I have managed to almost completely cut out shop-bought processed food from my diet. It actually wasn’t as hard as i had thought it would be. What has been harder than I thought it would be, is convincing my 15-year-old that he should remove shop-bought processed food from his diet. At one stage I almost had him onboard when I had convinced him that I could make a better version of just about anything. I then went to work trying to find healthy version of the foods he liked. But unfortunately, I went too hard too soon, I should have gradually eased him into it. The kale brownies (which seemed like a genius idea to me), were not, in his opinion, better than the shop bought version. The first day he ate one, he actually coped OK with it, however the next day, as he sat next to the big sunlit window, he caught a glimpse of the “hidden” kale. That was the end of the kale brownies. That was also the end of his willingness to try my better-than-shop-bought recipes. I am regularly asked “is there kale in this”?
One of the things that kick-started me into wanting to change the way I ate, was a workshop I went to where the focus was on trying to eat “pure food”. Pure food being – food in its most pure form – as close to how nature makes it as possible.
Prior to this workshop I had always considered myself to be a fairly “health conscious” shopper. I am an avid label reader, and would try to steer clear of any numbers, or artificial ingredients. However, I learned at the workshop that many of the “natural ingredients” in food, due to the manufacturing processes they are put through, end up being something that can’t really be considered to be natural anymore.
I like to think about the “not-so-natural” ingredients in 2 categories. The first is what I am calling the”artificial-from-the-start” ingredients, these are your artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, and I am sure you’ve heard the well publicised concerns around their impact on our health, so I am not going to cover them today. The second are the “natural-from-the-start-but-now-basically-artificial” ingredients, and these are what I am going to talk about today.
There are plenty of natural-from-the-start-but-now-basically-artifical ingredients to choose from, but I’m going to cover what I consider to be the “usual suspects”. These guys you will pretty much find in all processed foods from the supermarket and in a lot of takeaway/restaurant foods.
Hydrogenated oils/Trans fats
This guy is the result of taking liquid vegetable oil and adding hydrogen to it. This changes the chemical structure so that it solidifies. Why? An article on Sparkpeople tells us “Years ago, manufacturers predominantlysed animal fats such as lard, beef tallow, and butter when making baked and fried foods. Later, when scientists discovered that these saturated fats contributed to heart disease and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, food companies started looking for alternatives to these saturated fats. Hydrogenation makes oils more stable and solid at room temperature. This improves the baking characteristics of the liquid oil as well as the taste and texture of the end product. Partially hydrogenated oil provided a good alternative when it came to taste, texture, and stability, and manufacturers started using these oils instead of animal fats.”
When oil is hydrogenated it creates trans fats. Trans fats are BAD!!! There is not even any debate going on about this one, everyone is in agreement, trans fats are dangerous to your health. Well actually to clarify, there are naturally occurring trans fats, however the research on these shows that “they may actually reduce the development of many chronic diseases“, so it seems that it is just the man-made ones that we need to worry about.
If you do a quick internet search on trans fats you will find plenty of information, one article I found interesting is called “why are trans fats bad” from Marks daily apple. But basically, our bodies do not know how to digest, or process the trans fats. One of the big risks to our health is that trans fats not only increases your “bad” cholesterol, it also decreases to your “good” cholesterol, which (as I am sure you are already aware) can lead to heart disease. I was shocked to learn that heart disease currently kills 1 Australian, every 12 minutes.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
This guy is the result of taking corn, turning it into corn starch, mixing it with some crazy enzymes to make corn syrup and then mixing it with more crazy enzymes to increase the amount of fructose. Why? Another article on Sparkpeople tells us “HFCS is a desirable food ingredient for food manufacturers because it is equally as sweet as table sugar, blends well with other foods, helps foods to maintain a longer shelf life, and is less expensive (due to government subsidies on corn) than other sweeteners.”
There is plenty of information on the internet about the concerns of HFCS, but one article worth having a read of is Dr Mark Hymans “5 reasons high fructose corn syrup will kill you“, I think the title says it all (not to freak you out or anything). But basically, HFCS is a man-made chemical and current research into the effect on our health suggests that it may upset the human metabolism, raising the risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Additionally, researchers say that HFCS chemical structure encourages overeating. Overeating is a serious issue in our society with recent statistics showing that 3 out of 5 Australian adults, and 1 in 4 Australian children are overweight or obese. These levels are on the increase, and obesity is linked to more than half of the premature deaths in Australia.
And lasty, most (possibly all?) HFCS coming out of America is made from genetically modified corn (I’ll get to GM ingredients shortly!).
These guys are the result of taking a whole grain and removing the 2 most nutritious parts of the grain, so that it is no longer whole. Here is an explanation from from Joy Bauer – “Whole Grains contain three parts: the bran (outer layer), endosperm (middle layer), and germ (inner layer). The bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of the grain; they contain concentrated amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. During the refining process, however, the bran and germ are removed from the whole grain. The endosperm, the part of the grain that is left after the refining process, is primarily composed of starchy carbohydrates and is low in nutrients. Some nutrients, including iron and a handful of B vitamins, are added back to refined grains and flours during manufacturing (hence the term “enriched wheat flour”), but these represent only a fraction of what is initially removed from the grain. For these reasons, refined grains do not provide the same health benefits as whole grains.”
Research shows that if more than half of the grains you eat are refined, instead of whole grains, you increase your risk of abdominal fat, heart disease, diabetes and overall mortality.
These guys are the result of taking food and changing the genetic material (DNA) in a way that doesn’t occur naturally. In my first ever post I suggested watching a documentary called “Genetic Roulette“, I would once again suggest you watch it! In addition, here an article which outlines some of the associated risks of eating GM foods “10 Scientific studies proving GMO’s can be harmful to human health“.
Currently in Australia the only GM crops we are producing are cotton and canola, however we import a wide range of GM foods which include soya (check the ingredients of your processed foods for something called soya lecithin), corn, potatoes and sugar beets. GM foods are meant to be labelled in Australia, however there are a few exceptions. Where the GM foods are highly refined, such as cooking oils, starches, chocolate and baked goods, there is no requirement for labelling. Where foods which are made in bakeries, restaurants, or takeaways are not required to disclose the use of GM foods. Where foods are made from animals which have been fed GM animal feed, for example cheeses, yoghurts, or the steak you buy in the supermarket. Lastly in Australia companies are allowed to have 1% GM ingredients in the food without labelling it. You can read more in the “SBS Factbox: GM foods in Australia” article.
Here also is an article which talks about some of the types of foods are being genetically modified, 10 foods which are currently genetically modified, my favourite being the “lemato” where they crossed a lemon and a tomato 🙂
So these four, as far as I am concerned, are your main offenders. It is pretty common that you will get all 4 of these guys at once in a lot of the processed foods available at the supermarket.
So get stuck into making your own foods! It’s totally doable! I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, if I can make the majority of my own foods, anyone can 🙂
Food recipes that I have been making are on their way 🙂