When I started investigating the dangers of processed foods, I was totally willing to lower the hammer on the Big Mayo.
I wanted to write a heading that went something like: "The latest research shows that processed foods are the leading cause of death and disease in the United States, with their empty calories largely responsible for the alarming rise in obesity and the flannel pajama pants worn in public, which today are the most visible signs of a miserable diet that fills the pockets of the greedy executives of the food industry, whose desire for profit makes Donald Trump resemble Jean Valjean ".
I could not do it.
I could not write about processed foods without recognizing that "processed foods," the way we talk about them today, get a bad reputation.
Yes, I realize that the phrase will make people who claim that most degenerative diseases can be controlled simply by avoiding processed foods, point their forks and knives at me. But much of the discussion about "processed foods" over the past few years has been confusing the least and dishonest the more. Anyone who goes out and states widely that "processed foods are bad" or "processed foods cause (insert disease here)" is not being clear or is setting an agenda.
This BBC dispatch is typical: "Processed foods are to blame for the sharp rise in obesity and chronic disease levels worldwide, according to the World Health Organization." But that does not capture the full picture. Processed foods are also responsible for maintaining a world population of 7 billion people. And technically speaking, almost all foods are processed at a certain point. Even the indigenous tribes that remain in the world still process their food (consider grinding corn in corn flour), which means that our ancestors probably did too. Do you enjoy organic tofu? It did not come from the earth that way. It was prosecuted.
When you talk about "processed foods", you are talking about a great category. Only the average supermarket sells more than 40,000 items. Most of the interior aisles in the supermarket are filled, in their entirety, with processed foods.
The term covers a too diverse variety of products to be subject to general conclusions. The problem is that the good ones are grouped with the bad ones.
To say that processed foods are bad because they are high in sodium or have questionable preservatives is like saying that the whole human race is bad because some people invade Poland or do not collect the excreta from their dogs.
Do not judge something by its appearance
Professor of nutrition science Heather Eicher-Miller, of Purdue University, conducted an interesting study. She and her team set out to discover if the amount of processing to which a food is subjected affects its nutrients and its contribution of energy. They broke down food processing into five categories: minimally processed, processed for preservation, processed with a combination of ingredients, processed ready-to-eat and prepared foods / meals.
Researchers used the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as their baseline. The guidelines recommend that Americans reduce their intake of saturated fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium and increase dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium and potassium.
Eicher-Miller and his team found that none of the processed food categories were always "healthy" or "unhealthy."
"What we found was that the level of processing was actually a minor determining factor in the contribution of nutrients and energy," said Eicher-Miller. "Perhaps the most important advice that comes out of this study for consumers is that we should not allow the processing level to define what we think about a particular food. "
Registered dietitian Pamela Nisevich Bede says that she considers processed foods healthy, as another option in a well-balanced diet.
"I think that in some cases processed foods really fit into the diet," says Nisevich Bede, "for example, canned vegetables." He explained, "If you take a canned vegetable without salt that is processed very close to the field, it has the depth of nutrients, it is not high in calories, sometimes it does not have a lot of additives, the same applies to frozen foods. Many of the consumers these products are cheaper than what we could call the regular product ".
If all this sounds obvious, yes, it is obvious but it must be said. When processed foods are demonized, consumers may include less to good processed foods in their diet even though the food in question is a healthy and economical choice.
"We really have to consider each food individually," says Eicher-Miller, "and read the nutrition label to make an informed decision about whether a particular food is a good choice."
How to buy food
Jayson and Mira Calton, authors of "Rich Food Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System," offer a three-step process for purchasing processed foods at the grocery store.
STEP 1: IGNORA LA CARTELERA The billboard is the front of the food container. The Caltons are too educated to call some posters "a den of lies", but I do not.Some posters are a cave of lies.
