Numerous articles are geared to the premise that processed food makes us overweight by addicting us to fat, sugar, and salt, contributing to the obesity crisis. Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food,” talks about big food companies, saying “The food they’re cooking is making people sick.” He advocates replacing “Big Food’s engineered edible evil” with fresh, unprocessed, local real food.
In concept, it makes perfect sense. But what some don’t realize is that this ‘real food’ can be fattening too if you don’t pay attention. Let’s check out a couple of ‘healthy’ product offerings at Whole Foods and Trader Joes.
- Vegan Cheesy Salad Booster, from Living Intentions, says that the ingredients such as sea vegetables are raw (not processed) with no GMOs. Unfortunately, it has three times more fat per ounce than a Big Mac and four times the sodium.
- Inner Peas is a snack food (also by Living Intentions) containing peas breaded in cornmeal and rice flour, fried in sunflower oil and sprinkled with salt. Unfortunately, the fat outweighs the protein by 6 times, plus there are far too many carbs to be considered a healthy snack. Inner Peas are 455 calories per serving for $1.49 while McDonald’s medium fries are 380 calories for $1.49.
Research shows that trimming calories in a meal by as much as 30% can be done without really noticing the change. Reducing a portion size and swapping out a few ingredients for higher fiber ones can (over time) help tip the scales in your favor. Sadly, price contributes to the obesity problems. A bag of potato chips (160 calories) is $3.50 while a box of kale chips (130 calories) is $8.00.
Average Americans still get 11% or more of their calories from fast food. Fast food became popular because it was tasty, convenient, and cheap, creating an ‘obese poor.’ But now, in response to vocal critics and the loss of increasingly health-conscious consumers, some fast food chains such as McDonalds have been slowly making healthy changes in their menus without a lot of fanfare. For example, did you know they’ve been substituting whole grain flour for refined flour in the Egg McMuffin? They dropped the Angus third-pounders and added a new line of quarter pound burgers on whole grain buns. They added an egg white wrap. They’ve reduced portion sizes, reduced fat and salt content by more than 10%, and added fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, and oatmeal. Burger King added a turkey burger to their line. Why aren’t you hearing this in their ads? Because their marketing people know that the fastest way to turn off eager eaters is to tell them something on their plate is ‘good for them!’ Is trimming 50 or 100 calories off their favorite fast food staples converting it to ‘healthy’ status? Of course not, but it’s a step in the right direction, and it may help a consumer eliminate a few hundred calories from their diet. And it shows that the foodies’ movement to push Big Food to offer healthier choices IS working and they ARE listening. So keep it up!
In short, food processing in and of itself does not make food unhealthy. It’s the INGREDIENTS and the AMOUNT of those ingredients. that do. Keep reading your labels – look at the calories, sodium, the fat, the carbs, and the sugar no matter how many ‘healthy’ claims may be on the front of the box!