Regardless of which dietary philosophy you choose – Vegan, Paleo, Pegan, South Beach, Atkins, Low Carb, Ketogenic – there is one aspect that ALL of these eating philosophies share: avoid processed foods. Even the fundamentally flawed 2020 – 2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines & MyPlate recommend consuming more “nutrient dense” foods in lieu of processed foods. Yet, according to attached article, 58% of our calories come from ultra processed foods.
Our Food Choices Are Making Us Sick
As our food became more industrialized through processing & automation, we moved further away from eating whole foods. The drive toward convenience; the industrialization of using vegetable oils; the mis-information on the role of fat and sugar in driving obesity, heart disease and type-II diabetes all were major contributors. I covered this in detail in a previous post.
Our population is paying a painful price, but what are we doing about it? The latest shooting in Colorado has political pundits again calling for gun control as 10 people were tragically and senselessly killed. Yet, according to the CDC, over 650,000 Americans die every year due to heart disease, or one American every 36 seconds! We know that 42% of the U.S. population is considered obese, and obesity and type-II diabetes have a very tight correlation. We also know those with diabetes are at some of the highest risk of suffering severe, and potentially life threatening, symptoms from COVID-19. Heart disease, obesity and type-II diabetes (which accounts for ~ 90% – 95% of all diabetes cases) are chronic conditions driven largely by diet.
5 Ways to Make Better Food Choices and Reduce Processed Food Consumption
I posted an article about Mars purchasing the Kind brand, seeking to connect with consumer on a more “healthy” alternative, but in reality the Kind bars are exactly the processed foods we should be avoiding. When choosing foods, its critical to not get caught up in the marketing of “healthy”, but make informed decisions based on the nutrient density and quality of ingredients. Here are 5 tips:
- Choose nature over a box/can/bag
- Frozen beats canned or boxed
- Read the nutrition panel AND ingredient list, especially the order
- Beware of the hidden, or renamed, sugars and fillers
- Get familiar with the glycemic index, glycemic load & insulin index of food
Choose nature over a box/can/bag
Eating healthy requires three critical choices: (1) Quality of Food; (2) Mix of Macronutrients; (3) Limit Frequency. While eating on the go can be difficult, beware of grabbing processed bars and drinks that are loaded with sugars and vegetable oils, and instead focus on natural foods at specific meals while minimizing/limiting snacking. For example, meal preparation done on an afternoon or evening can allow you to create several meals with healthy fats, quality protein and vegetables, which can be transported and enjoyed at the office or school. Choosing seeds/nuts (assuming you do not have allergies), a nut butter with only the nut & sea salt as ingredients, or a plain greek yogurt with a small helping of berries can be very satisfying and a much better choice for “on the go” consumption.
Frozen beats canned or boxed
Vegetables are critical for health and wellness, especially low-glycemic, green, and high nutrient-dense options. But buying fresh, preparing, cooking and cleaning can be a hassle, especially in a busy life, so choosing a pre-packaged option is understandably attractive. Fresh is best, but if you need to select pre-packaged options, choose frozen. Frozen vegetables typically have very little added to them in terms of processed ingredients, as opposed to canned or boxed options, because the natural food’s frozen condition prevents the need for additional processing. I buy frozen riced cauliflower which has one ingredient: cauliflower!
Read the nutrition panel AND ingredient list, especially the order
Every food has a nutrition panel, and while it’s critical you evaluate the macronutrient density (fats, carbohydrates, protein), as well as understanding added sugars, you also want to become very comfortable evaluating two additional facts. (1) The serving size: (2) The ingredient list.
Ingredients are, by law, listed in the order of scale, and understanding the actual ingredients in a product are critical. As an example, you may think peanut butter is all the same. Wrong. The correct peanut butter can be a great addition to a healthy diet. The wrong one will be an inflammation and insulin driver, loaded with additives. Here’s a comparison of peanut butter and how purchasing a product requires so much more review of the ingredients inside the product.
Beware of the hidden, or renamed, sugars and fillers
Two of the most damaging products to our health are sugars and fillers, for different reasons. You may not realize it, but sugar is not always called sugar. In fact, below is a table with 75(!) different names for sugar. Sugar causes insulin resistance, which leads to obesity, pre-diabetes, the development of type-II diabetes, can cause a fatty liver, and is a major contributor to heart disease. It is as addictive as a narcotic, causes cognitive issues, drives inflammation within the body and can erode the enamel of our teeth.
Fillers are being used more and more to replace sugar, and “add” fiber, but can cause significant gastrointestinal discomfort. Tapioca fiber, chicory root fiber and others are being used more and more, so be aware of them and make sure you understand your tolerance for these additives. If you’re looking for a good list of fillers and additives to ensure you avoid in food, click here.
Get familiar with the glycemic index, glycemic load and insulin index
The glycemic index has been around for a long time and is used to asses the increase in blood sugar 50 grams of food will have on the body. The higher the index number, the higher the blood sugar response, meaning the faster the food is converted into blood sugar. Glucose is the benchmark at 100.
Glycemic load correlates the index with volume. In other words, some products can be high on the glycemic index, but you would need to eat a large amount in order to have a material impact on blood sugar. Alternatively, some foods can be low on the glycemic index, but you can very quickly eat a lot, which can spike your blood sugar level. Glycemic load is calculated as follows:
Glycemic Load (GL) = Glycemic Index (GI) * Carbs in grams / 100
Finally, the insulin index measures the blood insulin response driven by specific foods after meals, with white bread positioned as the benchmark at 100, and is a better measure for people who are insulin resistant or with type-II diabetes. Kudos to Jae Berman for a good article on the description and value of these three measures.
Our health is at stake. Chronic disease has been, and continues, to accelerate globally, but we have the power to change this trajectory with better dietary choices. Removing processed foods is a huge step in the correct direction.