"Most words on labels never mean what we think they mean," says Mira Calton. "The word 'natural' currently sells more than the word 'organic' for two to one, which is why What you see on the labels, but those 'natural' foods could still have hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, residual sludge, genetic engineering, modified starch, 'Natura' is high fructose corn syrup. "
STEP 2: IGNORE NUTRITIONAL DATA This is the part of the label that tells you the amount of sodium or the amount of carbohydrates in each serving. "Unless you're counting something very specific, such as calories or carbohydrates, it's not very useful, "says Calton.
STEP 3: Read the ingredients "The list of ingredients is the last bastion of hope for the health conscious consumer," says Calton. This is where you find what you are putting inside your body, what is in the product and how much has been processed.
The Caltons cite an example in their book. There is a certain manufacturer of potato chips that offers a "baked" version of their chips. The billboard does not preach MSG ní preservantes and, for its packaging, you would expect to find the garden of Eden inside the bag. However, the ingredients reveal that the baked chips include additives and preservatives that are not in the original classic version. So, are baked potato chips really the healthiest option?
The Calton book, and other books like that, offer a list of ingredients to avoid because they are unhealthy or have been banned in other countries.
All this sounds like typical corporate villainy, right? As the author Michael Moss pointed out in "Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us," a book published in February 2013, food companies trick us into buying food, making it delicious.
Here is something that is not going to sell a lot of books but it is equally true: The market is responding to the demand for foods that are truly healthy. "One thing that the food industry is doing very well is that it offers a wide variety of options, "says Eicher-Miller.
Susan Rodder of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center's Preventive Cardiology Program recently issued a statement that she is seeing trends indicating that food companies are responding to the growing demand for healthier options by reducing the number of added ingredients, minimizing trans fats, adding more whole grains and minimizing sodium content.
In the two years, during which the Caltons were writing "Rich Food Poor Food," they had to review a series of their examples. During the years between the start and the publication of his book, some of the companies that had been manufacturing the most evil foods that the Caltons planned to mention, made the switch to healthier ingredients.
A new group called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which brings together 16 food and beverage companies, recently committed to reducing 1, 5 billion calories from the US diet in 2015. This campaign will finally bring to the Americans in their tight jeans? No one knows, but the commitment shows that food companies are aware that their products are very popular among people who consume them in unhealthy quantities so they have taken the courageous decision to address the issue publicly.
The Caltons, critics of many food manufacturers, are optimistic about your future purchases. They cite the growing number of small businesses that sell healthy foods, the popularity of health-focused supermarket chains such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe, and the ability of large manufacturers to adapt to what consumers want.
However, you need to keep an eye on the Big Mayo.
Let's call them by their name
Certain processed foods are not healthy. Some. I would like there to be a better term for them. Call them unprocessed processed foods or UPF. Hello everyone involved in the food and nutrition sciences, can we start doing this? Let's call them UPF, from now on. Thank you. Actually, everyone who is out there reading, let's make this happen. Tweet some picture of some UPF you find out there for @ LIVESTRONG_COM with the hashtag # UPF.
UPFs are foods that are high in calories and contain too much sodium, sugar, trans fats and unrecognizable ingredients that sound like something Jack Bauer had to prevent from being released into the atmosphere at "24".
Some studies link "processed foods" with chronic disease, high blood pressure, carcinogens, and lower IQ in children. That's why it's up to adults to help children make healthy choices. At a fitness conference, Nisevich Bede told me that a boy approached her and said, "I need a lot of calories, why can not I get them from chocolate cookies? A calorie is a calorie." She told the child that the colon wants better food. Your heart wants better foods. He can not survive only with processed scrap.
When people eat junk food, says Nisevich Bede, they miss the opportunity to feed on the good foods their bodies need. "If you're eating a sandwich with white bread (which is a kind of fluffy marshmallow), you end up of missing the opportunity to make the sandwich with a whole grain that has more vitamins and extra fiber and that is not going to cause so much havoc on your cholesterol and your blood sugar level. "
Oh damn the great white bread.