I suggested in my last blog that we eat healthier by avoiding the “dirty dozen.” These are the twelve fruits and vegetables that are the most contaminated with farm chemicals. There’s another way we can begin to take steps to eat food that will keep us healthier, and that’s by eating food that is less “processed.”
The foods that are the most processed are the ones that have the longest list of ingredients on their containers. In contrast, raw carrots, apples and broccoli are “whole foods.” When they are fresh, grown in good soil and without chemicals, they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals. They would be at the healthiest end of the nutrition-spectrum.
Breakfast “foods” can be highly-processed, and are one example of the other end of the nutrition-spectrum. For examples, I count 27 ingredients in Cocoa Puffs and 30 ingredients in Pop-Tarts. We like to think of our food as being created in a kitchen-like atmosphere, but I’m afraid these ingredients come from a laboratory-like setting where chemicals are used to simulate the smell, texture, color and flavor of real food. The result is that we and our children are not getting the nutrition we need, and we are actually eating things that harm us. Let’s look at some typical ingredients on these lengthy labels:
Most processed food contains corn, high-fructose-corn syrup and soy. This is because our tax dollars subsidize the growing of corn and soy beans. Subsidies result in corn and soy being cheap ingredients that are therefore put in our food and fed to livestock. The large amount of corn that Americans now eat (mainly disguised in processed food) is a big factor in our current health crisis which includes diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
High fructose corn syrup affects our blood sugar just as regular sugar does. Eating a high-sugar load at breakfast time can lead to a mid-morning “crash” of our blood sugar. You may have had the experience of feeling jittery and hungry about 90 minutes after a pancake with syrup breakfast. Our bodies have to make a lot of insulin when we eat or drink sugar. This is especially true if don’t eat fats or proteins at the same time to slow down the absorption of sugar. The healthy pancreas puts out insulin so quickly that it over-shoots its mark and our blood sugar falls too low. Our bodies then make epinephrine to get the needed sugar from the liver, and epinephrine gives us the horrible, jittery feeling of “hypoglycemia.” Imagine the poor teacher who has a classroom full of kids who ate Pop-Tarts for breakfast!
When reading labels, you’ll also notice that flour is enriched, and many vitamins are added. This sounds good, but these synthetic vitamins may not be helping our bodies at all. Real vitamins are complex substances which contain the enzymes and the pro-enzymes that our bodies need to utilize them. When we eat synthetic vitamins, they may actually block our bodies’ uptake of real vitamins that whole foods offer. Simply put, it makes no sense to remove the germ from wheat (that contains most of the nutrients) and substitute synthetic vitamins. Likewise, it makes no sense to keep milk cows indoors and feed them corn, and then put synthetic vitamin D in our milk. Cows that graze on green grass in the sunshine offer us plenty of real vitamin D in their milk.
Some of the other ingredients you’ll find on the lengthy, processed-food labels are dyes that are used to make the “food” look appealing, but are the cause of many food allergies. Many of the unpronounceable ingredients are preservatives to give this “food” a long shelf-life.
Breakfast time is a busy time, and having a convenient food may be the only way to get everyone fed and out of the house on time. You can have both convenience and healthy food. Let me offer a few breakfast suggestions. You can modify these for what fits best for you and your family:
Muesli: This is a simple breakfast that can be made ahead of time or concocted each morning from rolled oats, fruits and nuts. In the winter, I make mine with uncooked oats, organic raisons, walnuts, a bit of honey and yogurt. My husband cooks his oats in microwave, adds the other ingredients, but also adds some peanut butter to give himself more “staying power” through his physical activities of the morning. Walnuts are the most expensive ingredient, but are justified by their high nutritional content that is difficult to find elsewhere.
Quiche: I don’t like to dirty a skillet in the morning, but we can still have a series of quick egg breakfasts if I make a quiche ahead-of-time. The crust is whole-wheat, and the milk, cheese and veggies (or meat) can add additional vitamins and minerals.
Left-overs: This category certainly gives me away as the non-cook that I am, but I like left-overs in the morning because I’ve never been fond of breakfast food. I find that a piece of homemade pizza or a cold hamburger from the night before does a good job of holding me through the morning. Likewise, the fat and protein in cheese makes left-over lasagna a better breakfast choice than sugared cereal.
When ingredients come from healthy sources, even the fats are healthful food. Our bodies need basic, whole foods to function, grow and maintain a healthy immune system. If you’re buying “food” with a long list of ingredients, it may not be food at all!