I used to have no idea what real food was. In fact, I thought that’s what I WAS eating.
As it turns out, a lot of what I was eating was actually processed junk. Even though I wasn’t eating Doritos and Reese’s peanut butter cups all the time. (Okay, okay…so maybe I snuck a Krispy Kreme donut every now and then.) Shocker, I know.
But when I started doing the research, my definition of “junk food” began to expand. Then it struck me. If I only wanted to eat real food, I needed to be reading labels. (Sneaky manufacturers!)
Oh, I had been reading them. Occasionally. I’d check them for things like fat, calories, sugar, salt, and fiber. But I had been missing something rather important: Those aren’t the bad guys. At least, they aren’t necessarily.
Monosodium glutamate, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils (trans fat)? Those are the bad guys. Along with nearly every other ingredient you don’t recognize on a food label.
Why? Well, for one, they are all chemically manufactured in labs – meaning, they are not normally found out in nature. Unlike “real food,” our bodies don’t know exactly what to do with them. And they have to work overtime to convert food containing those chemicals into something that can actually nourish us. At the same time, they need to get rid of all the harmful chemicals that are being absorbed. But they are having to work so hard just to digest food, that they don’t have as much energy or time to devote to getting rid of the bad. So the chemicals sit in our bodies and pile up, eventually causing disease – disease that could have largely been avoided had we simply eaten real, nutritious foods in the first place.
So here’s my first tip to healthy living: Start by reading labels. If you don’t have time to investigate every ingredient (and really, who does?), it’s fairly safe to say that if you don’t know what it is, you probably shouldn’t eat it.
Now, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Tocopherol, for instance, appears to simply be another name for vitamin E. But on the whole, you would be much safer to simply avoid products with ingredient names you don’t recognize.
One more thing: It’s called Baby Steps. And I really should learn to follow my own advice here. Don’t freak out if you can’t get rid of all processed food, i.e., foreign chemicals, at once. I don’t think that’s possible anyway….I had the guts – or stupidity, which is more likely! – to try it for some time and let me tell you, it was ridiculous! I think I nearly drove myself insane.
So here’s what I did instead: I focused on getting rid of everything that contained high fructose corn syrup. For us that meant most of our condiments had to go. But since it appeared in other random food items as well, it actually took me a while (several months I guess?) just to get rid of one suspect ingredient. Up until 3 months ago, we had high fructose corn syrup Ritz crackers. Yummy, right?
Try gradually eliminating certain foods only as you find tasty alternatives for them. If you don’t see how you can do without a particular food item just yet, or know what to substitute for it, try not to worry. We can only do what we can do. Little steps in the right direction will eventually get you where you would like to be. Remember that anything you do to improve your diet will be better than nothing.
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Food Products Comic
HFCS and Obesity
Trans Fat Dangers
Dangers of Food Additives and Preservatives
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