Why “Avoid Processed Foods” is Bad Advice

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

Countless internet blogs preach about the dangers of processed food, how eating a diet with processed food will make you gain weight and your health will suffer. Yet anyone who writes this nonsense doesn’t understand the real definition of processed foods (and I bet large sums of money they eat many processed foods) and the benefits they provide.

A processed food is “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity (“food that is in its raw or natural state, including all fruits that are washed, colored, or otherwise treated in their unpeeled natural form prior to marketing”) and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling (1, 2).” Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, livestock – these are all agricultural commodities. And therefore, all of the following are processed foods: frozen broccoli, frozen chicken breast, dried beans, dried pumpkins seeds. Who in their right mind would dare say any of these foods are harmful or will make you pack on the pounds? Someone who has no clue what they are talking about. Not to mention there are many reasons why processed food are healthy:

Versatility

If you want to get a wide array of nutrients and healthy plant compounds (such as antioxidants) you should eat a wide variety of foods. If you take all processed foods out of your diet you’ll only eat what is in season and hasn’t been altered.

Value

Dried beans, oatmeal and rice are processed foods that are very affordable. All cost pennies per serving (about 15 cents for a serving of brown rice). Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are another great example of affordable foods that are picked at their peak of ripeness, preserving nutrition value and flavor. In addition, 100% juice is a bargain, thanks to food processing.

Concord Grapes
Concord Grapes
Welch's 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes
Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see a Concord grape farm – where they grow and   process the grapes into Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. Nothing is wasted during this process. The Concord grapes are crushed – skin, seeds and all (so more of the grape is in the bottle) – and heated to release healthy polyphenols (plant based compounds) straight from the grape into the juice. In fact, 40 whole Concord grapes are in every 8 oz. serving of Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. This is important because over a decade of research indicates that, thanks to the Concord grape, 100% grape juice made from these grapes helps support a healthy heart. Because the Concord grape harvest season is very short, lasting approximately 12 weeks, juice processing delivers the benefits of Concord grapes to us year round.

I consider all of these processed foods a good nutrition bargain. Plus, you may end up with less food waste, thanks to a longer shelf life, if you buy canned and frozen produce and poultry as well as 100% juice.

Convenience

In between long days and traveling, there are days I like meals that take me 5 minutes or less to throw together (not to mention if I’m hungry I want to eat asap). Frozen and canned foods allow me to do this. Steamed vegetables? They take about 7 minutes in my stovetop steamer. Canned? Less than 1 minute to open the can (because sometimes I don’t even heat them up). Frozen chicken breast? Perfect, I don’t have to go by the grocery store late at night if there is nothing in my fridge.

So the next time you hear someone say you should eat fewer processed foods, ask them to define “processed food.” And if you read it in a blog, move on to nutrition advice grounded in science.

Disclosure: I am an advisory board member of family-farmer owned Welch’s.

1) 21 U.S.C. United States Code, 2010 Edition, Title 21 – Food and Drugs. Chapter 9 – Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Subchapter II – Definitions.

2) SEC. 201. [21 U.S.C. 321]. CHAPTER II—DEFINITIONS 1.

Back to School Begins with Breakfast

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

When it comes to learning, breakfast may be just as important as taking notes in class and completing assigned homework. A good diet actually changes the brain by creating more brain cells, strengthening communication between cells, and improving blood flow which leads to more glucose and oxygen delivery to the brain. What does this mean for students? A growing body of research shows kids who eat breakfast have:

  • more energy
  • better memory
  • improved problem-solving skills
  • improved mathematics skills
  • better scores on standardized tests

Yet statistics show up to 40% of kids and teens skip this meal. How can you serve a nutritious meal in a hurry? Check out my tips from today’s segment on Channel 8’s Let’s Talk Live

Eat to Beat the Cold and Flu

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

It’s October which means people are running around panicking about getting their flu shot and worried about getting sick. (for all of you on the go people, I recommend concourse C of the Atlanta airport – yes, they are giving out flu shots in the airport). And what’s perplexing to me is that people miss some of the most obvious ways to prevent themselves from getting sick:

1) wash your hands and wash them often (soap up for 20 seconds)
2) get a new toothbrush every 3 months
3) stay away from sick people
Simple right? And a few more simple things you can do to keep yourself healthy:
4) get enough protein to keep your immune system functioning ship shape
5) drink 4 or more glasses of milk or fortified soy milk daily or take a vitamin D supplement
Yes, you can get vitamin D from other foods but even then it’s hard to meet your daily needs. Why worry about D? According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, of the 19,000 people examined, those with the lowest levels of vitamin D were more likely to report a recent upper respiratory infection. And vitamin D is one of those micronutrients that many of us fall short on.
Easy right? Now put this plan to action (especially the hand washing part).

