Articlles about the evils of processed food
January 27, 2007 10:16 AM   Subscribe

A doctor recently told my husband that he needs to change his eating habits, she specifically said that he has to stop eating so much processed food. He is going to make the change but wants more information about why processed food is bad. I need help finding an article or website about processed food that can convince him to stop eating it.
posted by sara558 to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him to read Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It's all about processed foods. I think it's the most influential book I've read in ages.
posted by bash at 10:23 AM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

High fructose corn syrup
posted by Rhomboid at 10:27 AM on January 27, 2007

High fructose corn syrup, and salt.
posted by kindall at 10:29 AM on January 27, 2007

Although concerned with a subset of processed food, Fast food nation will make anyone rethink eating/buying habits.
posted by docgonzo at 10:30 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Omnivore's Dilemma and Fast Food Nation are required reading.
posted by four panels at 10:36 AM on January 27, 2007

Another author -- fiction -- whose books may be helpful in that veing is Ruth Ozeki. Check out "My Year of Meats," about the meat industry, and "All Over Creation," about Frankenfoods.
posted by brina at 10:44 AM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I third The Omnivore's Dilemma. It does a wonderful job of explaining (among other things) the "industrial food chain"--how it works, why the incentives to actors in the chain have nothing to do with nutrition but rather with scale, efficiency and trying to figure out how to use up all that monoculture corn (Aha! we'll make highly processed food!).
posted by donovan at 10:47 AM on January 27, 2007

Tomorrow's New York Times magazine has a cover story about this very subject (written by the aforementioned Michael Pollan).

(That is, Sunday, Jan. 28.)
posted by scratch at 11:11 AM on January 27, 2007

How about a whole book or two? Please, Doctor, Do Something is my favorite, followed by almost any book by Andrew Weill. Oh yeah, I'd also highly recommend reading Fast Food Nation, preferably paired with watching Super Size Me. Ask your Tivo to find it for you, as it's been running several times recently.
posted by ilsa at 11:13 AM on January 27, 2007

I haven't watched it, but the movie "Supersize me" is a documentary about a guy who eats McDonald's for a month, and .... almost dies. By the way, I have read the Omnivore's Dilemma, and Fast Food Nation. These are some of the most entertaining and thought provoking books I have ever read. Michael Pollen.
posted by xammerboy at 11:22 AM on January 27, 2007

It'd also be good for him to get into the habit of reading the ingredients on processed food packages ... if an item has 25 ingredients and he doesn't recognize half of them, bad sign. Compare a jar of Jif peanut butter to a more natural brand, where the ingredient list reads: "Peanuts."

I've gotten into this habit. I still occasionally eat prepackaged food, but my general rule is nothing with high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oil. Some packaged food is still relatively healthy and natural, but you generally won't find it in places like convenience stores. Hippie groceries are your friend.
posted by Sterling Hoyt at 11:24 AM on January 27, 2007

"Supersize me" is a documentary about a guy who eats McDonald's for a month, and .... almost dies.

No, it's not. "Doctors having concerns about a patient's health while said patient adops strange diet =? almost dies." But it does demonstrate how unhealthful fast food is.
posted by desuetude at 11:26 AM on January 27, 2007

I second Fast Food Nation -- I didn't read it but my wife has, and it made her very apprehensive about processed foods.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:50 AM on January 27, 2007

I really enjoyed Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by the Harvard School of Nutrition. It's essentially a summary of nutritional information from mountains of science studies into what's healthy and unhealthy to eat. Processed food is bad because of high fructose corn syrup, white grains, and hydrogenated vegetable oil. This book explains why.
posted by fcain at 11:57 AM on January 27, 2007

Five-year-old article: Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry. Far from thorough, but covers a lot in just a few pages.
posted by obloquy at 12:02 PM on January 27, 2007

Quack alert? Or just possibly husband-perfidy alert? This seems such generalised advice as to be pointless. There is a point to "Watch the salt intake" or "Eat fewer calories" but "Avoid processed food"?

The only reasons I can think of for giving such broad-brush advice are either "I am a doctor trying to charge this guy money so I had better tell him something" or "All men benefit from coming home to a wifey who has his slippers and a nice hot meal ready".

