Convenience Foods – The Disadvantages and How to Take Your Pantry Back!

The Grocery Store Aisle.

Ahhh, the price we pay for convenience.

Since the innovation of the T.V. dinner, there have been great advancements in food preparation. Unfortunately- today, well over half of the foods purchased in a typical American supermarket are either pre-packaged or pre-prepared. Before the innovation of fast food— food consisted of whole fruits and vegetables eaten in season, or preserved in the summer months for a long cold winter. Real food came from animals that grazed on pastures and were allowed to live out their natural instincts by scratching, pecking, birthing and wandering about. Well, in most cases, that has all changed. Today’s lifestyles are so fast paced, that busy aware people are always looking for things to simplify our lives— I do it all the time.

Industrial agriculture has been created to assist in growth and has taken over to help simplify. Or has it? In the attempt to feed more people in a faster, more efficient way, food has become food “products” full of chemicals— not real food. These denatured food products are a contributing factor to diseases that are shortening the human lifespan— for the first time ever in the history of humans.

Obesity, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are at an all time high, and most of these diseases are controllable by the food we consume.

How do we get around this? Education. Read your food labels and investigate what is in your pantry and on your grocery list! Shop at your local farmers market and ask questions. Small local farmers are nice people, and love to sell you heathy food products. Before reaching for the prepackaged or prepared food at your local grocer, spend some time doing a little research how the food is made, where it is made, where the ingredients are sourced from. Read the ingredient list, and count how many shelve stabilizer are in the products you are going to consume. Most importantly, educate yourself to understand why you should choose the most minimally-processed foods.

Today, in the world of high processed, preprepared foods— it feels like all the products on our grocer’s shelves contain some kind of chemical or additives that are known to harm either the human body, or laboratory animals. The additives are employed so prepared foods can sit for periods of time without decaying— as opposed to the period of time unprocessed foods would quickly decay. This helps the corporate grocery chains reduce the risk of loss, therefore impacting a better financial price point. Most of the ingredients that will be found in the prepared or highly processed foods that we should avoid— fall into one of three areas. Food additives, artificial colors, and artificial sweeteners. Frankly, any products that contains the word, “artificial” should be questioned.

Many chemical ingredients are also used in processing meats, dairy products and some processed produce, like pre-sliced packaged apple slices. Think back to when you bite or slice a raw apple. It trueness is browning. Now think a about the sliced apples you see in packages in the produce isle of your supermarket. They are sliced, but have not turned brown. How long have they been sitting there? Not to mention, where and how far have the traveled and how long did they spend at the processing plant? They have not browned like a regular apple.There is a reason for that. —

More and more experts are agreeing that you would be a wise consumer to try to avoid as many chemicals in your foods as possible. By shopping in mostly the produce, dairy and meat sections of your grocery store, you really can avoid many of the harmful food additives. It does take some work though. Educate yourself and take corporate marking out of the equation. Cut though the propaganda hype- just because a box of cereal is brightly packaged, offers a toy and maybe a game on the back of the box can draw unsuspecting consumers to make a call to action purchase. Learning all these sales pitches to food consumers does take time— however, once you get caught up, by knowing your “go-to” products— shopping will become much easier.

Consumers should still draw attention to whole fresh produce, and some other minimally processed foods— that have been grown, or sprayed with toxins to prevent pests from eating or decaying crops. In some cases, produce grown from seeds that have been developed to resist weed and pesticide killers, and continue to grow midst the toxic spraying. Or milk from cows that have been injected with growth hormones to mass produce and then later pumped with antibiotics due to the illness out break of over production in the first place- sounds like a mad-cycle when it comes to factory farming. Despite opposition from scientists, farmers and consumers, the United States currently allows dairy cows to be injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Developed and manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, this genetically engineered hormone forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10 to 15 percent. Controversy surrounds whether or not rBGH is safe for cows and humans.milk_chemicals1

Today, if the majority of foods we purchase have a close connection to the earth naturally, we hope they are safer to consume. Just keep in mind—it is possible to have some processed foods that are still healthy. For instance, frozen green peas have been “processed” —they contain butter in the bag, or grass-fed ground beef has been processed from whole cuts of meat to ground hamburger, or freshly prepared nut butters. In most cases, the term “processed food” refers to those that are chemically processed and made from heavily refined ingredients and artificial additives. Processed foods are also addictive, and have been known to encourage excessive cravings, which will create chronic inflammation in our bodies. This can all lead to a gateway of serious diseases. Highly processed foods also encourage weight gain and with that also comes chronic disease. Diabetes, Heart Disease – to name a few. Typically, processed foods are high in sugar, fructose, refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients. Most are also low in healthy nutrients and needed fiber.

