Every day, information about food bombards us through ads, grocery stores, social media and word of mouth. Countless articles tell us how to eat, what to eat, where to eat and why. I believe that knowledge is power; however too much knowledge can be overbearing. With all the health information out there, how do we know what’s true or untrue? Personally, I try to stick to eating whole foods rather than consuming heavily processed foods.
What do I mean by “heavily processed?” Frozen pizza, pre-packaged microwavable meals and other foods that contain a long list of ingredients with names you can’t pronounce.
Anything marketed as “ready-to-eat” (and I don’t mean bananas and oranges) tends to be more heavily processed, such as crackers and packaged deli meats. Why are they so bad? Because processed foods contain more sodium, sugar and trans fats.
Through the course of health history, we’re learning to reduce sodium, sugar and trans fats in our diets. The Nutrition Source at Harvard’s (NSH) article, “Shining the Spotlight on Trans Fats,” says consuming trans fat leads to inflammation and a higher incidence of coronary artery disease. The article adds, “In animal studies, eating trans fat also promotes obesity and resistance to insulin, the precursor to diabetes.”
Another NSH article, “Health Risks and Disease Related to Sodium,” explains how excessive salt consumption puts pressure on the heart and blood vessels. “Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke,. (sic) It can also lead to heart failure.”
Andrea Giancoli, former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, “Three quarters of our sodium intake comes from processed foods.” Giancoli adds, “Only 20 or 25 percent of it comes from salting our food. The salt shaker is not the major problem.” That means no more hiding the table salt on a high shelf. Instead, focus on eating whole foods and reducing or eliminating heavily processed ones to most effectively reduce our sodium intake.
In many ways, eating this way can simplify your life. Choose a banana or an apple instead of a packaged frozen pie. Prepare a home-baked sweet potato, rather than buying a bag of chips.
Carey Cannizzaro, executive chef at Home Restaurant in Greenwich Village, avoids processed foods and cooks tasty meals, while still providing sweet and savory flavors. For example, Cannizzaro uses a variety of fats to cook depending on the dish: buttermilk for sweets; extra virgin olive oil for savory; and soy oil for frying.
You don’t have to make sacrifices to eat delicious food. In fact, simple and pure food choices often create a more luxurious dining experience, something to savor slowly and mindfully rather than wolf down in a rush or trance-like state in front of the television.
Jon Yaneff, holistic nutritionist, certified nutritional practitioner and health researcher, explains, “The best way to avoid eating processed food is to make them from scratch.” He recommends finding a farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery company to help you eat more fruits and vegetables. If these options aren’t available in your area, shop heavily in your produce department, where there’s rarely a processed food around.
Let’s fully embrace the art of food. We can slow down, cook from scratch when possible, grab whole foods on the go, and rewire our nutrition by making healthy choices.