Making Smart Food Choices

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

Do you ever have problems picking out food? You read the food label, glance through the ingredients list and take a look at the package but still feel stumped from time to time. Should you pay a premium for “natural”? (answer: no, it has no formal meaning). What about organic? Fully hydrogenated oils? HFCS?

When it comes to avoiding certain ingredients like partially hydrogenated oils, the easiest thing to do is shop at Whole Foods (if you just don’t want to think about it). And, coming soon, you can also look for the Smart Choices label, created to help you sort through the supermarket maze. A whooping 500 products have already qualified for the Smart Choices label.

No healthy labeling system will meet the strictest of standards and please everyone but, we are talking about the masses here – people who can improve their health and lose weight just by making some simple switches.

If you’d like to learn more about the Smart Choices program, check out: http://www.smartchoicesprogram.com/

Putting Yourself First

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

As a master’s student I co-coordinated a 6-month weight loss intervention study. Little did I know how much work it would be or what I was getting myself into. Before that point I had no real knowledge of obesity beyond the role that various types of food and a lack of physical activity play in this disease. But, I quickly found out that very few of my 120 participants were able to focus on the diet I was giving them because life got in the way. All were women and none of them carved out enough time to take care of themselves. The classes were free, the fitness sessions were free and when I called them at home to ask where their 3-day diet records were (my thesis depended on the data) I often ended up on the phone for a very lengthy period of time listening to their life issues. I bought a book on Food and Mood to educate myself then realized that I, as a single 24 year old who was only responsible to myself, my professor and the athletic department I worked in, was teaching women twice my age that they needed to prioritize themselves. They often responded about how they had to take care of their husbands, their kids were in tons of activities and they had to volunteer all over town. My job became more about convincing them why they needed to put themselves and their health first to be a better wife, mom, co-worker and daughter rather than teaching them about portion control and macronutrients. I begged them for diet records, listened to their stories like a counselor would and encouraged them to take control of their health. Even at that age I was convinced that better health would help them solve some of their issues and make them happier in general.

Over those months I spent measuring participants, teaching them and writing my thesis, I learned a lot about various ways to measure body composition, the bone turnover cycle and factors that impact bone health. But, the biggest lesson I learned was that many women don’t put themselves first. As Beyonce says “If I were a boy….I’d put myself first”…. something I think all moms should consider on this Mother’s Day. Not just for a day, or just for a week but forever. Put your health on your top priority list and you just might find that you are teaching your children valuable life lessons at the same time and gaining a new leash on life in the process.

Celebrate Earth Day with Good Nutrition

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

Earth Day is officially tomorrow but many stores are considering this Earth week with sales on organic products, green cleaning products and even seeds (Home Depot). So how can you add a little green to your life this earth day? Here are a few tips:

1) Grow your own (pesticide free) food. Even if you buy the tomato kits for $10 you’ll save money, eat fewer chemicals and enjoy eating something from your garden (or back deck in the case of the hanging tomato plants). Planting an edible garden is a great activity for kids too!

2) Buy locally. By doing so you are helping support local farmers and decreasing fuel costs (think about the gas it takes to ship produce across the country versus going to your local farmer).

3) Find organic food near you: http://www.localharvest.org/

4) Eat more vegetarian based meals. I’m not telling you to go meat-less but just eat some meals meat-free or add more vegetarian sources of protein throughout the day.

5) Think twice about single serving packs and buy in bulk (unless you have issues with portion control).

6) Bike, walk or share a ride. Don’t do what I did as a child and sit on the seat while my older brother stood up and pedaled his dirt bike.

