How Reading Food Labels, Eating Clean and Reducing Sugar Will Impact Your Health & Longevity
Food affects everything. From our energy, skin, organs, metabolism, sleep, physical health and mental health--it affects it all (and some). Food also plays an important role in our relationships and traditions, as enjoying a meal with family and friends is a cross-cultural experience that has occurred since the beginning of human existence. For my family, treating ourselves with something delicious is definitely one of the ways we celebrate good grades, accomplishments, birthdays, or any kind of "win" or special occasion.
While being obsessive compulsive about what we put in our body can certainly be problematic (been there done that!), there's no doubt we are what we eat. What we predominantly consume impacts our ability to live a full and disease/pain-free active life, and as we approach the common cold/flu season, the quality of food we consume and the amount of sugar/refined food we eat absolutely affects our immune system. In fact, just one teaspoon of simple sugar (not sugar from fruits and veggies) can suppress your immune system for up to five hours. And, brace yourself, according to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes SEVENTEEN TEASPOONS OF SUGAR PER DAY!!!! That's 68 grams per day. To put it into perspective, there are 39 grams of sugar in one can of Coke. And, while sugar is not good, artificial sweeteners aren't a healthy substitute, but that's a topic for another day.
60-70% of the American Diet is Processed Foods
When we think of simple sugar we most often think of candy and sweets, but sugar is added to almost everything. In fact, research suggests that sugar is as addictive as nicotine and cocaine, which is most likely why the average American consumes seventeen teaspoons per day. Just take a look at the ingredients on the food label of everything that's in your pantry and refrigerator and see where sugar is listed. More often than not, you'll likely see sugar in the top five. (more below on how to read food labels, why reading them is so important and a very troubling most recent food label find)
The cold hard fact is that too much simple sugar and refined/fake food creates chronic inflammation in our bodies and too much inflammation is a huge problem that leads to disease and low-energy/low quality of life. Sadly, research now shows that 60-70% of the American diet is processed or ultra-processed foods, which I didn't even know "ultra-processed" was a thing. According to a New York University study, ultra processed foods are defined as: industrially manufactured, ready-to-eat or heat, include additives, and are largely devoid of whole foods. In addition, previous studies by researchers at NYU School of Global Public Health found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with obesity and heart disease. I know this is obvious but it's always important to include.
Writing this blog post was a bit like going down a rabbit hole. There is so much to include and I'll eventually break it all up into several blog posts, but for the sake of this blog post, I'm going to provide you with facts that will hopefully do the following:
Persuade you to begin reading food labels, even on the foods you typically feel good about
Encourage you to eat more clean, from the Earth food.
Inspire you to increase your complex carbohydrates, which is fruits, veggies, real food
Motivate you to reduce your simple carbohydrates: fake, refined, highly processed foods
By doing these things, your immune system will be strengthened, which will help you fight off viruses more easily, increase your energy, improve your sleep, decrease bloating, puffiness and allergy symptoms, resolve some gut issues and possibly reduce nagging aches and pains. All in all, you're going to feel so. much. better!
Why Reading Food Labels is a Crucial Skill
The other day I stumbled upon a random yet alarming post by a person I do not know. The post was a picture of what appeared to be a "new ingredient" (at least new to this person and me) listed on Nestle Chocolate Chip Morsels. Because you can't believe or trust everything you read, while grocery shopping I took it upon myself to check it out.
Sure enough, listed on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip morsel bag is the following: "contains a bioengineered food ingredient".
This information was not listed in the ingredients or directly below, rather after the distribution location, so not overtly obvious. In addition, I decided to check out Nestle's allergen-free morsels and interestingly, the allergen-free morsels do not contain a bioengineered food ingredient.
Truth be told and prior to this discovery, I did not know that bioengineered food ingredients were in food and I had no idea what it was. The optimistic, glass half full voice wanted to think it's a new and wonderful thing that's perfectly healthy (but I knew if it were they'd be advertising it like crazy). Whereas the curious scientist in me was screaming at me to research it, so I decided to do just that!
