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Processed Food? No Thank You!

Processed Food? No Thank You!

We seem to be forever locked into the endless battles of the diet wars. The vegans against the carnivores, paleo against vegetarians, keto against plant-based. So much of our attention seems to be taken up with the areas where these various approaches disagree. Because of this, it’s easy to miss the fact that there are many significant areas where they do agree. Perhaps the most obvious and clearest of these is an emphasis on ‘real’ food; the desire to free ourselves from reliance on processed food and the ills of modern industrialized fare. Outlets for such food are everywhere. Each and every supermarket, beneath the glossy presentation, are mainly selling processed food, even if heavily disguised. Almost all fast food outlets are doing the same. Even reputable restaurants will be serving food prepared using low-grade, and often highly toxic, vegetable oils.

monty don simple cooking book avoid processed food
This book was an inspiration. Food taken directly from an organic garden and fed to the Don family using simple cooking techniques.

What is Simple Food?

Simple food, on the other hand, is as the name implies unadulterated and directly sourced. the very opposite of processed food. It is food that comes in a form wherein the processing is kept to the barest minimum, if at all. Simple food almost never comes in a tin, a package or a box. It looks like, smells like, and even tastes like what it actually is. It is authentic. Meat will be simply meat; without any added flavourings, texturisers, colourants or preservatives. It will not be peppered, breaded, salted, pigmented, dyed or otherwise adulterated. Vegetables will be simply vegetables. They will not be pre-cooked or irradiated, their DNA will not have been restructured using GMO techniques, they will not have been exposed to glyphosates or any one of a hundred or more chemical concoctions.

Much the same should be desired of fish, fruit, dairy and any other produce that we are planning to consume. Each of these interventions, so liberally indulged in by processed food manufacturers for the past fifty years or more, has massive implications for the health of the consumer. These highly processed foods are associated with higher chances of suffering a huge range of health issues from obesity to heart disease, from strokes to type-2 diabetes, and from depression to cancer.

Food in its natural form

A simple food is one that is essentially in its natural form. Fruit is fruit, vegetables are vegetables, and meat is meat. Even then, it is not uncommon for those who have brought these to market to have used herbicides and insecticides in their preparation. Natural food all too soon becomes processed food. In the case of meat, all too often antibiotics and other treatments will have been used on the animal. Much meat, in the US in particular, is reared using the truly awful feed-lot system. They are fed grains and kept in cages, rather than being allowed to graze on pastures, their natural habitat. Even when meat is advertised as grass-fed, it is often the case that they are grain-finished. Again, this negatively affects the quality of the meat. Fortunately, grass-fed meat is easier to come back in the UK and most other Anglophone countries. Finishing the process using grain is, unfortunately, not uncommon though.

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What is not Simple Food?

In straightforward terms, any food that has been through a range of treatments, has been exposed to various chemical processes, or adulterated in such a way that it has been fundamentally changed, is not simple food. Any such fayre is processed food. A couple of examples might help to make the point clearer. A potato, for me at least, is a root crop that I dig up from my back garden. These days, being someone who follows a ketogenic diet, I usually give these away. Preparation before cooking comes down to cleaning the dirt off. A potato product, on the other hand, might be something like a potato chip or French fry. These will often be prepared using vegetable oils, a well-known toxin, though often still portrayed as the ‘healthy’ choice. It wasn’t so long ago when the default methodology for chips in the UK was to use lard, a far more natural product. These days, the use of vegetable oils, with all their concomitant health risks, is more or less ubiquitous (1).

Evil influences: Glyphosate

With fruit and vegetables, be aware of just how common the use of glyphosate and other herbicides and insecticides actually is. Despite the ongoing assurances from the likes of Monsanto, these products are very dangerous to humans. Not untypically, the EU, probably under the influence of the pharmaceutical lobby, chose to attempt to bury the information in its own report (2). Previously, other reports had pointed out the possibility of it leading to oncogenesis, or the beginnings of cancer, in the body. The EU report more or less concurred but was presented in such a way as to bury this connection beneath a misleading title and deep in the findings.

