Let's Boycott Our Processed Food Nation

A few days ago, I was explaining my nutritarian diet to an acquaintance when he made a remark about the apparently dreadful sounding blandness of my diet. “You just eat plants? What?! You poor dear. That must be horrible, honey.” Boy did this get me frustrated! Putting aside the fact that I think the foods I eat taste divine, his comment got me thinking, what’s really sad here is our nation of over-processed eaters whom have become so far removed from the taste of real foods. The reality at the heart of his comment was that most people have now been conditioned to only enjoy the taste of heavily salted or overly sweetened processed foods.

Strawberries. Flickr: clairity

While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, Americans are obsessed with the flavors of packaged foods and we are now eating 31 percent more packaged food than fresh, and we consume more processed foods per person than the individuals of any other country. We certainly do love our TV dinners, chips, sweet and salty snacks and ready-to-eat meals.  My theory is that if we have to tear open a bag, unwrap plastic or open a box, people will assume the food will be tasty.

I recently read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, which is a sobering account of how far off the deep end we’ve become as a nation of processed food loving peoples.  I’m sure any reader will agree with me that a meal of fresh tropical mango and papaya salad with thinly-sliced raw greens and coconut-lime dressing is just not going to maintain its natural flavors (or even stay fresh), if it were shipped from California to Connecticut and then had to stay on the shelf in a grocery store for a few more days after that. While French fries might not be as prone to perish as a tropical mango and papaya salad, those little fritters just aren’t going to maintain their natural freshness or flavors of the original potato either.  In reality, almost all of the foods we buy in packages contain artificial flavors produced by food scientists in white lab coats in factories in northern New Jersey.  I learned this and infinitely more in Fast Food Nation, and besides being a huge walking and writing advertisement for the book, my point is that our bodies haven’t evolved to eat this artificial processed junk yet and until we do, we need to begin evaluating where our food comes from and what ingredients are added to them.

So, not only do I love the natural, unprocessed foods that I cook for myself, I know there won’t be any of the ingredients that go into producing the artificial flavorings of a Burger King strawberry milkshake, such as amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, anethol, butyric acid, hydroxyphrenyl-2-butanone, methyl benzoate, or other obscure most of us have never heard of.  Mind you, there are no real strawberries added to processed strawberries flavorings like this one. As my dad likes to say, our taste buds are adaptable and it takes time to adjust to the subtler flavors of natural plant foods.  Once going nutritarian for even just a few weeks, taste buds can change and fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds become more desirable. My mouth waters at the thought of a fresh kale salad with lemon-tahini dressing, a Portobello mushroom burger or chocolate cherry “ice cream” made from bananas and almond milk.  I love the taste of the foods I eat, I love that I’m not consuming any ethyl methylphenylglyci-date (an actual chemical used as an ingredient in many artificial flavors), and most importantly, I love being healthy.  So who’s with me on a quest to avoid processed foods for good? For all of you already healthy eaters, how do you feel when someone thinks your diet is absolutely tasteless and you know it can be knock-your-socks-off delicious? As our obesity epidemic and disease riddled society continues to flourish, we are going to have to say no to those processed packages and hello to the new age of unprocessed, nutrient-rich plant foods.   

Processed Foods and Trans-Fats are Dangerous to Body Chemistry

Trans fats are manmade fats that are used in processed foods. They are modified vegetable-derived fats that may be even worse than animal-derived saturated fats. They are called trans fat or hydrogenated oils, and they are laboratory-designed to have a similar chemical structure as saturated fat. They are solid at room temperature and have adverse health consequences. Like saturated fats, they promote heart disease and cancer.

When you are reading food labels and you see the words “partially hydrogenated” on the box, it is another way of saying trans fat, so avoid it. If you avoid processed food, it is easy to avoid trans fat. These harmful fats are found in crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen foods, and snacks. Most enticing desserts and fried foods contain trans fat, even if they contain no animal products and no cholesterol. Even natural, microwavable popcorn contains trans fats.

In addition to trans fats, the baking of grains and potatoes performed on many processed foods causes browning of the food and the formation of a hard crust, which is rich in acrylamides. In the last five years there has been worldwide alarm in the scientific community after researchers have found that many of the foods we eat contain these cancer-causing compounds. Acrylamides form in foods that are browned by being fried, baked, roasted, grilled, or barbequed, but not in those that are steamed, boiled or sautéed in water. Water-based cooking prevents the browning or burning that forms these harmful compounds. Frying and overcooking lead to the highest levels of acrylamides, the highest of which are found in fried chips, such as potato chips, French fries, and sugar-coated breakfast cereals.

Even though these chemicals have been shown to be potent carcinogens in animal models, so many acrylamides are consumed in the modern world that good research documenting the extent of the cancer risk in humans does not yet exist. This topic is still being actively investigated in many different countries, but the risk is difficult to estimate because baked, browned, and fried foods are so ubiquitous in Western diets.

European governments permit far less acrylamides in packaged foods than the U.S. and, they have been advising food manufacturers to reduce them. Cereals and processed foods manufactured in the United States are not under such restraints and have much higher acrlyamide levels. Since the same browned and hard-baked products are rich sources of the Advanced Glycation End Products previously discussed, there are plenty of reasons to minimize or avoid these foods in your diet.

This is an excerpt from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat For Health.


