by Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath

Notice this is not a question, “processed foods are slowly killing you?” This is a statement, “PROCESSED FOODS ARE SLOWLY KILLING YOU!”

While this should not be earth shattering news to most of us, we still most often find ourselves reaching out to processed foods on a regular basis. You might be thinking to yourself, not me, I don’t eat processed foods. Think about it, when was the last time you picked up a gluten free product, white rice, ate some lunch meat, used olive oil or grabbed a coconut water to quench your thirst? These are not uncommon choices among those that are health focused, yet can still lead to more of the processed food choices we are talking about. More on this later.

Let’s first discuss why we continue to eat processed foods even though we know they are not good for us. It’s because they slowly kill us. If they killed us quickly, that would be a different story. You go to the local burger establishment, order a burger, fries, a soft drink and sit down at the table with a friend. That friend falls over with a massive heart attack as the acute response to eating those foods, you would likely push yours aside.

There is also a misconception that processed foods are easier and quicker, but that does not have to be true. Use my morning today as an example. I did not plan well last night for my meals today and I was a bit rushed this morning getting to the office, so I truly had to “grab and go.” This would make you think that “grab and go” would be easier with processed foods, but that was not the case. I simply grabbed 2 apples, a chicken thigh left over from grilling on Saturday evening, one avocado and a tea bag. The apples are as much of a whole food as you can get, the chicken was only processed via cooking (I’ll talk more about this later), the avocado is not processed at all and the tea is minimally processed. So “quick” can also be wholesome, but do you “get” what the key is here? I didn’t grab crackers, potato chips and energy bars as my meals for today (mostly because they are not in our home as a choice). If you have whole foods available in your fridge and on your counter top, you will eat whole foods. If you have processed foods in your freezer, fridge, cabinets and counter top, you will eat processed foods.

So it is up to us to make conscious choices in regard to food from one moment to the next. The more processed foods we choose, the more health challenges we create and the more whole food choices we make, the more wellness we create.

Getting back to defining processed foods a bit deeper will likely be helpful. To define “processed” we would think of a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it. So while cutting up an apple to eat the slices may be a process, this is obviously not a processed food. We are not trying to change or preserve this. Another example would be the putting a hole in a coconut and pouring out the coconut water. Yes, this is a process but the coconut water is not a processed food in this state. This changes though if you grab the average can of coconut water. Yes, they are still getting coconut water out of the coconut, but before they put it in the can or carton, there may be sugar added, some form of preservative and can often be high heat pasteurized, so you can see the difference between processed and natural.

Often people feel as if they are making healthy choices without realizing that they are still gravitating toward processed foods. I often see clients that have been gluten free for years that consume high amounts of gluten free crackers, pasta and more, actually thinking that this is healthy for them, when the reality is that all these gluten free foods are still most often highly processed and as titled, still slowly killing you. There are actually so many foods that we think are healthier choices, yet they are still processed foods leading to health issues and that slow death. Don’t let “gluten free” provide the definition of healthy for you because this is most often not the case.

Now I don’t want you to go crazy with this and analyze every food you consume. That level of intensity and often rigidity can often lead down a path of mental/emotional unrest that would also slowly kill us, so be careful on this level.

Follow some simple rules to lessen your exposure to processed foods.

  • Stick with whole foods that do not come with an ingredient list. After all, you never see and ingredient list on a head of broccoli.
  • Be careful of what your food choices eat. Stick with free range grass fed beef over conventionally raised beef. The free range are most often eating whole foods while the conventionally grown are eating processed feeds and food.
  • If it comes in a box, use sparingly.
  • If you use something in a box or container, make sure the ingredient list is short. The less ingredients the better.
  • Stay away from MSG and hydrolyzed anything.
  • Stay away from added sugar and salt.
  • Oils are processed, so stick with cold temperature processing and not heat processed.
  • Choose raw fruit over dried fruits and over fruit drinks.
  • If you cannot pronounce  a word on the ingredient list, it is most likely best to stay away.
  • Make purified water your main drink of choice.

Look, I’m not perfect. I do occasionally eat processed foods. And when I do, I thoroughly enjoy them. I am simply going to minimize those choices and look for whole foods as much as possible. When I do make a choice to eat a processed food for my own emotional satisfaction, I never feel guilty about it. I know it does not happen that often and something processed once in a great while is fine in my book. Just watch your definition of “once in a great while.” I think you get the picture.

The “process” of cooking.

I also want to bring up one more part of processing that most do not consider and that is the process of cooking. When you cook your food, you actually destroy the naturally occurring enzymes that are essential for optimal absorption and assimilation of your food. The naturally occurring enzymes in raw food allows for the proper pre-digestion of your food in the first third of your stomach. This pre-digestion makes the digestive process much more effective as you continue though the pathways of your lower stomach, small intestines and colon. By leaving out this early pre-digestion, the entire process is much more cumbersome and not near as effective. It, not only makes life harder on your gastrointestinal tract, but also much more difficult on the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and your metabolic enzyme activity of the body.

If you are eating cooked food, and most of us are, be sure to add a quality digestive enzyme to replace the natural enzyme activity that is being destroyed. Also be sure to use a full spectrum enzyme that contains both plant and animal based enzymes for the most complete breakdown of your entire meal. Your body will be happy that you took this small step in balancing the “process” of cooking.

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