When I was younger, I ate a lot of hot dogs. It wasn’t that I really liked them: they were cheap. You could mix them with chili beans, mac and cheese, put them in scrambled eggs or just eat them on a bun. You could boil them, bake them, or put them in a stew (isn’t that a nursery rhyme?). I think I overdosed on them because now I avoid them like the plague and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the hottest issues in the health/ weight loss industry is “clean eating.” According to “the experts,” this means eating whole foods or minimally processed foods. That definitely leaves out hot dogs! You don’t get much more processed than that! But, while the realist is telling me that this fad, too, shall pass, there is merit in it. Quality is important, especially when it comes to what you put in your body. We all know the saying, so I’m not going to repeat it here, but food, along with supplements and medications, are ingested. They have a profound impact on you and it’s one that really can’t be reversed. The body breaks these compounds down into molecules and imports them into your cells- your blood, your body, your organs- all of these things are made up of what you ate/ ingested and what your mother ate/ ingested when she was carrying you. One of my personal jokes has to do with eggs: I really hate egg yolks. If (and it’s a big if) I eat them, they are scrambled and drowned in enough hot sauce to kill the “egg taste” because if I can taste them, there’s not enough hot sauce! Ugh! My mom knows I hate eggs and always says (plaintive voice here) “when I was carrying you, I ate an egg a day,” to which I reply, “so I’ve had enough for a lifetime!” (There may be some truth to this as doctors are finding correlations between infants’ preferences and moms’ diets while pregnant.)
My own egg aversion aside, the sad truth is that eggs are clean eating, and quality eggs are even better. You know how you can tell if you’re eating clean? There is no “ingredient list!” There’s a commercial about “what’s in your coffee’s creamer?” and I tell the tv “milk and cream” since I use plain unflavored unsweetened half and half. The more chemicals there are in your food, the more chemicals there are in you! You would think that eating whole foods would be easier and cheaper, but thanks to our modernized, mechanized society, no such luck! The more processed the food, generally, the cheaper it is. My own personal belief is because it’s made up of leftover parts the manufacturers could not use elsewhere, so any profit they make on it is a bonus! (Ack! food manufacturers?!) But because it’s mass produced, processed food is cheap. Think about it: how much do you pay for a bag of potato chips or a box of macaroni and cheese? About $3 for the chips, depending on the size of the bag, and about $1 for the box of mac and cheese (the last time I looked anyway). How much does it cost to make a salad from scratch? Lettuce: $3; cabbage: $3; carrots: $2; radishes: $1.50; tomatoes: $2; cucumbers: ??; salad dressing:?? You can see it adds up fast. You can buy a “salad kit” for about $3-4 (I usually do) and it’s about two or three servings depending on what you buy. That’s a minimally processed food due to the dressing and whatever toppings may be in the kit that you elect to use. You can just use the vegetables without the dressing/ toppings packets. That’s about as cheap as it gets without just buying individual vegetables, but the catch is that salad greens don’t last, so you’ll need to eat them fast. Potato chips and mac & cheese last forever! Buy them now, put them in the cupboard and next year, they’ll still be good while your salad greens will be a sticky smelly smear in your fridge by the end of the month.
Think about your meat and your meal. You can get a combo meal at most fast food places for between $5-7 dollars depending on where you go and what you get. Most of them are a burger, fries and a drink and run on the cheaper side. That’s about your day’s allotment of fat, calories and sodium if you’re following a 2000 calorie diet. If you were to make something similar at home, it would cost you way more: beef, buns, lettuce, tomato, condiments, potatoes, oil, and whatever soda you choose. Because it’s processed and mass produced, it’s cheaper. You eat it and it goes into your cells and becomes part of you: the beef, the bread, the chemicals, the preservatives, every little part of it. How much nutrition is in there? There’s lots of calories, sure, but how much actual nutrition? (Homer Simpson voice here) “well, the hamburger is protein, and it had lettuce and tomato, so those are vegetables, and the fries are vegetables, and I think the white bread in the bun is kind of good for you, even if it’s not wheat bread…” DOHHH!! Is that really the best you can do for yourself?