Refined, highly processed carbohydrates can be found in everyday foods that you and your family are consuming. Foods such as breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, instant oatmeals, and other foods that quickly break down to sugar in your body should be avoided. The fast cooking rice you think might be the better choice, is really just stripped of the nutritious portions of the grain,— stripping it helps it cook faster, but all you are left with is just empty calorie fast- cooking food. Most processed foods also have added chemicals to enrich what was stripped behind with some added sugar. All this can increases your insulin and leptin levels, and contributes to insulin resistance, which is the primary underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man today, including weight gain.

In the midst of growing a thriving economy though fast processed foods, many consumers are now beginning to feel there is a health concern to this type of food convenience. We all understand the health of our economy is based on the things we purchase. Large corporate farming, initially designed to help us, has raged out of control and– has created a food system that values quantity over quality. Every single decision a farmer or corporation makes about growing or raising a certain kind of food affects the final product. Cutting corners on the quality of animal feed, waste management, training for farm workers, processing methods and distribution all affect the safety of our food. From E. coli in spinach to mad cow disease in beef, it is clear that lowering the bottom line at any cost creates significant concerns about the safety of our food.

1 a 1 a a veg meatrixConsumer watch dog groups such as, Free Range Studios, Graces Sustainable Table — producers of the Meatrix, are claiming more diseases are now reported from eating processed foods and additives. And, the FDA generally recognizes most artificial food additives and colors as safe. Due to the conflict, there are many growing concerns. Watch the Meatrix if you get a chance, the short films are humorous and creative satires that use pop culture and entertainment to educate viewers about the food they eat and where it comes from. All the films feature three superhero farm animals including Leo, the young pig who wonders if he is “the one”, Chickity, the feathered family farm defender, and Moopheus, the trench-coat covered cow. The Meatrix website also offers information on the issues surrounding factory farming, as well as alternatives to conventionally-raised meat, poultry, dairy, and egg.

We live in a food society where our families are constantly under the attach of marketing and advertisements to entice children and ourselves to make nutrition poor decisions. Television, magazine, supermarkets commercials, billboard or internets ads all offer us choices that are detrimental to our health and the future of our families health. The American Pediatrics Association suggests that children over the age of two should limit the intake of saturated fats, sugars and foods high in sodium. Limit fast or processed foods. These foods are usually high in fats, sugars, sodium, fillers, and may possibly contain nutritionally inferior ingredients. Many grocery stores will be stocked with food high in chemical preservatives to help keep foods on the shelves longer, and added food coloring to make these foods more attractive or more food-like looking. All of these items listed may have adverse effects on your family health.sal

Fast food restaurants almost always serve foods high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Serving sizes should always be in question in a fast food restaurant. Single orders containers such as a potato fries container, are over filled or really contain enough for two servings but we never read the find print do we? The larger servings are pleasing to the eye and immediately make the consumer feel they are receiving a value. When you are really only receiving additional serving portions of nutritionally empty foods. Preparing and eating foods from home will always be the healthier option.

How we can make a change to eating healthier?

Start to slowing make these changes and add the following into your food fight arsenal. Making changes are hard. Take it one set at a time, and don’t get overwhelmed. It takes awhile to cross back over the green side of the pasture.

