Real food is the key to good health, processed food is not. Period.
Have you ever noticed how animals eat? Animals, unless domesticated, hunt/search/ arrange for their own food and food for them is, limited. So an average animal has to work hard to get food and many a times end up eating very little…just enough to last them for their next meal and all this food is unprocessed, raw and not even cooked. For human beings the scenario is just the opposite. Most of us, especially urban humans have too much food at our disposal and most of it is not in its natural form.
We do not have to do much physical labour to find food or to fix up our meals. On the contrary we have an over enthusiastic food industry that fills our departmental stores with all forms of edible, ready to cook things. The grains, pulses, fruits, vegetables and oils and spices are available off the shelf, can be ordered over a phone call and now on the click of a mouse…we have the luxury of buying highly processed, half cooked, frozen, ready to eat food… all you need is a toss in the pan and thawing in the microwave and voila your dinner is fixed.
If you look at today’s food and meals more analytically you will realize that this is not how one should be eating. Let’s put this straight — anything that comes out of a can, a tin, a box is generally not good food. The basics of food processing still remains the same(though many brands may claim otherwise)… food processing, is done to achieve the objectives of , increasing palatability and acceptability of food, maximizing production, marketing aggressively, increasing shelf life and maximizing profits. Though claimed otherwise, maximizing the nutritional goodness of the food is paid, just the lip service and remains the main aspect of a major advertising exercise. In addition some of these processing methods change the basic structure of raw ingredients and converts them into forms that are alien to our digestive system and can be potentially harmful and disease causing. To make matters worse processed food is laden with excess sugar, salt, fat and the chemicals hidden under the label of preservatives and stabilizers.
These processed foods, thanks to marketing onslaught, have made their inroads into our daily lives and become an integral part. Bad news is that we have been brainwashed into thinking them to be healthy and essential for our good health. Consider your breakfast table with cereals and juice or evening soups and atta noodles with vegetables or so many ready to cook meals with so-called natural ingredients. Then there are others who have became our Happy Meals and time for happiness food. Modern day lifestyles and working couples find these as convenient and make them part of their daily life styles. Cold breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Grains are mixed with water and then processed into slurry and placed in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a tiny hole at high temperature and pressure, which shapes them into little flakes or shreds. These are then loaded with fat, sugar and salt to make them crunchy and tasty. While it may seem difficult but solution lies in our traditional food, like the processed breakfast cereal can be easily replaced by the humble, idli, upma, poha, roti ,grams etc…
We have been cajoled into believing that ghee and natural oils are bad for health. But that is far from the truth. The Industrial fats and oils that we use are extracted from corn, soybeans and other seeds. Crude vegetable oil–which is dark, sticky and smelly–is subjected to repeat processing to produce clean-looking cooking oils, margarine, shortening and spreads. The steps involved in processing usually include degumming, bleaching, deodorizing, filtering and removing saturates to make the oils more liquid. In the process, the nutrients and antioxidants disappear—but the pesticides remain intact. The advice is to use very little fat in your diet but stick to natural stuff… ghee, cold pressed oils like mustard, peanut, seseme, soyabean and coconut oil.
Processed foods are usually loaded with added sugar or its evil twin, High Fructose Corn Syrup. As we all know, sugar is “empty” calories – it has no essential nutrients, but a large amount of energy. But empty calories are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the harmful effects of sugar. Sugar can have devastating effects on metabolism that go way beyond its calorie content .It can lead to insulin resistance, high triglycerides, increased levels of the harmful cholesterol and increased fat accumulation in the liver and abdominal cavity. Highly processed foods often contain Preservatives, Colorants and Flavours. Processed food can contain dozens of additional chemicals that aren’t even listed on the label. For example “artificial Flavour” is a propriety blend. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose exactly what it means and it is usually a combination of chemicals.
Fiber, especially soluble, fermentable fiber, has various health benefits such as maintaining blood sugar levels, keeping your weight in check and the gut healthy. The fiber that is found naturally in foods is often lost during processing, or intentionally removed. Therefore, most processed foods are very low in fiber. The “hyper rewarding” nature of processed foods can have serious consequences for some people. People can literally become addicted to this hyper rewarding food and completely lose control over their consumption. Processed foods are extremely low in essential nutrients compared to whole, unprocessed foods. In some cases, synthetic vitamins and minerals are added to the foods to compensate for what was lost during processing. However, synthetic nutrients are NOT a good replacement for the nutrients found in whole foods.
Unprocessed foods are rich source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Because of their composition and minimal fat level, the caloric value of unprocessed food is low. Raw or little processed foods also mean higher nutritious values. Natural food protects us from many diseases, like cancers and heart conditions. The fibre present in unprocessed food causes proper digestion; it lowers the blood’s sugar level and protects our large intestines from ailments. Unprocessed food is also more aromatic than cooked food. It doesn’t require much salt, spices or sugar. With easy homemade recipes, cutting back on processed foods and eating clean is easier than you might think. If we keep replacing real, traditional foods like whole grains and cereals, vegetables, cold pressed oils with packaged, processed ready to eat foods, we may get fat and sick. Hence there is an urgent need to pay attention to the food in our plates and take corrective action.