Tag Archives: processed food

The Obesity Epidemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. For many of these conditions, diet is a contributing factor. Check out the obesity prevalence by state for 2011:

  • Obesity prevalence ranged from 20.7% in Colorado to 34.9% in Mississippi.
  • No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.
  • 39 states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states had a prevalence of 30% or more: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.
  • The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (29.5%), followed by the Midwest (29.0%), the Northeast (25.3%) and the West (24.3%).

Learn more in this  video called “The Obesity Epidemic,” which addresses the challenges of obesity in our country, especially food and eating behaviors. As a major contributor to some of the leading causes of death in the U.S., it’s time to evolve our communities into places that strongly support healthy eating and active living.

Study Links HFCS to Obesity

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, if not via Life Is Fare, most certainly in the news: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) leads to obesity.

In this study highlighted in The Science Daily, researchers found that “when fructose is present as children’s fat cells mature, it makes more of these cells mature into fat cells in belly fat and less able to respond to insulin in both belly fat and fat located below the skin.” Obesity, especially in the abdominal region, raises the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than its parents. 

If you’re interested in these timely updates, check out Ivan Royster’s Facebook group, “The Ban of High Fructose Corn Syrup in the U.S.

The Four Worst Ingredients in Processed Food

While searching the web today, I came across this article from Reader’s Digest called “Recipe for Disaster,” which cites the four most harmful ingredients in packaged foods. Not a surprise:

  1. Trans Fats
  2. Refined Grains
  3. Salt
  4. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

According to the article, “ninety percent of Americans’ household food budget is spent on processed foods, the majority of which are filled with additives and stripped of nutrients.”

It’s time to get back into the kitchen and start cooking again!

Nine Reasons to Avoid Processed Food

From Yahoo’s Healthy Living site today:

Ingredient Why it is Used Why it is Bad
Artificial Colors Chemical compounds made from coal-tar derivatives to enhance color. Linked to allergic reactions, fatigue, asthma, skin rashes, hyperactivity and headaches.
Artificial Flavorings Cheap chemical mixtures that mimic natural flavors. Linked to allergic reactions, dermatitis, eczema, hyperactivity and asthmaCan affect enzymes, RNA and thyroid.
Artificial Sweeteners
(Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Equal®, NutraSweet®,  Saccharin, Sweet’n Low®, Sucralose, Splenda® & Sorbitol)
Highly-processed, chemically-derived, zero-calorie sweeteners found in diet foods and diet products to reduce calories per serving. Can negatively impact metabolismSome have been linked to cancer, dizziness hallucinations and headaches.
Benzoate Preservatives(BHT, BHA, TBHQ) Compounds that preserve fats and prevent them from becoming rancid. May result in hyperactivity, angiodema,  asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis, tumors and  urticariaCan affect estrogen balance and levels.
Brominated Vegetable Oil(BVO) Chemical that boosts flavor in many citric-based fruit and soft drinks. Increases triglycerides and cholesterolCan damage liver, testicles, thyroid, heart and kidneys.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Cheap alternative to cane and beet sugarSustains freshness in baked goodsBlends easily in beverages to maintain sweetness. May predispose the body to turn fructose into fatIncreases risk for Type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancerIsn’t easily metabolized by the liver.
MSG(Monosodium Glutamate) Flavor enhancer in restaurant food, salad dressing, chips, frozen entrees, soups and other foods. May stimulate appetite and cause headaches, nausea, weakness, wheezing, edema, change in heart rate, burning sensations and difficulty in breathing.
Olestra An indigestible fat substitute used primarily in foods that are fried and baked. Inhibits absorption of some nutrientsLinked to gastrointestinal disease, diarrhea, gas, cramps, bleeding and incontinence.
Shortening, Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Oils
(Palm, Soybean and others)
Industrially created fats used in more than 40,000 food products in the U.S.Cheaper than most other oils. Contain high levels of trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, contributing to risk of heart disease.

What’s in Your Pasta?

