Its not hard to find fault in today’s profit driven food system. On one hand, manufacturers are simply supplying a demand: inexpensive, tasty food that is available within seconds of being ordering or popped in the microwave oven. On the other, there is no question that food manufacturers are taking advantage of consumers that are purposely misled by deceitful marketing practices and kept addicted to unnaturally concentrated levels of sugar, empty carbs, and harmful fats. The bottom line is consumer awareness. Hopefully this last installment of “Fuel Your Body: Eating Healthy” will help you navigate some things to look out for.
Sugar – Other than inactivity, sugar is probably the single biggest health issue Americans are facing. The average American consumes around two to three pounds of it each week! In addition to adding thousands of useless calories to your diet, sugar inhibits the production of helpful growth hormone, disables the body’s immune system, and increases insulin production which causes an increase in body fat and increases the risk of diabetes. It is very addictive and is one of the major causes of degenerative disease, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Highly refined sugars like sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup are into most processed foods.
Trans Fats (Partially Hydrogenated Oils – Around the 1050’s, scientists discovered that they could make vegetable oil into shortening by adding a hydrogen molecule to its chemical structure. If all of the hydrogen and oil is used in the process, the shortening is said to be “fully hydrogenated”. This isn’t a good thing, but it isn’t nearly as bad as “partially hydrogenated”.
Enriched Grain Products – Enriched grains are made by a process that removes the germ and bran from the grain, leaving only the endosperm. Unfortunately, the germ and bran contain about 90% of a grains nutritional value. This leaves you with empty carbs that go straight to your waistline. Common offenders include enriched (white) pasta, white rice, white bread, and most “whole wheat” breads. Remember the magic words are “whole grain”, not “12-grain”, “natural grains”, or “whole wheat”. These are meaningless terms used to make you think a product is healthy.
Fruit Juice – Of all the do’s and dont’s I’ve learned about nutrition, this is the one I most wish wasn’t true. I love juice, and not drinking it just doesn’t seem right! But unfortunately, the truth is that fruit juice just has to much sugar (fructose) in it to drink regularly. You get all the sugar, with none of the fiber that you get when eating a whole fruit. Go with the whole fruit instead. Your body, and your blood sugar with thank you.
MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) – MSG is the food industry’s dirty little secret. Ask any food scientist how to make a lab rat fat, and they will inform you that feeding them MSG is the fastest way to accomplish this. Yet companies put it in their food because it tastes good. What’s worse is that it often goes by one of many other names. Glutamate is a neuro-transmiter, and in large quantities it has been linked to headaches and neural disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Heavily Processed Foods – Today’s food processing techniques may increase shelf life, improve flavor, and make stock prices go up, but also have made nutritional values come down. Their cumulative effect on consumers have become very harmful, instead of aiding digestion and increasing nutritional content like traditional food processing methods do. Removing heavily processed foods from your diet will do wonders for your health. The only problem is that you will have to cook the food yourself! The truth is that every bit of processing food goes through removes some of its nutritional value. From preserving, to starch modification, and even the cooking process (hence the benefit of raw foods). Unfortunately though, most all of the prepackaged foods and restaurant foods that Americans eat are heavily processed. Look out for long, unpronounceable ingredient lists, modified food starch, monosodium glutamate, high fructose corn syrup, fully and especially partially hydrogenated oils (trans-fats), and more. And remember, if you didn’t cook it, assume that it is filled with garbage, because it usually is!
GMO Foods – Genetic modification is a process where plants (and now animals) are created though gene splicing. It has been controversial since it debuted. Before genetic modification was approved by the FDA, their own scientists warned that studies indicated serious health risks with GMO foods, including immune dysfunction, infertility, insulin disorders, and accelerated aging. They requested that further studies should be done before releasing GMOs, only to have their requests denied. The truth is that no one knows the effects of GMOs on a person’s long term health. But it is clear that GMO farming is destructive to the environment, and unsustainable in the long term.
White Potatoes – While white potatoes do contain some nutritional value (although not nearly as much as sweet potatoes), they are problematic in that unlike most vegetables, they are very high in carbohydrates and very low in fiber. The lack of fiber causes them to have a very high glycemic index, meaning that they turn to sugar very quickly after they are eaten. Unfortunately, this combination of high carbs and a high glycemic index makes for a real gut buster!
Soy (unless fermented) – Soy has been heavily promoted as a “health food” within the last few years. This is due in part to a push from the federal government, which is heavily invested in it. The food industry loves it because it is subsidized by the government, and they can make products cheaper by using it. But the truth is that if you look at the science, thousands of studies link it to digestive distress, immune system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive issues, and infertility. Ninety percent of the soy Americans eat is genetically modified, and even organic soy contains anti-nutrients such as photo-estregens, saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, and more. Fermenting soy destroys these anti-nutrients though, so don’t be afraid of soy sauce, miso, tempeh, ect…
Artificial Sweeteners – Artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose and Aceslalfame-K are often made from toxic chemicals. They have been found to cause neurological disorders, head and stomach aches, Fibromyalgia, nausea, and more. Aspartame has a particularly notorious reputation, with a whopping 75% of all complaints in the FDA’s history being related to aspartame. Try stevia or agave nectar instead. They come from a natural plants, taste delicious, and won’t effect insulin levels.