Nowadays, it has never been easier for someone to live on a plant-based diet and still enjoy all their favorite omnivore foods in a quick and convenient box. The FDA requires all ingredients to be displayed clearly on packaging, there are hundreds of websites dedicated to “easy substitutes” for non-vegan staples, and the majority of Americans live within 40 miles of a major grocery store. But just like with the average American diet, processed foods should never replace a home cooked meal or be the main staple of a diet.
Processed food is made from real food that has received devitalizing chemical processes and is infused with chemicals and preservatives. For vegans, these are microwave ready meals, accidentally vegan foods, or any prepackaged foods that have a list of ingredients that remind you of college level chemistry.
Junk foods contain very little to no real food. They’re made of devitalized processed food, hydrogenated fats, chemicals, dyes, and preservatives, and include anything made with refined white flour. Canned breakfast drinks, cold/sugary cereals, candies, drive-through foods, and soda are examples of junk foods.
Fake foods are made primarily of chemicals to simulate foods not in their natural state and often contain gums and sugar fillers. Examples include soy bacon bits, bottled salad dressing, dehydrated soups, and instant coffee.
These non-foods have one thing in common: it costs your body a great deal more to digest, absorb, and eliminate them than they offer your body in nutritional value. An extremely poor return on your investment that leaves your body sluggish and depleted.
Toxins, Poisons, Processed Food, And The Body
Our ancestors preserved foods naturally using salt, fermentation, and sun drying. Food processing has evolved away from these simple practices into more complicated and dubious methods. Nowadays, nearly six thousand additives and chemicals are used by food companies in processing. Many of them can have a devastating effect on our health.
It is important to note that additives and preservatives cannot always be painted with a negative brush. The addition of vitamins to bread and soy milk has helped to stamp out diseases such as pellagra and rickets. Unfortunately, the good intentions that characterized the processed food industry during the early days have now devolved to finding ways to cheaply process food and manipulate buyers, regardless of the detrimental affects on the health of Americans.
Today, many additives and preservatives are harmful toxic chemicals as problematic as the decay they are used to prevent.
Preservatives are a type of additive used to help stop food from spoiling.
Nitrates and nitrites are used to preserve meats such as ham and bacon, but are known to cause asthma, nausea, vomiting, and headaches in some people. In addition to allergic reactions, the same is true for sulfites (sulfur dioxide, metabisulfites, and others), which are commonly used to prevent fungal spoilage, as well as the browning of peeled fruits and vegetables.
Sodium nitrite in some foods is capable of being converted to nitrous acid when ingested by humans. While animal testing showed that nitrous acid caused high rates of cancer, it is still in use.
Benzoic acid aka sodium benzoate is added to margarine, fruit juices, and carbonated beverages. It can produce severe allergic reaction and even death in some people.
Sulfur dioxide is a toxin used in dried fruits and molasses as well as to prevent brown spots on peeled fresh foods such as potatoes and apples. Sulfur dioxide bleaches out rot, hiding inferior fruits and vegetables. In the process, it destroys the vitamin B contained in produce. With a vegan diet, this is very detrimental since vitamin B is often quite scarce even in a balanced diet.
While antioxidants such as alpha-carotene are recommended by health specialists to prevent premature aging, antioxidants used as food preservatives may be unhealthy. Contained in nearly every processed food on the market, antioxidants prevent fatty foods from spoiling when exposed to oxygen.
BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are two of the most widely used, yet controversial of all antioxidants. So alarming were the results of BHT and BHA in animal testing, that a number of countries have severely restricted their use.
Some people have difficulty metabolizing these chemicals which is thought to result in health and behavioral problems and hyperactivity. They cause allergic reactions, may also contribute to the development of tumors and cancer, as well as be toxic to the nervous system and liver. In spite of these findings, the use of BHT and BHA has increased, rather than decreased, in the U.S.A.
Each year, the American food industry uses three thousand tons of food color. Many coloring agents are derived from coal tar, and nearly all coloring is synthetic. Norway has a total ban on all products containing coal tar. Though some artificial food dyes have been banned because they are believed to cause cancer, most dyes used today are of the artificial variety. They are also linked to allergies, asthmas, and hyperactivity.
The long list of foods and beverages in which color is altered includes margarine, the skins of oranges and potatoes, popcorn, maraschino cherries, jellies, jellybeans, carbonated beverages, and canned strawberries and peas.
Even the chicken feed on large-scale egg farms is colored so that chickens will lay golden-yolked eggs similar to those laid by free-range chickens.
Most processed foods contain sweeteners, many of which are artificial sugar substitutes containing no natural sugars, such as saccharine and aspartame.Artificial sweeteners are linked to behavioral problems, hyperactivity, and allergies. Because saccharin was shown to increase the incidence of bladder cancer in animal testing, all foods containing this sugar substitute are required to carry a warning label, however they continue to be mass produced as a “healthy alternative” to real sugar.
