I have a ridiculous addiction to frozen pot pies. The amount of calories, sodium and saturated fat compared to the serving size makes them one of the worst items in the grocery store. But they are so cheap, quick, and tasty that they’re hard to resist. Such foods drive American consumers into dire health consequences. Some of the most common elements of our diets have almost no nutritional value, mostly only harmful chemicals.
The biggest contributor to an unhealthy nation may be drinks with artificial sweeteners and high caloric content that don’t encourage less caloric consumption in food. America’s obesity problem correlates well with the fact that half the nation consumes sugary beverages and a quarter are taking in over 200 calories per day. In fact, sugary drinks are the top caloric source in teen diets, even more than pizza. But that’s not to say that lower calorie drinks are better. Those also lead to lower quality diets overall. This does not only include soda, but fruit drinks, sports drinks, “ades” or anything with added sweeteners.
Alternatives: Diet soda is not a good option as it also drives cravings for sweets. Flavored water may be a step in the right direction, but those often contain sugar. Using fresh fruits and vegetables in water, or even frozen in ice, is a clean alternative. The main point is to drink things that will help cut down, and eventually cut out, sweet drinks.
Other Bottled Drinks
Even more pure bottled drinks, such as tea or coffee, don’t have the same nutritional benefit as freshly brewed cups. As a general rule, anything which is factory-produced is not going to carry the same health benefits as naturally occurring foods. And substances which can be so quickly consumed will rack up the calorie and chemical count fastest.
Alternatives: Make your own tea and coffee. The extra mile you go to avoid pre-made drinks, you reap in taste and refreshment. Make extra amounts to take on outings and drink in place of purchasing the processed version.
Pizza is another top source of caloric intake in kids. Each day, twenty percent of kids across the country are eating pizza. The amount of sodium and saturated fat added with the calories is a major contributor to heart disease and obesity. Pizza can be made healthier, but healthy pizza is not trendy or cheap. The primary reason people eat so much pizza is the price. However, the addiction to the high sodium, high fat pizzas drives cravings making people eat more and more. Like most bad foods, the calories are not the worst part. Pizza is full of some notoriously harmful foods, such as bleached flour bread, and processed cheese and meat.
Alternatives: For starters, make your own pizza. It may be harder work, but what you put in you get out. Also, it’s not imperative to eat five or six pieces of pizza. Make small versions of pizza, such as on an English muffin or crackers.
Bread, pasta and other carbohydrates have a bad image as well, recently for the gluten content. In and of themselves, carbs are not all that bad. The main problem is that people tend to over eat carbs. As with all things, bread and pasta in moderation is fine. If eaten daily and obsessively, as some people do with pizza, then there is no doubt serious health complications including considerable weight gain will result.
Alternatives: Look up some healthier carb replacement options. There are many creative dishes that can compensate for the cravings carbs provide. These Men’s Health and Women’s Health articles give creative examples of ways to substitute various vegetables for potatoes or pasta
Anything labeled as gluten-free may be a health hazard. Cutting out gluten isn’t necessarily nutritionally beneficial as trends might suggest. Unless someone has a true allergy, which less than 7% of people actually do, removing gluten from the diet can be detrimental because many gluten-free foods substitute sugar, sodium or fat to compensate for taste. Moreover, gluten itself is a vital protein that can help combat arsenic in the bloodstream.
Alternatives: In principle breads, cereals, pasta and beer are not all that good for a diet. And they all contain gluten. However, they aren’t bad specifically because of the gluten. Until you are aware of an allergy, there is no reason to stop eating gluten.
Potato chips, french fries and pretty much any fried foods need to be avoided. Even eating fried okra or other vegetables doesn’t create a healthier option than eating a fried potato. The basic premise is that heating oil to a high temperature creates a chemical compound that is rather carcinogenic and correlated with cancer.
Highlighted in all of these examples is that “bad” foods are okay once in a while. In fact, some of the healthier ideas in new food trends involve some familiar favorites, with some modern health considerations for an upgrade. The overall problem lies in that commonly snacking on things like potato chips does not lead to better eating habits. The idea is to avoid many common, low quality items routinely because a body needs to be adjusted to like foods that are good for it. Therefore a good mix of foods is crucial.
A step in the right direction could be the content of school lunches. Schools can limit the availability of sugary drinks and improve lunch lines to promote good habits and teachable moments. Ideally, a good education carries over into the home as well. A good health education should include physical exercise and the presence of organic foods. In most cases, organic foods are much healthier than processed foods. Organic foods avoid most of the pesticides used for mass growing and avoid the sugar and salt additives used to preserve the lesser quality foods. This all creates for cleaner foods that remove most of the addictive properties that lead to overeating and craving unhealthy foods.
Yet, even organic eating can get a bad rap. For example, the most common reason people don’t eat organic is the expense. However, green living on a budget tips show that one of the many benefits of healthy menu planning saves money. Being in the routine of taking time and preparing is always the way to execute any plan. Without prepping lunches for school, work or other outings is setting a person up for hungry and desperate situations, which results in eating out more than usual and going for the quick fixes. The cost of eating out will quickly become prohibitively expensive, much more so than making food from all organic, locally grown foods.
In addition to spending the same amount of money, or even less, on quality foods promotes a healthier and more eco-conscious lifestyle. It’s that lifestyle, those daily choices, that will save money and make a person healthier.
One way to deal with the expense is to focus on foods that are the more valuable to purchase organically. Livestrong has a list of foods to buy organic while on a budget. Some of the most critical foods I look at are organic peanut butter, potatoes, fruit, vegetables (particularly corn), dairy and meat.
Organic peanut butter carries the biggest upside of any single food. It has so many vitamins, like potassium, magnesium, Vitamins E and B6 along with unsaturated fats providing the “good cholesterol” to keep the doctor away. What’s better in the natural and organic versions is very little sodium and sugar.
Organic meat and dairy products are better since the animals themselves eat an organic diet with no hormones or antibiotics, not to mention the better over effect on the environment.
Potatoes are among the most common and healthy parts of a diet. They also grow in the ground, leaving them to soak in pesticides and other chemicals, unless they are grown in organic fields. Another factor that is important to consider that when potatoes are peeled or fried, they will lose a majority of their nutrients. In other words, whole roasted or baked organic potatoes are about the best value for long term health.
With fruits and vegetables as well, there are so many more vitamins and antioxidants in the organic versions that it is somewhat wasted of money to buy lesser quality.
The problem with organic farming is that the government doesn’t do much to support it, even where the economic benefits to farmers and communities outweigh the popular commercial farming practices. Currently, the popular practice is more attractive. What needs to happen is the improved image of organic farming.
That image could be changing with the right marketing practices. Chinese food producer Volk Favor is trying to deliver the best of both worlds. There may room for processed junk food-type pleasures within the organic realm.
Just remember to not overdo just because the product looks good, tastes good and feels good. There is a also such thing as too much of a good thing.