making good food choices...Real food or Laboratory creations?
April 22, 2019 | Theresa Matthews
I admit, the title makes this a bit of a no-brainer, doesn’t it?! Some time ago when I had my revelation regarding the sacredness of my body (blog post Our Bodies, Our Temples coming soon), my mind couldn’t help but focus on the quality of food I gave it. Also around this time, I heard part of an interview on NPR during which a scientist talked about his own “aha” moment. He was on an airplane and looked at the ingredients on a snack he was given. The ingredients almost couldn’t fit on the package. There were dozens. Of these, and remember, he was a scientist, he didn’t recognize about 2/3rds of them and doubted they exist in nature. He believed that most of the ingredients in this “food” product were man-made in a laboratory. This was the moment he decided to stop eating imitation food and start eating more real food.
I heard another interview on NPR with Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist who believes that sugar is toxic. I believe it was in this interview that I heard something very interesting. I recall him saying that all poisonous or toxic plants are bitter and that since ancient times, mankind has developed and relied on a taste for sweet flavors as a survival mechanism.
What does all this mean when it comes to processed or convenience food? You should know that I am not a person who thinks corporations are necessarily bad. Companies and corporations employ a lot of people, and at one time I was one of them. I am grateful for all I learned and was able to accomplish, not to mention a reliable paycheck!
But despite my positive experience, in an ideal world companies would only supply products that are needed and provide real benefit. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes companies produce products that are desired by consumers but are not healthy. Cigarettes are a perfect example. With respect to food, suppliers will go to great lengths to supply foods that meet consumer “needs” and to make sure consumers keep needing them. One of those needs is convenience. I tried making pasta once…if I am going to make spaghetti I am going to purchase prepared pasta, that’s for sure!
Another need is great taste, and often times the secret ingredient is sugar. In fact, it is hard to find any prepared products that don’t have sugar. As previously mentioned, our taste buds are programmed to like anything sweet so we will choose sweeter options over those that are less sweet.
To make sure the products last a long time on the shelf, companies have added preservatives to make sure they can all be sold. They do not want their products to expire on the shelf and have to be discarded. The benefit to the purchasers is a reliable, long-term source of food despite seasonality, but that does come with a cost in the form of chemical preservatives and other additives.
And finally, companies are always looking for ways to control or reduce costs or to ensure availability of raw materials regardless of the growing season. This makes perfect sense. But with many processed foods, this means that more and more ingredients are coming from the laboratory rather than from the farm. And as long as consumers don’t care and keep buying the products, they have no incentive to shift back to products made with natural ingredients.
What does this mean in the context of taking more responsibility for our health? I have reached a point where I cannot enrich a company that is making food that it knows is fundamentally unhealthy for me. I understand all the reasons this makes sense for them but at the end of the day, I won’t get healthier products if I continue to buy the cheaper, high sugar, unhealthy ones. And the cost to me is beyond what I pay them. I also have the potential of high healthcare costs due to less healthy food choices. So I buy very few processed foods. How do I do this?
When I first started, I found it helpful, when choosing products, to look at the labels and be aware of just how artificial or natural that particular product actually is. It didn’t take long to realize that the more convenient the item, the worse it was. Today I purchase very few prepared food products. The exceptions are good quality soups, a few sauces, and condiments. I do not deprive myself though. Deprivation never works. I am just much more mindful and strategic with what I buy and consume. Bottom line, I try to purchase real food whenever I can rather than something created in a factory.