Are you feeling over-stuffed after the Holidays?  If you are like me, you left the ranch and grazed on lots of sugar, salt, and fat that made everything taste oh so good. Now you eye the scale and look to January 1st as the day when you will “eat right” and undo the damage from the last two weeks. Just like you did last year — and the year before that. Been there. Seen it. Done that.

Never mind fake news, what about fake food?

The standard American diet is full of processed food. Just read labels and try to pronounce the ingredients! Fast food, and much of what comes in cans and bags, are making us fatter every year. (

I never realized before I did the research and made some changes in my diet, that far too often I had been eating food-like-substances, instead of real food.  In his book, Food Rules: An Eaters Manual, Michael Pollen answers the question, “What should I eat?” with one word, “food.”

How do we recognize real food? Pollen makes it simple. If it grows on a plant, eat it. If it is made in a plant, don’t eat it. If food is made in a plant, it is processed, sometimes ultra-processed with fat, sugar, salt, and chemicals. Consumers take one bite and cannot stop. The food industry calls this the “bliss point” and  hires taste testers to find that sweet spot. That is why you cannot eat just one potato chip. You are not weak or evil. Chemistry hijacked your body.

Pollan’s rule can be a bit simplistic. My organic peanut butter is made in a plant, but has one ingredient: peanuts, so I eat it. If ingredients are real food, the product is a real food. So often, however, I read the food’s ingredients that are just fine, and then comes the zinger. Perhaps it is a chemical or too much of the tasty three (fat, sugar, salt).

Better living through chemistry?

Here is the scoop about just four chemicals commonly found in our food. (Unfortunately, there are  many more.)

  • Aspartane is commonly found in diet drinks. (I read where it took several years before the FDA approved it.) Aspartane enters the brain and central nervous system, and could cause seizures, impaired vision, anxiety or palpitations. [1] How many people experiencing these symptoms would connect them to their diet soda or the sugar substitute in their coffee? How many doctors would even know about these possible side effects and connect the dots?
  • BPA is an additive that preserves fats and oils. It is found in food, cosmetics and the lining of cans and plastic bottles. It is a hormone disrupter that can cause cancer, tumor growth, or behavior changes. I store my food in glass containers, often using washed jars that held food I bought from the supermarket. Look for labels on canned goods that say BPA free.  

The food industry is learning there is money to be had by appearing to eliminate questionable substances like BPA. However, I am concerned about what they may use to replace the BPA. When the industry rode the low- fat bandwagon, food companies dropped the fat but upped the sugar and salt to keep that bliss point.

It takes a bit of label reading and making alternate choices to take the first steps to better health. To my amazement, I discovered celery dipped in hummus can satisfy my yen for a crunchy snack. Just switching from processed to unprocessed food can make a huge difference in health and weight.

In his book How Not to Diet, Dr. Greger writes about a test for weight control done in 2019. Both study groups ate the same amounts of calories, salt, sugar, fat, carbohydrates, protein and fiber. The only difference was that one group ate processed food and the other unprocessed food. The processed group gained two pounds in two weeks and the unprocessed group – you guessed it- lost two pounds. [2]

One of my favorite reads this year was Unprocessed – My City Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble. I related to her experiences trying to shed additives from her diet, and found her book as informative as it was entertaining.

Back to basics

Eating real food —the stuff my grandmother cooked (or great-grandmother for you millennials) — frees me from counting calories while I fill my body with micro-nutrients it probably has been wanting for a long time.

So chow down on the good stuff this year and Bon Appétit!

[1] I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m not Going to Eat it Anymore, Christine Pirello, Penguin Group books, Ny, NY @2012 pp33-35

[2] How Not to Diet by Dr. Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, Flatiron Books, New York p 178