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Glazed and Confused...
It's Time To Wake Up And Smell The Coffee
Dollars to doughnuts, if you live in the U.S.A., some of your hard-earned dollars are likely being spent on this soulless treat. In 2011, Americans – who rank among the lowest of industrialized nations in terms of life expectancy – spent approximately $130 billion on fast food; this figure is projected to skyrocket for 2012.
And doughnuts aren't the only problem. The list of terrible things we mindlessly ingest in the name of nourishment is long. But just what are these dietary culprits comprised of? What makes them so toxic? And, most importantly, what are they doing to us?
The purpose of this article is not to frighten people into eradicating all processed foods from their diets, but simply to shed light on some of the dangerous ingredients we may be unknowingly ingesting, and the way in which we might be depriving ourselves of the most basic nutritional fundamentals.
Processed, Junk, and Fake Foods
Processed food is made from real food that has been put through devitalizing chemical processes and is infused with chemicals and preservatives. Beef jerky, canned tea, jam, hot dogs, and low-fat yogurt with sugar or aspartame are a few examples of processed food.
Junk foods contain very little real food. They're made of devitalized processed food, hydrogenated fats, chemicals, and preservatives, and include anything made with refined white flour. Canned breakfast drinks, cold/sugary cereals, doughnuts, drive-through foods, and soda are examples of junk foods.
Fake foods are made primarily of chemicals, and often contain gums and sugar fillers. Examples include bacon bits, bottled salad dressing, dehydrated soups, and instant coffee.
Energy Output > Exceeds Nutritional Input
These non-foods have one thing in common; it costs your body a great deal more to digest, absorb, and eliminate them than they offer your body in nutritional value – an extremely poor return on your investment that leaves your body sluggish and depleted.
Toxins, Poisons, Processed Food, And The Body
Our ancestors preserved foods naturally, using salt, fermentation, and sun drying. Food processing has evolved away from these simple practices into more complicated and dubious methods. Today, nearly six thousand additives and chemicals are used by food companies to process our food. Many of them can have a devastating effect on our health.
It is important to note the fact that additives and preservatives cannot always be painted with a negative brush. The addition of vitamins to bread and milk has helped to stamp out diseases such as pellagra and rickets.
Unfortunately, the good intentions that characterized the processed food industry during the early days have now de-evolved to finding ways to cheaply process food and manipulate buyers, regardless of the detrimental affects on the health of Americans.
Today, many additives and preservatives are harmful toxic chemicals as problematic as the decay they are used to prevent.
Preservatives are a type of additive used to help stop food from spoiling.
Nitrates and nitrites are used to preserve meats such as ham and bacon, but are known to cause asthma, nausea, vomiting, and headaches in some people. In addition to allergic reactions, the same is true for sulfites (sulfur dioxide, metabisulfites, and others), which are commonly used to prevent fungal spoilage, as well as the browning of peeled fruits and vegetables.
Sodium nitrite in some foods is capable of being converted to nitrous acid when ingested by humans. While animal testing showed that nitrous acid caused high rates of cancer, it is still in use.
Benzoic acid aka sodium benzoate is added to margarine, fruit juices, and carbonated beverages. It can produce severe allergic reaction and even death in some people.
Sulfur dioxide is a toxin used in dried fruits and molasses as well as to prevent brown spots on peeled fresh foods such as potatoes and apples. Sulfur dioxide bleaches out rot, hiding inferior fruits and vegetables. In the process, it destroys the vitamin B contained in produce.
While antioxidants such as alpha-carotene are recommended by health specialists to prevent premature aging, some of the antioxidants used as food preservatives may be unhealthy. Contained in nearly every processed food on the market, antioxidants prevent fatty foods from spoiling when exposed to oxygen.
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are two of the most widely used, yet controversial of all antioxidants. So alarming were the results of BHT and BHA in animal testing, that a number of countries have severely restricted their use.
Some people have difficulty metabolizing these chemicals, which is thought to result in health and behavioral problems, and hyperactivity. They cause allergic reactions, may also contribute to the development of tumors and cancer, as well as be toxic to the nervous system and liver.
In spite of these findings, the use of BHT and BHA has increased, rather than decreased, in the U.S.A.
Each year, the American food industry uses three thousand tons of food color. Many coloring agents are derived from coal tar, and nearly all coloring is synthetic. Norway has a total ban on all products containing coal tar.
Though some artificial food dyes have been banned because they are believed to cause cancer, most dyes used today are of the artificial variety. They are also linked to allergies, asthmas, and hyperactivity.
The long list of foods and beverages in which color is altered includes butter, margarine, the skins of oranges and potatoes, popcorn, maraschino cherries, hot dogs, jellies, jellybeans, carbonated beverages, and canned strawberries and peas.
Even the chicken feed on large-scale egg farms is colored so that chickens will lay golden-yolked eggs similar to those laid by free-range chickens. Talk about the goose that laid the golden egg!
Most processed foods contain sweeteners, many of which are artificial sugar substitutes containing no natural sugars, such as saccharine and aspartame.
Artificial sweeteners are linked to behavioral problems, hyperactivity, and allergies. Because saccharin was shown to increase the incidence of bladder cancer in animal testing, all foods containing this sugar substitute are required to carry a warning label.
Emulsifiers, Stabilizers, and Thickeners
These additives alter the texture of foods. Emulsifiers, for example, prevent ingredients from separating into unappealing globs in food such as mayonnaise and ice cream.
