I opened a vegan restaurant in Berkeley, California in 2010.
My two most important lessons were:
1) To never, under any circumstances open another restaurant again. It is a life-sucking, soul-breaking endeavor that should be avoided at all possible costs.
2) How straight up fussy and privileged grown adults can be about food, not to mention how insanely overly complicated people tend to make it.
When I decided to write a post about processed foods, I had a flashback of a particularly finicky customer from the restaurant and it reminded me to write this post, but to write it with caution.
This particular woman would come to the restaurant a few times per week and every week it would be the same story. It went a little something like this.
She didn’t eat gluten or soy or nuts or anything processed.
We had an option on the menu to wrap our burritos, wraps and burgers in a blanched collard leaf instead of using buns or tortillas.
This woman always started out by wanting her burrito wrapped in a blanched collard leaf, but she would change her mind because she didn’t want the collard leaf blanched because cooking greens depletes some of their nutrients.
This was tricky because she didn’t want the collard raw either because eating too many raw greens, she said, was hard on her system.
Then she thought maybe she wanted a burger instead, but she definitely did not want the gluten free buns we had because they were way too processed, so maybe she would just get the burger with no bread, but then she was afraid it wouldn’t be hearty enough.
This dog and pony show would last about 15 minutes before she decided on soup, as long as the soup that day wasn’t spicy. If the soup was spicy, she would leave without eating, mumbling as she walked out the door about how hard it is to get something healthy to eat.
I suggested to her once (very nicely) that maybe she should consider just eating at home. She told me that she always ate at home and we were the only restaurant that she would eat out at.
In that moment I realized that we had become enablers for the white privileged population of North Berkeley.
I preface today’s post with that story because I want to drive home a point that I’m rather passionate about.
There is a shit load of information out there about food, but for the love, try not to overthink it.
I could pick apart and find something wrong with every kind of food out there if I really wanted to. But I refuse to do this for two reasons:
1) I don’t want to be like those regulars at the restaurant, finding something wrong with every single thing, only to scare them into taking no action whatsoever and avidly avoiding the produce section.
2) I refuse to be an enabler anymore 😉
I’m not saying that making informed and knowing about nutrient dense food choices isn’t one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well being. It absolutely is.
I just ask that you take the information in this post (and in next week’s because it’s a two-parter), add it to your arsenal and then make the best food choices based on what works well for you.
When I think about processed food, I always think of food that’s sold at gas stations.
Chips, crackers, cookies, muffins, everything except for that one lone banana that sits by the register and sells for like 50 cents. Where does that one banana always come from, by the way?
It’s not like they order boxes of bananas to sell, because it’s always just the one. It usually looks kind of old and sometimes there’s a single shiny red apple sitting next to it. Do the managers just bring in random fruits to try and make an extra buck? What’s going on with this?
So gas station foods (apart from the lone banana and stray red apple) are the obvious processed foods.
They’re convenient, they have lots of preservatives, they’re cheap, and you can open the package and pop them straight into your pie hole. No assembly required.
Now, there are certain foods that are more processed than others.
A donut for instance is more processed than a piece of whole wheat bread. But whole wheat bread is more processed than say, a piece of sprouted grain bread. Can you see where this slope may get slippery?
I’m going to make it really easy for you with two simple steps.
I don’t want to overwhelm you, so I’m giving you step one today and step two next week.
The first step is to identify the foods that much like opening a restaurant, should be avoided at all possible costs. These foods are the worst of the worst – vegan or not.
1) Dairy products, especially sweetened dairy products.
Watch: Got The Facts on Milk to learn all the crap things about dairy.
In a nutshell: Dairy has a protein called casein in it. Casein has been linked with loads of problems including inflammation, Autoimmune Diseases (think MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Alopecia to name a few), acne, allergies and even eczema.
If that’s not enough, the average glass of milk contains 60 different anabolic hormones (whether organic milk or not). The purpose of anabolic hormones is to help calves grow to become very large cows.
Why are we drinking something with hormones in it that are meant to grow a 1500 pound mammal? It defies all logic. Plus, imagine what all those hormones might help grow in us?
Also, there is no evidence that milk and dairy products help protect our bones. It’s actually the opposite.
Turns out that the places in the world which consume the most dairy have the most instances of hip fractures and the regions that consume the least amount of dairy have the lowest amount of hip fractures.
Don’t take the government and huge advertising budgets word for it – milk does not do a body good.
2) Anything containing Trans Fats.
Trans Fats are lab manufactured fats. To make Trans Fat, hydrogen is pumped into liquid oil to make a hard fat (think margarine and Crisco). This process is known as hydrogenation.
Trans Fats raise “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol.
They clog the arteries and are responsible for a slew of health problems, including obesity, diabetes and dementia to name a few. They are so bad that the entire state of New York banned them in 2006.
But get this.
Even if a food label says “Zero Trans Fat”, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free of these fake fats.
It just means that there is less than 1/2 a gram per serving in that food.
To find out if an item contains Trans Fat, read the ingredient list. If you see “Hydrogenated” or “Partially Hydrogenated” on the list, that’s your clue to put it down and keep movin’.
Common items that have Trans Fats are microwave popcorn, traditional supermarket pastries and donuts, frozen pizza, Coffee Mate coffee creamer and whipped topping.
3) Processed meats like sausage, hot dogs, jerky, bacon and lunch meat.
It doesn’t get any more processed than these.
Processed meats are filled with color enhancers, glues and carcinogenic chemicals like Sodium Nitrite.
