Are whole foods really better for you than packaged?
Spoiler alert: yes. By a lot.
And there are several reasons that I will get into in a moment, but let’s start with this: why would I even pose this question? Isn’t this common knowledge?
Well, life happens. People are shorter on time than ever before. I sometimes hear from folks who are trying to fix chronic symptoms and either can’t, or won’t, take time to plan, shop and cook or grill. They resist real, honest to goodness, nutrient-dense food. I’m talking poultry, fish, veggies, fruit, all in the form they took in nature with minimal processing, if any.
Instead they may have been taken in by pretty packaging, ad budgets or expensive marketing campaigns for shakes, energy or protein bars and other convenience foods. This goes double for items sold by multi-level marketing companies, who often use marketing studies (ordered and conducted by THEM or a firm they hired, by the way) to prove that their items are the healthiest food you could possibly eat. Unfortunately, these companies are in the business of selling, first and foremost. They certainly will frame their goods in the kindest light.
Here’s the relevant question to ask yourself if you have been regularly eating prepackaged shakes, bars and other meals: how do you feel? If you feel fantastic, have no symptoms, are at a healthy weight, and lab tests confirm that you are A-ok, then rock on. That, however, is not the case in clients that come to me, or for about 90% of Americans.
No judgment here! I was doing the very same thing 10 years ago, saving valuable food-prep time by relying on “healthy” protein bars and shakes, “diet” frozen dinners, healthy “plant-based” meat substitute faux foods, and guess what? I got sicker and sicker by the day until I learned better and started to eat real food. I trusted the functional medicine practitioners I hired to help me get well, ate more real food, and I turned around my health 180 degrees!
Reality-check: No matter what the company producing this “food” says, if it is in a bag, wrapper, can, box etc, there is no way it is as good for your body as fresh veggies, fruit, healthy fats and clean, lean protein. Here’s why:
1. Abundant studies prove that food begins to lose nutrient value very soon after it is harvested. Even when your shake or bar is derived from real, natural food, you have to wonder, how long after harvest? How nutrient dense is that food after it has been processed? Often, processing strips away valuable fiber, vitamins and minerals, and then synthetic versions (that are not well absorbed by the body) are added back in. This is what “fortified” on the label means. Also, unless the packaged food is made from 100% organic ingredients, you will be getting a nice helping of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides in every bite. Yuck.
2. Most of the time there are additives in processed food to make it shelf-stable. Colors, extenders, flavors, gums, stabilizers, preservatives. There are so many tricks food manufacturers use to mask offensive ingredients that it would take all day to list them out. There are dozens of different words used that all mean sugar, for instance. There are tricky names like yeast extract that seem ok, until you find out that is a code word for Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), which is a flavor enhancer that is proven to be highly toxic. Even if there is a “study” saying all ingredients are top-notch and healthy, that is seldom the whole story.
3. Added allergens like gluten, corn, soy, eggs, dairy (or whey from dairy) etc. The problem here is that common allergens are cross-reactive if you have gluten sensitivity, and most of us with chronic illness benefit from dropping gluten. If there is soy (lecithin, isolate or oil etc), or corn oil, these molecules are often mistaken as an allergen in your body and promote chronic inflammation, which in turn is the root of most disease processes. Don’t be fooled into thinking gluten-free junk food (cakes, cookies, doughnuts etc) are any healthier than their regular counterparts. Nutrient poor, sugar-heavy junk is still junk, with or without gluten.
4. Vegetable oils: other than coconut oil and olive oil, every other type is prone to going rancid quickly. Additives are used to mask the smell and taste. Ingesting rancid oils (even though you will not taste or smell a problem) will keep that cycle of inflammation going in the gut and elsewhere. Vegetable oils are commonly used in packaged foods.
5. GMOs: Unless the item you are eating is 100% certified U.S. organic there could be genetically modified ingredients. Our bodies are not made to survive on ingredients or foods made in a lab.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. If you would like to improve your health, reduce chronic symptoms like digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, sleep problems, hormonal imbalance or weight problems, it’s well worth the time to phase out prepackaged foods and base your diet around real, whole foods. In a short time you will begin to notice that your body feels much better when you take this leap of faith.
Have any suggestions on how we can reduce packaged food and eat healthier? What has worked for you? Please share by leaving a comment here. Share the love!