By Stephanie Haines
I’ve been reading lately about the industrial food industry. Specifically, processed food companies and chain restaurants design foods with a particular ratio of salt, sugar and fat in order to increase food cravings. This triple-threat combo renders us powerless to the addictive properties of these substances.
The fact that Big Food employs chemists to engineer what we eat sounds pretty creepy to me; food isn’t a science experiment. Keep in mind that at one time or another Nabisco, General Foods, and Kraft have all been owned by Phillip Morris — the tobacco behemoth. These people do not have your best interests at heart.
When we choose these foods we are gaining convenience but at the cost of our health. They are formulated to make you hungrier; they don’t really satisfy because they are calorie dense but nutrient poor. This leads to conditioned overeating— constant snacking, with no real idea of how much, or what exactly, is being consumed.
Snacking is a relatively new (and also American) concept, encouraged by Big Food. Decades ago it was not acceptable; meals were eaten at a table at certain times, not around the clock at desks, in classes and in cars. In other countries portions are smaller, and restaurants close between mealtimes. Eating is viewed elsewhere as it’s own activity, not something done mindlessly while multitasking.
What’s the solution? We need to do our own homework and not rely on the claims of the industries that are trying to get us to buy and eat more. First, completely eliminate from your life the most insidious inventions of the processed food industry — trans fats and everything hydrogenated. These have no place in the human diet.
Learn to navigate product labels — if there’s a bunch of stuff you can’t pronounce then it’s not good for you. Likewise, if you can’t tell what it is from just the back of the box or bottle then it shouldn’t go in your body. Mile-long ingredient lists are another red flag; as an example, real bread should only have about five things in it.
Ideally, you should shop in the perimeter of the grocery store, buying whole foods that don’t even have a label to begin with. Once you get rid of all the junk in your diet and get in the habit of eating real food then your taste buds can reset to the factory settings, without all the food cravings and compulsive over-consumption.
What do we do with all these raw materials? This is where education really comes in. We need to teach ourselves how to cook the old-fashioned way. I think this is a vital inclusion in the curricula of school children. How else will we combat the epidemics of obesity and diabetes unless we free the next generations from a dependence on processed foods?
I can imagine some budget-minded individuals might say that fresh foods are more expensive. But once you change your eating habits for the better then you won’t be eating all those empty calories, and you will find yourself buying less overall. Even if you do have to increase your grocery budget, isn’t it worth the investment for your long-term wellness? Wouldn’t it be cheaper than an increase in your health care costs?
Regular exercise and stress reduction round out this lifestyle change. You might have to take some things off your (metaphorical) plate in order to focus on what you put on your actual plate! It must be a priority to carve out time to prepare nourishing meals that will sustain us so that we can eat well to live well.
Stephanie Haines of Bloomington is a Greenfield native. She can be reached through her website, stephaniehaines.com.