Start shopping at a farmers market: get to know the people that are growing and raising food- its nice to shop outdoors too. In most cities you can look up weekly locations on the internet. Get to know the farmers. Know where your food is coming from and how fresh it is. If you do not have access to a farmers market shop on the outer perimeter of your store and stay away from the food isles that stock shelved fast-foods in boxes, cans or jars.
Limit highly processed foods: Occasionally try a soy products like Tofu and watch out for fillers especially in hot dog products.
Drink water: Don’t drink or serve sodas or sugar cereals. Choose recipes that contain fresh foods. Avoid soda and sugary drinks & juices, and anything from concentrate.
Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Your body will thank you in the long run. Purchase regular rolled oatmeal instead of the instant packets: Cooking it really only takes a few minutes longer and will caution less artificial ingredients.
Only cook with unprocessed rice & grains instead of instant type varieties: Try new grains like, bulgar, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice.
Substitute: brown whole grain and whole wheat pasta for white refined kind.
Flavor your foods: with fresh herbs and spices rather than packaged rubs and marinates that contain shelve stabilizers.
Purchase fruits and vegetables that are fresh: Not in a can or a jar. Choosing frozen is good option when you cannot buy fresh. Choose local. if its out of season. Don’t eat it. The further your food has traveled the less nutritious it will be. And expensive.
Make your own salad dressings for the week in a shaker: Try new recipes with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oils. Experiment with rice vinegar and apple cider vinegars to add variety.
Make soups: Soups are fast and easy to make. They also freeze well for a future meal. Look up a few from scratch recipes instead of purchasing canned. There are soups for every season.
Check and read all bread labels: If breads are listing all kinds of ingredients that you cannot pronounce chances are you are making the wrong choice. Choose whole grain breads if you can. Avoid any breads containing the word Dioxin, which is a by-product of a flour bleaching process. This can cause possible health issues later. Making your own is best, but I’m also realistic on time management with families.
Mill your own grains: It is as simple as grinding your own coffee with a Mockmill- small home mill that can attach to your kitchen aid mixer- it’s that simple.
Read Nutrition labels: Stock your kitchen with good choices. This process will slow you down at first, but once you become more accustom to nutritional labels you will breeze right through this. Remember, processed foods are attractively packaged. Shop without the kids if you can. Even it means hiring a baby sitter for an hour or arranging a short play date. Manufactures will make wholesome claims spinning words, so pay close attention. Ingredients are listed in the order they are present. The first few ingredients will be the largest in quality. For instance , if a juice product ingredient label begins with, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, or juice from concentrates —this product might not be the best choice for your family. Beware of manufactures grouping ingredients listed together so it looks as though sugar is not the first ingredient. Items grouped can be be listed first by law. Many fruit enhanced products may be listed as, “fruit flavored”- which are really artificial flavors, and nothing more that food coloring added.
Educate yourself: on the differences between USDA organic, organic and natural flavors.
Roast your own meats: for sandwich making — like roast-beef, turkey breast and fresh ham. Most meat manufactures must preserve their products to prevent unwanted bacteria growth- they do this by freezing their meats or adding chemical and sodium based preservatives such as sodium lactate, sodium phosphates, modified food starches and sodium nitrates. Choose free range, properly fed animal products.
Drink hormone free milk: avoid consuming secondary additives from cows that have been treated to over produce, get sick from over production and subsequently are fed antibiotics to keep them producing.
Introduce legumes: which are high in protein and a great addition to your families meals. They come in all types of fun colors too.
Eat vegetarian once in a while: Reducing reliance on animal based products might be something to think about, doing so can be a family based discussion and decision. Some families follow the ever popular “Meatless Mondays”— as their special day of the week to go meat free.
Keep sugary foods to a moderation: not only will your feel better, you will start to notice many other health benefits form detoxing from refine sugars— such as, increased energy, clarity, satiety.

Look for words that should prompt you to research the food product further

Artificial coloring
Artificial flavors
Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)
Brominated vegetable oil
Bleached Starch
Caramel coloring
Camauba wax
Corn Sweetener
Cracker meal
Disodium guanylate
Disodium inosinate
Enriched flour
Fruit juice concentrate
Granular fruit sugar
Hydrogenated oils
Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oil
High fructose corn syrup
Magnesium sulphate
Monosodium glutamate
Molasses or rice syrups
Modified food starch
Natural flavoring
Polysorbate 60
Propyl gallate
Propylene glycol
Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose
Sodium nitrate
Tert butylhydroquinone

If you are just beginning to emphasize a plant based diet – remember to eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of our nutrient dense diets because they provide us with carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fibers. They also contain calcium, iron and trace minerals. They are cholesterol free, fat free and are naturally low in calorie. Many fruits and vegetables can be eaten without cooking. Heating and processing foods can cause nutrients loss. The longer your food travels– the less nutrients they will contain.

label_man.jpgSwitching to a healthful diet can be challenging, there is a bit of a learning curve. If you are seriously interested into transitioning yourself and the whole family into safer, smarter eating, and healthier choices, it can be done. Once you begin to educate yourself on what is safe, and what is not – your shopping trips will go quicker. Remember to stay up to date on the vast changes in the processed food industry by researching consumer advocacy food groups in your area. Remember, the sooner you introduce this lifestyle to young children the better off they will be. As parents and caregivers — it is up to us to teach the next generation to make better food choices and it is much easier to implement that to change a child with already poor food choice habits.

I’m an email away if you need help.

Chef Gigi


Published by Chef Gigi Gaggero, Host of Silicon Valley's LIVE Food Talk Radio on KSCU 103.3 FM

Professional Chef, Two Time Award-Winning Book Author, Former Academic Director from Le Cordon Bleu, and Host of Silicon Valley's LIVE Food Talk Radio on KSCU 103.3 FM

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