The Worst Fats

The quick answer:  Avoid deep fat fried foods.  Period.  It’s about more than toxic trans fats.


Food Disasters

If you ranked the food disasters of the last century, the two worst would be excess sugar (whether table sugar, artificial sweeteners, or HFCS) and hydrogenated seed oils.  You could argue about which one caused more premature deaths, but the smart thing is to avoid both.  Last week we talked about sugary drinks (including so-called “diet” drinks); this week we address the deep fat fryer.

The main dietary source of trans fats, after margarine, is the deep fat fryer (they typically contain hydrogenated seed oils full of toxic trans fats).  We recently commented on progress in banning trans fats as proposed by Frank Kummerow, a true hero of the Food Reformation.  (Yes, I’ve started capitalizing “food reformation” because it’s the biggest movement of the time, in my view.)  You can read more about Dr. Kummerow here.

Some day the FDA will finally ban trans fats from food, a long overdue action.  But even after that good day, the factory or restaurant deep fat fryer should still be avoided because no fat can sit for days in a hot deep fat fryer and not be harmful due to fat oxidation and toxic by-products (like AGEs or Advanced Glycation End-products).

The picture above shows typical deep fat fryer products—French fries, onion rings, donuts, and chicken.  These should be avoided. 

But deep fat fryers are now in every commercial kitchen, in the area called the “hot line.”  The hot line is where the final heating is done and includes a grill, microwave, stovetop, and a deep fat fryer.  Of these methods, the deep fat fryer offers the quickest way to reheat food and add a crispy fatty texture.  It gets used a lot.

So now when ordering cooked foods, you have to check that they’re not coming out of a deep fat fryer.  These is especially true in the chain restaurants that use central factory kitchens and just dip the frozen items into a deep fat fryer for quick reheating (and an extra coat of potentially-toxic refined oils). 

Healthy Change #2:

This means no French fries, no onion rings, no corn dogs, no donuts, and especially, no deep-fried Twinkies.  The language of this Healthy Change does leave a door open:  you can cook these foods at home, using healthy oil.  Because this is difficult, in our home we replaced French fries with Oven Roasted Fries and we follow the "golden rule" which means lightly cooked, not heated until they're brown.

Please comment:  We're not opposed to eating fats—they're necessary to good health.  We don't even propose a "low-fat" diet—there was never a scientific basis for avoiding traditional fats.  So enoy healthy fats, and please share your favorite recipes.


A New Year

The quick answer:  Want better health?  America’s biggest dietary problem is excessive sugar intake—we each average over 100 lbs per year.


A New Year, Again

We made a resolution for the New Year—to continue Word of Wisdom Living, but more effectively.  It’s a lot of work but we’re encouraged by the growth in readers over the last year.  You must be spreading the word so thank you  But please keep it up—it isn’t easy to change the world. 

This will be our 4th year of weekly posts.  We’re improving the 52 Healthy Changes to keep up with your progress.  We’ll also post more Skip’s Healthy Recipes, where I reinvent traditional recipes using today’s best ingredients and shamelessly attach my name.  What else should we do?  Please share your ideas.

A Cooking Show for Real Families

There’s one more resolution:  To propose a TV cooking show where regular people compete to cook real food.  I’m tired of the shows where professional chefs furiously whip up exotic dishes to impress fussy foodies.  We want regular people cooking healthy but affordable meals that children and husbands love—food that’s deliciously ordinary, practical, and wholesome. 

This will be a food program for real families where tips are shared and the winning recipes are posted for everyone to use.    Stay tuned. 

Back to Eden

The essence of the food reformation is eating food as close as practical to how it was first created.  Corn on the cob, for instance, is healthier than high fructose corn syrup.  An apple is healthier than a store-bought apple turnover.  Our modest goal is to obsolete the factory foods invented in the last century by Food Inc. 

Factory foods have three things in common (unfortunately, wholesomeness isn’t one):

  1. Long shelf life—this means eliminating the nutrients that nourish bacteria (and humans) and adding chemical preservatives.
  2. Cheap ingredients—combine the cheapest commodities (corn syrup, refined flour, soybean oil, salt, etc.) with artificial flavors and coloring.
  3. Addictiveness—they need you to keep coming back and sugar is our worst addiction.  Thanks to Food Inc, America’s sugar intake steadily increased over the last century to exceed 100 pounds per person every year.

