Why Processed Foods Hurt You (and your family)

While our warning sounds extreme, it’s not.   Scientists are increasingly finding clues about why processed food intake is directly connected to obesity.   And they are also finding a clear link between processed foods and cancer, heart disease and diabetes.   The culprits:  sugar, unhealthy fats, reduced fiber, gums/stabilizers and salt.  Processed foods largely contain all of these and the results are ugly.

But here’s the really surprising news:  if you reduce your intake of process foods, you’ll also save money.  Many people are drawn to processed foods because they are cheap and convenient.   But it turns out that they aren’t cheap.  Not only do they rob you of your health, but they also steal dollars from your bank account. A Health Promotion Perspectives medical journal review of articles published between 1990 and 2014 found “evidence warning Americans against the irreparable effects of fast food consumption on public health” And a 2018 CDC report highlighted how chronic diseases cost our country’s healthcare system $190 billion per year and $126 billion in lost job productivity.    But, it turns out that eating fresh food, at home, is less expensive than eating processed foods.   Here’s why and how you can reduce proceesed foods from your family’s diet:

Sugar: More Addictive than Cocaine

We kid you not.   Sugar is highly addicting, very fattening and royally messes up your metabolism.  One word pretty much sums up our concerns about sugar:  diabetes.   But take sweetness from our lives and we are left with…….bitter.  According to a study published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine, 71.4 percent of adults in the U.S. consume 10 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugars. If you’ve never seen Jamie Oliver’s presentation on sugar we invite you to spend a few minutes with this very knowledgeable and passionate chef.  He calls sugar “the next tobacco” and it’s not hard to see why.

  • A recent study showed that sugar, perhaps more than salt, contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease. Evidence is growing, too, that eating too much sugar can lead to fatty liver disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and kidney disease.
  • perspective published in PLOS Biology argues the sugar industry buried a 1960s study showing that sugar harms heart health—but the trade group that originally sponsored the study says “potential research findings” had nothing to do with its decision to end the research.
  • Sugar is addictive. And we don’t mean addictive in that way that people talk about delicious foods. We mean addictive, literally, in the same way as drugs.  One study has shown that if given the choice, rats will choose sugar over cocaine in lab settings because the reward is greater; the “high” is more pleasurable. Sugar stimulates brain pathways just as an opioid would, and sugar has been found to be habit-forming in people. Cravings induced by sugar are comparable to those induced by addictive drugs like cocaine and nicotine.
  • A 2017 scientific study published in Nature Communications confirms that sugar consumption stimulates cancer cell growth.  Scientists have long suspected a link,they’ve been uncertain as to whether sugar is a symptom or cause of aggressive tumor growth—cancer cells exhibit glycol rates 200 times that of healthy cells.  This study indicates a clear cause and effect. 
  • Sugar is found in approximately 75 percent of packaged foods purchased in the United States. The average American consumes anywhere from a quarter to a half pound of sugar a day.
  • A study, conducted in yeast cells, was published  in Nature, and showed evidence for “a positive correlation between sugar and cancer, which may have far-reaching impacts on tailor-made diets for cancer patients.  The study indicates that sugar consumption may increase the “multiplication” of cancer cells. This does not mean that sugar causes cancer; to the contrary, merely that cancer, once it exists in the body, is affected differently by sugar consumption.
  • Sugar may be uniquely addictive in the food world. For instance, functional M.R.I. tests involving milkshakes demonstrate that it’s the sugar, not the fat, that people crave. Sugar is added to foods by an industry whose goal is to engineer products to be as irresistible and addictive as possible.
  • If you don’t believe us, ask John Oliver (as well as Jamie Oliver).

Emulsifiers and Gums Screw Up Your Gut

Guar gum, polysorbate-80, locust bean gum, carrageenan, xantham gum, lecithin…..these are all commonly found in processed foods of all types.  And they were commonly thought to be safe to consume.   It turns out that may not be the case.  A well-researched and publicly-funded study published in Nature recently strongly suggests that these and other emulsifiers may promote the inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease as well as a group of obesity-related conditions.  What’s more, in the last 30 years, ingestion of these emulsifiers may have even contributed to the rise in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, gluten and glucose intolerance and even Crohn’s and chronic colitis. The study, which is one of the first to look at whether food additives, considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are bad for our health, was conducted by Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, and funded by the National Institutes of Health and Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. The study is among the first to explore whether food additives that have been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration may be quite unhealthy if not downright dangers to eat. Worse yet, emusifiers such as polysorbate 80 are detergent-like molecules whichapparently disrupt the protective mucus barrier of the gut.

