July 5, 2023

Healthy Food: What to Watch Out For

You have the freedom to eat what you want—deciding what to have dinner tonight, whether to cook or go out, where to eat and what products to buy. There are many choices at your fingertips. It's a luxury.

Back in the old days, there weren't as many options. People ate what they had. They made meals with what was growing in the garden, what a neighbor shared, or what they preserved for the winter. And there was a time when people put themselves in harm's way to hunt for food. Getting a meal on the table could be dangerous and life-threatening.

Today we are blessed with convenience and many options, but there is also danger.

a lovely arrangement of homemade food at the family table
Healthy Food: What to Watch Out For 16

Food companies are savvy at marketing and seducing children and adults with creative wording and packaging to promote mediocre quality foods as wholesome and healthy.

They advertise a box of macaroni and cheese as "organic and made with real aged cheddar cheese," which sounds appealing and wholesome. However, the "real aged cheddar cheese" is dehydrated and processed into a powder.

While they may have started with "real" cheese, when you think about it, this powder cannot compete with a pasta dish made with a "real block" of fresh cheddar cheese for taste and nutrients.

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Béchamel Sauce ( milk, butter, flour) with Cheddar Cheese
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Pasta with Béchamel sauce and cheddar cheese

When you're busy and rushing through the grocery store, It is easy to read a label without considering what it really means, like a can of whipped cream advertised as "made with real cream." If you don't read the ingredients with a discerning eye, you will overlook that it contains water, sugar, corn syrup, nonfat milk, mono-diglycerides, carrageenan, and natural flavors.

None of these ingredients are necessary for whipped cream. Whipped cream is - whipped cream and a fresh version is sublime!

A can or tub of commercially made whipped cream cannot compete in taste. And isn't it better to have the freedom to control the amount and type of sugar you consume and avoid the additives?

When it takes 3 minutes to make fresh homemade whipped cream that tastes better and is healthier, it's a wise choice to make it. Here, you can learn some tips for making whipped cream quickly and flavoring it without sugar.

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Homemade whipped cream

Use your freedom to decide what food you buy and increase the flavor of your food by following these three simple steps:

1. Question the Ingredients

When you see an ingredient listed on a label, ask yourself if it is really what you think it is. You might have to do some research, but it's worth it and can be a life-changing realization like understanding what citric acid is.

When you see citric acid on a food label, you might assume it's lemon juice. But the citric acid listed on food labels is known as MCA, manufactured citric acid, a chemical made from a type of mold. It does not come from lemons, it comes from a laboratory.

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Healthy Food: What to Watch Out For 17

Citric Acid

Learning about the use of citric acid as a preservative was one of the most eye-opening discoveries I made about processed foods. "[Manufactured] citric is a major industrial chemical. Its main source is not fruit but from the fermentation of crude sugars (e.g., molasses and corn starch) by the mold Aspergillus niger." National Library of Medicine.

This citric acid [MCA] is used to keep the food at a certain pH (acidity level) as required by the FDA for long-term storage and to prevent the growth of bacteria, which cannot grow in an acidic environment.

You will find MCA listed as citric acid in jams, yogurt, soft drinks, hummus, bouillon cubes, meat products, pasta sauce, salsa, cheese, bread, canned tomatoes, canned sauces, salad dressings, marinades, boxed cereals, chips, salsa, organic frozen pizza, and other frozen foods. It's one of the most widely used preservatives and, I believe, the most overlooked preservative to avoid.

MCA has a bitter, rather unpleasant taste. So salt and sugar are added to cover up the taste of the citric acid. This further compounds the problem. It results in a food product with a chemical, plus likely poor quality sugar and salt. In addition, citric acid can cause a heavy, bloated feeling in the stomach since it is difficult to digest.

When people who have studied with me give up citric acid and then return to it several months later, they report being aware of a heavy, bloated feeling in their stomach. They vow to avoid citric acid as much as possible and to make a fresh option instead of a commercially made product containing citric acid.

Natural Favor

Any time the word "natural" is listed on a package, it's easy to assume the product is wholesome and healthy. However, whenever I see "natural flavors" listed as an ingredient on a food label, I always wonder what it is. If the flavor of the food comes from the ingredients naturally, then why does it have to be stated that it contains natural flavors? I assume it must be an additive. But what exactly?

A store-bought basil pesto that contains basil, oil, nuts, cheese, and natural basil flavor isn't logical. Basil is so flavorful it doesn't need any help. I then question why natural flavors are added.

I hypothesize that the natural flavor of the food is lost during processing, and some flavoring needs to be added back in to give the food flavor. So, question the ingredients and the process.

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Basil, Mint, Lemon, Pistachio Pesto

2. Question the Process

After you question the ingredients, the next step is to question how the ingredients were processed. Even when a product contains all-natural ingredients, it is essential to question if the processing compromises the nutrients and flavors and, if so, what is the result. Considering this can help you discern the quality of a product.

Orange Juice

For example, when reading the label on a carton of orange juice, you might wonder why ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is listed as an ingredient if the juice contains 100% fresh oranges, which naturally contain vitamin C. Is it because the vitamins are damaged during processing, making it necessary to add them back in? There is some thought-provoking information about additives in a carton of orange juice.

