Fast food, junk food, processed food, ready-meals - whatever label you give it, it all comes down to the same thing – food that's been through the factory and had much of its goodness removed. Here are the essential facts you need to know.
Fact 1 – Laden with Additives
A quick look at any food label will show you a long, long list of ingredients. But what are those food additives, which so often we eat without questioning? Learning to understand and interpret food labels is vital for clued-up shopping, and will help you make informed choices.
Fact 2 – Unhealthy Ingredients
Processed foods are heavy on horribly unhealthy ingredients, and more often than not are loaded with:
Many of these food additives can have serious effects on long term health. The fact that many children have diets high in processed foods underlies the massive increase in childhood obesity.
Facts: 3 – Essential Nutrients Missing
It's not just what's in fast foods that are alarming. What fast foods leave out has just as bad an impact on your health. This is what you're missing out on, when you eat processed foods:
Fiber is essential to keep the gut working properly, yet many processed foods are almost totally devoid of it. It was there in the original fresh ingredients, like grain or vegetables, and has been pulverized out of existence by processing methods. Low fiber intake can lead to serious health problems.
Vitamins and Minerals - Subjecting foods to processing and refining, often at high temperatures, is a very effective way of robbing them of nutritional value. Some processed foods have added vitamins and minerals - often because those that were there to start with have been lost in processing! Others don't even pretend to be worth eating, and have rock-bottom or even non-existent nutritional value.
Fact 4 - Bad for Health
These are some of the dire effects on health of diets which rely too much on fast and processed foods:
Lethal diseases – cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes – are linked with poor diet and overweight.
Obesity in children and adults is at record levels and continues to increase.
The lack of certain essential nutrients can cause behavioral problems in children and affect their ability to learn.
A diet heavy in processed foods can lead to numerous other problems – rotten teeth, dry or spotty skin, bad breath, constipation, digestive problems, headaches, poor concentration, depression, tiredness, anemia – the list goes on, and on, and on.
Fact 5 – Lacking Flavor and Texture
Junk foods are bland because processing wipes out subtle differences in flavor, appetizing fragrances, and delicate aromas. Of course, manufacturers try to trick you into thinking you have a well-flavored meal in front of you, by adding artificial flavors, colors and aromas. Yet the flavors never taste like food freshly prepared, from fresh and simple organic ingredients.
Fact 6 – Not as Fresh as they Seem
Some processed foods masquerade as fresh – think of bagged salads, which are doused in chlorinated water before packing. But if food has been wrapped or packaged in some way to give it added value, if it's been coated, or marinated, or in any way processed, then since it was truly fresh it's been through the production chain – factory, holding depot, transport, and shelving. It's kept looking good, maybe for days and days on end, by preservatives.
Those are the shocking, but true Fast Food Facts. No wonder so many people want to rethink their diets, and learn more about organic healthy eating.
Healthy eating and fast food can't exist side by side. As you switch to a healthy diet, one by one the fast foods must go.
Learn to understand food labels (See Food Labels). If you're looking for healthy food, labels hold the key. Read them. Realize how much rubbish is in the foods peddled by supermarkets and fast food outlets. Start seeking out healthier alternatives.
As you gradually eradicate unhealthy foods from your diet, replace them with simple, fresh, unadulterated foods.
Invest a little time in your food. Start cooking fresh ingredients, using easy healthy recipes.
Begin shopping differently, buying fresh foods more frequently, relying less on foods which have a long shelf life because they're full of artificial preservatives, and buying for just one or two meals at a time. It takes time to adjust, but over a few months, and with planning, you'll find that it's not that time-consuming and, what's more, you're actually enjoying planning, preparing and eating meals far more than when you trudged round the supermarket and couldn't find anything you really wanted to eat.
In time, processed foods that used to seem appetizing will lose their appeal, as your palate becomes attuned to fresher, purer flavors, with less emphasis on sweet/saltiness, and less fattiness. I can't believe how much I loved M&M's and Reese Cup's, the taste that I use to enjoy is no longer there...once in awhile, I have caught myself grabbing one of these candies and after I eat it, I actually felt I was committing a crime, by killing my inside. Taste wasn't the same, almost artificial, oh that's right it is!
Be realistic. Sometimes you'll still have take-out, a burger, and a ready-meal. Relax. Healthy eating is all about balance. As long as most of the time you're eating good, nutritious food, that's fine.
Once you know the fast food facts, you'll never the feel the same about the foods that are offer in supermarkets and junk food joints again. Start gradually changing the way you eat, and you'll enjoy food more and feel better, as well as giving yourself and your family massive health benefits long-term.
This week I challenge you to pack you and your child(ren) lunch. Instead of heading to the vending machine or to the closest fast food restaurant, set aside an extra ten minutes the night before to pack something healthy. This is what I make for my children for lunch: