A few years ago after surviving breast cancer scare that was caught in time, I began to have a laser focus on the types of food I was eating. Then I met Robyn O’Brien, a former food industry analyst, strategist, author and mother of four. Her book, “The Unhealthy Truth: How our food is making
A few years ago after surviving breast cancer scare that was caught in time, I began to have a laser focus on the types of food I was eating. Then I met Robyn O’Brien, a former food industry analyst, strategist, author and mother of four. Her book, “The Unhealthy Truth: How our food is making us sick and what we can do about it,” opened my eyes to the impact the global food system was having on our health.
O’Brien, described by the New York Times as “the Erin Brokovich of the food industry” for her relentless activism, began her crusade when one of her children almost died from a food-related allergic reaction.
“I felt totally uncomfortable with this possibility, so I began to try to understand it. How can a child be allergic to food? What was the trigger? Eventually, I found the food industry uses financial models to mass-produce certain foods. These artificial ingredients and processes occur much faster than what occurs in nature.”
Today, it is almost impossible to eat foods that are not processed. It is hard to avoid over 6,000 additives, bleaching, glazing agents, and flavorings. As society grows in numbers, we also have to feed more people and perhaps keep products on the shelf a lot longer to make them more convenient to eat and more profitable for the industry.
The history of food processing is littered with ingredients that were initially presented as safer and more desirable, yet subsequently ousted as the opposite. Hydrogenated vegetable oils, also known as margarine, were actively promoted as healthier than the natural saturated fats in butter. High-fructose corn syrup, once marketed as preferable to sugar, has now been identified as a key driver of the obesity epidemic in the U.S. So what the industry may label as “natural” may be a disguise for a more “processed” food production method.
In the United States, over 68.8 percent of American adults are considered overweight and obese. Could it be that we are eating the wrong foods? We know food manufacturers combine ingredients that do not occur in natural food. The most common combination is processed salt, fat and sugar. If we were to eat small quantities of these foods, it would be fine, but we don’t. Processed foods make up 70 percent of the average American’s diet.
That’s cookies, crackers, cereals and some yogurts, just to name a few culprits. Most have various chemicals so they can sit on the shelf for a long while.
Daphne Hernandez, an assistant professor of nutrition and obesity studies at the University of Houston, says, “We are turning away from natural products to products that have a longer shelf life, because of our hectic schedules. We no longer cut our vegetables. We turn to products that have the noodles, the meat and the vegetables all in one package, but that’s not natural. It is kind of sad; our children don’t know what a natural vegetable tastes like anymore. They are consuming something that is full of chemicals.”
“One big challenge is processed foods,” adds O’Brien.
But can we stay away from sodas, fast foods and refined foods? If you can, then you won’t have to care what’s in our food supply or reading labels or chemicals you can’t pronounce, but most of us are inundated with the temptation every day.
O’Brien’s advice is: “Do the best you can. If you can just lower the amount of processed foods every week, you are on a better path. Once I learned the impact food was having on my children, I not only stopped feeding them junk, I also taught them to cook healthy meals and that is the best thing I could have ever done.”
The following eight artificial ingredients by law and according to the United States Department of Agriculture are not allowed into the production of foods that are made organically:
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Artificial colors and dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5
- Artificial growth hormones
- Genetically modified ingredients
- Exceeding levels of synthetic pesticides
- Finely textured lean beef trimmings (“pink slime”)
Most of the foods that we eat contain these artificial ingredients, and the companies that produce them are subsidized by our own government. But we also have to be realistic. Much of our food would go bad if it wasn’t for those chemicals. What would have happened in World War II if soldiers didn’t eat their Spam?
Somehow, we have to start changing our food habits to maintain our wellness and also to keep our weight down. Hernandez suggests Americans need to add more vegetables and fruits to their diets.
“We don’t eat enough fiber and that makes the obesity epidemic even worse,” she says.
In the late 1950s, the late Dr. Herbert M. Shelton, an American naturopath and author, wrote about what would happen to the American diet in the future. He found that the diet would consist of synthetic chemicals and food extracts (white flour, white sugar, margarines, refined salt, etc.) “ ‘Big Food’ will supply the cheap food and then ‘Big Pharma’ would sell you their expensive drugs for your illnesses.”
“The health of our country depends on a healthy food system,” says O’Brien. “It is up to us to begin making better choices.”