Fresh - Ordinary People Changing the World of Food


I just found this! It’s the trailer for a new movie called Fresh, about people in small communities shifting away from mass-produced food to locally grown fare. It features whole foodie Michael Pollan. Awesome!

Via Serious Eats.

Trulie Gets Healthy, Looks Great!

Last week, we saw Martha and Stanley slim down and kick their heart disease and diabetes. The week before that, we learned how a healthy diet helped Irene reverse the progression of her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Now check out Trulie. See how healthy living changed her life:

I later bought Eat to Live and the message that fruit and vegetables should occupy a predominant place was dead on. I adopted the ETL diet and the very specific recommendations for emphasizing high nutrient and low calorie foods. Slowly, but surely, the weight started to come off. What was amazing to me was how much food I was eating yet how I continued to lose weight.

My journey with eating a high nutrient diet has had its ups and down. I now know what true hunger is, to feel very satisfied with a meal, to not snack until the next meal, and, most surprising, I have greatly reduced my desire for the fatty desserts and other processed foods I loved so much. I would never have thought that I would look forward to a fruit and nut “ice cream” as much as the full fat dairy variety back during my food addicted-20s…continue reading.

Image credit: DrFuhrman.com

Grocery Shopping with the Kids

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Ilana Kriegsman of Healthy & Green on the Cheap and does NOT necessarily represent the opinions of Followhealthlife or Dr. Fuhrman.

“No, Mommy! I don’t want to sit in the cart! I want to go home! I want that!” Sound familiar? These are just a few of the things that my daughter has been known to say during a shopping excursion. Yes, grocery shopping can be a torturous experience for parent and child alike.

But what choice do we have? I suppose the obvious answer is to leave the kids at home, but my feeling is that’s not the right choice. With a slight change of purpose, you can keep your children interested and occupied (and peaceful) while also taking advantage of some great learning opportunities. These are my rules to a happy shopping trip:

Engage your kids in the shopping experience.

  • Show them and talk about your shopping list: Why do you make it? What’s on it? Etc.
  • Tell them about how you plan to use the items you buy once you get them home and how they can be your helpers.
  • Show them how to look at produce: Is it ripe? Is it fresh? Etc.
  • Explain the seasonality of vegetables and fruits and where the produce in the store comes from.
  • Take them to farms and farmers markets to help them identify with the source of their food.
  • Allow them to make some decisions about the foods you buy. Do you want apples or pears?

Encourage questions and curiosity about food.

  • Let your child take a sample here and there of things you’re buying or if the store sets out samples. My daughter’s particularly fond of doing this with leafy greens, especially if it’s organic!
  • When they have a question, take the time to answer it, don’t rush.
  • Allow them to take an interest in packaging and other marketing ploys. Candy and kids’ cereals might look like fun on the outside, but they’re not healthy on the inside.

Be consistent.

  • Let your children in on what is “okay” and what is not. Have them help you look at labels when they ask for something. Does it have hydrogenated oil or artificial colors? Then we can’t have it.
  • Be clear about what is a “treat” and what is an every day food. Treats in our family are things we have very rarely, generally for holidays and special occasions.
  • If you’re working within a tight budget, like we are, it’s also a good idea to stick to the list as a general rule, making exceptions for incredible bargains, but not for whims and fancies.

I believe the more kids understand about food, the more varieties of food they’ll try. They’ll be less inclined to eat food from unidentifiable sources (i.e. processed foods) and more inclined to eat whole foods. And the more they understand about shopping and meal planning, the more adept they will be at handling these sorts of tasks as teens and adults.

Image credit: mari.ologie

Have Fewer Heart Attacks. Just Cut Salt a Little.

Salt is in everything! We all know that. And now a new study highlighted at the American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference claims cutting salt just a little, only 1 gram, could result in 250,000 fewer new cases of heart disease. Experts say Americans consume 50% more salt than we did 40 years ago, between 9 to 12 grams of salt a day, most of it coming from processed food. Their research model determined 800,000 "life years" could be saved for every gram of salt eliminated from our diets; HealthDay News reports.

And here’s a pair of coincidental studies. Presented at the American Heart Association's Conference of the Council High Blood Pressure Research, scientists reported that cutting salt can help control high-blood pressure. Then in February research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a low-salt diet lowers systolic blood pressure and improves the ability of blood vessels to widen.

In related news, earlier research revealed people with metabolic syndrome have increased sensitivity to salt and higher blood pressure and a British study determined individuals who lowered salt intake were 25% less likely to develop heart disease. Long story short, don’t eat salt. Uh, duh!

Image credit: Jeremy Brooks

ADHD Drugs Give Kids Hallucinations!

According to a new study in Pediatrics many drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can cause hallucinations in children, even when taken as directed. Researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed 49 clinical studies, conducted by pharmaceutical companies, and determined ADHD drugs can cause psychosis in some children, specifically worms, bugs and snakes crawling all over them. The list of medications included Ritalin, Focalin XR, Adderall XR, Daytrana, Concerta, Strattera, Celltech and Metadate CD; Reuters investigates.

My goodness, how many Scrabble points is all that worth! Now, Dr. Fuhrman is no fan of bombarding kids with drugs for ADHD, calling these medications unnecessary. Instead, he recommends a nutrient-dense diet, devoid of processed foods and packed with healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and brain-building omega-3 fatty acids. And avoid food dyes too! They’ve been linked to ADHD.

Oh, and it was recently discovered drinking a lot of instant coffee causes hallucinations too.

Image credit: jsarcadia