Across the world, obesity rates are on the rise. According to The Lancet, global obesity percentages have been rising significantly over the last 40 years. This trend has resulted in many people looking to fad diets, counting or restricting calories, or eliminating whole food groups from their diets. Through our global economy, most countries have access to a wide variety of healthy foods. Furthermore, dieting and exercise have increased. So, why are we still battling this epidemic? It’s because most people don’t actually know what they’re eating. Cutting out processed food, supplementing more natural diets, and cooking from scratch can help control this global weight problem.
“Health foods” aren’t always what they seem
The advertising and marketing world has found a niche in the health food market. It’s a booming business with Statista suggesting the global market value to increase to over 800 billion dollars by 2021. With that much money behind these brands, it makes sense for them to keep us coming back for more.
Health foods aren’t always bad simply because they receive more advertising. However, packaged and processed health foods should be questioned. Look to see what their ingredients are. The marketing behind these products isn’t always as transparent as they would like you to believe.
One of the leading growth sections for the health food industry is “superfoods.” We’ve all heard of at least one by now, but the Harvard School of Public Health claims there’s no scientifically based definition for a superfood. Generally, they are foods that are richer in particular nutrients or may help with the prevention of disease. However, the regulation of applying this title to foods is flimsy, at best. The Harvard study suggests focusing on variety in your diet instead of the latest superfood trend.
Eat real food
Following the fad diet train, we’ve seen diets like the “raw diet” claiming to not only be healthy, but some proponents even claim it can reverse cancer. I’m not going to touch the cancer conversation with a ten-foot pole, but a couple of new studies have shown that eating less processed foods can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
These studies are essential in our conversation because these raw diets suggest eating whole grains, raw vegetables, and locally sourced meats. These are real foods. These are the foods people ate before the obesity epidemic hit the world. You know what’s in them, sometimes you know where they came from, and you have to process them yourself; so you know what goes into them.
Processed food and weight gain
A Washington Post article discussed in more detail the results of another new study that showed a direct correlation with processed foods and weight gain. Even though the sample size was limited, the results of the study were impressive.
The researchers found their participants to consume more calories and gain weight when they ate a food regiment of processed foods. Moreso, they saw this effect even when the nutrient levels for each diet were relatively the same. That means that even when you take in the same amount of carbs, fats, proteins, etc. while eating processed food, you are more likely to see weight gain compared to an unprocessed diet.
Shop the farmers’ markets
It would be unfair not to point out the fact that shopping at a farmer’s market isn’t always an option for everyone. Whenever it is, shopping at your local farmers market allows you to source your food directly. You know where it grew, you can only eat foods that are seasonally available (like humans have always done), and you support your local community. Utilizing your market as a more significant portion of your grocery purchases guarantees you will be cutting down the amount of processed food in your diet.
Cook your meals
Relying on boxed meals, grains you heat in bags, or any other form of highly processed, quick meals aren’t cooking. These options are excellent for the fast-paced lifestyle of our society, but they have been shown to contribute to the poor health seen worldwide.
Making time to prepare and cook your meals from scratch is not only healthier for you than processed meals; studies have shown cooking at home results in more positive emotional well-being. Use a couple of hours on a day off to learn a new dish, prepare some vegetables for quick meals throughout the week, plan at least one or two sit down meals with friends. You will see the health benefits as well as the emotional benefits a home-cooked meal can provide.
It doesn’t even all have to be “healthy”
People always question why Italian and French cultures primarily live off of bread, pasta, and wine (which most nutritionists will say to stay clear of), yet we don’t see the same health problems as in other cultures. It’s because they have a tradition of making bread and pasta themselves. They also use traditional grains like semolina, which have a much lower glycemic index compared to the grains found in white bread. They are eating real food, with healthy fats, and keeping the extra dairy and red meats to a minimum.
Bake your cake and eat it too
The marketing industry, along with some government agencies, have made deciding what to eat more complicated than it needs to be. Superfoods may have some fantastic nutritional value, but they aren’t the end-all for what you should consume. Carbs, proteins, and fats can all be beneficial whenever they are minimally processed. Boxed healthy meals may have better nutritional value than other packaged food, but can still be misleading.
Try to eat more real food. It doesn’t always have to be healthy or raw fruits and vegetables, but it has to be real food. Want to bake a cake? Get all the ingredients and make it from scratch, instead of buying one in a box. Nothing is stopping us from knowing what we’re eating. Be mindful and intentional in your food choices, and the confusion behind what you should and shouldn’t eat disappears. We were made to eat real food, so let’s get back to eating real food.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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