Slashing Sugar

Sugar is the lazy food flavor.  In the food reformation, traditional spices and flavors replace sugar.  Soda drinks are our biggest source of sugar.  So Healthy Change #1 says to limit yourself to one week—this includes the so-called "diet" drinks.  If you don't drink any soft drinks, give yourself a pat on the back.

Please comment:  The Holidays are over and you've likely added 5-10 lbs.  A key to losing weight is to reduce your sugar intake to below the AHA recommendation of 6 tsp per day (9 tsp for men).  Please share your ideas for reducing sugar intake. 


The Virtue of Soup

The quick answer: A warm bowl of soup makes a perfect winter dish.  It’s also healthy, tasty, economical, and filling (plus low in calories).  To master home style cooking, soups are the place to start.


I spent two and a half years in Central America as a young man, living with humble people and eating their food.  It was a seminal experience, one that influenced my life.  I didn’t fully appreciate the wisdom of their diet at the time, but it was affordable, minimally processed, and mostly local.  I still remember the first soup I ate—homemade chicken vegetable.  It stands out because I discovered the chicken’s foot in my bowl.  I thought my Mom was a frugal cook, but these people were world-class in waste reduction.  Water-based soups were a regular part of lunch and even dinner.  I regret that it never occurred to me to collect a few recipes  

Canned Soup

Later, the soup most familiar to me was Campbell’s.  The Campbell soup can, artfully copied by Andy Warhol, is an American icon.  The Napoleonic Wars caused the invention of canned food in the early 1800s.  There was a double benefit to the can:  It fit the needs of wartime eating, plus in-can cooking sterilized the food, eliminating spoilage.  Indeed, consumption of canned foods (like smoking and other bad habits) increases during wartime.  The Campbell Soup Company got its start following the Civil War based on one improvement—their condensed soup cut shipping costs.  The user could add water or milk when the soup was heated, which at least gave the appearance of cooking.

Health complaints against Campbell’s soups include the sodium content (lowered for a time, but later increased when sales continued to drop).  Campbell soups played a role in the rise and fall of casserole dishes, I believe.  In the post-WWII emphasis on convenience, casseroles rose in popularity as a single-dish meal.  Recipes often included a can of Campbell’s soup.  Unfortunately, taste and wholesomeness were lesser considerations and there is a generation now who distain casseroles.  This is unfortunate as casseroles have a place in traditional cooking—think of ratatouille.  We should have a post on tasty and healthy casserole recipes.

Soup Basics

Cooks everywhere are rediscovering soup.  Soups are filling but low in calories.   Soups are not only good for you—they’re the best value around.  Soups take time to prepare but a pot lasts several meals and improves with age.  You can even freeze some in a quart jar for emergencies.  Traditional soups are built around five ingredient groups:

  • Stock—the main source of liquid.  Usually made from bones, it can also be made from vegetables.  We make most of ours from the carcass of a roast chicken.  (Stock is an old tradition but in the ‘60s stock was replaced with bullion cubes dissolved in water.  Today it’s sold in the store as “broth” but there’s nothing quite like homemade stock for flavor.)
  • Mirepoix—the savory combination of chopped carrots, celery, and onions.  There are other combinations, depending on what’s at hand, but this is the standard.
  • Flavor—the trio of bay leaf, thyme, and parsley and sometimes garlic occur in most recipes.
  • Starch—often legumes, but potatoes and (whole wheat) pasta work also.
  • Meat—a little meat adds flavor to the soup and gives you something to chew on.  This is the essence of “sparing” meat intake and a good way to use the odds and ends that might get wasted.

Skip Shamelessly Puts His Name on Ancient Recipes

I love to restore recipes to their original, more healthful form.  I’ve done this with the following soup recipes—try them and see how good, and nutritions, soup is in the winter:

Skip’s Potato Onion Soup Recipe

Skip’s Chicken & Rice Soup Recipe

Skip’s Potato Soup RTecipe

Skip’s Black Bean Soup Recipe

Skip’s Split Pea Soup (with ham bone)


Please comment:  Share any favorite food blogs that follow the criteria noted above (Healthiness, Value, Simplicity, and Taste).  Contribute your favorite soup recipe.


