Based on the amount of processed food people eat, it seems like a lot of folks don’t understand what food actually is.
Food keeps you alive and helps you stay healthy while you live your best life.
All the packaged snacks, sugary beverages, and addictive drive-thru meals certainly look like food, but they’re really just calories and flavor.
Food is supposed to have actual nutrients in it, but many people opt for processed food that tastes great but lacks substance.
Processed food companies optimize for flavor and short-term satisfaction because that’s what consumers consistently spend money on.
The term, “processed food” gets thrown around so much, but that definition is vague and often varies from person to person.
What are processed foods?
When you hear “processed food” you probably think of a bag of Doritos or a frozen dinner.
Eatright defines processed foods as, “food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways.”
That’s not very useful because by this standard anything you cook at home is processed food.
Even Dirtballs are technically processed because we take ingredients out of their natural form and combine them together in a novel way.
This is minimally processed, though, and we don’t use any of the strange additives that big food companies use.
I recently came up with a good definition of processed food that’s more useful to average people:
You should consider anything you can’t make in your kitchen at home to be processed.
This doesn’t include complicated, time-intensive recipes, as long as you’re using healthy whole food ingredients.
However, you probably don’t have the equipment at home to make something like vegetable glycerin, a common industrial food additive.
Think about the last processed food you ate.
Was it Cheetos? Dinosaur chicken nuggets? Vitamin Water?
Your kitchen doesn’t have the right equipment to make these things.
While there’s still a lot of wiggle room in this definition of processed food, it still serves as a useful tool for your diet choices.
Health drinks like Rebbl do help people get a lot of nutrients and adaptogenic compounds, and most people probably don’t have the means to replicate it.
You could easily get all of the benefits that REbbl offers you by just using the right ingredients in your meals, though.
The processed plague
Rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease have risen steadily since 2010, and poor diet is one of the top contributing factors to these conditions.
Lack of exercise also makes these problems more likely, and people who eat poor diets often don’t exercise much either.
Everyone knows that America is the fattest country in the world.
For the first time in history, though, there are many people who are both obese and malnourished.
People often conflate malnourishment with starvation, but with modern processed food it’s easy to eat a lot of calories without getting the nutrients your body needs to function at its highest.
Basically, major food companies like Kellogg’s have unleashed a slow-moving plague throughout the world.
People blissfully chow down on empty calories until they wake up one day with chest pains and pre-diabetes.
Just in the United States, health problems caused by poor diets cost us billions of dollars every year.
And to make matters worse, we’ve exported this diet all around the world.
Keep it simple
The best approach to diet is always simplicity.
Fruits, veggies, healthy lean proteins and lots of herbs and spices in their natural forms make the perfect diet.
Choosing a whole food diet like the Mediterranean also allows you to tailor your diet to specific preferences like vegetarian, vegan, or paleo.
Humans evolved eating real plants and animals, so we’re really not equipped to handle all these hyper-processed foods.
Food companies take advantage of human biology to craft addictive and satisfying products.
Early humans evolved to seek out salt, sugar and fat because these are crucial for life and were often in short supply back in the day.
We still gravitate towards, sweet, salty, and fatty foods even though our modern lives are much more comfortable than the primordial struggle for survival that our ancestors dealt with.
That’s why the majority of processed food products center around sugar, salt, and fat.
They’re also typically very heavy in processed carbohydrates, because carbs fill you up and make you feel satisfied.
Satisfaction comes at a steep cost, though: debilitating and life-threatening health issues.
It’s always better to eat simple, real foods.
A plant-based diet will make you healthy and allow you to avoid the perils of processed food.
Major food producers have latched onto the plant-based trend, though, and started making processed plant-based food that appears healthy but is still terrible for you.
The Impossible Burger is one of the most successful processed foods to hit the market in recent years, and it’s the perfect example of this.
Impossible burgers are not ‘healthy” per say, but they’re less destructive to our bodies and the planet than factory-farmed meat.
Repurposing meat supply chains for plant-based food is good for general planetary health.
But if people think that they’ll be healthy eating Impossible Burgers, they’re in for a rude awakening.
The amount of processing and genetic engineering that goes into these plant patties is almost unheard of.
We also don’t have enough data on how this type of food impacts people over the long-term to really say it’s any healthier than eating traditional ground beef burgers.
Some scientists also believe that Impossible foods’ key ingredient, Soy Leghemoglobin, has not been adequately tested for its long-term health impacts.
This is a mostly new food additive, so there’s no way to tell how it impacts people long term.
What can we do?
Processed food isn’t going anywhere.
It’s far too profitable and most people are too habituated to the convenience of it to make major lifestyle changes.
At the very least, though, we should strive to make our diets primarily real food, and keep processed products as an occasional indulgence.
One bag of Skittles or the occasional soda won’t kill you, but a diet primarily made up of processed foods will.
So even if we can’t stop the spread of processed foods, we can do our part to support ourselves and our communities by eating as much locally-produced whole food as possible.
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