Day 15 of the 31 Days of Wellness.
Leigh Garcia, an undergraduate student at University of Pennsylvania, has been an outspoken voice for improved nutrition and health, and has her own blog, Paleo at Penn. Her guest entry today centers on a very basic fact many have neglected to remember: to maintain good health, simply eat real food. Real food comes from the ground, is not in a bag, can, or box, and has one (1) ingredient…the real food item. Period. If we could gravitate back to this thinking, we would be taking the first step in the right direction to taking control of the obesity epidemic that has us all doomed. Enjoy Leigh’s contribution, and follow her blog.
It’s the new year, and people all over the world have made resolutions to lose weight and/or eat healthier. As many of you know, however, these resolutions are much easier said than done—it’s so much easier to eat something out of a box or bag than to cook or find fresh ingredients. It’s also a lot easier to let big food corporations tell us what is or isn’t healthy; if a package says that a food is nutritious, the manufacturers couldn’t possibly be lying to us… right?
The next time you walk into the supermarket, go down the cereal aisle and look at all of the colorful boxes with pictures of silly cartoon characters or smiling children, and notice how they nearly all make nutritional claims. Fortified with vitamins! No trans fats! Naturally flavored! No high fructose corn syrup! Those may sound potentially healthy, but have you ever looked at the mile-long ingredient lists or noticed how much sugar each box has? According to the book Cerealizing America, the cereal industry alone uses 816 million pounds of sugar every year! We know that sugar is toxic, and we know that foods high in sugar cause weight gain and other health problems, yet so many people believe these supposed health benefits written in big lettering on boxes and packages! Don’t fall for that trap. In the words of an article from the Journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, “There is no such thing as healthy ultra-processed foods. By their very nature they are unhealthy… [and] may well accelerate the deterioration of public goods and public health.”
These marketing tools are used everywhere—granola bars, soft drinks (such as Diet Cherry 7Up Antioxidant), chips, Pop-Tarts (“Good source of vitamins & minerals”), and, most recently, Girl Scout cookies. That’s right: the newest Girl Scout cookie (which will be released this cookie season), Mango Cremes with NutriFusion™, claims health benefits such as 15% RDI of Vitamin B1 and 5% RDI of Vitamins A, C, D, E, and B6. Before you go off and eat a box, realize that these “health benefits” are just a mask for the 25g of carbohydrates and 11 grams of sugar per three cookies and the long list of ingredients (containing the ambiguous “natural and artificial flavor”).
Instead of buying these supposedly “nutritious” foods—or any other product that makes “healthy” or “diet” claims—think about what you’re putting into your body. Today’s plethora of health problems have occurred because of the foreign chemicals and additives and overwhelming amounts of sugar—people are eating more than ever, but their bodies are starved of real nutrients that come from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, good fats, and animal protein. We need to turn away from fake, factory-made food and just eat real food, even if it’s not as convenient to do so. Pay now or pay later—is spending a little extra time and money to eat real food now worth saving countless dollars on future medical bills? Hopefully, your answer to that is a big YES!
Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, wrote a New York Times article in which he stated some basic food rules that we should all abide by: “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” “Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims,” “Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number—or that contain high-fructose corn syrup”, and “Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.”
Make 2013 a year of real food. Buy organic and local, shop at farmers’ markets, and say no to anything packaged and processed. Educate yourself as well by picking up books by health experts like Michael Pollan, Gary Taubes, or Robb Wolf— they stress eating fresh foods, dispel many nutritional myths that have permeated our society, and try to help you discover optimal health. Keep it simple—don’t worry about counting calories and simply eat anything you can find in nature. Real foods don’t have ingredient lists or make health claims; they don’t come in boxes, bags, or packages; and they don’t spike your blood sugar or lead to metabolic conditions.
Make 2013 the best year of your life and remember to JERF: Just Eat Real Food.