Heroes Among Us

I find the N. Y. Times to be quite liberal—but that’s not news.  I do admire, however, their excellent writing on health, especially nutrition.  Two recent articles deserve comment because they touch on heroes making a difference in America’s food reformation.  The first is a scientist, the second a businessman-politician.  First the scientist, Dr. Fred Kummerow:

Dr. Kummerow

Earlier this year, in the well-named post Death By Trans Fats, I noted decades of work by two scientists, Mary Enig and Fred Kummerow, in fighting the worst product of Food Inc by exposing the danger of factory hydrogenated trans fats.  In his most recent act, Dr. Kummerow in 2009 demanded of the FDA that trans fats be banned from food.  Four years went by with no action but last month FDA requested comments (a formal step before taking action) on moving trans fats from the GRAS (meaning generally regarded as safe) list.  If approved, this would effectively remove trans fats from our diet as food containing non-GRAS ingredients must be proven safe by testing.  So it’s a big deal that Food Inc will fight but we must support. 

This will be a critical battle.  Dr. Willet of Harvard notably estimated that 100,000 premature deaths occur each year due to trans fats in our diet.  If the trans fats GRAS fight is won, then the next big FDA battle is to require labeling of foods that are GMO.  You can read more of the N. Y. Times story “A Lifelong Fight Against Trans Fats".   Dr. Fred Kummerow, 95 years old and still fighting, is a true hero. 

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

So New York is electing a new mayor but we should stop to point out the remarkable increase in longevity—now two years longer than the American average—of New Yorkers.  A recent N.Y. Times article reviewed the factors noting that such an improvement has only been seen since the sanitary innovations (sewer and clean water systems) a century or more ago.  So what caused this?  Credit much of it to the administration of Mayor Bloomberg and his health initiatives.  Here are the findings of the cited study:

  1. One third of the improvement came from the decline of both AIDS mortality and homicides.
  2. A drop in drug- and alcohol-related deaths accounted for another 15%.
  3. Smoking-related deaths dropped by 5%.  New York was one of the first cities to ban smoking in public places.
  4. A factor that couldn’t be fully measured was the ban of trans fats in restaurants.  Another ban that should help—held up by court challenges—is against large servings of soda drinks. 
  5. The last factor was the rise in immigrant population.  Immigrants grew up eating real food generally—the modern American diet (MAD) is new to them.  So this gives them a longevity advantage.  Their children and grandchildren, unfortunately, will eat the MAD diet and lose this advantage.

Bottom line:  New Yorkers seem to be figuring out Word of Wisdom Living.

Merry Christmas

It’s nice to hear some good news during the Christmas Season from the heroes among us.  Merry Christmas to all. 


Healthy Holiday Snacks

The Vitamin War

One more time:  Get your vitamins the old-fashioned way—from real food.  Many have been sidetracked by the convenience of synthetic vitamins in pill form and an industry—particularly strong in Utah—arose to advertise and sell such supplements.  But there was never any evidence that this was a good idea.  We’ve been saying that for three years in this blog—here, here, and here

Now an L. A. Times article notes three new studies from the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine that basically say the $28 billion Americans spend on vitamin pills is money wasted.

There are exceptions worthy of note, which may be recommended by your doctor, including these: 

  1. Older people may be deficient in vitamin B-12—especially vegans as B-12 is found in animal products—a difficult to diagnose condition with serious consequences. 
  2. Neurotube birth defects (NTDs) like spina bifida are reduced with folate pills if you don’t get sufficient dietary folic acid. 
  3. Vitamin D pills can help people in northern climes with insufficient winter sunshine. 

Other examples of proven benefit exist for certain medical conditions.  So there is a place for pills when prescribed by an informed doctor.  Still, the starting point is to eat a varied whole foods diet and avoid highly processed factory foods.

Healthy Meals

Of our 13 rotating themes, the 4th is meals.  This is what we’ve said so far:

  • Healthy Change #4—Breakfast: Your morning meal must contain more fiber than sugar.  Generally speaking, natural fiber is good for you, added sugar is bad.  This rule eliminates 95% of the grocery store cereal aisle.
  • Healthy Change #17—Dinner:  Eat as a family.  The logic here is you won’t go to the work of cooking a healthy meal for a family of grazers and snackers.  But there are other important benefits for the family that dines together.
  • Healthy Change #30—Lunch:  If you eat away from home, bring healthy whole foods.  For the average working guy, lunch can be the unhealthiest meal.   There’s likely a better way to write this rule so feel free to suggest.

