Keep it Real! Avoid Processed Foods!
I LOVE FOOD! I may not be the most adventurous eater, but I do know that I love to eat. However, in this day and age of processed foods, what are we REALLY putting into our bodies? For those of you who don’t know what processed foods are, they are foods that have been altered from their natural state. Well, what does that mean? It means that many manufacturers use man-made ingredients that prolong a product’s shelf life. That’s why you see pre-packaged foods that stay fresh for months. Unfortunately, processed foods may have the opposite effect on peoples’ health. “Eat food in its most natural state,” says Dominique Clarke, MS, and Exercise Physiologist. But that’s easier said than done as processed foods are everywhere. One ugly fact is that you will often find trans fats in processed foods. However, food makers aren’t dummies. The term “hydrogenated” will often be used on the list of ingredients instead of the dreaded “trans fats”.
Also, (and this greatly upsets me), you’ll see marketing claims on foods that read, “no trans fats” when, in reality, the Food and Drug Administration allows food with up to a half-gram of trans fat per serving to be labeled as “trans fat free.” In addition to trans fats, many processed foods are made with saturated fats, and large amounts of sodium and sugar.
The following list of processed foods, commonly found in chain supermarkets, should be avoided. This list, of course, is definitely not all inclusive.
- Canned foods (lots of sodium)
- White breads and pastas made with refined white flour; eat whole grain breads and pastas instead!
- Packaged snack foods, such as chips and cheese snacks
- Frozen fish sticks and frozen dinners
- Packaged cakes and cookies
- Boxed meals
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Processed meats
The last one, processed meats, is especially scary. Eating these meats may increase your risk of colorectal, kidney and stomach cancer. Processed meats include foods such as hot dogs, bologna, sausage, ham and other packaged lunch meats.
Genetically Engineered (GE) crops, also known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), may soon contaminate the nation’s 25,000 organic farms and ranches. Genetically modified salmon and, more recently, alfalfa, have made big headlines in recent months; (this is another article all together). Talk about processed food!
I recently saw the following January 2011 online news item on www.delish.com. In the post written by Jolène Bouchon, the nonprofit organization, Consumer Wellness Center, recently released a video report on blueberry breakfast cereals, breads, and pastries; guess what’s missing in all these products: of all things; blueberries! According to the video report, many popular products, which show images of fresh blueberries on the package, contain not a single drop of the actual fruit. One product claiming to contain blueberries actually contained “Blueberry Flavored Crunchlets,” made of:
- corn cereal
- soybean oil
- modified corn starch
- natural and artificial flavor
- corn syrup
- red #40 lake
- blue #2 lake
The report names several offenders. It also names brands that contain something called blueberry fruit puree. However, this stuff is usually in a concentrated form and enhanced with high fructose corn syrup, “petrochemical colors,” and other worthless fillers. Unbelievable!
As I mentioned in my February Nutricula article, childhood obesity is a national epidemic! According to an article entitled; “Obesity in America 2010”, that was posted on www.msn.com, the goal of First Lady, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” effort against childhood obesity, is to bring the childhood obesity rate down to 5 percent or less by 2030. Preventing childhood obesity can be critical to preventing it in adults. One study, for example, found that 80 percent of 16-17 year old obese boys remained that way as adults — the figure was 92 percent for girls — while only 20 percent of normal weight children grew up to be obese. Obese children and adolescents are at risk for health problems during their youth AND as adults. Obese children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. This, of course, starts with the eating habits of our children.
Processed food is all around us though. How do you find foods that are truly healthy? For one, consider shopping at health food stores rather than chain supermarkets. Health food stores are everywhere now. These stores have fresh, organic foods, the highest quality vitamins and supplements, and a source of reliable nutrition information. If you are unsure of where to begin, there are plenty of online resources.
One of my favorites is the food pyramid website at www.foodpyramid.com. The “Healthy Eating Pyramid” was updated in 2008 and was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health. It is based on scientific evidence about the links between diet and health. It includes information on various diets, a comprehensive “Nutrition Facts” section, a plethora of information on supplements of all kinds, health articles, health tools, and even a section where you can customize your own pyramid.
Another fantastic resource is www.Tunies.com (health food store website). This content-rich website has it all – a Reference Library, Ingredient Glossary, Health Calculators, (such as BMI), Health Assessments, and a GREAT section on healthy recipes. It is a must-access website.
Supplements have become even more critical because of the proliferation of processed foods; you must have a “whole body” approach because consuming processed foods is almost inescapable in today’s world. Supplements are not only important for the body, but they are also essential for the mind. The demand for supplements that support cognitive health is skyrocketing. Although aging is associated with declining memory, the alarming news is that symptoms of cognitive deficiencies are occurring more frequently and are now being exhibited in younger age groups as well. As research develops, people are seeking a wide array of nutrients that can help boost brain function. My favorites for cognition are:
Fish Oil: Studies have shown that the Omega-3s found in fish oil helps prevent and fight Alzheimer’s disease and depression, among a myriad of other diseases and conditions. Omega-3s can be found in quality foods that have not been processed. However, the most beneficial form of Omega-3, containing 2 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – which are essential in preventing and fighting both physical and mental illness, can be found only in fish. “Fish oil reduces systemic inflammation which is key in preventing the development of some chronic illnesses including various cognitive maladies,” explains Clarke. Be sure to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.