From what you say this isn't an invention of your husband's to get the home-cooked meals, but why should the doctor worry if someone eats good quality processed foods with normal ingredients? As other posters say, there are many items with ingredients which you might prefer to avoid (food doesn't come with any that you must avoid -- thanks to hard-working government employees) but if the doctor didn't spell out which ones mattered to your husband, this sounds like the equivalent of coloured water in a medicine bottle. And if the effect of the advice is to load unnecessary work onto the cook (male or female) of the household it is more pernicious than the coloured water.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:06 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

No one has yet mentioned trans fats, which I'm surprised about--they're a perfect reason not to eat processed foods, Idcoytco. They increase your bad cholesterol, and decrease your good.
posted by gramcracker at 12:09 PM on January 27, 2007

There are good suggestions above, the two standard books in particular, though you asked for an article or web site. Another way of approaching it is a book called, "Food, your miracle medicine" by Jean Carper. This refers to many studies about nutrients and foods that have specific beneficial effects. You won't find fried salty-sugary dough in there anywhere being beneficial. So your husband can look at whatever health problem he has ever been concerned about and see what whole food is good for it.

"good quality processed foods" I guess means lightly processed, which would be a valid point if someone is eating the equivalent of McCrap.
posted by Listener at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2007

You really need to ask the doctor why he recommends this so that hubby can attend to the core issue, not just the processing. There is nothing per se wrong with processed food. The problem is that much of it contains unhealthy ingredients, many of which have already been mentioned. Fats, salt, and sugar are the main culprits. They also tend to lack things which you need, or at least things which are healthy for you, such as vitamins and minerals, anti-oxidants, etc. What are hubby's health issues?

Some people, doctors included, feel that all of the foreign substances used in processed foods cause a multitude of ailments, most of which we just fail to understand. This is fairly controversial. They may be right, they may be wrong. Real scientific evidence is lacking here.
posted by caddis at 2:01 PM on January 27, 2007

There is something inherently wrong with processed food (and restaurant food, for that matter): It's packed with fat and sodium and sugar to a degree that you'd never put in your own, home-cooked food. Plus, packaged foods come in packages --which psychologically predisposes you to eating the whole thing rather than stopping when you're full.

In theory, you could just make sure you know what's in the processed food and what the proper serving size is. But in practice, it's much, much easier to make sure you're getting a healthy diet if you make the food yourself.
posted by footnote at 2:30 PM on January 27, 2007

The doctor told my father-in-law to watch his salt intake. He understood that to mean not to add any additional salt to his food. Unfortunately, table salt is not the main source of a human's sodium intake anymore because there's so much used in the processing of foods. To this day, despite all my efforts to the contrary, he refuses to use table salt, but doesn't hesitate to eat a Hungry Man dinner.

So, your husband's doctor may be saying "he needs to watch his salt", but if he were to simply SAY that, you may only focus on table salt and overlook the salt that's in processed foods.
posted by parilous at 2:38 PM on January 27, 2007

To this day, despite all my efforts to the contrary, he refuses to use table salt, but doesn't hesitate to eat a Hungry Man dinner.

Similarily, my dad was told to cut down on his dietary fat, specifically saturated fats. The doctor explained that this meant animal fats. It did not occur to him that butter was included in this category. He's not stupid, he just thinks of animal fats as the fat that you do or do not trim from your steak.

The OP doesn't say that "avoid processed foods" is the ONLY thing the doctor said, just that that's the specific recommendation her husband came home with. Also what footnote said.
posted by desuetude at 3:33 PM on January 27, 2007

I'm sure there is a disconnect here. Unless the doctor is a total quack, I'm sure he had something specific in mind.

The best thing to do is ask the doctor what he meant.

Barring that, we can speculate:

The doctor would have a specific thing he is trying to address; thus your husband would have to have a specific problem that needs addressed.

Does he have high blood pressure? My mother's doctor told her she can't eat chinese food because of her high blood pressure! Its not that he's a racist, but that he wanted her to stay away from Soy sauce which many people associate with chinese food.
Clearly, someone who is on a low salt diet would have difficulty eating processed foods that tend to be high in salt.

Does your husband have high cholesterol? Again, he may actually have been advised to get his cholesterol down to reduce chance of hardening of the arteries. Some processed foods are high in cholesterol, so a total ban while being overkill would help keep these numbers down.

