All you have to do is visit any supermarket today and you’ll see shelves lined with hundreds of items that just a few decades ago would have scarcely been recognized as food.
- Yogurt in a tube
- Pasteurized processed cheese food
- Cheese in a CO2 can
Then you have what is said to be healthy food:
- Margarine fortified with omega-3 fatty acids
- Breads and milk pumped full of extra vitamins and minerals
- Soda that tastes sweet but has zero calories
- Multivitamins that provide us with ten times the amount of the vitamins and minerals we need each day
- Lab-designed meal replacement shakes for any diet you happen to be on
Much of the food people buy these days is so loaded with preservatives that it will never even rot! With all of this high-tech food available, it seems like we should be healthier than ever. You can walk into the health section of any bookstore and find hundreds of options promising to solve all your problems with the latest and greatest diet approach.
And yet rates of obesity in adults and children continue to grow, raising the risk of serious diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. It’s said that our generation might be the first that fails to outlive its parents.
Food used to be simple. Tens of thousands of years ago, before the development of agriculture, our ancestors hunted and gathered. Nuts, legumes, roots, fruits, vegetables, meat when it was available, and little else. There were no artificial preservatives, and most ways of preserving food had not been discovered. We ate what we acquired quickly before it could rot or be stolen by another human being or animal because the next meal was rarely a sure thing. Not anymore.
Now consume sugar in ultra-concentrated syrups, such as those found in most sodas and almost any packaged dessert, and in our breakfast cereal, bread, muffins, bagels, salad dressings, ketchup, barbecue sauce, pasta sauce, applesauce, yogurt, soup, pretzels, chicken strips, and sports drinks—oh yeah, and in our medicine. And we wonder why we can’t lose weight.
Grains are one of the most common refined foods. Wheat, for example, is usually stripped of the fibrous, nutrient-rich bran before being ground into the pure white flour that makes so many of our breads, bagels, and pastas—similar to white rice, which is brown before processing. The removed fiber and nutrients are what is supposed to fill us up to regulate how much we can eat. Without them, though, we get no such stop sign. Many “foods” are nothing but assemblies of many not-quite-foods that have been processed and combined with artificial ingredients. Look at the ingredients in most popular snack foods or sodas.
There’s nothing there that’s even close to a whole food!
Processed Foods: First, the act of processing alters the vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content of the foods. Whether we’re talking about grains such as wheat or corn, beans such as soy, or dairy such as milk, some if not most nutrients are lost in the processing. Second, you lose the fiber, and given how little fiber we eat already, that might be the most serious loss of a nutrient. Fiber acts as a prebiotic to feed the microbes in our gut and helps with feeling hungry and digestion. Breads, pastas, rolls, bagels, and every other processed food that uses grains come up short. I’ll add one more to the list which is probiotics. Processing destroys the good bacteria that are valuable to our health. It isn’t just what we are getting in processed foods that harmful; it’s what we’re not getting that compounds the problem.