The quick answer: Enjoy minimally processed whole foods—they’re the source of health and longevity. Packaged foods with a long shelf life are essentially dead (and may have that effect on you).
The Mormon Word of Wisdom protected adherents from dangers a century in the future. 19th Century tobacco was used in messy but less harmful ways—smokeless as in snuffing and chewing, or limited-inhalation forms like pipes and cigars. 20th Century cigarette smoking was far more harmful as the smoke was drawn deeply into the lungs; even though smoking is declining there's a hangover. The CDC currently puts deaths from tobacco use at 480,000 annually.
The warning against alcohol use is likewise protective—US deaths from excessive drinking are conservatively estimated at 88,000 each year. This doesn’t count the many really dumb decisions made under the influence. Likewise, researchers find a related health cost for coffee drinkers, especially noticeable for those drinking four or more cups daily. The wise souls who abstained from these fashionable products earned a great wellness blessing.
A new health risk arose as the Industrial Revolution rolled through our food supply with untested processing methods. A basic requirement for these products was a long shelf life. Historically, food preservation got families through the winter. In the industrial age processed foods needed to last through many seasons.
Refined white flour made a great ingredient—so many nutrients were removed that it wouldn’t spoil or even support weevils no matter how long you stored it.
Likewise, hydrogenated seed oils (soybean oil, etc) had a long shelf life because trans fats replaced the nutritious omega-3 fats that quickly go rancid. Sugar and salt added to shelf life. Sugar was the perfect additive as it was also mildly addictive—80% of packaged foods contain added sugar. Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives completed this witch's potion.
With improved packaging methods like the tin can, a new industry arose that promised novelty to the consumer and convenience for the housewife. Food Inc. makes a lot of money processing food, but we’ve sadly learning that it’s bad for our health. It was a mistake we needn’t have made.
In The Season
There’s a curious phrase in the Word of Wisdom applied to plant foods like vegetables and fruits: “in the season thereof.” This means that we should, as much as possible, eat foods in the season they mature.
Foodies are promoting a related food movement of local and seasonal foods. Think of the farmers’ market movement, or Alice Waters and her restaurant, Chez Panisse. This morning at breakfast we had orange juice from local oranges. At dinner we had string beans bought at a farmers’ market. The other night I sautéed a round zucchini with onions, mushrooms, and a little bacon. Delicious. We’re enjoying tomatoes from our backyard garden.
Besides being seasonal, these foods are incredibly delicious, affordable, and super healthy. There’s hidden wisdom and knowledge in that phrase in the season thereof. More and more, we’re learning to eat food harvested when it is ripe which also means more “local.” One great aid is the invention of the home refrigerator—the Industrial Revolution also brought good things.
This brings us to Healthy Change #24, which supports minimal processing:
Eat whole foods, as close as practical to the form in which they were created.
Please comment—how are you reducing your dependence on processed convenience foods? Share your favorite recipes.