Phosphatidylserine (PS): PS is the single most important building block nutrient for healthy, alive, and functional brain cells. It is now known that the loss of memory, cognitive skills, and the ability to concentrate can deteriorate as much as 50% over the course of a lifetime in people who are otherwise healthy. It is also known that as this cognitive decline occurs, there is a corresponding loss of healthy and functional nerve cells in the brain. PS is naturally found in every cell membrane in the body, but in very high amounts in cell membranes in the brain. PS is the key nutrient that regulates how brain cells work; it regulates which nutrients enter brain cells, how waste gets out of brain cells, and is essential for communication between brain cells via the flow of neurotransmitters. PS may improve:
- mental focus
- short-term memory
Citicoline: Citicoline has been tested extensively in clinical trials in the areas of memory, recognition, recall and cognition. Citicoline is a naturally occurring intermediate involved in the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine, a major constituent of the grey matter of brain tissue. The mechanism behind this benefit is well known. Citicoline is a molecule that consists of cytidine and choline joined together. It is almost completely absorbed when consumed. Once Citicoline is ingested, it is broken down into its component parts and these readily cross into the brain and central nervous system. Both components are incorporated into the phospholipid fraction of the membranes and microsomes. Once in the brain, Citicoline promotes brain metabolism by enhancing the synthesis of acetylcholine, restoring phospholipid content and supporting the normal functioning of neuronal membranes. For optimum results, I recommend the use of Cognizin® citicoline.
To stay in line with my “whole body” approach, I love the following supplements in an effort to bridge deficiencies in the diet:
With processed foods being so prevalent today, taking a daily multivitamin is a must. There are 13 essential vitamins, (A, C, D, E, K, B12, and the 7 B-complex vitamins), that regulate crucial body systems. For obvious reasons, we need to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your health care professional about which multivitamin is best for you.
Sulforaphane is a compound that occurs naturally in broccoli. Many phytochemicals, including sulforaphane, may help explain why diets rich in fruits and cruciferous vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of cancer and have antimicrobial and anti-diabetic qualities. Sulforaphane has also been shown to be a powerful antioxidant which reduces the damage to cells in the retina of the eye that come about with ageing. (See Kean Ashurst’s article on Sulforaphane appearing in this issue for more insight on this topic.)
Health professionals are quick to say; “health begins in the gut”. The intestinal tract is filled with an enormous number of beneficial bacteria called probiotic bacteria. They are called probiotic bacteria because the term “probiotic” means “for life,” as opposed to the term “antibiotic” which means “against life.” The body is designed to have a symbiotic relationship with these probiotic bacteria. Probiotics help to digest food, kill harmful microorganisms and assist us in functioning properly in many ways. You must have a large population of probiotic bacteria in the digestive tract in order to promote proper digestion, and keep harmful, disease-causing microorganisms at bay. If the ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is too low, the body will function poorly.
Finally- you’ve heard this a million times; “you must move your body!” Exercise is a MUST as part of your health and wellness regimen. Exercise not only helps you manage your weight, but it also improves mood, combats chronic diseases, (such as cardiovascular disease), SIGNIFICANTLY boosts energy, promotes quality sleep, and can dramatically improve libido. The challenge is- getting it done at least 4 times a week for 30-60 minutes. The secret to a long-term commitment to exercise is not to overdo it. So many people begin an exercise regimen with their hair on fire and end up blowing it all off because it became too intense. You need to start slow and gradually build your fitness level. When your fitness level increases, the exercise becomes easier, and you’ll begin to experience the benefits, and it will actually become fun. The key is to design a routine, (either by you or by a trainer), that will promote a long-term commitment—and this means FOREVER! If you are one of those people who truly hates to exercise, there still are little things that you can do to increase your physical activity. The next time you drive to your local market or health food store to shop for your natural, organic food, park in the back of the parking lot and walk! Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Avoid the remote control and change the channel yourself; (yes— actually get OFF the sofa!!!!) Take your pet for a walk. Work in the garden. Just get up and out and do things! There are many painless activities you can do to move your body.
When all is said and done, you have to be truly committed to your health and wellness regimen. In today’s world, there are so many landmines to avoid—and—how do you minimize your intake of processed foods? This is where a hardwired routine can really be an ally. At the end of the day, there are no excuses. If you want to live a vital, vibrant, long life, your actions will determine your level of commitment. I believe you can succeed. It’s time to get healthy. I know you can do this–so just do it!!!!Mark has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. Mark has written more than 250 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor’s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marklbecker/posts/387591877933686#!/marklbecker or http://www.facebook.com/marklbecker/posts/387591877933686#!/energyatlast. Follow Mark on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/becker_mark. For more information, access www.EnergyatLast.com.
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