These food additives also appeared to alter the composition of gut microbes, not only boosting strains that promote inflammation but driving down strains that check the process.   All fingers are now pointed at the FDA, which had previously approved these food additives as safe.  But the scientists point out that FDA safety testing of food additives has generally sought to rule out the possibility that their ingestion would cause immediate poisoning, or that its ongoing consumption would cause cancer, the authors said. The FDA’s process, they added, is not designed to detect the effects of daily consumption of an additive on such subtle measures as inflammation and microbiotic diversity — which research suggest are probably linked.

Oils:  The Right Ones Can Help You

There are good fats and bad fats.  Oils, such as olive, avocado, grapeseed oils are great.   Don’t skimp.   However, some oils made from grains or legumes are problematic.  Definitely avoid the following: Corn oil,  Cottonseed oil, Palm oil,  Peanut oil,  Soybean oil (same as soy oil), Rice bran oil and wheat germ oil. This includes products, such as mayonnaise, which include these oils.   Hydrogenated vegetable oils that are high in unhealthy trans fats are a no-go.   Also, some nutritionists are also concerned about the high amounts of polyunsaturated omega-6 fats found in certain vegetable oils.  However, oils high in omega-3 appear to be worth including in your diet.  These include:  Canola oil. Cod liver oil, Flaxseed oil, Soybean oil and Walnut oil.

Carbs And Fibers:  Use Wisely

The overall consensus among reputable experts is that refined carbs are undesirable and should be largely eliminated.  That means, white, processed grains and sugars should not be consumed.   However, some unrefined grains such as quinoa, spelt, brown rice and other non-glutenous foods can be very helpful to the body.   And tubers like yams and sweet potatoes are excellent additions to a healthful diet.  In fact, a recent study published in The Lancet shows a diet rich in fiber and whole grains reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease and colorectal cancer.   That’s big!

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found people ate an average of 500 extra calories a day when fed mostly processed foods, compared with when the same people were fed minimally processed foods. That’s even though researchers tried to match the meals for nutrients like fat, fiber and sugar. As reported by the Associated Press, the 20 participants were allowed to eat as much or as little as they wanted, and were checked into a clinic so their health and behavior could be monitored. That’s not all the bad news.In another study based on questionnaires, researchers in France found people who ate more processed foods were more likely to have heart disease. A similar study in Spain found eating more processed foods was linked to a higher risk of death in general.

How to Live Without Processed Foods

Can Americans survive without procesed foods?  Of course.  All it takes is a little planning. And it has to be your plan that fits you.   We recommend adapting a lifestyle that works for you.  For example, we think there’s a lot of common-sense and good science supporting a Pegan or Mediterranean diet.   We also that Jamie Oliver’s Superfood lifeplan makes a lot of sense. But each of these lifestyle plans requires, first and foremost, planning.   That’s the secret behind achieving your New Year’s resolution.    Start with making a meal preparation list and a corresponding shopping list each day.   You can even have fun and create a “menu” template that you can fill in, weekly, with your planned meals

We’ve created a chart that offers what we’ve learned so far about the foods you should chew and what foods to eschew:

Blueberries –  Bursting with antioxidants.  Nature’s uber food. Strawberries –  Gave been hybridized into flavorless, rock-hard lumps of cellulose
Dark Chocolate –  Loaded with antioxidants and serotonin (happy hormone). Milk Chocolate –  Perfectly good dark chocolate watered down with cow secretions.  Ugh!
Gluten-Free Grains –  brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, non-GMO corn, sweet potatoes Bad Starches –  Any wheat-based flours, white rice, russet or red potatoes,  granolas.
Nuts –  Almost any nut or nut-based milk with the exception of peanuts (which really aren’t nuts).  It’s easy to make your own nut-milk and it tastes GREAT! Most Dairy Items –  Cheeses, whole milks, sweetened yogurts, cream, sour cream, cream cheese….and definitely creamed corn.
Red Wine –  Full of flavonoid antioxidants.  Works for Europeans. Diet Soda –  Any beverage containing fake sugars will kill you.
Fish –  Full of Omega-3 and fish oil.  Keeps Eskimos warm and dolphins happy. Beef & Pork –  Have you ever been to a slaughterhouse?   Did you ever watch Babe?   C’mon.
Honey –   It’s good enough for baby bees, why not for you?  An alternative: Stevia.  A very cool herb. Sugar –  Almost as addicting as cocaine but with more calories.  Avoid unless it is in dark chocolate.
Veggies –  If its green, it’s keen.  …unless it is spoiled.   Take it easy on the starchy veggies…and learn to love yams. Low Fiber foods –  why bother.  Veggies rock because they help digestion.  Processed foods….just the opposite.
H2O –   Drink a lot and drink it often. Energy drinks –  View them as liquid cocaine.