Emulsifiers, Stabilizers, and Thickeners
These additives alter the texture of foods. Emulsifiers prevent ingredients from separating into unappealing globs in food such as mayonnaise and ice cream. A first cousin to anti-freeze, propylene glycol is a synthetic solvent used as an emulsifier in foods. Although it is recognized as toxic to the skin and other senses, and is considered aneurological toxicant. The FDA has deemed it generally recognized as safe.
The most common food additive, flavorings, of which there are over 2000 in use, may be natural or artificial, and are usually comprised of a large number of chemicals.Artificial flavors are linked to allergic and behavioral reactions, yet these ingredients are not required to be listed in detail as they’re generally recognized as safe.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is another popular flavor enhancer. Found to cause damage in laboratory mice, it has been banned from use in baby foods, but is still used in numerous others. It causes common allergic and behavioral reactions including headaches, dizziness, chest pains, depression, and mood swings, and is also a possible neurotoxin.
Refined flour has had the brown husk of the grain stripped away, leaving the white, refined starch found in white bread, white rice, pasta, cookies, and numerous other junk foods. Some flours and sugars are further whitening by bleaching them with bone char.
Without the fibrous husk, refined starches are broken down quickly into sugar and absorbed immediately into the bloodstream causing glucose levels to rise, and increasing the risk of obesity.
In contrast, whole grains, such as whole grain bread and cereals, brown rice, and barley, retain the bran surrounding the starch, so they’re absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream than refined starches. This slows sugar absorption from the intestine, and reduces the risk of obesity.
Refining Destroys and Devitalizes Most of Foods’ Goodness
Healthy unsaturated fatty acids, rated highest in food value, are lost during the milling process. Half the vitamin E is destroyed when the wheat germ and bran are removed. Refining wheat into white flour removes between 50 and 93% of wheat’s magnesium, zinc, chromium, manganese, and cobalt.
Additionally, approximately 50% of calcium, 70% of phosphorus, 80% iron, 50% potassium, 65% of copper, 80% thiamin, 60% of riboflavin, 75% of niacin, 50% of pantothenic acid, and about 50% of pyridoxine is lost.
Refining sugar cane into white sugar depletes it of 99% of its magnesium and 93% of its chromium. Polishing rice removes 75% of its zinc and chromium. Refined table salt has had most of the trace minerals removed during processing. It contains no sodium chloride, sugar as filler, and may even contain aluminum.
Part of the process wheat undergoes to become the white flour in popular baked goods involves bleaching. Various chemical bleaching agents are used including oxide of nitrogen, chlorine, chloride, nitrosyl, and benzoyl peroxide mixed with a variety of chemical salts.
Chloride oxide , which catalyzes a chemical reaction that destroys beta cells in the pancreas, is now being linked to diabetes. This toxic effect is common scientific knowledge in the research community. In spite of this, the FDA still allows companies to use chloride oxide in processed food.
What does it all mean?
Eradicating every guilty pleasure in life is not the goal, nor is it a realistic approach to making lasting healthy changes. But if we understand the consequences of making what ought to be an occasional treat into the staple of our diet, we can begin to make wise choices about how many of these things we are willing to eat.
When it comes to avoiding many of the questionable and often debilitating additives contained in processed foods, begin making small changes in order to forge new habits.
1. If you don’t recognize or pronounce the words on a label, don’t buy it, or eat it.
2. Avoid products containing the following:
- Nitrates and nitrites (including sodium nitrite)
- Sulfites (including metabisulfites)
- Sulfur dioxide
- Benzoic acid (aka sodium benzoate)
- BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
- BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
- Coal tar
- Propylene glycol
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Refined or bleached flour (i.e. whitened using chloride oxide)
3. Don’t eat partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated trans fats.
4. Don’t eat products containing sugar substitutes such as saccharine and aspartame.
5. Avoid products with a long shelf life. The better they do on the shelf, the worse they are for your body.
6. Avoid products that have been enriched. They have been completely devitalized during processing.
7. Avoid food that has been genetically modified or engineered. Nearly all processed food contains GMOs.
8. Avoid products made with ingredients euphemistically described as “natural flavoring” or “natural coloring.” As a fun fact, the “natural flavoring” of some raspberry candies is derived from the anal secretions of beavers.
9. Avoid products with added sugar. Watch for words with “-ose” endings such as glucose.
10. Incorporate a multi-vitamin into your health regimen.
If you’ve had a history of eating products high in sugar and are concerned about diabetes, incorporate disease-fighting products such as garlic, vitamin E, and aloe vera into your diet. Vitamin E supplements can also protect your body from the harmful effects of eating refined products that have been bleached with chloride oxide.
As you begin to eliminate processed food from your diet, and start to enjoy eating real food. You will be on your way to optimizing your health, making an investment in your body’s future, and ultimately feeling better.
“Puristat Digestive Wellness.” Puristat Digestive Wellness. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.