Alessi Italian wire basket full of fresh oranges
Alessi basket

"Because such processes in the making of orange juice remove the distinct aroma compounds that give orange juice a fresh-squeezed taste, producers later add back these compounds in a proprietary mixture, called a flavor pack, to improve the taste and to ensure a consistent year-round taste. The compounds in the flavor packs are derived from orange peels by squeezing the oil out of them. Producers do not mention the addition of flavor packs on the label of the orange juice." Wikipedia

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Fresh squeezed orange juice, apple tarte, and strawberries.

Although orange peel is all-natural, I remain concerned about the need to add flavor and vitamin C to orange juice. I default to logic. What else is in the flavor pack, and what nutrients were lost in the processing?

In the end, it is logical to eat an orange and consume it right after slicing it at home. It is guaranteed to be fresh and delicious, and you can use oranges to help you make an easy dinner.

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Oranges, Barral black olives, basil, and lemon vinaigrette with shallots

Liquid Yolk

Even when you question the process, you may not have a definite answer on the quality of a product, but with logic, you arrive at the conclusion that there is a better option, and fresh is best.

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Preparing to make aioli (homemade mayonnaise) with egg yolk and Dijon mustard.

For example, the label on a jar of mayonnaise lists liquid yolk as an ingredient. First, I wonder what liquid yolk is. Why not call it egg yolk? Are they the same thing?

Second, I wonder what is necessary to preserve liquid yolk since eggs are one of the most fragile ingredients. Rather than try to figure it out, I gave up the jar and decided to find a replacement I could be sure was wholesome.

One simple solution is to make homemade mayonnaise with egg yolks and olive oil. It will take you about 3 minutes to make homemade mayonnaise, and the taste is superior to that in a jar.

aioli in a bowl with basil and garlic and lemon nearby

Angie's Story –

"I finally took the time to make the mayonnaise a.k.a. aioli (mayonnaise with fresh garlic), and it was so simple I will never buy a jar of mayonnaise again. Thanks for the tip!"

3. Question the Quality

Mac and cheese

Rather than trying to decide if the "real-aged cheddar cheese" on the box of mac and cheese is good enough, just make it fresh. To prepare macaroni and cheese from a box, you must stir in milk, butter, and dried cheese from the packet.

Why not make a simple version of homemade mac and cheese and stir in milk, butter, and fresh cheddar cheese for a tastier and healthier option in roughly the same amount of time?

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Healthy Food: What to Watch Out For 18

For more easy boxed macaroni and cheese replacements, learn from the Italians. They are masters at simple and sublime pasta dishes, such as Pasta alla Valdostana—pasta with fresh fontina, a dash of parmesan cheese, cream, and butter.

To make Pasta alla Valdostana as a main dish for four, melt about an ounce of butter in a pan, add 8 ounces of fontina cheese and, 7 ounces of heavy whipping cream, 4 ounces of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Pasta alla Valdostana is traditionally made by adding small mall cubes of ham to the sauce. I also like it without ham and the addition of nutmeg.

Because fontina cheese is creamy, it melts easily and instantly creates a dreamy sauce for pasta. Try fontina and pasta instead of cheddar to introduce your children to a new flavor and expand their palates.

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Pasta alla Valdostana with fresh ground black pepper and nutmeg.

Salad Dressing

Even expensive organic, all-natural salad dressings and sauces contain garlic powder, dried onion, and canola oil. You could argue that while dried ingredients and canola oil are probably not bad for you, consuming a dried component instead of a fresh one is a shame for your health and the pleasure of food.

A homemade dressing such as a vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh garlic, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper takes 3 minutes to make, and it is more flavorful, more nutrient-dense, and less expensive.

When people I work with start making their own dressing, they report back, "Now I always make my dressing, and I can't go back."

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Homemade Caesar salad dressing.

"I don't believe in bottled salad dressing… Why should you have it bottled? It's so easy to make. And they never use very good oil." Julia Childs

Magic Salad Dressing

If you have a fussy eater at home who does not like salad, try this Caesar dressing recipe. I call it the magic recipe because countless children have eaten their first salad with this dressing. And the parents tell me it's magic.

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Caesar Salad

Use Your Freedom Wisely

The store shelves overflow with "healthy and fun" foods for children, shadowing the fresh produce section. Companies target young children with attractive packages, prizes, and promising parents that they will deliver essential vitamins and nutrients for their children. Nothing compares to fresh, wholesome food. Something in a package cannot compare to a ripe, juicy plum or crisp apple in terms of flavor and nutrition.

The negative impact of preservatives and additives goes beyond our physical health. Commercially processed foods are seducing our children and creating a culture around food that grabs and goes to eat on the run instead of sitting down to eat a meal.

The trend I see is the consumption of manufactured foods to provide flavor and complement our food instead of using fresh foods to enhance the natural flavors. We are losing sight and taste of what good food is. There are thousands of food products on the market, but many are "food-like "products, not food.

The next time you reach for a package or a box, check the label and think, is this the choice I want to make for my family, or is there an easy fresh alternative? There always is.

Some of the points in this post are excerpts from my soon-to-be-published book. Click here to sign up for my free monthly newsletter and be informed when the book is published. And write to me anytime here if you have questions. Ciao for now!

You May Also Be Interested In These Posts:

What is Good Food?

The Ultimate Way to Serve Dinner

The Best Conversation Starters for Kids

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