You are What You Eat

Why thinking about your “insides” can benefit your “outside.”

You are What You Eat

Think you’re healthy because you exercise regularly? That might not be all it takes. Too many years of eating “unnatural” produce, processed foods and harmful beverages can prematurely age your body and increase your chances of major health problems like cancer, heart disease and autoimmune diseases—even if you don’t look “unhealthy.”

Most of us choose the food we eat for its convenience—or even cut out certain foods because we want to look a certain way. But sometimes the food we think is good for us is nutrient-deficient, sprayed with chemicals, packed with preservatives or genetically engineered. So how can you distinguish the healthy from the potentially harmful? Let’s break it down.

Processed vs. unprocessed

Just because you can chew it up and swallow it doesn’t mean it’s a worthwhile food. The term “processed” signifies that it has been modified in some way. Food is often processed to increase the amount of time it can stay on the shelf without spoiling. It can be modified with additives, preservatives and sometimes hormones and chemicals that change the genetic makeup of the food. Processing can kill the vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and digestive enzymes that our bodies need.

Spotting processed foods is easy—just read the ingredients label. If you are eating almonds, the only thing listed under “ingredients” should be almonds. If you can’t pronounce or don’t know what the ingredients are, don’t eat it. Try to stick with foods that have six or fewer ingredients.

Organic in-season vs. genetically engineered

We all know that we need to eat fruits and vegetables. But what does “organic” mean, and why is it important? Organic foods are produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or fungicides, and are usually more nutrient dense. They are not genetically modified and contain no chemical food additives (dyes) or solvents. Nutrients in fruits and veggies start to degrade when the produce is harvested, so how nutritious is that banana flown in from South America? If the produce had to be flown halfway around the world to land in your kitchen, it has lost nutrients—even if it is labeled “organic.” That’s why organic in-season local produce is ideal.

Free-range vs. farm-raised

Eating meat has many health benefits, but how the animal was raised is extremely important. Some animals are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to make them grow as big as possible in a short amount of time. There is growing concern that the antibiotics fed to livestock are increasing the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and that eating the treated meat will transfer the antibiotic resistant bacteria to people. Hormones pose another concern: increased risk of many types of cancers. The hormones injected into livestock remain in the meat and when consumed, are absorbed by the body. Choose red meat that is free-range, hormone and antibiotic free, and grass-fed. Poultry needs to be free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free and vegetarian-fed for these reasons and more.

Soda vs. Water

Drinking soda has been shown to increase the chances of becoming obese, and to leach calcium from bones and dissolve tooth enamel, plus it’s loaded with chemicals. Even diet soda. Stick with the most important component in your body: water. Drink lots of it.

(This article originally appeared in INsight magazine.)

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