The contradicting information spread throughout society and the media has only further confused an already muddled understanding on what is or is not “healthy”. Do I eat eggs or avoid them? Should I use butter or margarine? Are sweeteners better than sugar? These are but a few questions I am approached with on a near daily basis. The low fat and fat free craze of the late 1900s that continues on today demonizes fat, and therefore, promotes a greater intake of carbohydrates as not only fruit and vegetables, but in the forms of highly processed breads, pastas, and cereals, to name a few.
Processed foods contain thousands of ingredients, including artificial colors, thickeners, preservatives and sweeteners. Although these additives must first be subject to review and approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), studies have illustrated alarming and harmful effects of many of these synthetic ingredients. For example, artificial colors have been shown to increase hyperactivity in children, particularly those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Carrageenan, a “natural” food additive derived from seaweed, is commonly used in products such as yogurt, non-dairy milk and ice cream as a thickening or stabilizing agent. Despite its innocent-sounding appeal (it’s seaweed right?), carrageenan can be destructive to the digestive system. In fact, according to Joanne Tobacman, MD and associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois, the inflammatory nature of carrageenan can lead to ulcerations and bleeding, and has been linked to gastrointestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis and colon cancer.
So, in the words of Mark Hyman, what the heck should I eat?! The standard American diet of processed food has invaded our food system. We need to get back to the basics. By taking steps to slowing cut back on pretzels, pop, potato chips, sugary cereals, and any other processed foods, we automatically eliminate harmful additives, excess refined sugar, and anything else that may contributing to disease and addiction. Below are some suggestions to help kick start your success!
- Read food labels. Starting out, try not to purchase anything with more than 5 ingredients or with any ingredients you do not know. This may be harder than it sounds!
- Clean out your pantry. Throw away those fried potato chips, captain crunch, and Kit-Kat bars. Use this as an opportunity to read food labels and look up any ingredients you do not know.
Note: Do not be misled by junk food such as granola bars, sugar-laden yogurt, and sports drinks disguised as healthful foods.
- Meal plan. Not only can this save you money (I am a huge fan of crock pot meals!), but planning ahead will help avoid last minute stops at the nearest fast food joint or resorting to a microwaveable dinner.
- Eat more vegetables! The USDA recommends at least 3 cups per day for adults. Add them to soups, stir-frys, omelets, and casseroles. Eat them with hummus or guacamole as a snack.
- If you live with multiple people or are cooking for your family, discuss your goals with them and try to get them on board. If you have children, find ways to make it fun (i.e. Get them involved in cooking, enforce the one bite rule, utilize finger foods such as ‘ants on a log’, offer diverse food colors).