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Glyphosate use is ubiquitous, I’m afraid, and its effects on us and on the environment terrifying. Yet even without the use of these chemicals, much of the colourful and enticing fruit and veg on our supermarket shelves will have been irradiated or preserved using some other dubious methodology. Beyond flash freezing, almost all of these techniques should be cause for concern.

processed food addict book

Why should you care?

Some people will tell you that a calorie is a calorie. The idea is that all that matters is the number of calories that you take in should not be greater than the number you spend in your lifestyle. I think this is the most profound nonsense. What you eat is at least as important as how much you eat. If it consists mostly of processed food you have a problem. Our biochemistry is a complex system. Imbalances and deficiencies will cause problems, no matter what our calorie intake. We need to ensure that our diets contain all the essential minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients it needs to thrive. It also helps if you make sure that any food you eat is ‘real food’ and hasn’t been subject to all the abuse we have gone into above.

Unhealthy Diets

If you find yourself on a diet where you need to take a range of supplements in order to make it work, then you are probably on the wrong diet. With any diet that is truly species-appropriate, there should be no need for supplementation at all. If you find yourself having to pop multi-minerals, multivitamins, omega 3 capsules or B12 tablets, then you should be asking yourself if your diet is appropriate, whatever your moral or ethical convictions.

If instead of simple foods, you feed your body processed foods as a regular part of your diet, it will result in all sorts of metabolic problems. Some of these will be immediately obvious; acne, bloating, mood swings (this often particularly affects children), and food cravings. Although unpleasant, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Other problems are chronic such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic disorders, IBS, and heart problems. Many of these processed foods will be designed with the notion of creating addictive behaviour. Drinks such as colas, for example, will advertise the notion that they are ‘low in sugar’. In reality, they will be high in some artificial sweetener that will keep your sugar cravings going whether you are consuming sugar or not (3).

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These processed foods are, quite literally, not fit for human consumption. Our biochemistry is built on millions of years of evolution. The body knows how to deal with real food, especially if that food is species-specific to humans. Processed foods, on the other hand, especially those containing vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, and any number of chemical additives, are something the body has to try to cope with.

Species-specific Diet

To the best of our current knowledge, humans have lived on meats and fish by preference, supplementing with fruits and vegetables when these were available and they had no better, more densely nutritious, alternative. This has been the case throughout human history prior to the advent of agriculture. Diets that are too rich in carbohydrates, say above 10%, are not healthy for humans. In simple terms, all carbohydrates are converted into sugar in the body. With modern processed foods forming the majority of modern diets, carbohydrates will often represent more than 50% of calorie intake – hence the modern prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, the human requirement for carbohydrates is precisely zero. Both the other two macronutrients, fat and protein, are essential for us to thrive, or even survive. With carbohydrates, however, the body will make its own, if necessary, through glucose neogenesis. There is no need whatsoever to include large amounts of carbs in your diet (4).

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Although it is often very difficult to do in the modern world, we should, as far as possible, eat simple foods. This should be an easier process than it often turns out to be in practice. Shopping should be a straightforward experience, but visiting a supermarket the shopper will be confronted by aisle after aisle of highly processed, and distinctly unhealthy, foodstuffs. Personally, I now source my meat direct from a local farm. Oddly, this has turned out to be cheaper and provides a wider range of possibilities (organ meats, for example) than is on offer in the likes of Tescos or Sainsburys. With fruit and veg, it is wiser to buy organic and preferably from a local producer who you can ask about the use of pesticides or other chemicals in the process. We at ketopensioner grow our own, though we know that not everyone has the resources to do this. Paradoxically, in our modern world, eating simply can be a complicated process. Given the risks involved with processed foods, however, the effort is clearly worth the trouble.


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