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Processed Foods

The subject of processed foods is widely misunderstood. Let's see if we can straighten out the mishmash of opinion, falsehood, and fact.

If anyone was ever an icon of healthy living, Mr. Jack LaLanne was. He was famous for saying, "If it's made by man, I don't eat it."

That's a good rule of thumb. It's one most people don't follow at all--look in the typical grocery shopping cart if you need evidence of that. It's also one that some people follow to an extreme and to their detriment.

Most processed foods are deleterious for your health and pose serious consequences for those who consume them regularly. Some processed foods, however, are quite good for you. It depends on the processing.

If we go by pure definitions, the act of processing foods is the act of changing them prior to consumption. So if you cook meat, take eggs out of the shell, let tomatoes ripen, peel an orange, or remove the pit from a peach--you are processing that food. Obviously, processing isn't totally bad and is often desirable. Nobody in their right mind would insist on eating a "whole egg," shell and all. Doing so, in fact, would probably land you in the hospital.

We also process foods as a way of preserving them. For example, you probably know someone who cans or freezes summer produce from their own garden. You can also buy evaporated milk, protein powders, and other foods that are condensed or in some way partially processed. None of this substantially alters the food, though fresh is better. The food isn't transformed into something that causes cancer or other problems.

At the other extreme are "foods" that have such problems as:

  • Toxins added. These include aspartame, hydrogenated oils, and various odd-sounding chemicals (some of which are toxic and some of which are not) to preserve or color the food.
  • Made into candy. Why on earth parents feed their kids "fruit rollups" and other sugary garbage instead of real fruit is a mystery. This is child abuse, whether done out of ignorance or for some other "reason." Candy is a treat, not a major lunch constituent.
  • Digestive process bypassed. This is especially a problem with grains--with the outer layers stripped away, a grain is transformed from a low-glycemic carbohydrate to a high-glycemic carbohydrate. Fruit juice, which many people consider healthy, is another example of this (why not eat the whole fruit?).
  • Made into a "quick cooking" form. An example is quick oats. There's a reason why whole rice, whole oats, and other whole grains take time to cook. What you sacrifice to get "quick" versions is the best part of the grain. What you're left with is basically empty carbs that are also highly glycemic.

Rather than try to memorize a compiled a list of problems, it's enough to understand that limited processing is typically not harmful while the more you climb the processing scale, the more likely you will end up with something that will harm you.

Eating "whole" foods should be your goal. But don't be afraid to take your eggs out of their shell, grind those coffee beans, or do other "processing" that allows you to eat the food in the first place.

There's an easy way to figure out where to draw the line. Eat foods at the lowest level of processing for which they are available or maybe the next level up. For example, you might cook your oats (they are better raw), but don't use instant oats and don't overcook your oats if you do cook them. Peel an orange but don't juice it.

When you're shopping, use these general rules of thumb:

  • Avoid things that come in boxes. Not everything that comes in a box is bad for you. But this is the preferred packaging of many over-processed foods.
  • Avoid anything that's instant.
  • Shop first in the produce aisle (where processing is lowest), then in other aisles (where processing is highest).
  • Read the labels. The more ingredients there are, the more likely you are dealing with highly processed foods. If some of the ingredients aren't actual foods, then you are probably dealing with highly processed foods.
  • Ask yourself, "Does it grow this way?" The more "removed" the food is from the condition it would be in if you picked it from the grove or harvested it from the field, the more processed it is.



Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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