If processed meats weren’t pumped full of all these chemicals, the meat would appear gray in color and dead looking. This would make people run away, not add them to their cart. Sodium Nitrites are responsible for putting back in that reddish “fresh” meat color.
Processed meats have been linked with so many types of cancer and other health problems that a 2007 report from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) advised people to completely stop buying and eating all processed meat.
Even vegan donuts, y’all. 🙁
At best, they’re full of processed flour and processed sugar. At worst, they’re also fried and full of Trans Fat. Vegan or not, donuts are nutrient void and are not helpful to your beautiful bod.
5) Smoked meat, barbecued meat and conventionally raised meat.
The high temperatures of smoked and barbecued meat create highly toxic cancer causing carcinogenic compounds called Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs).
Conventionally raised meat is full of hormones and chemicals. Even organic meat is full of saturated fat and should be avoided for heart health.
Meat in general is something that we don’t need and that causes more harm than good.
If you’re set on eating it, at least stay away from smoked, barbecued, conventionally raised and processed meats.
6) All commercially fried foods.
There’s a myriad of problems going on with fried foods. Let’s look at a couple.
First, there’s the Trans Fat issue because most oil used to fry foods is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. And just because it’s “partially” hydrogenated does not mean it’s “partially” good for you.
But even foods that are fried in non-hydrogenated vegetable oils like Canola or Safflower Oil have their own set of problems. These types of fats (polyunsaturated fats) easily become rancid when exposed to oxygen, producing loads of damaging free radicals in the body.
Also canola oil is pretty much guaranteed to be made from Genetically Modified ingredients. I’ll be writing a post on this in the next few weeks.
And then there’s the risky substance called Acrylamide, which is formed in certain foods that are heated to high temperatures. The highest levels of Acrylamide are found in french fries and potato chips. 🙁
The World Health Organization stated that the levels of Acrylamide in foods pose a “major concern” and that more research is needed to determine the risk of dietary Acrylamide exposure.
Check this out.
One can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar (usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup), 150 calories, 30 – 55 mg of caffeine and loads of artificial colors and sulphites.
If it’s a diet soda, it has all of this stuff but the high fructose corn syrup gets swapped out for even more harmful artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
The combination of ingredients that make up soda spikes blood sugar, interferes with the bodies ability to absorb calcium, makes us dehydrated, causes plaque buildup on the teeth, causes weight gain and offers zero nutrients.
There is absolutely no reason why anyone (especially kids) should be drinking soda. I’m gonna get all Berkeley on you and be a stickler on this one!
Soda is some seriously bad shit.
8) Refined white sugar.
Excess sugar increases belly fat, damages the heart, has toxic effects on the liver, ages the cells and brain, and is as addictive as heroin. HEROIN!
And processed sugar is found in a lot more than just dessert type foods.
Food companies sneak it into lots of packaged foods to make them more satisfying, to cover up other chemical-like tastes and to get us hooked (they know about this little heroin fact too). Some foods that are surprisingly high in sugar are ketchup, fat free salad dressings, milk, granola bars, tonic water, packaged sauces and gravies and even certain types of breads.
Check out some alternative names for sugar. If you see any of these ingredients, it’s just another name for processed sugar.
Concentrated fruit juice, dextrose, maltose, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, invert sugar, malt syrup, cane crystals and fructose.
Dried dates, bananas, brown rice syrup and 100% pure maple syrup are all great natural sweeteners for when you need to sweeten something up.
9) Refined white flour.
White flour is so processed that all the nutrients gone by the time it’s all said and done.
The grain is crushed and the bran and the germ are removed. It then gets bleached and treated with chlorine.
What’s left is a nutrient void substance that spikes blood sugar and acts like glue in the intestines, making it hard to digest nutrients.
It’s just bad news. I’ll be talking next week about better alternatives, but for now, here are the items to avoid that are made of refined white flour. White bread, white pasta, white tortillas, most crackers, baked goods and pizza dough.
Okay – that was part one. If you’re inspired to get away from the junk and try out a super clean, unprocessed diet, check out my weekly Plant Fueled Meal Plans.
If you know anyone who would benefit from this info, I would love for you to share this link.
Next week, I’ll be covering the foods that may not be so obviously bad for us, but still may not be great choices.
Today I’m giving you a brownie recipe that is the exact opposite of gas station brownies.
When you’re craving something sweet, these will do the trick without using any of the ingredients from my “holy shit, don’t eat that!” list.
Rich Cacao Almond Brownies (Gluten Free) and Whole Food Plant Based
Rich Cacao Almond Brownies (Gluten Free) and Whole Food Plant Based
- 1 banana
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup maple syrup or more if you want them a little sweeter 60ml
- 2 cups canned black beans 340g, Crazy, right? Trust me - they work!, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup cacao powder 40g
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup almonds 75g, chopped
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut 25g
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds 12g
Preheat oven to 350° (175°C)
Place the banana, vanilla and maple syrup in the food processor and process until smooth.
Add the black beans, cacao powder and salt and process until totally smooth, about a minute or two.
Pour mixture into a mixing bowl and place the almonds and coconut in the food processor (don’t worry about washing the food processor).
Process the almonds and coconut until the almonds are chopped up to your liking.
Add this to the mixing bowl, along with the chia seeds and stir until everything is incorporated.
Line an 8 x 11 (20.3cm x 28cm) pan with parchment paper so that it covers the bottom and sides of the pan (or opt for an equivalent silicone baking pan) and pour in the brownie mixture.
Bake for 35 minutes.
I know that black beans in brownies sounds weird, but just go with it and tell me what you think in the comments below.