Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why I don't use processed foods to save time...at least not very often!

You mean besides the fact that the nutrition has been leeched out of the ingredients, only to be replaced by chemical "nutrients"? Or that the only way they can have long shelf life is to be full of preservatives? Or maybe that every processed food you buy has been doctored by corn syrup and other added sugars, salt and MSG, texturizers, and other additives until we have no idea what real food tastes and feels like in our mouths anymore?

Maybe it's also because all these added ingredients do nothing for our health, despite labeling claims. We are fatter and have more heart disease and diabetes than before most of these products came on the market. In the "good old days", these packaged foods wouldn't even be considered real food, because they aren't: they are food-like products. Whole foods are where it's at.

That said, I love my Oreos! And I don't always have time to bake a batch of cookies from scratch.

There are, in fact, some processed foods that I buy and use regularly:

  • Frozen vegetables. There are usually no additives as long as you don't buy the ones that come with sauces, and sometimes frozen veggies are even more nutritious than the veggies that are "fresh" in the produce section. If they were picked early, gassed to ripeness, and shipped from another part of the world, they're probably not as nutritious as the ones that were flash frozen. So consider buying out-of-season stuff frozen. Try to make a habit of buying most of your fresh produce in-season.
  • Canned beans. I just don't have the time, or don't chose to make the time to soak and cook my own dried beans. Look for brands without additives. Beans don't need additives. Neither does peanut butter, which is also a type of legume.
  • Canned tomatoes. No need for extra additives here either.
  • Canned soups. Yup, sometimes I just don't have even thirty minutes to make the meal! Again, look for brands with as few needless and unpronounceable ingredients as possible.
  • Bread. Much as I like to bake bread, I don't always make the time to do it. Besides, my grocery store bakery makes amazing breads without preservatives and added sweeteners. Look for real bread...you'll be shocked the first time you read the ingredient label of some brands.
  • Tofu. Just the way it's been made for hundreds (thousands?) of years. No stablizers, texturizers, or fake meat flavoring. You can add your own flavorings.
  • Pretzels, crackers, and cookies. Only as a treat, not as the mainstay of the diet and never as a substitute for a meal!
  • Cereals. My favorite type is oatmeal, which contains just one ingredient, as long as I buy whole oats with no flavorings. It's fun to add my own fruits and nuts. But my family gets bored with just oatmeal, so I do buy some whole grain cereals with as few additives as possible.
  • Yogurt. The healthy stuff. No syrup-laced fake fruits mixed in.
  • Icecream. Pure ingredients only. No need for additives ever. That means that low-fat and fat-free varieties are probably out. That means that I have to limit how much I eat.

Really, practically everything we buy is "processed" in some way. The trick is to buy it as close to its natural state as possible with as few preservatives and additives as possible. One simple piece of advice I learned years ago is to "shop around the perimeter" of the grocery store as much as possible. And leave the grocery store for a local farmer's market if feasible. Look for organic food whenever possible. That label still means something (at least for now), but you so have to check the ingredient list if the organic product is processed. Added organic corn syrup is still unnecessary.

Think "Whole Foods are Chic"...I'm going to make that into our new mantra!

But for now, I need to get back down off my soapbox and get cooking :-)

Image: USDA

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