A first cousin to anti-freeze, propylene glycol is a synthetic solvent used as an emulsifier in foods. Although it is recognized as toxic to the skin and other senses, and is considered a neurological toxicant, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed it generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
The most common food additive, flavorings – of which there are over 2000 in use – may be natural or artificial, and are usually comprised of a large number of chemicals. Peruse the ingredient list for the strawberry flavoring in one popular fast food outlet's strawberry milk shake.
Artificial flavors are linked to allergic and behavioral reactions, yet these ingredients are not required to be listed in detail as they're generally recognized as safe.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is another popular flavor enhancer. Found to cause damage in laboratory mice, it has been banned from use in baby foods, but is still used in numerous others. It causes common allergic and behavioral reactions including headaches, dizziness, chest pains, depression, and mood swings, and is also a possible neurotoxin.
Refined flour has had the brown husk of the grain stripped away, leaving the white, refined starch found in white bread, white rice, pasta, cookies, and numerous other junk foods.
Without the fibrous husk, refined starches are broken down quickly into sugar and absorbed immediately into the bloodstream causing glucose levels to rise, and increasing the risk of obesity.
In contrast, whole grains – such as whole grain bread and cereals, brown rice, and barley – retain the bran surrounding the starch, so they're absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream than refined starches. This slows sugar absorption from the intestine, and reduces the risk of obesity.
Refining Destroys and Devitalizes Most of Foods' Goodness:
Healthy unsaturated fatty acids – high in food value – are lost during the milling process. Half the vitamin E is destroyed when the wheat germ and bran are removed. Refining wheat into white flour removes between 50 and 93 percent of wheat's magnesium, zinc, chromium, manganese, and cobalt.2
Additionally, approximately 50 percent of calcium, 70 percent of phosphorus, 80 percent iron, 50 percent potassium, 65 percent of copper, 80 percent thiamin, 60 percent of riboflavin, 75 percent of niacin, 50 percent of pantothenic acid, and about 50 percent of pyridoxine is lost.3
Refining sugar cane into white sugar depletes it of 99 percent of its magnesium and 93 percent of its chromium. Polishing rice removes 75 percent of its zinc and chromium.4 Refined table salt has had most of the trace minerals removed during processing. It contains no sodium chloride, sugar as filler, and may even contain aluminum.5
Part of the process wheat undergoes to become the white flour in popular baked goods involves bleaching. Various chemical bleaching agents are used including oxide of nitrogen, chlorine, chloride, nitrosyl, and benzoyl peroxide mixed with a variety of chemical salts.
Chloride oxide – which catalyzes a chemical reaction that destroys beta cells in the pancreas – is now being linked to diabetes.6 This toxic effect is common scientific knowledge in the research community. In spite of this, the FDA still allows companies to use chloride oxide in processed food.
For more about processed foods, read on.
A Healthier Lifestyle
Eradicating every guilty pleasure in life is not the end goal here, nor is it a particularly realistic approach to making changes...we all enjoy the occasional cheeseburger, order of fries, or bag of chips.
But if we understand the consequences of making what ought to be an occasional treat into the mainstay of our diet, we can begin to make wise choices about how many of these things we are willing to eat.
When it comes to avoiding many of the questionable – and possibly deadly – additives contained in processed foods, we're only human after all, so taking baby steps toward change is usually the best approach.
If you can accomplish just one of these 10 steps, you're moving in the right direction. Try implementing one change a month...
1. As a general rule, if you don't recognize – or can't pronounce – the words on a label, don't buy it, or eat it. Opt instead for the real thing!
2. Avoid products containing
- Nitrates and nitrites (including sodium nitrite)
- Sulfites (including metabisulfites)
- Sulfur dioxide
- Benzoic acid (aka sodium benzoate)
- BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
- BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
- Coal tar
- Propylene glycol
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Refined or bleached flour (i.e. whitened using chloride oxide)
3. Don't eat partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated trans fats
4. Don't eat products containing sugar substitutes such as saccharine and aspartame.
5. Avoid products with a long shelf life – the better they do on the shelf, the worse they are for your body.
6. Avoid products that have been enriched. They have been completely devitalized during processing.
7. Avoid food that has been genetically modified or engineered. Nearly all processed food contains GMOs.
8. Avoid products made with ingredients euphemistically described as "natural flavoring" or "natural coloring."
9. Avoid products with added sugar – watch for words with "-ose" endings such as glucose.
10. Incorporate a multi-vitamin into your health regimen.
If you've had a history of eating products high in sugar and are concerned about diabetes, incorporate disease-fighting products such as garlic, vitamin E, and aloe vera into your diet. Vitamin E supplements can also protect your body from the harmful effects of eating refined products that have been bleached with chloride oxide.
Learn more FACTS about processed foods.
As you begin to eliminate processed food from your diet, and start to enjoy eating real food that has not been processed to death, you will be on your way to optimizing your health, making an investment in your body's future and, ultimately, feeling better.
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1. Hanley, J.L., M.D. and Deville, N., Tired of Being Tired, Berkley Publishing Group, NY, 2001. (p. 66)
2. Wilson, Lawrence, M.D., F.I.C.B., Why Take Nutritional Supplements, article on www.drlwilson.com.
3. Hull, Janet, M.D., Bleaching agent in flour linked to diabetes, from The Idaho Observer, July 2005, cited on www.detoxprogram.net.
4. Wilson, Lawrence, M.D., F.I.C.B., Why Take Nutritional Supplements, article on www.drlwilson.com.
5. Hanley, J.L., M.D. and Deville, N., Tired of Being Tired, Berkley Publishing Group, NY, 2001. (p. 220)
6. Hull, Janet, M.D., Bleaching agent in flour linked to diabetes, from The Idaho Observer, July 2005, cited on www.detoxprogram.net.