Winter Snacks

We address snacks twice because they’re the least healthy part of your diet.  Healthy Change #8 said: Enjoy a healthy mix of snacks by making a daily snack plate.  The idea behind the snack plate was to stop impulsive eating.  Our own experience is that this is a hard rule to keep, but well worth the effort.  If you get out of the habit, start anew.

It’s crazy when you consider the purpose of the season, but America’s worst eating strikes us in the Holy-days (the period between Thanksgiving and New Years).  A lot of candy is gifted in these happy days.  The Beautiful Wife makes a Danish pastry with slivered almonds that’s prized by her children; it’s sweet but we only eat it once a year, or so.

So this is a good time to rethink your snacking.  My best suggestion is to give any candy you receive away.  In this case, it’s definitely better to give than to receive.  Here are some ideas for healthy Holiday snacks:

  1. Oranges:  The Holidays mark the arrival of Navel oranges (and the last of the juicy Valencias).  The Cutie oranges are tasty and easy to peel.
  2. Nuts:  It’s the best season for fresh nuts.  We buy walnuts from a northern California grower, shell them by hand, and give them as Christmas favors.  This is also a good time to set out unshelled nuts with a nutcracker.  Nuts taste good without sugar and are a good source of minerals (read more here).  Brazil nuts contain selenium, an essential mineral that may be protective against prostate cancer.
  3. Pears:  There is less fruit to choose from during the Holidays, but there are several varieties of winter pears, like Anjou and Bosc.  Perhaps some readers can share their pear recipes.
  4. Healthier cookies:  Do you like the traditional sugar cookies covered with frosting?  For your own good, try Skip’s Oatmeal Cookies.  They have half the sugar and use fresh whole wheat, walnuts, and chocolate.
  5. Herbal Tea:  I’ve never been a herbal tea fan, it didn’t seem, well, manly.  But the Beautiful Wife got me to try TJ’s Harvest Blend and I now have a cup in the evening when I’m tempted to eat something sweet.  It’s relaxing too.

Healthy Change #43:  Regift all that Holiday candy left on your doorstep and enjoy your favorite healthy winter snacks.

Please comment:  Share your favorite winter snacks, especially healthy Holiday treats.


Funding the Bad Guys


One of our Word of Wisdom Living 13 themes is organization.  The biggest reason we buy unhealthy food is we have to get something on the table and when we’re not organized we’re forced into the convenience of the modern American diet (MAD). It could be take-out pizza, fast food, packaged meals from the freezer aisle, or something in a box.  There are a lot of unhealthy but convenient choices.

So Healthy Change #3 said to write a weekly menu.  Healthy Change #16 recommended using a shopping list.  And Healthy Change #29 suggested keeping a checklist of your favorite healthy foods, lest they be forgotten.  So now we come to the last Healthy Change for this theme.

The Advertising Age

I read old books to understand how the American diet went so wrong in the last century.  It’s a fascinating mystery, how people threw away 200 generations (the time of recorded history) of food tradition in just one century.  In this post I’ll jump over the Industrial Revolution inventions that created the modern American diet (MAD) to talk about how this was so successfully sold to us suckers.

We’re at the 50th anniversary of a business classic—Confessions of an Advertising Man—by David Ogilvy, a clever Scotsman known as the father of modern advertising.  Ogilvy brought elegant reasoning to the marketing business; he and other talented people persuaded America to abandon home-cooked foods for convenient factory-made food-like products.  It was quite an achievement.

It wasn’t just convenience they were selling, but also novelty and modernity.  Housewives across America became hooked on the newest new thing—about 20,000 new food products are introduced each year.  That’s crazy.  It’s expensive to create these but Food Inc also spends about $10 billion each year to keep us buying the MAD diet.

It’s a big waste—all this money spent for a bad purpose.  Food Inc is stuck in this cycle—if we don’t give them our money for novel food-like stuff they will go the way of Wonder bread.  Actually, the bankruptcy of the corporation behind Wonder bread is an encouraging event.

Bottom line:  When we buy the MAD diet, we fund their bad behavior and, worse yet, we undermine the health of our families.