Does he have heart or circulatory disease? Its conceivable that the doctor wants him to cut down on trans-fats because they damage the heart. Same logic here as for salt and cholesterol.
posted by Osmanthus at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2007

I would suggest reading the South Beach Diet book. It doesn't say processed foods are bad as such, but when you see what all the no-no's are in a low-carb diet, you see one processed food after another going off your diet.

Processed foods add unnecessary salt, sugar and preservatives which cause no harm in moderation, but if they constitute too much of your diet, it can help accelerate the onset of diabetes for someone with a predisposition for the disease.

In my case, I dropped 70 lb. on South Beach in 2005, getting down to 170 lb. (I'm 6'-2".) Losing the weight helped me get off the cholesterol and blood pressure meds I'd been taking (7 pills a day).

By the end of last year, I gained half of it back, but more discouragingly, my blood pressure was edging back up. I've been working on getting the weight back off, but even losing 10 lb. has resulted in my BP going back down to a more ideal range. I think it isn't so much the weight as such, it's eating too many of the triggers that cause the cholesterol and blood pressure surges. But when you cut those triggers, the happy benefit is weight loss.

And to get back on topic, those triggers are very popular in processed foods. They make the food more appetizing but are nutritionally pretty bad for you.

My theory is that the same genes that ensured the health of my ancestors who had to regularly endure periods of famine in central Europe are very detrimental when you experience perpetual feasting.
posted by Doohickie at 4:02 PM on January 27, 2007

I would suggest reading the South Beach Diet book. It doesn't say processed foods are bad as such, but when you see what all the no-no's are in a low-carb diet, you see one processed food after another going off your diet.

That applies to the South Beach branded processed foods as well - loaded with sodium.
posted by caddis at 4:47 PM on January 27, 2007

Just to follow up on Idcoytco's comments, the doctor did provide specific advice - his family has a history of heart disease and the doctor talked to him in specifics about what to eat and what to stay away from. But, I am generally looking for info on why one should stay away from processed food to help him understand why changing his diet is important.

Many thanks for all of the helpful answers.
posted by sara558 at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2007

"Avoid processed foods" seems to be pretty vague. The best information you can give him is what's on the label already. Especially the sodium.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2007

heart disease? - watch out for fats, especially saturated and trans fats, and sodium in processed foods. Also, processed foods tend to be light on mono and polyunsaturated fats (which can, in small doses, help), antioxidants, and other ingredients naturally occuring in vegetables which migh ameloriate heart disease symptoms.
posted by caddis at 8:58 PM on January 27, 2007

why is processed food bad?

if you want a compelling argument, tell him that processed food has all the expensive, quality ingredients removed or reduced and replaced with cheap fillers.

e.g. remove juice from juices and add fructose (corn sugar) since corn is a heavily subsidized crop in the US and hence is much cheaper than real fruit juice.

also, ingredients are added usually for marketing benefits. e.g. koolaid jammers (those IV bag things of colored sweet water) and sunny D have citric acid added so the marketers can toot the "100% vitamin C" angle. This makes parents feel less guilty about buying their kids rubbish.

in short: processed food is for suckers.
posted by kamelhoecker at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2007

citric acid added so the marketers can toot the "100% vitamin C"

Citric acid is for tartness. (Vitamin C is ascorbic acid.)
posted by kindall at 10:22 AM on January 28, 2007

Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, has an article in the NY Times today: Unhappy Meals.

I found it to be a great read -- it's got a nice mix of historical context, science journalism, and plain-sense advice. Plus, it's funny. I haven't read his book yet, but this article makes me want to do so.
posted by ourobouros at 4:06 PM on January 28, 2007

Yeah, that Pollan article (linked by ourobouros) is really good.

Another good article is from the author of Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser), Cheap Food Nation. I think it deals with many of the problems with processed foods your husband's doctor was addressing.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:36 PM on January 29, 2007

From Pollan's Unhappy Meals:

"Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat."
posted by Alt F4 at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2007

That applies to the South Beach branded processed foods as well - loaded with sodium.


When starting the SBD, you really, really need to commit to preparing EVERYTHING you will eat during the first two weeks (Phase I), for precisely that reason. In fact, the packages even state For Phase II & III (or sometimes just Phase III) Only.
posted by Doohickie at 9:37 AM on January 30, 2007

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