Recently I watched several online documentaries with regard to GMOs, which then led to various other documentaries about food, diet, and health. In this documentary, Northern Ireland’s Zoe Salmon, agrees to participate in a month-long study wherein she eats nothing but processed, low-fat foods. Prior to Zoe embarking on this study, of her own admission, she ate a rather well balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, rice, potatoes, and meat.
As the documentary progresses, Zoe becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the way she feels. She experiences a loss of energy, and feels bloated and constipated. Toward the end of the study, the producers tell her she is free one night to dine out with her friends in Belfast, and have whatever she likes; however, when her order arrives at the table, instead of it being a rare steak with fresh vegetables, it is another prepackaged meal, at which point she breaks down into tears, asking her friends if this is a joke. Her discomfort with eating processed, pre-prepared foods is so sincere and palpable that she found she could not bear more of it and was grateful this study was nearing its end.
The research throughout the documentary shows why Zoe is feeling bloated: A lack of fat and fiber, and the methyl cellulose, and other forms of cellulose, which are added to bulk up the food without added calories. In addition, she has a chance to spend time in a lab with scientists who describe and breakdown what is in the food she is eating, citing the chemicals and the level of processing that’s taken place. Ironically, Zoe goes online to the Q&A area of the Weight Watchers site, to find the Weight Watchers chefs saying, “there are no artificial ingredients (in their food),” and “everything (in their food) can be found in the grocery store,” when in fact she had just deconstructed their food in the lab, and realized how misleading this information was to the consumer. (Note: I understand Weight Watchers has helped a lot of woman lose weight and keep the weight off, but what I am addressing here, are the ingredients, not the weight loss benefits).
I don’t have to go on much further in recapping the documentary to give you an idea of what was learned by Zoe and the conclusions that were reached. By the way, Zoe gained three pounds at the end of the month-long study. Her nutritionist and/or dietician told her it’s most likely water weight and that once she goes back to her regular diet, the weight should come off. So, on a low-fat diet, Zoe gained weight.
In addition, there were two, other women who were profiled in the documentary: One who ate Special-K, twice a day as her meal and admitted she was addicted to Special-K, and one who drank more than two liters of Diet Coke per day. My mind was fast-forwarding twenty years into the lives of these beautiful, young women, wondering what health problems they’d be facing as a result of these dietary choices. No doubt, a loss of calcium and possibly cancer for the diet soda consuming woman, due to the phosphorus and aspartame in the soda, and no doubt Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure for the Special-K consuming woman, due to the added sugar and salt in the Special-K. I say this, using the assumption that these women continue with these dietary choices throughout their life.
It is really important to see here though, that the unhealthy attributes associated with these processed, low-fat meals, are also present in all processed foods; not just some, but all processed foods. And, with a world on-the-go, eating things that come out of a container as the rule, rather than the exception to the rule, most people are eating foods that are low in fiber, and high in added salt and sugar, so the insights and conclusions that were reached in this documentary can be carried forward to include all processed foods.
If it’s pre-prepared, even if looks like whole food (i.e. chicken, broccoli, and mashed potatoes for example), there is still a good chance chemicals have been added to extend the shelf life of the food. But clearly, that meal is going to be far healthier than one that comes from the freezer section of the supermarket in a plastic container. Then, add into the mix the microwaving of the food, and it is a wonder (to me) that one can maintain any level of health, eating this way. In the end of the documentary, Zoe tosses her microwave. Touche, I say.
I don’t think this is rocket-science, but I find in my conversations with people along the way, about how they eat and what they eat, that many are surprised to hear what I am discovering. So I share, because I never know who doesn’t know. Again, in the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Hope this helps.
Here’s to your health.
Sharon, T H E C O C H E F