Processed Foods vs Whole Foods

Processed foods taste so good. But do they? Try this drill…take your favorite chip, store bought cookie, snack or red-light/trigger food. You’re going to “wine taste” this item. Take 1 small piece, observe what it looks like close up, turn it on all sides, take note of its physical texture. Then place it close to your nose. Take a big whiff of it and take note of its smell. Next, close your eyes and take a small bite. Don’t swallow right away. Chew on it for at least 10 seconds then let it slide down your throat slowly before taking another small bite and observing again. After you eat the one small portion, take note of how you’re feeling about the entire “wine tasting” experience. Up close, did it appear appealing? Was the scent what you expected? While chewing on it slowly, did it actually taste as good as you expected? How long did that flavor last? Did you find yourself craving more after you ate the one small piece? The answers to these questions might give you some insight into what’s actually going on with you, with this world, and the processed food industry.

Know this, the food industry is in place not to nourish us. It is a business and most companies’ primary goal is to maximize profits. So they have scientists finding ways to minimize costs while getting us to buy more when it comes to the production of the food. Their main strategy is to highly process the food so that it is easier to consume quickly. Then load it up with salt and/or sugar, playing to our physical and mental addiction, so that we crave it often. Market it with buzz words, like “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “natural”, “whole grains”, “no trans fat”, all to make you feel, in the moment, like you are making a healthy decision.

My experience when I “wine tasted” my favorite chip for the first time. Up close it had the appearance of something toxic. It had a weird red hint to it that didn’t seem right. It smelled peppery and slightly sweet like corn. When I put it in my mouth, the initial bite was a quick hit of flavor that faded within seconds as it turned into a mushy and flavorless blob of paste in my mouth. Initial instinct, swallow, and then put another chip in to find that quick initial 2 second flavor experience.I found that I didn’t want another chip after the first bite.

Most processed foods that we crave, over eat, and then regret offer similar experiences to mine. By design, the processing makes them easier to consume quickly and easier for our body to digest quickly. They take whole ingredients and break them down into smaller pieces, flours, and simple sugars. This processing allows the food to shorten or bypass our body’s natural processing systems revolving around chewing, using saliva to break down food, and then heading to our stomach and intestines for further breakdown and/or separation of nutrients. Unfortunately for us, skipping our body’s natural systems makes many of these foods toxic to our long term health and counterproductive to the physical and mental goals that we have for ourselves.

So we know that processed food is designed to capture our money. Not just once but over and over. We also know that it isn’t good for us and that there are better options available to us. Why does our society continue to go down this road? We have more and larger health problems every year. Higher obesity rates, more people on continual medication, more heart disease, lower energy levels, and worsening sleep. How do we get away from processed foods when they’re pushed in our face, leveraging our addiction and desire for convenience, everywhere we go? We must understand ourselves. We must understand the foods and what they do or don’t do for us. We have to make more conscious decisions and put barriers in place to stay away from exposure to these foods. We have to recall our “tasting” experiences and remember how we actually feel about certain foods. We also have to realize that it’s really hard to make drastic changes and we may not be able to do it all at once, especially when we may be trying to break habits or cravings caused by years of processed food consumption. You don;t have to do it all at once! Progress not perfection is the key to improvement. One foot in front of the other, day after day, gets you to the destination.

When it comes to progressing your food choices we can break it down one step at a time. If your average daily diet consists of primarily highly processed food then the first step might be to take a few of those items and replace them with something slightly less processed. A dining out example could be to stop eating at McDonald’s and to start eating at In N Out when you want a quick burger. Although not an optimal daily option, In N Out is known to use fresher ingredients and cooks items to order. Less processed ingredients, less use of simple sugar, and no preservatives. A snack at home could look like switching from Chips a Hoy cookies to something from a local baker that actually has an expiration date some time this week.

When preparing fresh food at home, moving your ingredients from processed to whole, one step at a time, could look like moving from Canned vegetables to frozen vegetables to freshly prepared produce. An example for fruit could look like moving from sweet candies to syrupy fruit cups to dried fruits to fresh fruits! Instant mashed potatoes to frozen tater tots to home made baked potatoes or air fryer fries. Fritos to standard corn chips to canned corn mixed with lime to fresh grilled corn (can be prepped and stored easily) elote style with lime, salt, and cilantro.

Any processed item can be progressed back to its original form. Think on a continuum from A to Z. As your cravings for salt and sugar reduce, and your skills for preparing fresh foods enhance you’ll find joy in doing what’s best for your body and your family’s. And when you get back to primarily whole foods and decide to “wine taste” them, you’ll find that whole foods are able to stand up to all of the tests. You’ll appreciate the textures, the smells, and immediately recognize that when chewed they maintain their flavor throughout the experience. They take longer to chew, satiate you more, and provide a lasting energy that propels your body, mind, and day forward rapidly.

-Coach Derrick

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