Processed Food and Obesity

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I have a gluten allergy, which makes pizza possible since they make them gluten-free, but. I also have diabetes and am careful about what I put in my mouth. These days I am trying, with the advice of my dietitian, to lower my total grams of carbs in a day. And I mean bellow what is usually recommended. Why? Some science supports a highly modified keto diet if you want to understand it that way. It is also a back to the future approach before most of the drugs allowed people to live longer and eat more normally. Let’s be clear about this, back in the day diabetics did not even have carrots.

So a friend brought some commercial gluten-free pizza. It was three of them, in fact. Two of Amy’s “personal” pizzas, and a California kitchen pizza. And here is the problem with the personal pizzas. They come in at 450 and 500 calories, and 50 and 55 carb grams. They are not personal pizzas. However, they tell me one is a portion. After I finished laughing back to the fridge they went.

They also have a crust based on rice flour. I might as well get a spoonful of sugar. Like most processed foods, they are designed to do that, because you cannot eat just one... The California Pizza Kitchen came down to 300 calories and 28 grams for a portion. It’s also cauliflower-based, giving you a lower glycemic value and perhaps some fiber. It was a welcomed break on a day I had no time to cook, or more like desire. A slice and a tomato-cucumber salad was plenty of food. However, that pizza was carefully balanced with fats and other things to make most people want to eat more. This is the paradigm of the fast-food industry and it may be as bad as smoking.

I am aware, which is another reason we avoid processed in the aisle food.

One of the reasons we have an obesity epidemic is this little fact. Personal portions of a lot of food have grown over the last thirty years. It’s the mentality of getting your dollar’s worth. This is why a bagel is double what it was in 1980. This is also why I cut mine in half. It is the same with a lot of other foods. Whether it is the muffins, double the size, the supersized fries at the fast food place, or even what Americans think is a fruit portion. Those lunch bag apples are a portion, anything larger is more than one. In fact, Those Amy’s pizzas are a perfect example of the problem.

Then there are the drinks at the insert national coffee chain here. I usually have tea, black tea, or coffee. I add a tad of half and half. However, I used to be a member of the non-fat large latte…which averages at 250 calories. Don’t get me started on the rest of the specialty drinks, which are far, far worse In the calorie department. They are good, and having a small one, as I rarely do, is a nice snack. A large one is not only going to spike my sugars, but it is a meal in a glass. So if you are having one, with your lunch afterward, forget about it. You just ate half of your calories in one sitting. In other words, it’s easy to drink your calories and then some.

And then we get into salt content and fat. Most processed food tends to rely on the triad of fat, sugar, and salt to make you want more. They also have a lot of added sugar, which will spike your blood sugar starting a chain reaction in your body. It goes up so fast that your body at times can have issues with it. If you are a diabetic, your blood sugar will go up to unsafe levels. If you are sensitive to it, as I am, I can feel it. Your body naturally releases insulin, and when those higher than normal blood sugars crash, you get hungry. Why after a cereal bowl for breakfast you are hungry by ten. Try a meal with protein. A couple of eggs, with half a bagel are a good meal that will keep you full longer.

You need to stop just buying food from the shelf, and you should start reading labels. Once you do, how you shop should change.

How to Shop

We try to avoid processed foods for most of our meals. So I have developed strategies for the supermarket. Most of what we need is found on the perimeter of the store. This means fruits, veggies, dairy, a source of animal protein. We can also find some bread. The ones in the bakery department have fewer food preservatives than the ones in the middle aisle. It makes sense to avoid those national brands as much as you can. I also can find some gluten-free bread for me. And even with that, I am choosy. It does not just need to taste good, but also have fiber and mostly avoid a lot of rice.

I also know that fruits and veggies have phytonutrients my body needs. Since I am cooking at home, there is far less nutrient loss that way. We also look for less fatty meats, it is just better for you. However, a nice steak from time to time is nice. This does not mean we completely avoid processed foods. After all, cheese is processed by definition. Some things, like pickles or Kim Chee, are good for you. They have probiotics, and we are increasingly finding their importance in the human diet.

Which brings me to yogurt. It’s good for you…but. Some of the commercial brands have so much added sugar that you might as well have a spoonful of sugar. So watch what you eat and read labels. It is always a good idea to read them anyway. But with some foods, such as yogurt, this is critical. These days I buy natural nonfat, nothing added, Bulgarian style yogurt. I have yet to find the equivalent in the Greek style, which has more protein.

When I buy bread there are two things I look for. My husband likes his bagels for his work sandwich. And I have found a few good gluten-free breads. I am aware that those tend to have more simple carbs than wheat-based bread. It has to do with what is used to bake them. Many use rice as the base, which makes them not that good for you. Why if you have no gluten intolerance or celiacs, really, enjoy a good brioche ok. Take a slice of good style Rye bread, and remember those of us who cannot for medical reasons.

Now, this does not mean we do not buy any processed foods. My husband likes cold cuts for his sandwiches, and at times I use them for a salad. And we like good cheese. However, we avoid most of the highly processed soups and canned stuff. I will get some tomatoes from time to time, and yes, beans. Why beans? They are good for you and are a pain to cook, especially for one person. But I do not get chips, or for that matter highly processed snacked cakes or cookies. However, my husband likes his ice cream, but I rarely, if ever, get any of it.

If you want to do yourself a favor, and you think you are addicted to sugar, or carbs, avoid the inside of the supermarket. The cookies, cakes, pastries, ice cream et al, are not the best for you. If a family member still likes them, don’t pick a fight, it is not about them, it is about you.

You can still gain weight from eating from the outside of the supermarket. Calories are what they are. but highly processed foods will have more of a punch. And something like avocado will also have fiber and is not the worst thing you could eat. Some processed foods will have the same exact calories, but not the nutrients. This is why they are called empty calories.

These foods are fairly new in human history. We have eaten what is best described as peasant foods for untold generations. And as many of the highly processed foods have been reformulated, it’s not been for the better. We live in a country that has a lot of empty calories in the shelves. Avoid them

This also brings me to my place in the world. I am privileged to have a store near where I live, where I can pick up healthy food choices. However, not everybody has the time, or for that matter, the stores nearby to do this. We need to get rid of food deserts and we need to create ways for people who work three jobs to get healthy food that is not highly processed. We need it as a national priority. Why? We are paying for this in more human suffering and higher rates of diseases such as diabetes.

This also starts with the school lunch, and recent policy changes by the Trump administration are going to lead to more disease and suffering. However, short term, some people are making a killing.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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