As a pet owner, I want to make sure my pets are healthy and happy, so I sort of pay attention to the pet food commercials. (My pets are my kids and I’m an overprotective mom!) One of the latest commercials is a pet owner reading the labels on their dogs’ food and getting appalled at what they have been feeding their pets. When was the last time you read the label on what you eat? Did it say things like guar gum, soy lecithin and hydrolyzed vegetable protein? Does that sound like something you want to feed to your pet, let alone you? Most of what I put in my body (and my pets’ because they eat a lot of what I eat) is as minimally processed as possible. The salad kit is probably about as processed as it gets (unless you’re counting the hot sauce for the eggs!). I buy raw meat, fresh fruits and veggies, salad kits, and yes, eggs, yuck! I try not to buy a lot of dairy products (doesn’t really agree with me) and I opt for canned fish simply because fish spoils so easily. That’s pretty much my grocery list. I’m not doing this to brag about “how I eat so clean,” but because the farther the food gets from its source, the fewer the nutrients it retains. When something is processed, things are removed from it. Think of the difference between white flour and wheat flour: the bran is removed to make it white. The irony is because things are taken out of the food during processing, the manufacturers (there’s that word again!) have to put things back into the food to boost its nutritional value! Read the label on most of your white flour products: folic acid/ folate has been added to most of them. Most of the milk in the United States has had vitamin D added to it. Most processed cereals now have a “vitamin label” on the front to let you know how many vitamins have been added to it. The word the manufacturers use is “fortified.” And those are just the vitamins. Think of the preservatives that go into the processed foods to make them “shelf stable.” What else is going into what you are eating?
I’m not trying to scare you all into going out and harvesting your own groceries, but I do want you to stop and think about what you eat, and I don’t just mean the calories that are in it. (If you really want to get scared, google the “Dorito effect!”) Think of how many steps it took to get from being grown or butchered to where it is on your kitchen counter. Generally, the fewer steps the better. There’s less opportunity for preservatives and additives to go into it. I’m the first to admit that I’m no gardener, and I don’t get out to the farmer’s markets, so I’m stuck with mostly the organic produce from the market (Trader Joe’s mostly!), but my friend grows tomatoes and zucchini in the summer, so much of the summer, I get treated to it’s-so-fresh-I-wash-off-the-dirt zucchini (my dad gets the tomatoes)! There’s something to be said for growing your own, because farming has now become “agribusiness.” We’ve all heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about how food tasted better when they were kids and they aren’t wrong. The meat and vegetables we eat now really are different on a genetic level. Take a look at the varieties of fruits and vegetables there are; they have been hybridized to make more colorful, faster growing, sweeter, longer lasting- whatever the “designer” wanted to select for “improvement.” Usually taste and nutrition went by the wayside. This is one of the reasons we find produce labeled as “heirloom” because it’s usually the older version which maybe didn’t look so hot or didn’t package or ship well. I have a mariposa plum tree in my backyard. They are the green skinned plums with dark purple flesh and I really like them. Good luck finding them in the supermarket, because they don’t ship well or last long once picked! A lot of what we find in the grocery stores is what someone else decided should be grown, because it’s easier or cheaper to grow, it lasts longer after being picked or it sells quickly. If you are one of those lucky people who can grow produce, I’d suggest giving it a go. Not only do you know for sure that it’s organic, but you decide when to pick it so you know that it’s fresh! You provide the soil and the nutrients, so all that goodness goes into the vegetable and subsequently, into you and your family. If you’re like me and helpless when it comes to plants, there’s always the organic section at the market (frozen is also an option and better than canned).
So the next time you are at the market, whatever you decide to buy, think about it before you put it in your cart and in your body. You can be a brussels sprout or you can be a hot dog; a box of mac & cheese or an organic hormone free chicken leg. Which one do you want to be?