Stronger than the Government

Because of all the money we’ve given them, Food Inc is now more powerful than the U.S. Government.  How do I support this?  Just tell me one unhealthy food product that the government has banned.  Cigarettes?  Not exactly a food but you inhale it and you know how successfully they fought off the government. 

In the last decade just about everyone has become aware of how unhealthy hydrogenated trans fats are.  Yet they’re still sold in every store.  The USDA is a coconspirator in this because they allow them to advertise foods as trans fat free if it contains 0.5 gram or less of trans fats.  Go figure. 

But Food Inc has an Archilles’ heel:  They need our money.  They live or die on the daily decisions of us humble citizens pushing our carts through the grocery stores.  The best way to support the food reformation and send a message to Food Inc is to stop buying their unhealthy food-like goods and eat real food.

Healthy Change #42:

Vote with your dollars—only buy healthy food products!


Loving Fat

The quick answer:  Most of what you were told about dietary fat was crazy wrong.  You need fat, so here’s a simple rule:  Enjoy traditional fats; avoid modern factory fats.


Fat Review

Word of Wisdom Living—so wisely named—presents 52 Healthy Changes based on 13 themes visited once per quarter (card players know that 4 x 13 = 52). 

For this week’s theme of “fat” here's the healthy change history:

#2:      Never buy deep fat fried foods.  This isn’t just because most are still cooked in hydrogenated oil—though that’s reason enough—but also because the oils are damaged (oxidized, etc.) by protracted heat exposure.  Read more here and here

#15:    Include omega-3 fats in each meal.  It’s crazy that omega-3s are the most abundant fats on the planet (they’re in everything green, even algae, and in whatever eats those green plants) yet are the most deficient fat in our diet.  It’s just crazy.  Read more here

#28:    Limit chips to national holidays, or for scooping a healthy dip or salsa.

#41:    Eat traditional fats like butter and (California) olive oiltoday's topic.

Traditional Fats

The two fats we eat most in our home are butter and olive oil.  Each has an honored place in food tradition, they’re even Biblical, yet both were shoved aside in the last century by factory food-like products.  Butter was displaced by margarine, which was falsely claimed to be healthier.  Olive oil was replaced by “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils”, a chemically refined product also wrongly advertised as healthy.  The world was tipped upside down through modern advertising.

Olive Oil

Read more about the anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and pro-cardiovascular benefits of olive oil in the post titled Olive Oil 101.  I prefer the U.S. olive oils (mostly from California) because they’re usually fresher and less adulterated.  Taste or smell the imported stuff—I fear those sneaky Europeans are sending us their trash.


We enjoy butter and eat it without guilt.  In a past post I made an eye-opening visit to the butter aisle of our local grocery. The newest products in this aisle are the "spreads" that try to replace margarine—I avoid both.

Here’s another reason to enjoy butter—butyric acid, a short-chain, 4-carbon, saturated fat (also known as butyrate) offers anti-cancer properties.  Butter is the main dietary source of butyric acid, containing 3-4%. 

Worried about getting fat from butter?  When certain rats are fed high-fat diets they get real fat.  But if butyrate is included, even though it’s a fat, they don’t.  Pretty interesting because who would have thought that eating butter might help humans avoid adding fat?  Butyrate also reduces inflammation, insulin levels (while improving insulin sensitivity), and the risk of metabolic syndrome. 

Low-Fat Milk?

While on the subject of butter, we should address the fat in dairy products.  I like milk—the more natural the better—but shun the low-fat varieties.  It’s revealing that America got fat while eating low-fat food substitutes.  It’s just Orwellian.  A Harvard study noted in this post on milk linked consumption of low-fat dairy with increased infertility in women.  My thinking is anything that reduces women’s fertility can’t be healthy. 


Please comment:  Want to know what makes us fat?  It's not from eating fat, but from our addiction to sugar in processed foods.  Share your thoughts on healthy fats.


The Peace Within

The quick answer:  Worried sick?  Kick the stress habit.

A Cabin in the Woods

Way back in the ‘30s, my grandfather had the brilliant idea to build a cabin in the woods.  As a child, I loved its rough-sawn exterior and knotty pine interior.  To get to it you left the highway, crossed over a wooden bridge, and took a narrow dirt road through the forest.  The cabin had a large shady porch perfect for sitting and reading.  For 75 years that cabin—shown above—was a gathering place for our family.  Though our means were modest, our little cabin in the woods made us children feel rich as any king. 