Photo via The Olive Garden

A few weeks ago I went on a rant about salt–how I’m tired of hearing that we need to curb our salt intake. I might actually be sodium-deficient because I don’t get enough salt in my homemade food. But if you eat processed food, you’re likely getting way too much. Hence the warning from the medical experts. 

When I think of processed food, a can of soup bought at the grocery store comes to mind. But what about the food prepared at restaurants? Well, it depends on the restaurant. 

Take, for example, Yahoo’s “top seven unhealthiest pasta dishes in America”. Some of them supply an entire day’s worth of sodium (approximately 2,300 mg) in one meal: 

#7) From Olive Garden: Garlic Herb Chicken con Broccoli
960 calories
41 g fat (18 g saturated)
2,180 mg sodium 

#6) From Fazoli’s: Tortellini Robusto
1,020 calories
50 g fat (28 g saturated, 0.5 g trans)
2,580 mg sodium 

#5) From Carrabba’s: Lasagne
1,360 calories
(no other data available) 

#4) From T.G.I. Friday’s: Cajun Shrimp & Chicken Pasta
1,420 calories
(no other data available) 

#3) From Domino’s: Chicken Carbonara Breadbowl Pasta
1,480 calories
56 g fat (24 g saturated, 1 g trans)
2,280 mg sodium
188 g carbohydrates 

#2) Cheesecake Factory: Kid’s Pasta with Alfredo Sauce
1,803 calories
87 g saturated fat
876 mg sodium
70 g carbohydrates 

#1) Cheesecake Factory: Bistro Shrimp Pasta
2,819 calories
77 g saturated fat
1,008 mg sodium
184 g carbohydrates 

I know what you’re saying: These are chain restaurants; they’re like the fast food of the not-so-fast food world. And, although I admit I’ve eaten at a few of them, they are not my favorite choices for eating dinner out. But a lot of people do eat meals like the ones listed above, thinking they’re eating healthy food just because it’s pasta.

How can you get around these high numbers in sodium and fat? 

  1. Eat at home. Your homemade pasta–depending on the sauce–will have far less sodium than restaurant fare.
  2. Don’t eat it all in one sitting. Plan to take a portion home.
  3. Avoid the alfredo sauces, which likely have cream, butter, and/or cheese in them.
  4. When you cook at home, use olive oil instead of butter.
  5. Ask your server–at any restaurant–what’s in your food and where it comes from. It’s to your benefit to be educated on the source of your food as well as its nutritional information.

Is Quality High on Your List when You Shop for Food?

Graphic via The New York Times

An article in yesterday’s New York Times insults you. Unless you’re not part of the mainstream of Americans who eat processed food. 

In case you weren’t aware, “Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries,” according to the article. 

“And Americans do not seem to be as discerning about quality,” says Mark Gehlhar, of the USDA’s Economic Research Service. That’s because our culture has emphasized cheap food over quality food for decades. 

T. Colin Campbell, a nutritionist at Cornell University who is cited in the article says, “there is a lot of money tied up in the industry because it is profitable for companies to make these foods….Processed foods contain large amounts of fat, salt and sugar, and Americans have become addicted to them.” 

What’s scarier is that the food industry enables that addiction, especially through the use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). (For more background on how HFCS got into our diet in the first place, read my blog post from last fall.)  

According to Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Penguin Books, 2007, pp. 93-94), the addition of corn products in our food system has “less to do with nutrition or taste than with economics. For the dream of liberating food from nature, which began as a dream of the eaters (to make it less perishable), is now primarily a dream of the feeders–of the corporations that sell us our food…..Today the great advantages of processing food redound to the processors themselves. For them, nature is foremost a problem–no so much of perishable food…as of perishable profits.”

In case you haven’t noticed, the food processors in this country really don’t care about your health. That’s why the best thing to do–for your health, for your family’s health, and to send a message to the food corporations–is to take the time and spend the money on fresh, quality, local food whenever possible. Yes, it costs more up front but in the long run it’s better for your health and the health of the environment.

Aren’t you worth it? Poor quality food means poor quality living.

You are what you eat.