We all know we should eat better. Even those of us who follow the healthiest of diets could still probably make an improvement here or there. But “better” is a terribly ambiguous word, and the food industry, along with the diet industry, has placed various conditions on the term over the years.
First it was fat. Fat was the devil, to be avoided at all costs, and accordingly all our favourite products soon appeared on grocery store shelves in new, low fat formats. Milk, cheese, yogurt, cookies, cakes, crackers — all stripped of a nutrient the human body requires in order to function. (Though this of course brings up the other matter of not needing those kinds of products at all, but I will get to that in a minute.)
Unfortunately, to make up for the removal of those fats, which helped make the foods taste good, manufacturers simply injected more sugar and more salt into their products. And so we puzzled over how, despite eating strictly low fat foods — a box of low fat cookies counts as healthy, right? — we were getting fatter and fatter.
Then it was carbs, thanks to the Atkins diet craze and the subsequent marketing blitz that followed. We were terrified of bread and rice, pasta and potatoes, but the prospect of all-you-can eat steak more than made up for our constant hunger and deprivation. Surely, this was the answer, finally.
Food manufacturers jumped on the new fad and started making low-carb-everythings, and we convinced ourselves once again that we could get slim by eating these new versions of our favourite junk food.
But it just doesn’t work that way. Processed food will never replace real food. Period.
And this is the major mistake so many of us make, often without even realizing it. We buy and choose processed foods over the real thing, over whole foods and home-cooked meals, but because processed foods contain so much salt and sugar (and things like trans fats), we inevitably gain weight after eating them. Our health also suffers because, despite being calorically dense, these foods are often nutritionally void, even if they have been ‘fortified’ with vitamins and minerals. This simply isn’t the same as getting them from their natural sources.
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Admittedly, the pendulum is finally starting to swing in the right direction, as more and more people are recognizing the value of a whole foods, plant-based diet. But these early food terrors still linger in the collective imagination; we still worry more about counting calories than about counting chemicals. We look at the food labels on packaged goods — in itself not an unwise move — to assure ourselves that the frozen vegan/organic pizza is good for us, even though deep down we know it’s not.
It might be a better option than the nonorganic processed meat-laden alternative, but it certainly doesn’t compare to something we made ourselves out of ingredients we could purchase at the very same store we’re standing in, humming and hawing over how many grams of protein we need and the difference between “cane sugar” and “dehydrated cane juice.” (Hint: they’re both still sugar.)
In the below video, celebrated food journalist Michael Pollan explains just how the food industry tricks us into buying their food-like products. More importantly, he reveals how easy it is to escape this trap: Cook food at home. When we cook meals ourselves, out of real ingredients, we cannot help but eat healthier.
We simply don’t make food the way food manufacturers do, and given how much work goes into preparing less healthy items, like french fries, as in the example he offers, more often than not we will opt to make simpler dishes from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Our health truly is in our hands; we need merely to seize it.
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