My fondest childhood memories revolve around grandpa's cabin.  I've a memory of climbing upstairs to bed, a little afraid of the dark, and falling asleep as the flame from the kerosene lamp flickered on the walls.  I awoke to the morning sun shining through the trees and the reassuring sound and smell of a crackling fire.  The long night had passed into another delightful day at the cabin.

Life can be stressful, even for kids, but at our cabin I never felt anything but peace.  One key to health is to extend that peace into the spheres of our adult lives.  That's not easy, but definitely worth doing.


There may be shortages of some things in life, but there’s always enough stress to go around.  But stress, though a bit is necessary to get us moving in the morning, is toxic in excess.  Most of our Healthy Changes are about eating right, four support exercise, but just one addresses stress.  So, for your own good, please take some time to ponder this Healthy Change.

We discussed stress in a post last year.  We talked about Hans Selye (1907-1982) the doctor best known for linking chronic stress with disease.  We discussed the role chronic stress plays in premature aging (the meanest cut), cancer, and heart disease. The list goes on.

There’s a ratchet quality to stress—after a stress episode, we often don’t return to the relaxed state.  Rather there is a residue that remains so that in the next bout—and there’ll always be another episode—we’re driven to higher and higher levels of stress.  When caught in these chronic stress cycles, we take it as the new “normal.”  Like fish in water, we can be quite unaware of a toxic stress level. 

It's a measure of things gone awry that the Christmas Season—the time we celebrate the birth of Christ who offered a new form of peace—is the most stressful time of the year.  Do Christmas different—celebrate peacefully.

Finding Peace

The key is not to run faster but to step out of the stress cycle.   Here are seven ways:

  1. Family: The supporting love of family can be a great comfort.  Who hasn’t come home from work, carrying all the troubles of the day on their shoulders, and found instant relief by getting down and wrestling with the kids?
  2. Best friends:  A study of English children found being with their best friend gave the best relief from stress.  Cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands, was most effectively relieved for children by best friends.  Who’s your best friend?
  3. Music: The beautiful wife saw a bumper sticker for the classical music station:  “Less stress, more Strauss.”
  4. Exercise:  Strengthening the body helps it to relax and stimulates a similar process for the mind.
  5. Worship:  Don’t you find, in the rhythm of church ritual, clarification of what’s really important?  Whatever your faith, the God who orders the universe knows your name and proffers His peace. 
  6. Meditation:  Thinking more deeply about whatever troubles you can lead to new insights, and better paths to follow. 
  7. Laugh:  Remember Ferris Bueller?  Life goes by pretty fast; if you don’t stop and have a little fun, you just might miss out

Please Comment:  Too much  stress for comfort?  Stess can be addictive but you can break the pattern.  Share your best stress reduction experiences.   Been worried sick?  It happens.  How do you get well?  Stress is one ailment where you can be your own best doctor.


Another Problem with Processed Foods—the Sodium-Potassium Ratio

The subject this week is processed foods and in the post below (Limiting Food Processing) we spoke of the problem of excess phosphate in such foods compared to real food.  Phosphates added to processed foods extend the shelf life and tastefulness.  Unfortunately, they have the opposite effect on your life—you’re likely to die sooner.

If this wasn’t bad enough, there’s a similar issue with sodium and potassium.  Both are essential to your survival but you need them in the right ratio.  Basically, eating real food (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, a little meat) gives you the right ratio.  Eating processed foods gives you too much sodium and too little potassium.  The sodium comes from added salt—salt (sodium chloride) is the cheapest way to flavor food but too much is a problem.

If your sodium-potassium ratio is high that’s bad because you get too much sodium and too little potassium—a common problem in the modern diet.  Simply put, getting more potassium (from whole foods) reduces risk of death but eating more sodium (diet high in processed foods) increases your risk of death. 

How bad is the risk?  A 2011 study (discussed here) looked at 12,267 people in the NHANES III data base and compared the sodium-potassium ratio of their diet to their risk of death over a 14.8 year average follow-up.  The highest sodium-potassium ratio quartile (top 1/4 of the group) was compared to the lowest quartile.  Results were scary: being in the highest quartile gave you a 46% higher risk of premature death from all causes. 

