We easily associate the food we eat with our weight and waist measurement. In truth, our eating habits have much broader consequences on our daily life and longevity.
The low-everything diets are also a key contributor to the increase in people suffering from lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, vascular disease, obesity and heart disease.
What we eat impacts our energy level, ability to focus, hormone fluctuations, emotions, physical appearance and physical health. Our eating choices affect everything that’s important to us and our quality of life, yet I am regularly surprised to talk with people who are misinformed about what defines a healthy diet.
Many people believe they are healthy eaters because they structure their diets around the well-publicized advice to eat low fat, low calorie and low carb. Unfortunately, this assumption is deeply flawed and it’s a primary reason that so many people on restrictive diets continue to struggle with their weight and health.
The low-everything diets are also a key contributor to the increase in people suffering from lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, vascular disease, obesity and heart disease. We only need to make one change in the way we eat to live healthier lives at healthy weights and avoid disease.
Stop eating processed foods.
All of our foods are processed in some way. Carrots are pulled from the ground, cream is made into butter. These types of processes deliver food from the farm to your table with no negative side effects. It’s chemically processed foods that are usually being referred to with the moniker “processed food”. Foods that have been chemically processed are made from refined ingredients and artificial substances.
Processed foods are convenient. They have long shelf lives and they fit into our busy schedules. At the end of a long day we can quickly remove the plastic wrap, put it in the microwave for a few minutes and dinner is on the table. We pay for that convenience with large amounts of preservatives, sodium, fats, and sugar.
Plus, the farther away the food is from its natural state, the less nutrition we’re ingesting. A great deal of our packaged food is empty calories that provide little fuel for our bodies. Here are a few examples of what we’re doing to ourselves with some popular processed food choices that we think of as healthy.
1. Granola snacks are marketed as a healthy food. They’re packed with grains, nuts and fruit which seem wholesome. Unfortunately, they’re also loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup which digest quickly leaving you hungry soon after. The high amount of sugar in granola can have a shocking effect on your metabolism and can lead to insulin resistance, high triglycerides, high cholesterol and a buildup of fat in your liver and abdominal cavity.
2. Raw nuts are a great source of protein, but you might have noticed stores now stocking many varieties of flavored nuts. No matter what your favorite flavor is, these trendy nuts come with extra salt and sugar leading to weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
3. Avoiding butter is an often repeated diet tip, so margarine came on the scene as the diet friendly alternative. Most margarine contains a lot of trans fats, which are considered more unhealthy than any other fat, including saturated fats. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
4. When I was growing up there was a lot of publicity around the dangers of bacon, but our love affair with this highly processed protein just won’t die. Bacon sales have increased substantially in each of the last 4 years bringing our consumption to all-time highs. Bacon is packaged with very large amounts of sodium that can increase blood pressure. Bacon also offers high levels of saturated fat which has been connected to heart disease and obesity. Lastly, the chemicals used as preservatives have been linked to a broad range of health issues from hyperactivity in children to headaches and heart disease. These same concerns are applicable to all packaged meat products.
Other examples of processed foods that have offer many of the same health risks are: breakfast cereal, cheese, canned vegetables, jarred sauces, bread, chips, microwave meals, milk and sodas.
With so much of your typical food cart doing you more harm than good, eliminating processed foods may seem a daunting task. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. KEEP IT REAL
Real food is a product of nature, not a product of industry. Look for whole foods like whole grains that are not refined, and fruits/vegetables that are locally sourced.
2. KEEP IT REALISTIC
You don’t need to eliminate all packaged foods. I have neither the time nor the inclination to start preparing all of my food from scratch. You will not find me grinding my own wheat berries so I can bake bread. Rather than attempting an all or nothing approach, be discriminating. Choose packaged or frozen fruits, vegetables, lettuces and beans without sauces, seasonings or preservatives. Pick up packaged quick-cooking whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa.
3. MORE IS NOT BETTER
Many foods in bags, boxes and jars have a long list of ingredients indicating they’ve been chemically processed and have harmful, non-food items added. The fewer ingredients on a label, the closer the product is to its natural, healthy state. If it’s a single ingredient food with no added chemicals, then it doesn’t matter if it’s been bagged, canned or jarred. It’s still real food.
4. DITCH DIET
Diet, low fat, low carb, etc. products such as sodas, sports drinks, crackers, salad dressing and yogurt are nothing more than sugar and imitation flavors. Skip it.
The idea of “eating clean” is broad and its many definitions can be debated. Cleaning up our eating habits is a more doable objective. It starts with awareness about what we put into our mouths which will result in cutting back on processed foods. It is a choice that brings quick and dramatic improvements that you will notice within a few weeks.