Go back in time a hundred years or so and grocery shopping was a very different undertaking to what it is today. There were no one-stop supermarkets – you had to go to specialist food shops like the grocers for your fruit and vegetables, the butcher for your meat and the baker for your bread. In many cases, you couldn’t even buy the specific food you wanted to eat but could only buy the ingredients to make it yourself. If you wanted a cake then you had to buy the flour, sugar etc. and get baking!
Because food was perishable, people shopped for groceries much more frequently. There was no such thing as freezing or refrigeration and food preserving was limited to drying, salting and pickling. Treats, such as like sweets and desserts were available but they were not widely consumed and fruit was the dessert of choice for many people.
Local, Seasonal, Organic Produce Used To Be The Norm!
The vast majority of food was produced locally and only available when it was in season. Very little food was transported for consumption out of the area in which it was grown.
All of this added up to a mostly healthy and well-balanced diet for all but the poorest of families and even those that were very hard up sustained themselves on foods that, in more modern times, would come to be considered as healthy – primarily lots of vegetables and wholegrains.
The Rise Of The Supermarket
Fast forward to the 21st century and supermarkets rule the roost. Although most still sell fresh produce, their main commodity is processed food – food that has been pre-prepared so all you have to do is heat it, cook it briefly or eat it right out of the packet.
Processed foods are the ultimate in nutritional convenience. Many of us live very busy lives and food that is non-perishable and quick to prepare is very appealing. The idea of going shopping more frequently than once a week is now foreign to the vast majority of us and a lot of people are also under the false impression that cooking a meal from scratch using fresh, healthy ingredients need so the very time consuming. Food marketers have also convinced many of us that it is possible to eat processed foods and still be healthy.
Longer Lives But Not Healthier Lives
Back in the days before supermarkets and processed foods, heart disease, diabetes and being overweight were very rare occurrences. Admittedly the average lifespan was shorter than today but that’s mainly because of the less sophisticated medical practices available back then.
By and large, people were much healthier 100 years ago. Today, life expectancy is greater than ever before but, in many cases, those extra years are attributable to improved health care, not improved health.
Modern life is considerably less physically demanding than back in the “good old days” as most of us are able to make our living sat behind a desk rather than behind a plow but it’s the type of food we now eat that has had arguably the greatest impact on our health.
Processed foods contain calories which are essential for sustaining life but what they tend not to contain is essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are almost always high in sugar, salt and trans fats and contain a host of artificial ingredients that, quite simply, are bad for your health. Many of the ingredients in processed foods are designed to make you eat more of that particular product and are mildly addictive – flavor enhancers like monosodium glutamate being a very noteworthy example. Other ingredients are simply there to maximize the shelf life of the food.
If you take a moment to examine the ingredients list on many processed foods, you’ll be hard pushed to actually identify a single ingredient that is remotely natural. Most ingredient lists read more like the instructions for a chemical experiment which, ironically, is not far from the truth. Many so-called foods are really food-like substances and have little more than a passing relationship with “real” food.
Ultimately, processed foods are about two things – convenience for the consumer and profit for the manufacturer. Health, which should be paramount, doesn’t come into the equation.
Overfed But Still Malnourished?
Despite the abundance of calories available in processed foods, a large percentage of the population is malnourished – ironic considering the number of overweight people around. Malnourishment is more commonly associated with Third World countries but is just as big a problem in the developed West.
Your body needs and abundance of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to function effectively and efficiently. These nutrients act like sparkplugs to ensure that the millions of life-sustaining reactions that happen in your body occur in a timely fashion. The absence of any specific nutrients can be directly linked to the development of a disease, for example, lack of calcium and vitamin D is linked to osteoporosis – a condition characterized by porous bones that are prone to fracture.
Say “NO” To Empty Calories
Processed foods are nothing more than “empty calories”; that is to say devoid of meaningful quantities of essential nutrients. They are not designed to be healthy although some are marketed as such – breakfast cereals and non-fat diet foods being prime examples. Most processed foods require essential nutrients but provide none which means your body has to give up this precious resource from its reserves. This can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies and poor health.
The best way to avoid processed foods is to adopt a hunter-gatherer mentality when grocery shopping. If the food you are contemplating buying occurs naturally and could be picked, dug or, caught or manufactured using simple ingredients, it’s probably healthy to eat. If, however, it’s more the product of the laboratory than nature, its best left on the shelf. Sugar-free, low fat cookies? They don’t grow on trees you know!
The best foods are those that were once live and are in as close to their natural state as possible. A diet based on real foods such as these is always going to be healthier than a diet based on processed foods.