The data was especially bad for the risk of heart attack—you had over twice the risk (115% higher) if you were in the highest sodium-potassium ratio group.  So one more reason to eat food as close as practical to how it was first created, and to slash the purchase of packaged food.  Feed your family real food!


Limiting Food Processing

The quick answer:  Limit exposure to processed foods by eating whole foods as close as practical to how they were first created.


A Food Catastrophe

Food corporations, starting in the late 1800s but mainly in the 20th Century, innovated beyond traditional forms of food processing to create novel but unproven food-like products.  These new food forms made a good business but were bad for our health—it took time but the catastrophic increase of chronic diseases now afflicting the U.S. was the inevitable result.  

I suppose the toll of premature death from these industrialized foods exceeds the casualties of both World Wars, though it’s not something likely to be reported.  It was a food catastrophe that occurred in several phases: 

Phase I—Ingredients:  Food ingredients were the first targets: cheap white sugar, refined white flour, pure white salt, Crisco shortening, margarine, and chemically refined vegetable oils.  In the processing of salt natural trace minerals were first removed and then, after problems arose, one was restored:  iodine.  A similar process occurred with white flour, now known by the inaccurate phrase, “enriched flour.”  Hydrogenation, which creates harmful trans fats is a sad example.

Phase II—Foods:  Factories began to combine cheap ingredients into convenience foods that could be “branded.”  Crackers (Nabisco soda crackers), cookies (Oreos), and breads (Wonder Bread) are early examples but there were also novel products like Jello.  Jello mainly sugar with gelatin from animal hoofs as a thickener, plus artificial flavors, was a good example of Madison Avenue branding.  Cake mixes—unhealthful as they were—were another post-WWII food convenience.  The granddaddy of all these however is the cola drinks, a meal you could drink and addictive enough to make you a user until you died.

Phase III—Meals:  After ingredients and foods came complete meals.  This final phase had several iterations, ranging from frozen TV meals to fast food, which made home kitchens redundant.  Walk around your local grocery store and observe how the frozen prepared food section has expanded in your lifetime.

Factory foods require:

  1. Cheap ingredients (think refined flour, sugar, salt soybean oil)
  2. Fast process time,
  3. Long shelf life (“dead food” is great for shelf life)
  4. Potential for branding,
  5. A mildly addictive taste.

Nutrient value, you can see, is not a consideration.  In fact, the demand for longer shelf life causes many nutrients to be removed during processing.

How Much Processing is Too Much?

There’s a food reformation underway—which I define as a return to eating food as close as practical to how it was first created—and people are relearning how to eat.  In the food reformation, processing of foods should be minimal and not affect the nutrients.  That’s the starting point.  But Food Inc makes their money from processing and nutrients, though good for us, usually reduce shelf life. 

I think this is the food battle of the 21st Century—finding a better limit on food processing.  The battle must be fought by us consumers—Food Inc, like the dinosaur, won’t go away on its own. 

Alice Waters, the creative force behind “local seasonal food,” and founder of Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse restaurant, simply reinvented the forgotten half of the Mormon scripture called the Word of Wisdom that calls for eating fruits and vegetables “in season.” 

How much should food be processed?  This is a common question and the subject of this post.  Here are examples of appropriate minimal processing:

  • Butter (churning cream is impractical unless you own a cow), but not margarine, nor the spreads that replaced margarine,
  • Farm milk—titled the ultimate probiotic in a recent article
  • Sourdough whole grain bread (no added preservatives),
  • Prewashed, precut, and bagged greens—they make fresh salad easy,

This brings us to Healthy Change #37:

Eat whole foods, as close as practical to the form in which they were created.

Phosphates and Processed Foods

There’s more, from a Web MD post titled “Less Deli May Reduce Kidney Disease Risk.”  The article featured a new study showing that kidney function could be protected by avoiding visceral (belly) fat and processed foods.  Here’s a quote: “A good rule of thumb is that if the food comes in a package, it’s likely to be high in phosphorus.” 

Basically, phosphate based additives protect the taste and shelf life of processed foods, but are hard on the kidneys.  If you know anyone who suffers kidney failure and needed kidney dialysis, you’ll understand the importance of looking after kidney health.  Whenever possible, eat fresh food!

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