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Race Day September 22, 2018

Healthy Living Expo September 20-21, 2018

Clean Eating

, by Chef Joan Cunningham

Every New Year provides an opportunity to check in with ourselves, to reflect on where we are, what we want to change, what we want to accomplish in the coming year. For many, thoughts turn toward better eating and/or losing a few pounds.

Here’s my two cents - just think about making better food choices every day, every meal. First and foremost, ditch processed food. But what, exactly, does “processed food” include? It means anything that is prepared or packaged. Wow. That’s a big pill. So let me modify the principle a bit so it’s not so intimidating.

It’s pretty hard to completely avoid processed foods in this day and age. I don’t completely avoid purchasing processed or prepared food, but I am adamant about checking the ingredients list before I put anything in my cart. I try to stick with two rules of thumb: number one, the item I am purchasing must have five or fewer ingredients, and number two, each ingredient must be real food, not some chemical confabulation or preservative. In other words, an ingredient that my grandmother would have recognized (with the exception of sugar. but that’s fodder for another post....).

Here’s the reasoning. Processed food manufacturers do not have your health interests at heart. Their food “scientists” are manipulating our taste for food by adding salt, sugars, bad fats, and more, then assembling them into cereals, salad dressings, sauces, soups, nut butters, snacks, and any number of items that you find on every grocery store shelf. Here’s the rub - once food has been processed, i.e., changed from the way it naturally occurs, it begins losing its nutritional value and often, flavor. That means milling, grinding, blending, juicing, cooking, chopping, slicing, dicing - all these processes initiate chemical changes in food that reduce the nutritional oomph of food (with a few exceptions). Things get worse from there. Next, they throw in some chemical preservatives to extend the shelf-life, “enrich” with a few synthetic vitamins and minerals to make up for the naturally occurring ones that were lost. Add a dash of “food-like” substances (“All Natural Flavors” is a favorite), some sugar and salt and there you have
almost everything that appears on the interior aisles of every grocery store in every city and town.

Why is that bad? Hasn’t everything been approved by the FDA? Well, yes and no. There’s a lot of bad science out there - often funded by the very companies whose products are being “tested.” It seems every week, there’s another news story about some gimmicky food-like substance, additive, or preservative that has been linked to inflammation or a chronic condition. We didn’t evolve to eat this garbage, and once it’s in our bodies, our digestive systems don’t recognize many of these substances, don’t know what to do with them, and consequently, we end up with these substances floating around our bodies, wreaking havoc!

To further illustrate my point, let’s take a look at two items that are frequently on the weekly grocery list.

First, cereals. Kellogg’s is one company offering a number of alternatives, so let’s take a cereal that many people would consider to be one of the “healthier” choices - Raisin Bran. From the website, I found this list of ingredients for Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Omega-3 from Flaxseed cereal - “whole grain wheat, rice, sugar, raisins, wheat bran, brown sugar syrup, whole flaxseeds, glycerin, contains 2% or less of salt, malt flavor, soluble corn fiber, BHT for freshness.” Okay - they’re trying to appeal to the healthconscious with the “Omega-3 from Flaxseed” addition, but in reality, everything has been broken down through processing. Ground flaxseed, especially, begins oxidizing and losing nutritional value immediately after it’s ground, as do grains (hence, the BHT as a preservative). Sugar is one of the top three ingredients, and that is compounded by the addition of brown sugar syrup and glycerin. If you add the three together, chances are “sugars” become one of the top two ingredients!

Let’s look at another common food item - nuts and nut butters. For most of history, humans have consumed a variety of nuts and seeds. They are a great source of nutrients and fiber, but if my memory serves me correctly, about 35 or 40 years ago, “dry roasted” nuts burst upon the scene. Sounds simple and straight-forward enough, but I remember thinking at the time - what is this weird dusty coating on my peanuts? Why do they taste so different? I was not a fan right from the start. And, if you look at the ingredients win a typical dry roasted nut, you will see “peanuts, contains 2% or less of: sea salt, spices (contains celery), dried onion, dried garlic, paprika, natural flavor, sugar, gelatin, torula yeast, cornstarch, dried corn syrup, maltodextrin.“ Not a single ingredient added for any reason except to further entice us to over-indulge in this lowly legume. Granted, peanuts are the primary ingredient, but they’re so good on their own, why add all the other stuff? It’s all about the manipulation.

I am a huge almond butter fan, and eat it almost every day. I have found that most almond butter is made from dry-roasted almonds and is awful! Almond butter made from plain raw or roasted almonds is so much better, but hard to find. Even the almond butter you grind yourself at Whole Foods uses dry-roasted almonds! I have started making my own from raw almonds. I roast my almonds in the oven for a few minutes - roasting nuts enhances their nuttiness! Then, I put them in my food processor with a little sea salt and enough almond oil to ensure a smooth spread, and turn on the machine. So easy, and
so much better. Store your almond butter in the refrigerator and enjoy! I encourage you to do your own taste test, and see what you think. 

In the final analysis, avoiding processed foods as much as possible is your best bet for eating clean in 2018. Better, fresher, whole ingredients - without any additions or manipulations - are your best bet for controlling what goes in your body, and ultimately, for controlling your health. Yes, YOU are processing food every time YOU prepare it, but you’re eating it right away in most cases. You don’t have to worry about a long shelf-life, and because you’re investing your time and effort in the preparation, chances are you are choosing better ingredients than some anonymous food “scientist” would choose. You don’t have to entice your tastebuds with unconventional food-like substances - just the wonderful sensory experience of preparing real food is enough to get those gustatory juices flowing!

For more information, please visit The Intentional Kitchen, and/or contact me, Chef Joan at with any thoughts or questions

Tags: weight loss,health,nutrition,weight loss challenge,wellness