My generation is the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than our parents. But we have better medicine, state-of-the-art technology, and improved work and home conditions, so what’s the deal? Oreos, Lean Cuisine, hot dogs, McDonalds, and Tastykakes, that’s the deal. All the processed foods and snacks consumed on a daily basis here in America are loaded with ingredients we can’t pronounce and pumped full of sugar and sodium. We have all heard the speal so why do we keep buying the stuff? To me this is the same concept as buying cigarettes when you know they have been proven to cause cancer. But cutting out cigarettes and processed foods are both hard tasks because they are both addicting and make us feel good (temporarily).
Growing up in a household run on junk food fueled my sugar addiction. The day started with Instant Oatmeal (14 grams of sugar per serving, surprised? read labels), followed by a mid-morning Smores’ Chewy bar snack and lunch comprised of salty processed deli sandwiches on Wonder bread, Cheetos snack packs, Lil Debbie Swiss Rolls, Yahoo, and an apple. I would come home to down a few Elf-fudge cookies and Cheez-its with a Root Beer. Dinner, while having some redeeming real food qualities was not much better. Both of my parents worked and were busy so it was normally something like Tyson BBQ chicken strips with some broccoli or maybe some white penne with canned sauce and a salad. But there was ALWAYS dessert. Normally ice cream or a Klondike bar. And then late night snacks of microwave popcorn and kettle cooked chips. Mmmmm…. thank god for cross country and a good metabolism, I don’t know how I functioned on that.
It was not till college where I got to make some of my own diet decisions that I began to re-evaluate my plate. I never realized how eating less good food kept me full and more mentally aware than ingesting tons of empty calories. Switching to rolled-oats and bananas in the morning, spinach and bean salads for lunch, and grilled chicken, rice, and veggies for dinner really had me feeling good. Sure the occasional night out does call for some greasy street pizza or late-night cookies but all in all switching the majority of my diet to real food has improved my life drastically. Instead of gaining the freshmen 15 I lost it.
I am not calling out all fatty and carb loaded foods, I am calling out processed foods. There is a huge difference. My grandmother had her 89th birthday this past month and is still rockin harder than anyone I know. But she cooks all of her vegetables with a little bit of bacon grease and uses REAL FATTY butter. Say whaaat? Yeah, ever heard the saying to only cook with ingredients your grandmother would have used? Think my Nana spread Smart Balance all over her morning toast and ate low-fat Special K bars to hold her through the day? Nahhh. I asked her her secret and she said moderation.
Nana grew up in the mountains of North Carolina with a big family and not a lot of money. They had a garden, and cow, a few chickens, and the occasional pig. I asked her what her normal day of food looked like and she said lots of beans, squash, milk, and potatoes. The only food they bought was flour and sugar. Everything else was made from what they had on the property or what they traded with neighbors. Meat and sweets were a thing saved for special occasions and winter was passed with canned vegetables from summer. They ate seasonally, locally, and fresh. Compare the differences from her childhood to mine.
I am far from perfecting my diet. Although I have been making an honest attempt to clean up what I eat I still have many moments of weakness. I mentioned previously my sugar addiction. This is a real thing and has been my biggest struggle to overcome. One brownie or piece of cake and I am in knee deep with sweet cravings that normally end up in me downing the whole pan and looking for a bag of marshmallows afterwards. I keep a bag of Jolly Ranchers with me at all times and pop a few throughout the day. I remember one day I tried to go without any of my sugar treats and I almost passed out in my lab class. Although I have been able to maintain a grocery list of mostly real foods the candy keeps calling my name. I found this info-graph on the internet that really scared me…
It’s a drug most of us are addicted too. And its something many of us ignore. So next time you are shopping at the supermarket look at your labels. How many grams of sugar are in that granola bar? How about the amount of saturated fats in those potato chips? The food you put into your body fuels you throughout the day and keeps your organs functioning. Everything you put into your mouth goes through you, so make conscious decisions and get educated on what your food is and where it is coming from so we can raise that life expectancy and prove ourselves wrong.