and shop close-to-the-farm.” You’ll also know that when you get out of the box (pardon the pun) and use FRESH ingredients (including fresh herbs and spices), it’s amazing how GREAT everything tastes, and how extra calories and nasty ingredients are automatically nixed, ultimately helping you slim down. Next thing you know, your doctor will be asking, “What are you doing? Your numbers are all GREAT!” Yes, a total difference in how you look and feel!
Yes! Study after study demonstrates that diets low in processed foods, like the Mediterranean Diet and the D.A.S.H. (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) Diet, all work to save lives. What’s the overarching “core” of each of these noted disease-fighting studies? Eat unprocessed, REAL food.
It’s a concept that’s so darn simple! And soooooo true!
Produce is a REAL food staple, the flavors, colors, and textures of which become enjoyable when highly processed foods are removed from the palate. Processed foods are notoriously nutrient-poor, calorie-dense and additive-laden, while fruits and veggies are just the opposite. A win for your waistline and health!
Food prepared with a variety of herbs, spices, and fresh ingredients intensifies inherent flavors, and reduces your cravings for the fat, sugar, salt and additives often found in processed foods, all known to be disease promoting in excess. Hoping to nix your sweet tooth? REAL foods will do just that!
Weight loss and disease reduction are expected outcomes of REAL food consumption. This is in part due to the digestion-healthy and satiety-producing fiber and the overall improved nourishment that REAL plant foods provide.
Superfoods like avocadoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, Brussel’s sprouts, pomegranates, mangoes, legumes, quinoa, salmon, trout, shrimp and lean pork, beef and chicken are all REAL foods that top the charts for beneficial nutrients like antioxidants and omega three fatty acids, all known to keep your heart, gut, brain, and muscles healthy.
So what resources do I recommend to help you leap into the REAL food world? My cookbook, Lickety-Split Meals, is an awesome first step to including vegetable rich REAL food meals in your daily menu. The next great support tool for you and your family is membership to the EatRealAmerica.com website community. Featuring hundreds of REAL food recipes, twice weekly coaching messages, and a library of how-to resources, you will confidently dive deeper into using REAL ingredients, including amazing superfoods. I firmly believe the solution to getting over the “on a diet/off a diet” mentality and out of the “meal time rut” lies in non-stop support to get tasty and healthy REAL meals on the table, night after night. And this membership does EXACTLY THAT!
No matter how you get your support for eating REAL food, you will love receiving all the health and weight loss benefits that diets like vegan and Paleo deliver, without the agony of entire food group deprivation. That’s right, keep it simple and EAT REAL FOOD!