According to the USDA, a bioengineered food ingredient is the following: those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (rDNA) techniques and for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature. Because I can barely pronounce "vitro recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid", they got me at "not found in nature", so it's a hard and easy NO THANK YOU NESTLE...but that's just me.
While I haven't gone through everything in our pantry, I did discover the new toffee crunch Oreos DO have bioengineered food ingredients listed, but the basic Oreos do not. So we tossed the toffee crunch Oreos.
All in all, when it comes to making healthy choices and understanding what we're putting into our bodies, reading food labels is a crucial skill.
Food Labels Provide Valuable Information
Reading about the contents of packaged foods helps us make informed decisions about our nutrition. Understanding food labels empowers you to take control of your health and make choices aligned with your dietary goals.
Better Able to Assess the Nutritional Value of a Product
Food labels reveal essential details about calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, allowing you to gauge the nutritional content of a product.
Compare Similar Products
Labels make it easier to compare different brands or variations of a product, enabling you to choose the option that aligns with your nutritional needs.
Identify Hidden ingredients
Labels reveal additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and bioengineered food ingredients, assisting you in making informed choices about the ingredients you consume.
Nutritional Value of a Product
Food labels reveal essential details about calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals, allowing you to gauge the nutritional content of a product.
Manage Dietary Restrictions or Allergies
Labels highlight common allergens, such as gluten, dairy, nuts, or soy, helping you avoid ingredients that may cause adverse reactions.
The Food Label Goal
Start reading your food labels and look at the ingredients. The ingredients are listed in order of greatest to least, so if sugar is the first ingredient, this means the main and largest ingredient is sugar. Make it your goal to significantly reduce processed and ultra-processed food where sugar is one of the first five ingredients listed.
The Clean Eating Guide
Clean eating simply means choosing whole foods that are as natural as possible. That means eating more "real foods" like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, meat and fish, and cutting out the C.R.A.P:
Chemicals are used to preserve quality, add nutritional value, improve texture and appearance, and extend shelf life. According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group) the top Dirty Dozen chemicals to avoid are:
Nitrates and Nitrites- Used in cured meats
Potassium Bromate- Added to flour used in packaged baked goods
Propyl Paraben- Used in pastries and some tortillas
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)- Used in cured meats and other foods
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)- Used in cured meats and other foods
Tert-Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)- Used in Pop-Tarts and other processed foods
Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)- Used to stabilize citrus flavors in sodas and fruity drinks
Titanium Dioxide- Color additive used mostly in candy.
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS)- Used in food packaging and are known to leach into the food itself.
Artificial Colors- Found in many types of food and beverages.
Artificial Sweeteners- Found in food and beverages
Heavy Metals- Found in many baby foods contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic
Refined sugar is made by extracting and processing the sugar naturally found in foods like corn, sugar beets, and sugar cane. This refined sugar is then added to foods for various purposes, including to boost flavor. Refined flour/refined grains have undergone a refining process that removes the germ and bran
Common Refined Sugar
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Artificial sweeteners are chemically synthesized substances that are used instead of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages.
Common Artificial Sweeteners
Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K)
Preservatives are chemical substances that are added to food to help
prevent spoiling, improve appearance and/or maintain the food's nutritional quality.
Preservatives to Avoid
Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate- Used to preserve meat and also give it a nice, vibrant color
BHA & BHT (Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)- Used to extend shelf life and keep foods from becoming rancid
Potassium Bromate- Used to increase the volume in breads, rolls, flour
High Fructose Corn Syrup- Highly refined sweetener made from corn starch that also acts as a preservative
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil - help packaged foods retain a longer shelf life (it doesn’t go bad for years!)
Complex Carbohydrates vs. Simple Carbohydrates
Eliminating sugar all together is not only impossible, but doing so would be unhealthy. Fruits and vegetables are complex carbohydrates made up of sugar. Complex carbohydrates are God-made and from the Earth. Most complex carbohydrates are low in fat, high in fiber and do a better job of filling us up. According to Dr. Dean Ornish, president and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, in the book Life Force by Tony Robbins, he says, "Complex carbohydrates do not provoke insulin surges which can lead to metabolic syndrome, which ultimately leads to type 2 diabetes"... which leads to a myriad of health issues.
