Americans eat less than 70 percent of their meals at home, and less than a third of families eat meals together more than twice a week. Restaurant food and take-out meals are notorious for cheap ingredients made up in flavor with added sugar, unhealthy fats, and iodized salt.
More than half of Americans’ calories come from “ultra-processed foods,” according to a new study published in BMJ Open.
“Formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product.”
What you put in your mouth is 50-80 percent of your health situation.
I’ll repeat that: 50-80% of achieving and maintaining good health is what you choose to pass through your lips.
Part of the reason ultra-processed foods are such a problem is they account for almost all of the added sugars Americans eat—90 percent, to be specific. In this study, the average was 14 percent—292.2 added sugar calories out of the 2069.5 daily total.
Another reason is the packaging and additives. After cooking your meals for you, commercial preparers have to package, label, add things to keep them from going bad in the box or on the shelf, and all of these chemicals contribute to what is known as “chemical burden”—the amount of chemicals in each of us. According to new research published last month, People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher than those who did not. Pthalates, linked with distrupted hormones, fertility problems, liver problems and cancer among other health risks, can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate processed food.
And then there are the cheap corn, soy, canola and other inflammatory seed oils not to mention ultra-high levels of iodized sodium chloride (table salt).
Public enemy number one: Added sugar (that is, any sugar not naturally occurring in a food).
Even the U.S. dietary guidelines are jumping on the bandwagon with two important shifts this year:
- new guidelines recommend that people get less than 10 percent of their calories from added sugars.
- the new guidelines remove previous warnings and limits on eating saturated fat.
A little bit about sugar. First of all, it is next to impossible to get too much sugar by eating fresh fruit or veggies unless… that fruit is bananas, oranges, or pineapples—these fruits have been hybridized to be extremely high in sugar sacrificing all nutritional quality. …or unless you juice your fruit and veggies which concentrates the sugar to levels found in coca cola. …dried fruit can be 80% sugar.
It is extremely easy to get too much sugar by eating breakfast cereals (up to 56% sugar), fat-free yogurt (15% sugar), jams (up to 60% sugar), sauces and condiments (up to 40% sugar), pastas, canned soups… even so-called “health bars” are loaded with honey, dates, agave, rice syrup and other added sugars because we want them sweet. That 6-8 grams of processed protein may cost you 32 grams of sugar.
What’s so bad about a little sugar?
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars… glucose and fructose.
- Glucose is found in every living cell on the planet. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies make all we need.
- Fructose is different. Our bodies don’t make it and there is no physiological need for it.
The only organ that can fix a high fructose meal is your liver. Fructose (think corn syrup, agave, dates… even table sugar is 50% fructose) is absorbed in your digestive tract and sent to the liver where it could be converted to glycogen (an energy reserve)—but only if your liver’s small reserve of glycogen has any space. If you’ve been living on a starchy, carbohydrate, sugary diet then your glycogen reserves are full to overflowing and your liver converts the fructose to fat, stored around your middle, thighs, inner organs… weight gain.
When repeatedly eating large amounts of sugar, this process can lead to fatty liver and all sorts of serious problems.
Why was “low fat” such a bad idea?
For starters, most foods low in fat are high in carbohydrates and added sugars. Re-read the above. Carbohydrates are just long chains of sugars.
But the other reason is that your cells must burn sugar for energy first, except their healthier source of fuel is actually fat—healthy fats—AND fats are an important building block for skin, joints, your digestive tract… When carbohydrates are scarce, the body runs mainly on fats.
Take control! Tips for simple and healthy cooking.
While cooking at home gives you complete control over the quality of your ingredients, for so many people, eating healthy at home is a chore.
Beyond the “good idea to eat an occasional vegetable” mantra, eating healthy is delicious—no lie—as your taste buds begin to appreciate the real flavors of whole foods they’ll also stop being over-stimulated by all the added junk.
Plus, staying simple helps remove distractions and focus on what’s truly important in your life.
Tips to make healthy eating easier.
1. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration lowers your energy and mood before you feel thirsty. Rather than reach for that packaged snack, drink a glass of room temperature water and wait for it to settle.
Then prevent this by drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day.
And there is nothing better than clean, spring water. In fact, a simple filter system that removes chlorine and fluoride from city water is far more cost effective than buying gimmicky, vitamin-enriched, or alkaline bottled water that may not even be very good for you. Just go out and buy yourself a good-sized water bottle, fill it up in the morning with your target water consumption for the day and try to get through it. The health benefits are fast!
