Ep. 22 – Why you should ditch the packaged food

PACKAGED = PROCESSED.

Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs.

I recently watched what was probably too many hours of documentaries on processed foods and sugar in foods available at our supermarkets. The extra information I've collected, has made me extra weary of packaged foods, and food labels.

I've always been somewhat of a health nut. My body is made up of 98% fruit, and I buy that same amount of my groceries in the produce section. I stay away from most packaged cookies, cakes, candy and ready made meals. I eat very little bread-y things, like french baguettes, but when I do, I take the whole-grain, cereal kind. I check the ingredients and nutrition labels 100% of the time.

Yet, there's still times that I'm cautious about the names of ingredients that non-scientists are unable to understand, e.g. hidden sugar, hidden preservatives, hidden anything. Transparency can be, and is, a big issue in the food industry. We don't always know what we're eating, despite some of our best efforts to inform ourselves.

I feel lucky, because France (and Europe in general) has a lot of governmental policies about how food is made, and we're not exposed to as many products with High Fructose Corn Syrup, for example. Many very unhealthy ingredients have been removed from the food chain process (and cosmetics), being deemed too unhealthy, or dangerous for people's health. And during my last visit to the States, and the documentaries I watched, I quickly and easily realised that grocery shopping in the US and grocery shopping in France, is two completely different things.

Think of every "disgusting"-product-which-should-never-have-been-invented-in-the-first-place item in your american grocery store you can think of. Here in France, we don't have it. Pop tarts (delicious, but highly unhealthy) and cheese in spray can (sacrilege, the French would protest in the streets for months until it got banned until the end of time), are the first ones that come to my mind.

But even seemingly normally healthy foods like cereal and yogurt, can be misleading. A product can even be marketed as "healthy", and have 10g of sugar per serving. And how can we buy cereals, which are primarily served to children by parents, which enable them eat 100% of their daily recommended amount of sugar in a single sitting? How is this even allowed??

CALL IT HOW YOU EAT IT

There is around 61 different names for sugar on food labels: Agave nectar, Barbados sugar, Barley malt, Barley malt syrup, Beet sugar, Brown sugar, Buttered syrup, Cane juice, Cane juice crystals, Cane sugar, Caramel, Carob syrup, Castor sugar, Coconut palm sugar, Coconut sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Date sugar, Dehydrated cane juice, Demerara sugar, Dextrin, Dextrose, Evaporated cane juice, Free-flowing brown sugars, Fructose, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Glucose, Glucose solids, Golden sugar, Golden syrup, Grape sugar, HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup), Honey, Icing sugar, Invert sugar, Malt

syrup, Maltodextrin, Maltol, Maltose, Mannose, Maple syrup, Molasses, Muscovado, Palm sugar, Panocha, Powdered sugar, Raw sugar, Refiner’s syrup, Rice syrup, Saccharose, Sorghum Syrup, Sucrose, Sugar (granulated), Sweet Sorghum, Syrup, Treacle, Turbinado sugar, Yellow sugar.

One too many (or sixty), I’d say.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food producers to list all ingredients in their foods. But added sugar comes in many forms – which is why it’s so hard to find on the ingredients label. And while the product labels list total sugar content, manufacturers don’t have to say whether that’s added sugar or naturally occurring sugar, like in fruit, or milk.

What’s more, unlike salt and fats that are added to foods, nutrition labels don’t provide you with a daily reference value for added sugar. This is very practical for those who feel obligated to throw in a ridiculous amount of sugar in their products, in order to make it cheaper, more addictive, and last longer on the shelves.

But even if they won’t print the facts, some will. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (38 grams) of added sugar per day for men, and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women. The AHA limits for children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range between 3-6 teaspoons (12 – 25 grams) per day. Remember this is for healthy men, women and children. And with a 35% obesity rate in the US – and that’s not even counting those in the “overweight” category – maybe those numbers should be even lower.

Get food where it naturally comes from: from trees and from plants. Click To Tweet

I could go on and on about this topic (because of my obsession for health and watching of food documentaries). But long story short, there's one thing that can make everyone eat healthier in a split second: spend more time shopping in the produce section. Seriously. Get food where it naturally comes from: from trees and from plants. Aim to buy as little packaged goods as you humanly can. And for the case of meat, please for the love of god, buy the grass fed kind, and don't see it as a necessity at each and every meal - view it as a luxury, at two or three meals per week.

This is the only way you're going to be sure you won't be unknowingly eating unhealthy added sugars, preservatives, fats or hormones.

In case you're still not inspired enough to cut out more of the processed foods from your daily diet, here are a few things you can watch: Sugar... it's no so sweet by Calgary Avansino for TEDSugar and Processed Foods ABC News ReportEat for real change by Dr Joanna McMillan ,  and most of all : The Secrets of Sugar - the fifth estate.

What do you guys think? What's your view on over-processed foods?