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“Packaged”, “processed”, “whole”, “natural” – what does it all really mean when it comes to food, and what should you be eating?
Knowing what you should eat to for a healthy lifestyle or lose weight can be incredibly confusing if you don’t know the basics about nutrition.
These common terms get thrown around a lot, but many people don’t actually know what they mean or what constitutes a “natural” or “processed” food item. In Dianne’s Challenge, Episode 3, our weight loss challenger mentions that her personal trainer, Holly, tells her to stay away from processed and junk foods and to eat whole and organic options. However one video cannot capture all of the information you need to know.
So let’s break it all down to make healthy eating as plain and simple as possible!
WHAT ARE PROCESSED & PACKAGED FOODS?
A processed food is basically any food that has been altered in its preparation and cannot be found in nature. Foods found in nature are things like: fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, nuts, beans, grains – basically anything that you can take directly from the earth.
Processing is not necessarily bad, since it may be considered as simple as baking, drying, or freezing. However, it can also be as extreme as creating a food in a lab with chemicals and preservatives, such as candy bars, chips, nacho cheese, or bologne.
According to Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, authors of Fit for Life, “Processing is the practice of taking a perfectly good food, one that contains the nutrients necessary to prolong life, and stripping it of everything and anything of value. Processing is making something to put into the human stomach that no longer resembles what nature produced and intended it for consumption.”
Common processed foods include:
Processing is typically done with chemicals, additives and/or preservatives to improve the flavor, texture or appearance, or to preserve it to make it last on a shelf longer.
Some preservatives and additives are considered safe, and may even have health benefits such as: sea salt, Stevia, spices & herbs, gelatin, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and citric acid.
THE DANGERS OF CHEMICAL ADDITIVES
However, the majority of additives are unnatural and have been created chemically, which can cause serious issues to not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. Many additives and preservatives are incredibly addictive and are used to keep consumers coming back to buy those foods over and over again, both at restaurants and in the grocery store.
They have been shown to kill brain neurons and cause obesity, migraines, depression, irritability, fatigue, mood swings, cancer, food addictions, ADD, ADHD, hormone imbalances, allergies, brain damage, brain fog, chest pain, and illness.
Many common ailments from fatigue to headaches to menstrual cramps that we deem “normal” can actually be the consequence of all of the junk in foods that were never intended to go into our bodies.
Avoid these additives & preservatives whenever possible:
To make it simple, if you look on a package and the list of ingredients includes things you’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce, it’s probably wisest to steer clear of it.
Packaged items that are okay to eat include (but aren’t limited to):
For all of the above, look for organic and make sure no ingredients have been added.
WHAT ARE WHOLE, NATURAL, AND ORGANIC FOODS?
“Whole” and “natural” are basically the same thing – these are foods that naturally come from the earth which have been refined/processed as minimally as possible. If your ancestors on their farm could find it, grow it, or hunt it, then it’s probably safe for you, too.
Unfortunately these days, many food companies label food as “natural” or “all natural” when it really is not. You can find the work “natural” on foods full of sugar, artificial flavors, and preservatives. So always use caution when you see a food labeled this way, and be diligent about checking the list of ingredients.
Organic foods, according to the USDA, are those that have been grown using practices that “strive to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity”1. For a product to be USDA Certified Organic, it must be grown according to federal standards that address soil quality, animal raising processed, pest control, and use of additives.
If a food is certified organic, it means the item’s content should be free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, hormones, steroids, or genetic engineering.
Whole, organic foods are what your body was designed to use for energy and well-being. These foods are naturally loaded with vitamins and minerals, they help fight disease, and can be incredibly healing.
Many Americans are actually malnourished – even those who are overweight – because they are eating foods that have been so processed that they no longer contain any benefits to the body or mind. This is also why many people can eat and eat and eat, and still feel hungry, because their body is screaming out for nutrients. Whole foods give your body what it needs and prevent weight gain because you feel satiated from all of the fiber, water, and nutrients in these foods.
Unfortunately, most organic foods can cost more than processed foods. However, as certified nutritionist Kelly Hayford says, “If you are eating whole, fresh, natural foods such as produce, legumes and whole grains from the bulk bins, you will be spending much less than what you would spend on processed foods of any kind. Also consider… that you will not be spending money on expensive junk foods such as soda, alcohol, salty and sugary snack foods, and the like. I could make a whole meal for two with leftovers on what some people spend every morning on their gourmet coffee and pastry to go.”2
THE GOOD NEWS
The good news is that these days there are so many organic products on the market that go beyond just fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. You can find many more snack food options that consist of only whole foods and only use things like sea salt as a preservative. Do more of your shopping online and grocery stores that sell primarily organic, whole foods to find many fun alternatives to your old junk food favorites.
Here are some natural brands to make shopping easier when you start making the switch:
You can often find crackers, breads, jams, meat, fish, wine, protein bars, baked goods and more that are organic and minimally processed. It just takes a bit more investigative work and label reading. However, once you get used to what is good for you and what products you need to stay away from, the time and mental energy required will be far less. You’ll also find that the way your body and skin feels and looks will be worth the effort!