And for those who don’t like to read charts, here it is in one paragraph:  Eat blueberries.  Exercise.  Eat fish (that isn’t endangered).    Eggs are OK too.  Exercise. Eat dark chocolate. Drink red wine, but not too much.  Exercise.    Eat lots of greens and other veggies.   Drink a lot of water (throw some lemon or lime in it).   Exercise.  Get enough sleep.  Then exercise. Repeat daily.   Oh yeah, and floss.   Get rid of your gym membership and diet plans and spend your hard-earned money on really fresh, nutritious food. For those people who live in Southern California, you might want to try out a food delivery service called Paleo Delivers.

And if you are serious about wanting to shed some pounds,begin by going to the Mayo Clinic’s free and reputable website.  The medical experts at the Clinic have fashioned a thoughtful and time-tested plan that has worked for untold numbers of people.  Effective weight loss requires you to master the habits, urges, and feelings that rule our lives.   It’s really all about learning more about your impulses.  Once you do, you can create your “new”normal and the pounds will begin to disappear.

Here are some other useful resources for your meal plans:

Smart for Life

Livestrong Diet –  Aims for a loss of about 1-2 pounds per week.

GM Diet  –  It’s not really a General Motors-designed diet plan.  It’s actually a short one-week detox program.   But it could be a useful starter to a major personal diet reboot.  Linora Low gives a helpful (and free)  step-by-step video and written guide to how to do this detox program.

The Lose Weight Diet –  It does what many of the diet scammers do (take free  information and distill it down to 3 easily understood phases) but he actually offers it for free!

CDC Research on Portion Size –  A 2006 Center for Disease Control study that documents how salty, high-fat, high-calorie foods have infiltrated our diets, in part, because portion sizes have increased.  You’ll never look at a menu the same way again after reading this very accessible evaluation.

Dr. Terry Simpson –  This doctor offers much useful and free information about diet and nutrition that is both thoughtful and scientifically validated.   In particular, his discussion about weight loss is a must read.

Our Suggested Meal Plan

If your head is spinning and your stomach hurting from this list, start from this starting block:  processed foods are not your friend. Go fresh.  If you can’t do fresh, go frozen.   If you can’t go frozen then go back to fresh.    Processed foods (including canned) are not going to help you live a full and vibrant life.   Try it for one month and see whether you feel any different.   Take it slow and focus more on consuming the allowable foods you enjoy rather than dwelling on missing the ones you had to eliminate from your diet.  When you begin to see the results, you’ll realize that the foods that you thought were your friends really weren’t very friendly to your body. Who needs those kinds of friends!   For those people who live in Southern California, you might want to try out a food delivery service called Paleo Delivers.   And for home cooks, here’s one “Pegan” meal plan that may help you develop your own customized plan:


Breakfast: Salad with veggies tossed with oil and vinegar, topped with a poached or hard-boiled egg
Lunch: Lentil soup and a side of fruit
Snack: Celery or apple with almond butter
Dinner: Stir-fry with chicken
Dessert: Mixed berries


Breakfast: Chia pudding made with nut milk topped with almonds and berries
Lunch: Big spinach salad topped with salmon
Snack: Hard-boiled egg and carrots
Dinner: Sweet potato, zucchini noodles and meatballs
Dessert: Banana with almond butter


Breakfast: Smoothie made with spinach, avocado, blueberries and nut milk
Lunch: Veggie chili
Snack: Carrots with hummus
Dinner: Burger wrapped in Swiss chard, with sides of quinoa and steamed broccoli
Dessert: Chia pudding


Breakfast: Frittata with veggies
Lunch: Salmon with sides of steamed spinach and quinoa
Snack: Homemade trail mix with dried mango, dried bananas, walnuts, almonds and raisins
Dinner: Roasted spaghetti squash with Bolognese sauce
Dessert: Smoothie made with coconut water, mixed berries and banana


Breakfast: Sweet potato hash with two eggs
Lunch: Veggie salad topped with a large scoop of tuna salad
Snack: Smoothie with almond butter, banana, cherries, nut milk and cacao
Dinner: Fajita lettuce wraps with sides of baked potato, broccoli and black beans
Dessert: Mixed berries with mint


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