It may seem obvious to choose real, whole foods over processed foods, but unfortunately most people are still drawn to the (supposedly) easy option of a quick fix, foods that tickle the tastebuds and draw us into a state known as the “bliss point”, which is the term that food scientists use to hook us into eating more of the foods that they create.
We may think we are getting enough of a balanced diet if we choose a variety of these different foods, particularly if they have been “fortified” with vitamins that they would not otherwise contain. And, of course, many foods and drinks boast that they provide your “5 a day” (even ketchup!) or use “natural” flavourings, which makes us believe that they are healthier than they actually are.
But the truth is that processed foods really hold no comparison to real foods – and here’s why:
- Nutrient Density – real food provides essential nutrients that your body requires for optimal health such as vital vitamins and minerals. Animal based foods, in particular, provide vitamins in a bio-available form that is readily accessible for us to assimilate. They also provide many essential vitamins such as B12, K2 and retinol, for example, that plant foods cannot provide us with. Protein, fat and carbohydrate remain in their natural, un-tampered state, whereas processed foods are often a combination of carbohydrate and fat, which rarely occurs in nature, (nuts and full fat dairy are an example of this combination – and both are known for their contribution to weight gain when consumed in excess) and this can create hormonal issues, which contribute to problems such as fat storage, weight gain, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, obesity and other health issues.
- Economical – real foods are not actually more expensive than the so-called “cheap” option. If you take a look at your shopping basket and remove the unnecessary items that provide no nutrition, such as cakes, biscuits, crisps, sodas etc you would find that replacing them with fresh, whole foods will cost you less in the long term – especially considering that you will feel fuller for longer and have no need for those snacks in between meals. If you can’t afford organic then don’t stress about it – eating non-organic unprocessed food is far more healthy than the processed option!
- Low Sugar – especially if you limit consumption of fruit, which is seasonal and should only be eaten in small amounts during the summer months. Eating less starchy foods, such as potatoes and rice, will also help to reduce your blood glucose, which is important for those with conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced Inflammation – eating foods which are high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory, is protective. Fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and herring are excellent sources of omega 3. In contrast, high omega 6 products such as highly processed vegetable and seed oils are toxic and pro-inflammatory, and contribute to systemic inflammation.
- Environmentally Friendly – this is particularly true if you buy locally, and in season. Shipping fruits, vegetables, grains etc around the world is contributing massively to increased use of fossil fuels. The insecticides and chemical fertilisers we use are destroying the soil, greenhouse gases from factories producing processed foods are affecting the climate, and plastic packaging is now filling our planet on both land and sea, destroying wildlife and the very fabric of the earth. Think about where your food comes from: Does it travel miles across the world to get to you? Is it grown as a mono-crop? Is it contributing to the destruction of the rainforests? Are you eating it out of season? Does it come in plastic packaging that ends up in landfill? Is it factory farmed? (both land animals and fish). Is it organic?
- Supporting Local Farmers – eating real food means that you are helping to support those people who are working hard to make a living supplying us with good, healthy, wholesome food. The more we can buy food from local farmers the more the price will eventually come down. Sustainable, regenerative farming helps to restore soil composition, which, in turn, keeps the planet healthy enough to keep producing food. Industrialised mono-cropping destroys the soil until it becomes a desert and unable to grow anything further – it is a wasteland. This is not conducive to feeding a growing world population.
- Low Carb – choosing real foods that are lower in carbohydrate content will also help keep blood sugar levels and insulin under control, thus preventing – and reversing – conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Eating meats, fish, eggs, dairy, green veg and a small amount of berries and nuts has been demonstrated to improve health markers for many common diseases of our modern lifestyle.
- Healthier Skin – eating healthy fats such as lard, tallow, butter, ghee, avocados and olives provide nourishment for the skin and eliminate dryness. Eating collagen also helps increase elasticity in the skin, whilst also providing benefits for hair, nails, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bones, and the gut bacteria.
- Lower Triglycerides – blood triglycerides are the fats that are found in the blood. A high carbohydrate and processed food diet promotes high triglycerides due to raised insulin levels, which promotes fat storage. A diet that is low in processed foods, and high in protein, healthy fats and low carb fruits and vegetables helps to keep insulin low and prevent fat storage, keeping triglycerides low.
- Improved Dental Health – foods that are naturally low in starchy carbohydrates and sugar do not cause tooth decay. Processed foods, sugary drinks and acid producing foods feed the bacteria in the mouth, causing cavities, gingivitis and bleeding gums. Poor oral health is linked to poor gut health, resulting in conditions such as intestinal permeability.
- Combat Cravings – the less sweet foods you consume, the less you crave them. To completely get rid of cravings it is necessary to omit all sweet foods. Although this can feel difficult in the beginning, in reality it only takes a week or two to achieve.
- Realigned Tastebuds – once you start to eat real foods and eliminate processed foods from your diet, your tastebuds begin to readjust. Processed foods can hijack our taste because the foods are chemically programmed to induce a “bliss” factor, whereupon we continue to eat the food, despite reaching satiety – in fact our hormones are affected so much that we don’t even recognise the feeling of satiation any more. Real foods become dull in comparison. Once you ditch the processed foods, your tastebuds start to recognise natural sweetness in fruits, for example, and the delicious, natural taste of roasted meat, cheese, grilled salmon etc without all the hidden flavourings designed to keep us coming back for more.
- Easy Weight Loss – eating real food is more likely to see you lose fat without dieting. Ditching the processed foods will allow your body to reset its hormones; leptin and ghrelin (hunger and satiety), insulin and glucagon (fat storage and lipolysis) start working properly, and you stop overeating. Eating real foods will keep you feeling satisfied for longer and eliminate the need for snacking.
- More Energy – who doesn’t want more energy? We rely on processed foods such as energy drinks and snack bars to give us a “quick fix”, but once you attune your body to the nutrients that it really needs you no longer need to reach for these crutches. Giving your body the food that it needs – and deserves – means that it will pay you back dividends in energy and health.
The challenge this month is to eat real foods – can you do it?!
Post your success stories!