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Top 6 Processed Foods to Avoid

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Top 6 Processed Foods to Avoid

In a time when convenience foods rule, and there are a variety of fad diets to choose from (or be confused by) it is nice to have a basic understanding of what truly is healthy and what absolutely should be avoided.  Have you ever heard the expression, “Shop the perimeter of the grocery store for the healthiest options”? While it is true that this is where the freshest foods reside, even those healthy otherwise healthy foods can be tainted with chemicals and/or heavy metals or simply have additives that don’t belong in your body.  Below is a short list of foods to avoid.  I make a point to keep these out of my family’s diet.

1. Diet Sodas

The problem: Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, neotame, and acesulfame K, are not food. The safety data on these sweeteners is shrouded in controversy. Independent research strongly suggests that when these are metabolized in the body, they can cause some severe health issues and problems related to metabolism and weight gain. Aspartame has been linked to neurological diseases as it breaks down into phenylalanine, which affects neurotransmitters and can lead to seizures, migraine headaches, vision changes, depression, and even brain cancer. Others have been linked to bladder cancer, bowel diseases, and other digestive complaints. Also, these sweeteners alter gut bacteria leading to glucose intolerance and weight gain.

The Solution: If you’re craving a soda but want to avoid artificial sweeteners and preservatives found in most popular brands, try the alternative sodas such as Zevia, or try the fermented tea Kombucha.   You may also find that if it’s the fizz your missing sparkling water with a splash of juice or lemon will also do the trick.

2. Butter-Flavored Microwave Popcorn

The problem: Diacetyl, a flavoring agent often used to give popcorn a buttery taste. The fact is that the chemical has been shown to be so harmful to production workers that are inhaling it that it’s known to cause an occupational disease called “popcorn lung” or bronchiolitis obliterans. Which causes the lung tissue to become irreversibly scarred.  After news of the chemical got out to the public, companies started replacing diacetyl with another additive that can actually turn into diacetyl under certain conditions. Unfortunately, neither chemical is disclosed on microwave-popcorn bags because the exact formulations of flavorings are considered trade secrets.

The Solution: Make your own popcorn and use real butter. Pop it on the stovetop in a pot with coconut oil, or go an easier route and put a small handful of kernels into a brown paper lunch bag, and stick the bag in the microwave. The kernels will pop just like kernels in standard microwave popcorn bags. When they’re done, pour some melted butter over them and/or get creative try herb and Parmesan popcorn!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, pressed through garlic press or chopped finely
  • pinch of dried basil
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • about 8 cups popped popcorn
  • finely grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions
Place coconut oil, butter, and garlic in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Heat until they melt to liquid then add garlic and continue to cook until garlic is softened and slightly browned. You will need to stir frequently to prevent burning. Add herbs and stir to combine. Remove pan from heat. Place popcorn in large mixing bowl and drizzle mixture over popcorn while stirring. Quickly toss to coat. Add Parmesan cheese (to desired cheesiness) and toss until well combined. Enjoy!

 3. Swordfish

The problem: Mercury. Swordfish is one of those fish that are notoriously known to be high in Mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can cause neurological impairment and should be especially avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Babies exposed to mercury in the womb have been shown to have impaired cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. Apart from obvious health concerns, swordfish is often overfished and commercial fishing of swordfish often kills turtles, seabirds, and sharks as well.

The Solution: Fish provide healthy omega 3 fatty acids which are essential to maintain cell walls and keep inflammatory proteins in check. To determine fish that are low in contaminants and have stable populations, such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon check out these resources: nrdc.org and safinacenter

4. Canned Tomatoes

The problem: Bisphenol-A (BPA) a synthetic chemical that lines most tin cans. BPA has been linked to various health conditions ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Due to the acidity of tomatoes, you get higher amounts of BPA leaching out of the can coating and into the food.

The Solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Eden Organic and Lucini. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes.

 5. Conventionally farmed fruits and vegetables on the dirty dozen list

The problem: Chemical residues. EWG reports have traced at least 36 different pesticide residues on commercially grown strawberries, and they don’t even top the list of the most contaminated! In case you’re curious it’s apples that are the worst.

The Solution: It is worth the extra dollar or so to buy organic with these produce items and have a little more confidence in the food you are eating and feeding your family.

6. White Chocolate

The problem: All of the bad and none of the good. White chocolate mostly consists of sugar, cocoa butter (must be over 20% to be considered chocolate, though many cheaper versions use vegetable oil instead), milk products, vanilla, and lecithin. It does not contain chocolate solids which are the biologically active phenolic compounds in cocoa that have been shown to have positive effects in anti-aging by reducing oxidative stress, lowering blood pressure, and reducing heart disease. Today, chocolate is lauded for its tremendous antioxidant potential. The right kind of chocolate serves not only as a sweet treat but a brain-boosting super-food too. Unfortunately, white chocolate’s health profile is empty. Much of the health benefits of chocolate is due to amazing phytonutrients that can increase blood flow to the brain, protect blood vessels, and elevate mood and focus.

The Solution: Craving something sweet and velvety? Look for organic versions and look for dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.

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