Processed food is everywhere. In some ways, we are fortunate to be living in a time when we can process and preserve our food so that our supermarkets are always full and we always have plenty of choice in what we have to eat; but in other ways, we are deprived of “real” food that is naturally tasty and full of nutrients that are good for us.
Food processing is a business that has become more and more sophisticated over time. Our food can be processed so that it can have a long shelf life, be easy to prepare and have the right taste and texture. The downside of this is the chemicals that are used.
Did you know that there are over 15,000 chemicals used in food processing that do not have to be listed on the label? Now you may be asking if this is bad. The short answer is yes. These chemicals along with some of the additives that are actually on the labels are unnatural which means toxic to the body. With continuous exposure over a long period of time, they suppress your immune system which makes it more susceptible to disease; they cause free radical damage, making you age more quickly; and they make the pH of your body more acid which makes you more prone to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, etc.
Let’s talk about the chemicals. Did you know that by the time a child is 5 years old, he/she has consumed 7.5 pounds of chemical food additives? The alarming part of this fact is that the human body was not meant to handle this type of chemical. Think about the pounds of chemicals you have consumed in your lifetime. If the 7.5 pounds per 5 years ratio holds, that means I have consumed almost 75 pounds of chemicals in my life. The worst thing about these chemicals is that it is very hard for the body to eliminate them, so they tend to stick around particularly in fatty tissue.
One of the saddest things I see is that we have forgotten what real food tastes like. I was raised without mixes and highly processed foods – other than white bread, a few canned vegetables and occasional breakfast cereal. One of the best things my mother ever made was birthday cake with fresh butter and milk and homemade icing. Even though the cake was made with white sugar and white flour, it tasted real. Now, most birthday cakes are made from mixes or are store bought and I can just taste the chemicals and wonder if anyone would even think the cake that mother made was any good.
I think we can all be healthier if we look at the food we eat and try to step back up the processing chain and opt for foods that are less processed than what we would normally eat. For example, try a really good natural bread without all the dough conditioners and processing that is in normal commercial bread – better yet, make your own from scratch. Choose fresh vegetables instead of canned or frozen. For cereal, try oatmeal (old fashioned) rather than instant – or make your own granola. Eliminate mixes – especially anything with MSG. Eat raw fruit – preferably organic rather than drinking juice or eating fruit rollups.
Read labels. Even though there are many chemicals that are not listed, the ones that are tell a good part of the story. If it has names you have to work to pronounce, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup and / or aspartame, avoid it. Your body will thank you.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.