Flickr photo by bormang2After a hospitalization post-frozen pizza ingestion, I became a rabid fan of whole foods, organic when it makes sense, and local, fresh food. I monitor the label on the boxes coming into my home. Well, as much as a mother to two small children can. I know I've missed some things, but I'm probably at 90% checkage.
Recently I was talking to my own mother about my new grocery shopping methods and she asked me, "What is processed food, exactly?"
In Michael Pollan's new, and mercifully short, book Food Rules, he warns us away from any food with more than five ingredients and anything with an ingredient you cannot pronounce. That's a good place to start.
Another rule is to only eat food made by people, not corporations. If it's in a package, it's probably processed. Which is what tripped my mother up when she asked me why I was buying a box of Carr's crackers, and wasn't that a processed food? Well, yes, but not really.
Carr's are a great example because they're not made in your Grandmother's kitchen; but if you read the label you'll see a grand total of three ingredients: wheat flour, vegetable oil, salt. Technically, I could make these in my kitchen -- and the ingredients are items I have in my cupboard -- but adding cracker-making to my daily tasks would be martyrdom at its finest. Instead, I choose my boxed foods by reading the label. Cheese Nips are out, Carr's are in. (I know Cheese Nips are delicious, but with fourteen ingredients -- most of which I can't pronounce -- I'm willing to give up the salty, fake cheesy treat and drown my sorrows in a local goat cheese. Very willing.)
Overly processed foods strip away the natural nutrients and add chemicals. The additives give the product a longer shelf life, or a more pleasing color or flavor. The other thing these additives give you are cancer, diabetes and obesity. Even more frightening, processed food can kill you depending on where it is processed. Lax oversight at factories have resulted in thousands of food-related deaths, millions of illnesses and non-stop food recalls. This has to change, but until it does, we can change what we eat.
In addition to the disease causing additives, Webocoist gives us ten of the strangest additives in processed foods. (You won't believe what's in the bread at Subway.) A great list to read to get you nice and grossed out; and inspired enough to check the labels on your food and perhaps avoid fast food altogether. Sand? Yes, sand in your chili.