The Change-up:why replacing your processed foods with fresher alternatives is a good idea

-Elita Joshi, Nutritionist, Nirvana Wellness Center

Eating in this modern day and age can be very difficult, with genetically modified food filled with chemicals all around us. Sometimes, we need to strike a balance and compromise with the choices we get, and basically, choose the best option among the worst.

We all do have some clue from what we hear or see from people, experts, and the internet, but do we actually follow their advice? There is so much dilemma even when it comes down to something basic, something staple like a piece of bread. So what actually should we avoid? To make it simple, here is the list of foods which I would avoid, and being a nutritionist only amplifies my beliefs. If I cannot completely eliminate them, then I at least try to cut them down as much as I can from my daily diet.

Processed and packaged food
Processed and packaged foods which are chemically enhanced foods, mostly with artificial ingredients. They contain artificial flavoring, a horrible mix of chemicals that will trick your brain into thinking you are eating something healthy, and full of preservatives for their longer shelf life. Some examples:

Breakfast cereals: Breakfast cereal are highly processed, high GI because of the high and hidden sugar content (which causes your blood sugar to drop very quickly after eating them), high in sodium, and high in preservatives. Mostly targeting our kids, cereals these days are artificially flavored and colored. Studies have shown artificial color and flavor in foods contribute to “hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animal studies), and allergic reactions.”

Alternative: Raw oats, cornflakes, for flavors, add fresh fruits or mixed nuts

Canned food: In recent years, there has been a rise in variety of canned foods in our supermarket aisles. There’s tons of hidden salt and sugar in canned foods! The resin linings of tin cans contain endocrine disrupting chemical known as Bisphenol-A (BPA) that has been linked to reproductive problems, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Ninety-two percent of canned goods contain BPA.

Packaged sauces: These often contain more sugar than chocolate sauce, particularly the tomato-based ones.
Alternative: Use fresh tomatoes and saut to make them into tomato sauce. Choose foods in glass jars. Also be aware while eating out, as most restaurants do use canned products for convenience.

Packaged, processed bread: Bread you find packaged in supermarkets is typically refined and processed. These loaves are packed with processed wheat and gluten that the human digestive system finds very hard to break down. This kind of bread is also high in sodium and is sometimes even high in sugar. Be wary of so called brown bread as well. Most of them get the effect from browning of sugar or just adding color, so you might not be actually eating whole wheat bread.

Alternatives: Multigrain, rye, sourdough; make your own bread with added seeds and nuts.

Pre-packaged or frozen meals: Frozen or pre-packaged meals usually contain hidden sugar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, and lots of preservatives.

Home-cooked meals which you can deep freeze.

Vegetable oil: Most commercial vegetable oils are highly processed, oxidizes quickly, and are high in trans fats. More than saturated fats, we need to blame the trans fats, they are the ones responsible for the increase in LDL (bad cholesterol) that leads to bad heart health. Margarine is mostly advertised as healthy alternative to butter, but actually it is high in trans fats, the fats formed during the process of hydrogenation, which turns liquid vegetable oils into a solid substance.

Alternatives: Olive oil (just a splash on a salad or cooking at low temperatures only) or oils with higher smoke point, or in limitation, use pure butter or ghee.

Processed/cured meats: These products are made from the animals that are given growth hormones, banned antibiotics, additives, and are raised in inhumane conditions that promote diseases. These meats are often pumped full of salt and nitrates/nitrites to preserve the meat and its pink color.

Alternatives: Organic meat

Eat Clean! Have whole fresh and natural foods, not the foods that come in a packet or are pre-made. Fresh organic green vegetables, fruits, organic meats, whole-grains, legumes, pulses, nuts, and seeds should be the foods stocked up in your pantry. Visit your local farmers market more than the supermarket. Make packaged and processed food occasional treats, not your regular diet. Don’t let the food industry load up your body with hidden chemicals, sugars, and other nasty ingredients that will drag down your health. To know what really goes inside our mouth from all the foods we have, it is very important for us to understand that we need to read food labels.
First, check the manufactured date for freshness.

The main ingredients will be listed first, then the second biggest, and so on in descending order. From this, we will have an idea of what percentage of the ingredients will be found. So, for example, with yoghurt and jam, you may find the main ingredient is ‘sugar’. Or, in any product, even if the second ingredient is ‘sugar’, it means that it is mostly made from sugar.

Nutritional information panel: The top section spells out the serving size of the food. For example, a yoghurt may say per 100 g (the amount of sugar and fat) but in actual fact, the yoghurt you are about to eat is 200 g; so then you must double the sugar and fat content.
Sugar content: Aim at having a product that has no more than 10 g of sugar per 100 grams. I would suggest avoiding any product with sugar being the main ingredient.

Fat: Most important thing to look at is how much saturated/trans fat is in a product. Here, mostly they only classify as total fat. If a product is low fat, it should have no more than 2 g of fat and for a normal product, no more than 4 g of fat. Usually, ‘low fat’ means ‘more sugar’, or hidden artificial sweeteners/preservatives. So be very careful!

Sodium/salt: We only need 1 tsp of salt a day! There is a lot of hidden salt in breads/cereals/snack packs/chips/roasted nuts.. Guideline—for each product, aim at 250 mg–300 mg per 100 grams. More than 400 mg of sodium per 100 g is considered high!
If you can’t pronounce the ingredients…do not buy it! Check for artificial sweeteners, emulsifying agents, and flavorings. The food industries just label their numbers (e.g. E322, E319, etc.) and not the exact amount. We want to aim for all natural ingredients!

Artificial sweeteners
A big No-No to these substances! No matter how much the food industry tries to trick us, just stay clear of these. Our bodies don’t recognize these substances as food, and they tend not to aid weight loss in any significant way. As advertised, saying low or zero calories, people try to substitute these instead of raw sugar, but actually, different research has shown that using aspartame, saccharine, acesulfame potassium, high-fructose corn syrup, and other artificial sweeteners can lead to more weight gain than the sugar you’re trying to avoid. It confuses your body when you feed it something sweet with no calories to go along with it; that leads to more cravings.

Refined sugar is equally worse. It can be a sweet poison. Some of us might think, how can only a few tablespoons of white sugar harm our body? But if you start to calculate how much of added sugar (even if it’s only one teaspoon to the amount of teas/coffees you consume in a day), it›s in your bread/biscuits, fruit juices, and pretty much in all the packaged foods, so all these will add up in the end. Refined sugars will cause ageing effects like wrinkles, deep lines, dark circles under the eyes, weight gain, and to some, it may be the cause of constipation.

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