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Want to be healthy? Eat Real Food

Want to be healthy? Eat Real Food!!

     Ultra-processed foods are killing us. They make us fat and more prone to disease.  

  Of course nobody ever thought spray cheese, chicken nuggets and chocolate cereal were great dietary sources. Judging from a major new study, however, a surprising number of people appear to have decided convenience (and possibly deliciousness) outweigh any risks. This study, commissioned by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada found that nearly half of the calories consumed by adults in Canada come from ultra-processed foods. Forty-seven per cent to be precise.

     That’s a pretty shocking number and the news gets even worse. Conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal, the study also suggests that the health risks from a diet rich in processed foods are likely far worse than we may have expected. It’s the first study of its kind to investigate the correlation between ultra-processed foods and incidences of high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, depression and Type 2 diabetes. And, as you can imagine, the results are not very good.

     To me this study is mind boggling. Almost half the population of this country are eating themselves into disease. It’s not just high blood pressure and obesity but these conditions lead to heart disease and cancer, the number 1 and number 2causes of death in our country. A poor diet leads to depression and the approximate figure in this country is that 20 per cent of our population suffer from mental illness. Chronic disease affects the quality of life of our whole population and it is frustrating that it is so preventable.

     Moubarac, assistant professor at the University’s Faculty of Medicine and lead author of the new study, as well as an investigator with the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center on Nutritional Changes and Development agrees that diet is the leading cause of chronic disease. Similar studies have been done in France, Spain and the United States with the exact same results.

     So which foods, exactly, qualify as ultra-processed? Almost everything we eat is processed to some extent, but ultra-processed foods are a different animal. Traditional processing involves taking agricultural products and cooking, fermenting and preserving them, whereas ultra-processed foods are a formulation of industrial ingredients and additives.

     And how can you tell the difference?  Ultra-processed foods are highly marketed and very bright and appealing. Think of a can of Coke or Pepsi, a bag of cookies or potato chips, a breakfast cereal with powerful colours and slogans and cute little cartoon characters. It’s all kinds of sweetened juices, ready meals, commercial cookies and cakes found in the middle isles of the grocery store, plus a lot of ultra -processed meats such as hot dogs and the packages of cold cuts hanging on pegs above them.

     Think of foods that are made by mixing up slurry of ground up bits of proteins and grains, seasoned with additives, then baked or fried into shapes that may resemble food. Fish sticks, poultry nuggets, fruit that can be rolled up, uniform-sized potato chips that stack in a can or cheese with no real texture. This lack of texture and substance, turns out, might be part of the reason ultra-processed foods are so much worse for us than other foods.

     I don’t know if any of you have tried a Beyond Meat Burger. It tastes just like a juicey hamburger but it is made primarily from pea protein. I found it to be tastier than any hamburger I ever ate and then I read the list of ingredients. After the natural plant protein ingredients came a litany of chemicals that somehow duplicate the taste of real meat. I was so disappointed because I felt good eating a plant protein burger but unfortunately a whole chemical factory came with it.

     A recent American study conducted by the National Institutes of Health established that people who ate highly processed foods ate more and, as a result, gained far more weight than those on a whole foods diet. They also had higher levels of hunger hormones and one possible explanation for that might be that because processed food is so easy to chew and eat quickly, the body just doesn’t have enough time to send out the stop-eating-I’m full hormone, known as leptin.

     Of course one study is not that conclusive. However, regardless of why we gain weight and get sick, we have clear indications that these middle-isle foods are the culprit and we need to start working on lowering the number from 47 per cent of our caloric intake to something a lot more reasonable. And it’s not just we eat, but what we don’t eat. Every calorie derived from nutritionally-poor sources is one not derived from nutritionally-rich whole foods.

      I would like to see children in public schools taught how to cook and to learn the value of fruits and vegetables and how to prepare them. I think hospital food should be nutritional and not low prices processed foods that fit into their low food budget. I would like to see all commercials for all the sugary children’s cereals and fruits and snacks removed from kids TV shows as they have done in Quebec. Unless our society starts preparing and cooking meals on a daily basis, the majority of our tax dollars will be spent on health care for a myriad of diseases.

We now have a new food guide that for the first time in our history is honest. No more pandering to the wheat farmers, the dairy farmers and the cattle industry. It is now plant based with good healthy nutrients and focussed on plants, fruits and vegetables. Yet, there have been many complaints that it is too expensive to follow the food guide.

     In Canada and the United States the number one leisure activity pastime is shopping in the mall. Next time you are wandering around the mall, think what will give you a better quality of life; that blouse or pair of shoes or good whole nutritious food.

     Follow the food guide and let it lead you to a healthy, happy and disease-resistant life. [print_link]