Just think about it, have you ever heard of anyone getting type 2 diabetes or heart disease from eating too many fruits and vegetables? Instead, chronic inflammation that leads to disease is a result of too much man-made simple/refined carbohydrates and C.R.A.P. (see above). Additionally, simple carbohydrates never fill us up, which is why it's impossible to eat one serving size of cereal. Not only is it not filling, but in order to be kind of full, you have to at least eat three or four servings (and for most cereals, one serving size is one cup--that's nothing) and you're hungry again in one hour.
But, before detailing the negatives about refined/simple sugar, let's focus on ALL the good news of complex carbohydrates!
According to Dr. Ornish and not surprising because they're from God, complex carbohydrates contain "thousands of protective substances that have anti-cancer, anti-heart disease, and anti-aging properties, including:
Found in the rind of green citrus fruits and in rose hips and black currants. Bioflavonoids have been used in alternative medicine as an antioxidant to treat osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions, to support blood circulation and a healthy heart, and enhance the action of vitamin C.
Micronutrients that naturally occur in plants. They're included in many supplements, though they're also easy to get in your diet from foods like fruits, vegetables, teas, and spices. There are more than 8,000 types of polyphenols
Derived from colorful fruits and veggies and is converted into vitamin A by the body
Type of organic pigment called a carotenoid. It is related to beta-carotene and gives some vegetables and fruits (e.g., tomatoes) a red color. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant.
Tetraterpene pigments, which exhibit yellow, orange, red and purple colors in plants, vegetables and fruits.
Plant-based compounds found almost exclusively in beans, like soybeans, that mimic the action of the hormone estrogen. They may be useful in alleviating menopause symptoms or preventing osteoporosis in postmenopausal people
The Complex Carbohydrate/Eat the Rainbow Goal
When it comes to complex carbohydrates, eat your heart out..because it will help your heart and your whole body. Make it a goal to include 2 colorful vegetables to each meal and be sure to pay attention to how amazing you feel too!
The Simple Sugar Saga: Inflammation, Disease, & Aging
While they are named "simple" sugars, if eating too many or 60-70% of your diet is simple sugars, ironically the results are not simple. In fact, the result is negative and quite complex! Consuming too much sugar creates chronic inflammation in the body and chronic inflammation results in the following:
Chronic inflammation can damage blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. Chronic inflammation is a hallmark of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of cancer development. It can promote the growth of cancer cells and impair the body's ability to fight off tumors.
Type 2 Diabetes
Chronic inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where cells don't respond effectively to insulin. This is a key factor in type 2 diabetes.
Inflammation in the brain and nervous system has been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Fat tissue produces inflammatory substances, and chronic inflammation is linked to obesity and its associated health issues.
Inflammatory chemicals can sensitize nerves, contributing to chronic pain conditions.
Prolonged inflammation can weaken the immune system, making it less effective at defending against infections and other health threats.
Chronic inflammation can lead to tissue and organ damage. For example, in chronic inflammatory joint diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation can erode cartilage and bone.
There is evidence to suggest that chronic inflammation may contribute to the aging process, as it damages cells and tissues over time.
Mood and Mental Health
Some research suggests a link between chronic inflammation and mood disorders like depression. Inflammatory chemicals can affect the brain and mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
The Simple Sugar Goal
All in all, to eliminate all simple sugar we'd have to move to some remote island, and we can't do that, so just try your best. Simply reducing refined and fake food in you and your family's diet will make a noticeable difference. And, while it may be difficult, the best news is it's a choice that you get to make everyday, and if you fall off the sugar wagon..or I should say fall into the sugar wagon, you can always try again.
Dietary fiber (aka roughage), is a type of carbohydrate your body can't digest
While most carbs are broken down into glucose, fiber isn't. Instead, it passes through your digestive tract intact.
While we can't digest fiber, it delivers a bevy of health benefit: feeds your healthy gut bacteria, promotes regular bowel movements, helps you feel fuller longer, prevents blood sugar spikes, helps lower blood pressure, balances cholesterol, reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer.