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A Touch of Wellbeing
A Wellness Blog for Busy People

Those Pesky Processed Foods, They're Everywhere!

When we hear the term "processed foods", we tend to think of convenience microwave foods, junk food like fast food or snack foods, and most meals or soups in a box, bag or can.  But processed foods go way beyond these examples.  Having said that, processed foods allow America to have one of the greatest food supplies in the world. And just because it comes in a box, bag or can, does not mean it is bad. We can find acceptable convenience foods, canned foods and microwave meals that nicely fit into a busy life schedule. Our signature course, Journey To Wellness, teaches you how to find them.


So, we know there is a variety of questionable ingredients and additives in processed food. Some examples are artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, acidity regulators, antioxidants, emulsifiers, thickeners, gelling agents, anti-caking agents, humectants, raising agents, flavor enhancers, hydrogenated fats, not to mention added fats, sugars and salt! Wow, who knew? One blog certainly cannot address all of them. This blog will focus on a common denominator in many processed, quick and easy food selections, which is simple processed carbohydrates

Simple processed carbohydrates (SPC) are foods made with white refined flour and refined sugar.  What is so bad about SPC?  If they are consumed occasionally, there is nothing bad about them.  The problem is that the majority of food consumed in America either is or contains SPC.


For example, SPC include white bread, but not just sandwich bread--don’t forget hamburger, hotdog and Hoagie buns, croissants, Pita pockets, bagels, English muffins, and biscuits.  SPC include white flour tortillas, simple crackers like Ritz, Club or saltines, many popular cereals like Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes or Special K.  They also include white rice and regular pasta like spaghetti noodles, Ramon noodles, macaroni and Fideo (Mexican pasta dish) or foods/meals including these items. Let me remind you of all the sweet foods like cakes, cookies, pies, candy, and pudding AND sweet drinks like soda, Gatorade, PowerAde, Kool-Aid, lemonade, Tang, Sunny Delight, fruit punch, and fruit drinks, just to name a few. 


As you can see, these foods are not just foods from Taco Bell or McDonald’s.  These foods are found at Red Lobster, Olive Garden, the church potluck, the neighborhood barbeque, the school lunch program and of course the table at home.  We all eat loads of processed foods and can’t drink water unless we add sugar to it, real or fake. 


What makes white flour and refined sugar so harmful to us is the extraordinary amount present in our food supply.  They are void of nutrition and lack fiber.  They spike blood sugar very rapidly which causes an overproduction of insulin.  This overproduction of insulin is thought to contribute to the epidemic of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and the increased incidence of belly fat.  SPC have replaced our intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, and good whole grains.  So, where and how do we begin? Let's review five steps to get on track.


First, check your bread, crackers, cereal, pasta, tortillas, and rice at home and see if you already have a whole grain.  The first ingredient should include the word “whole”, and the dietary fiber listed on the Nutrition Facts Label should be 10% or more (look at the right-hand side).  Those are the two basic criteria necessary to ensure we are buying whole grains which do raise blood sugar, but more slowly.  For example, original Cheerios cereal has whole grain oats as its first ingredient and 11% fiber per serving.  Remember the Nutrition Facts Label is for one serving.


Second, when visiting your favorite restaurant, start asking for whole grains like whole grain bread, whole brown rice, whole wheat pasta or whole wheat tortillas.  We can create change, and some popular restaurants are listening and making changes.  For example, Olive Garden serves whole wheat pasta, but you must ask for it.  Applebee's has a dish which includes whole wheat penne pasta. Subway has whole wheat bread.  More and more Asian restaurants are beginning to serve whole brown rice.  A couple pizza chains have tried whole wheat crust in the past but dropped the selection due to low sales.  But if we keep asking, it will come back.


Third, start making mealtimes a priority instead of an afterthought.  Spend a little more time planning and preparing meals and using more whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean cuts of meat, fish and poultry, a little more nuts, seeds, and dry beans. Don't forget plant fats like extra virgin olive oil, peanut, and canola oils.  Go easy on the extra added fat, salt, and sugar.

Fourth, learn to read food labels and take the time to do some comparing. If you see a food selection that has multiple items in the ingredient list, keep looking. Less is better. A few key words to watch out for are high fructose corn syrup, partially or fully hydrogenated fats, the word artificial and more than about 5 or 6 ingredients that are unfamiliar to you. Several of our classes teach the basics for reading and understanding food labels. There are countless web sites that go into significant detail on the ingredients such as The Food & Drug Administration. Click here for more FDA information.


And lastly, preview our Journey To Wellness classes here. We teach that a few small changes will make a significant difference in your quality of life.  Our program provides the knowledge AND tools to improve the caliber of your meals with a variety of topics.


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