2. Always eat breakfast—21 grams of protein breakfast
We’re in such a big hurry, or maybe not hungry, so we skip breakfast. But this is a really bad idea and sets you up for a low-energy slump later in the day. Get your 21 grams of protein and a good amount of plant fiber for a high-energy day and enjoy the bonus of being less tempted by unnecessary or bad snacking.
Think egg omelets with veggies, smoothies with added and clean protein, or even breakfast salad.
3. Eat Real Food—Focus on Whole, Single-Ingredient, Foods
A single fruit mixed into fresh greens makes an incredibly nutritious and satisfying pre-meal salad. Plus, it’s fast and is better than grabbing the bag of chips when you come home famished after a busy day.
Want to make it a meal? Grill up a pasture-raised chicken breast or grass-fed steak and slice it thin for a protein and greens ideal meal.
When you focus on whole foods and high-quality ingredients, you will automatically start to eat less ultra-processed junk foods. Emphasize those fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, eggs, and pastured or wild-caught meats & fish by shopping the perimeter of your supermarket. Those , processed foods with long, unpronounceable names tend to be found in the massive isles—even (and sadly) the “health food” isles.
If it has an ingredients list, it isn’t food. Worse, if it makes health claims in big print, skip it. Truly healthy foods don’t even need an ingredients list. They are the ingredient.
4. Use Simple Flavorings
When you choose fresh, high-quality ingredients, you don’t need to add a lot flavoring. Sea salt and pepper may be enough. A single fresh herb can do wonders.
A rare ingredient that you will end up using only once is a waste of money and space in your kitchen. Most of the time, you can stick to common ingredients that you already own and know how to use—or can substitute an unusual spice for something more common and that is already taking up space in your pantry.
5. Toss the Kitchen Clutter
That disorganized and overflowing pantry and spice cabinet is a recipe for disaster. It’s full, but their’s “nothing to eat”
When you keep a clutter-free pantry stocked with quality foods you use regularly, it’s much easier to make healthy meals. Plus. a clutter-free pantry makes your food less likely to spoil and you less likely to buy things you’ll already have. Shopping is a cinch whenyou can see all your food items neatly organized—so can see what is missing.
Kitchen counters tend to attract keys, wallets, mail… in and around the many gadgets; especially in apartments and homes with limited counter space. It’s more fun to cook when you have room to prepare meals. Clutter is stressful—always feels like work isn’t done. Keep only the frequently-used items on a counter and find a closet for everything else—and about that 6-month rule…
Tidy it up. Combine duplicates into one container and donate or throw away spices and goods you never use or are old. My rule of thumb is if I haven’t used it in six months, it’s gone.
6. Think Before You Shop—Download this Meal Plan Worksheet
Less is more. Whether it’s a gadget or an experimental food, think carefully before you decide to add another item to your kitchen, especially if it’s an item that’s designed to perform just one specific task or be added to just one unique (and probably complicated) recipe.
Gourmet cooking is fun, but can also mean a cluttered counter or pantry full of unused items you can’t remember why you own them.
Just 30 minutes of planning your week’s meals, taking stock of what you have and what you need, and all before going shopping saves you:
- time returning to the store for that thing you forgot…
- angst running to the store for that thing junior demands (the rule is: they put it on the white board list for the *one* time you go shopping for the week, or it doesn’t get bought).
- random groceries that looked “interesting” but spoil or go unused.
- an estimated $2300 per person per year saved on random and impulsive purchases.
- and estimated $10,000 per year saved on “convenience items” that honestly also cost just as much time to obtain and add to your gas bill:
|ITEM||PRICE||HOW OFTEN||COST PER YEAR|
|1 bag potato chips||$3.99/bag||2/week||$414.96|
|1-6 pack soda||$3.00||1/week||$156.00|
|1 liter soda or water
purchased at convenience store
for a family of 4: Dinner
|Pizza delivered plus tip||$20.00||1/week||$1040.00|
|1 cup juice/person (daily)
family of 4
|Fruit leather or Roll ups)||$2.50||1/week||$130.00|
|1 box granola cereal||$4.00||1/week||$208.00|
|Total if you cut all these out||At least…||$10,090.50|
By making a plan, you’ll stay on a healthier track by being less likely to resort to quick, convenience, and processed foods. Meal plan your way to health while reducing food waste, saving money, and cooking stress-free!