When I was much younger, I wondered why such foods as pizza and hamburgers were considered junk foods. Hamburgers usually consist of beef, bread, lettuce, tomato, and cheese if you'd like. Pizza is made up of bread, tomato sauce, cheese and possibly sausage or pepperoni. After all, it's known that bread is the staff of life, tomatoes are a highly nutritious vegetable, and cheese is a source of calcium and bone building nutrients. The added veggies like onion, tomato and lettuce are a bonus to health.
Now the light bulb has gone on. Delving and analyzing of the ingredients commonly used in so-called junk foods uncovers the prevalent anti-nutrient theme throughout - processing.
The processing of foods isn't something new, but it has become more and more invasive and pervasive into our diet sources, and half the time it's not realized how much of these processed foods we are eating. Desserts, packaged snacks and fast foods are readily seen as the culprits, but there are tons of foods included in our daily diet that contribute to major diseases, and it all starts with the refined ingredients. Everyday choices in supermarkets are full of junk made by processing; foods with negative nutritional effect are included daily in our diets either with or without us knowing it, and they are making us just as ill as are the so-called junk or fast foods. Here's a small list to begin pondering of commonly used and trusted foods that are mostly highly processed or may contain processed sugars or hydrogenated oils, depending on types and brands:
Breakfast cereals, flours
Canned fruits and vegetables
Bagels, breads, rolls, pasta, muffins
Milk, yogurt, dairy products
Tomato products, ketchup
One of the first foods to be processed by man was sugar around 600 A.D. Over the centuries the refinement developed more and more into the white sugar we use today. A popular sweetener currently, agave, is also highly processed and contains at least 70 percent fructose. Most doctors, including Dr. Nicholas Perricone, anti-aging expert and author, agree that fructose without the fiber will increase triglycerides and contribute to hardening of the arteries. The fruit juices we have with breakfast every morning fall into this category. It's interesting to note that the fresh juice from the raw sugarcane is one of the most nutritious things a person can consume.
The 1800s brought refined flour and the invention of canning foods. It was Napoleon who spurred the inception of canning by seeking a better way to feed his troops, but natural enzymes are lost, and refined additives such as salt are added. The process of refining flours came about to make the shelf life longer as well as improving the texture and taste. The taste was incredibly delicious, but the increased price of making refined grains made the white bread products a luxury only the rich could afford. Isn't it ironic that now it's just the opposite -- refined bread can now be purchased for less than a dollar a loaf, especially in the day-old bakery outlets, and 100 percent whole grain is at the luxury price.
The hydrogenation of oil -- the altering of fat molecules -- began in the early 1900s, designed to increase the shelf life of packaged products. Even though an oil can be identified as not hydrogenated or trans fat, the instant certain oils have been subjected to a certain high temperature, it becomes a trans fat and causes havoc in the body.
The processing of a food eliminates fiber, alters its natural molecular structure and eradicates nutrients.
Just the simple act of peeling fruits and vegetables is a process that alters the nutritional value of these foods. Of course we don't want to eat banana peels and pineapple rind, but it's easy and nutritious to eat the skins of yams, potatoes (even mashed), zucchinis, peaches, etc. In fact, there are more nutrients in the rind of a watermelon than in the flesh inside.
We have epidemics in so many areas related to diet such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and the variety of drugs for the treatment of these illnesses just grows and grows along with them. It's easy for doctors to prescribe the pills, but not easy for them to explain that it's all about diet, and even more difficult to get a person to change what they eat. The first step is to identify what foods are processed, and stay away from them as much as possible. Reading the label's ingredients is the number one step in making changes.
Now when I look at a pizza, this is what I see: white bread that has most of the natural nutrients depleted, with added refined sugar and possibly hydrogenated oil; tomato sauce that has added sugar; and cheese that has been through pasteurization and homogenization processes disrupting the good bacteria and enzymes as well as the altered milk fat molecules which contribute to inflammation.
But don't fret... a pizza can be made to be nutritious. With a crust of 100 percent whole grains, fresh tomatoes or a tomato sauce without added sugar, raw cheese, extra virgin olive oil and veggies, it can be a deliciously healthy meal without guilt.