7) Buy green cleaning products and avoid exposure to some nasty chemicals.

8) Throw out less food. No, this isn’t a license to stuff your face. But, put less on your plate to begin with and save the leftovers.

9) Unplug your appliances after using them. Coffee pots, toaster ovens, blenders – unplug them all while not in use.

10) Re-use those little plastic bags from your grocery store or bring your own cloth ones.

11) Try batch cooking. Yes, you can feed an army or you can just refrigerate and freeze some for later. Less dishes, less mess, quicker food prep.

Alright, I’m off to go hug a tree now and plant catnip for our neighborhood cats.

Go Green but Skip the Beer this St. Patrick’s Day

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

This St. Patrick’s day I saw green hats, green things sticking up from people’s hair, green wigs, green attire and.. you get the drift. I’m sure plenty of Guinness, Irish coffee and soda bread, eggs, ham and other typical St. Patty’s day food and drinks were also consumed. But, when I think green, it isn’t green beer but instead green as in produce, vegetables, stuff that grows from the ground and isn’t processed. The kind of stuff that seems to be missing from the diets of most people I talk to. They run down their intake for the day and the first thing I’m thinking is “where’s the produce?” And sadly enough, sometimes there is nothing but processed food at each meal and it’s a challenge to get them to eat a bit cleaner and greener.

So this St. Patrick’s Day I urge you to think green year round and start eating green as well.

Potato Chips and Heart Disease?

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

Sure potato chips aren’t exactly a health food (though I did see sweet potato chips with 50% DV vitamin A today). But, here’s another twist on some tasty snacks – potato chips, fries and baked goods contain a substance formed during cooking that could not only be carcinogenic but may increase your risk of developing heart disease.

Scientists have known for quite some time that acrylamides, chemical compounds formed when carbohydrate-rich food is baked or fried at a high temperature, are potentially carcinogenic. The worst offender: French fries. Potato chips are next followed by canned black olives (oddly enough). Even breakfast cereals have some acrylamides in them.

For years the World Health Organization and other health groups have discussed the potential health risks associated with acrylamides. Now, however, there’s a new one and it is already the #1 cause of death in men and women in the U.S. – heart disease. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects who ingested fairly significant quantities of potato chips for 4 weeks had adverse changes in various cardiovascular risk factors including oxidized LDL and inflammatory markers. Longer term studies examining food intake and cardiovascular disease are likely to get underway in coming years.

So what can you do to avoid acrylamides? Minimize your consumption of foods like potato chips, french fries and those burnt pie crusts or cookies. Oh, and quit smoking – yes, smoking is a major source of acrylamide exposure.

As a kid I loved the burnt pie crust, the darker parts of the crust on bread, and of course, potato chips. Over the years I learned that those certainly weren’t the best foods for me so I’ve cut them down dramatically. Luckily, I’ve cut down my acrylamide exposure as well.

Inflammation and Fatigue?

Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this pageDigg thisEmail this to someoneFlattr the authorShare on StumbleUponShare on Reddit

Have you ever wondered why there are so many diagnosed cases of things like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia then there were 20 years ago? It seems as if every time I turn around someone I know has one of these illnesses that have fatigue as a component (among a hodgepodge of other vague symptoms). Why are their bodies revolting against them and how come there seems to be no cure? What causes these syndromes and illnesses anyway?

New animal research shows a connection between the brain and the immune system. Using mice as subjects, scientists found that immune cells made their way into the brain after various body organs became inflamed (keep in mind that the skin is an organ). This means that inflammation that starts one place could migrate it’s way to the brain causing fatigue, lack of desire to socialize, depression etc. Interestingly enough, when the researchers blocked the migration of immune cells into the brain, they found that the mice no longer exhibited those classical symptoms of fatigue indicating that the root cause could be inflammation elsewhere in the body.

What does this mean for you? Excess inflammation may lead to fatigue. Therefore, it is important to eat an anti-inflammatory diet loaded with fatty fish and produce (berries in particular) while avoiding some of those foods that cause inflammation including a diet rich in omega 6s (at the expense of omega 3s), fried foods, man made trans fats, and a high sugar diet.