So, what's the big deal? Food is food, right? In response to that, I would answer that food used to be food, but has become something different.
I consider food what we in fact should be, or were meant to be, eating. For thousands of years, humans ate whole foods. And by whole foods, I mean fish caught from the oceans and rivers, meat from wild animals and vegetables and grains harvested from the land. Now we go to a "food" store and find mainly packaged foods that have been manipulated and engineered and bear no resemblance to anything grown in or a part of nature. Why do we think this stuff is ok to eat?
One big reason is because the corporations tell us it is. They spend absurd amounts of money telling us we should have packaged dehydrated milk and cereal bars for breakfast, sandwiches with bologna and American cheese for lunch and shelf-stable chicken flavored pasta meals for dinner.
Oh, and don't forget about the desserts and snacks. Lots of snacks. Whenever the thought crosses our minds, we should reach for a pizza flavored pretzel nugget or, as the healthy option, a bright pink yogurt packaged in a portable squeeze pouch.
Not only do corporations tell us we should eat this stuff, they in many cases make the claim that it is actually good for us. Claims like "Good source of whole grain", "low-fat", and "all-natural" grace the packages of many of the packaged goods we see in the grocery stores. But please beware. A claim like that does not mean that a product is in fact good for you or healthy. Actually, as a general rule of thumb, I think it is a good idea to avoid foods that make health claims. To make a product low-fat or low-carb, the manufacturing facilities have replaced whatever they are taking out with extra sugar, fats, or other additives that make the product arguably more unhealthy for us than the original.
A piece of fresh fruit or a head of dark leafy greens does not need fancy packages flaunting health claims. When it comes down to it, these whole foods are by far the healthiest foods we can eat.
The next time you go grocery shopping, challenge yourself. Can you shop without buying any packaged foods? Ok, that may be a little too ambitious. No one is going to make their own hot sauce every time they want a few dashes on their eggs or curdle your own milk every time you want to use a few spoonfuls of ricotta cheese. Including me. So let's make a more realistic goal. Let's try cutting back. If packaged and processed foods make up 75% of your shopping cart, try cutting back to 50% this week. And 25% the next. And for those packaged foods that you do buy, be conscientious about what's in them. Make sure they contain only a handful of ingredients and be sure you can identify what those ingredients are.
Below are a couple of examples of "ok" packaged foods I always have in my kitchen:
- Organic Peanut Butter. Ingredients: organic dry roasted peanuts, salt. That's it. But not all peanut butters are created equal. Check the labels.
- Dried Pasta. One ingredient: durum wheat semolina
- Prepared Horseradish (hello, horseradish mashed potatoes!). Ingredients: horseradish, vinegar, salt
You get the idea.
It is definitely a shift in the way we think about shopping and eating, but it is a shift worth making. And without all those packaged ready-to-eat foods lying around, I bet you'll end up consuming less calories throughout the day, and the calories you are consuming will be more delicious, satisfying and nutritious. Give it a try. And let me know how it goes.
Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter Ingredients: Peanuts, Salt
Skippy Reduced Fat Peanut Butter: Roasted Peanuts, Corn Syrup Solids, Sugar, Soy Protein, Salt, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Cottenseed, Soybean and Rapeseed) to prevent separation, Mono and Diglycerides, Palm Oil, Minerals (Magnesium Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Ferric Orthophosphate, Copper Sulfate), Vitamins (Niacinamide, Pyridoxine Hydorcholide, Folic Acid)