I used to be a chronic yo-yo dieter. I would hop on one diet, lose some weight, fail because it was totally unsustainable, fill my face with junk food, feel guilty and then hop back on another silly diet. This cycle continued for years.
There are a few things I can confidently say turned my eating habits around for good. One of those things has been learning some horrifying truths about the processed food industry. I started to ask myself:
Why was I was so addicted to this food?
Why was my body was always craving more?
Why do I feel so crappy after I eat it?
Why are things like obesity and chronic disease killing so many people?
The more I learned, the easier it was to say no to junk. Eating better and feeling better became a no-brainer. When I started to gain a solid understanding about the garbage that goes into packaged food, it was enough to change my life forever. The more I learned, the more I felt confident about the decisions I was making not only for myself but also for the world.
As consumers, we have a say in what our food landscape looks like. Each time you walk into the grocery store and purchase clean food you vote for a healthier food system and healthier policies. Ultimately, we are the ones who decide what we buy, what we put in our bodies and how much we eat.
If you are having trouble jumping off the junk food wagon, here are 10 quick and shocking facts that might change the way you look at processed food forever.
1. "Tomato" sauce? More like sugar sauce!
The most abundant ingredient in Prego sauce (after tomatoes) is sugar. There are two teaspoons of sugar in just 1/2 cup of Prego sauce. This is the same amount of sugar you will find in two oreos. Sugar has been linked to the obesity epidemic and has been accurately labelled as "a breeding ground for disease".
2. "Natural Flavours" aren't really that natural.
Some of the flavour mixtures that are added to our food can contain up to 100 different substances that the manufacturer does not have to disclose. Instead, they group them under the umbrella term of "natural flavour". Natural flavours have been shown to contain synthetic chemicals like propylene glycol, which is also used in is also used in anti-freeze. So don't be fooled. There is probably nothing really "natural" about those flavours at all.
3. Cancer-causing chemicals keep your meat looking wonderful.
Have you ever opened up a package of lunch meat in your fridge and thought, "I feel like I bought this a really long time ago, but it still looks good!"? Well that's because processed meats like salami, ham, bacon, sausage and hot dogs are often treated with nitrates or nitrites. These are chemicals that prolong the food's shelf life and prolong its appetizing colour. Consumption of nitrites and nitrates is straight up bad news. This junk has been associated to cancer of the esophagus, brain and thyroid.
4. Yellow food dye is making us crazy.
Nope, it's not normal for those freakishly weird marshmallow peeps to be that yellow. Tartrazine, also known as "Yellow 5", is a synthetic lemon yellow dye used as a food colouring. You will likely find tartrazine in Kraft Dinner, Mountain Dew, Jell-o, Dorritos, gummy bears and corn flakes. This substance has been linked to asthma symptoms, behavioural disorders and hives. No thanks.
5. Toxins in your corn make bugs stomachs literally explode.
Corn is lurking everywhere you turn. And I mean EVERY WHERE from juice, hamburger patties and yogurt to salad dressings and soup. The concern with corn is that much of it has been genetically engineered to produce Bt toxin (Bacillus thuringiensis), a pesticide the kills bugs by making their stomachs explode. Seems like a good idea for a pesky insect problem until that corn is consumed by us humans.
6. Processed food is designed to get you addicted.
Have you ever wondered why when you eat chips, you can't seem to stop? There is a perfectly good explanation for this: it is designed to be addictive to keep you coming back for more. Processed food stimulates dopamine, a neuro-transmiter in your brain that makes you feel pleasure. Food companies know this and engineer their products specifically to have this effect. In fact, some of the processed food giants actually go as far as using brain scans to study how our brains react to their food and guess what! It is very similar to what happens to the brain after taking cocaine.
7. Eating processed food makes it harder to burn calories.
Ever heard the age old saying, "You can't out run a bad diet?". Well, it's true. Eating processed food makes it harder to burn calories. Those who eat diets high in processed food will burn 50% fewer calories than those eating a whole-food diet.
8. There are insect secretions in your candy.
You know those shiny, colourful, sugary shells on the outside of candy? Well that stuff is made from shellac, which is sticky substance secreted by these creepy little bugs called "lacs". Here is what shellac looks like before it is turned into candy coating:
Image via Essence of the Desert
9. Bugs and rodent hairs? Fair game!
The FDA actually says it is okay for things like maggots, rodent hairs, fruit flies and parasites to be in our food. But don't worry - they regulate the amount. For instance, the FDA allows up to 15 fruit fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams of tomato sauce. Come on guys, it's only 1 maggot. That's cool, right?
10. The "Bliss Factor"
The bliss point is the precise amount of sweetness that makes food and drink most enjoyable. This term was coined in the 1970s by a Boston mathematician named Joseph Balintfy, who used computer modeling to predict eating behavior. The concept has obsessed the food industry ever since so they can keep us hooked. Tricky, tricky!
Are you picking up what I'm putting down? If you want to look and feel your best, it is so important to eat clean! Make small changes over time to incorporate real food into your diet and work on decreasing your junk food intake one day at a time. Remember: ultimatly you are the one who decides what you buy, how much you eat and ultimately how you feel.