A Letter on Avoiding Ultra-Processed and Processed Foods

Dear Readers, Friends, and Family,

I am back from a long, spectacular vacation spent gazing at the sea and at the fish and coral under the sea.  I’ve been meaning to write, but since coming back, computer viruses have infected nearly every computer in the house.  And my toddler has been terrorizing not only every cupboard, drawer, room, and refrigerator in the house, but also the limits of my patience as well.

My mind frequently turns to writing posts in my brain, even if I am not physically able to get to the computer because I’m busy picking the toddler’s smashed avocado off the floor or fighting my tween’s (Tween–I don’t know who thought of that word, but it has become very useful to me.) tears brought about by algebra’s exponents.  I hoard articles (and questions) that people send to me via texts and e-mails for a long time until hopefully I can use them for articles.

One such article sent to me summarizes a study on how much “ultra-processed” food Americans consume and how much sugar that puts in our diets.  Click on the article title to read a summary of the research study:

Over half of America’s calories come from ‘ultra-processed’ foods.


The food we eat as Americans blows my mind.  This study summarized in the article above looked at “ultra-processed” foods.  These are foods with several ingredients which include ingredients not normally used in “culinary preparations,” like artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives.  The results didn’t even include “processed” foods with their processed sugars, processed oils, processed fats, and other substances extracted from nature.  If over half our calories are coming from ULTRA-PROCESSED foods, I don’t even want to know how many are coming from the combination of ULTRA-PROCESSED and PROCESSED together!

Now, I did eat this stuff for about 4/40ths of the years of my life, even with my medical (and pharmacy) training.  Because, like my tween daughter and her algebra, I simply didn’t apply what I was learning to my life.  And medical school didn’t teach me to.  And no, I wasn’t stupid.  I was a robot designed to proudly and arrogantly earn honors.

But I’m here to tell you it matters.  I find it rockingly humorous that money is spent on some of this food research.  And until the research results come out, they (meaning doctors and government guidelines) won’t harp on the American population to simply eat REAL food to avoid disease.  So I’ll harp on you.  Harping on you also keeps me accountable!

Shop the outer aisles.  Fresh and whole is the goal.  (That rhymes!)

Eat more real vegetables.  There are so many.  Surely you can find one!

Keep your starch products in REAL form.  A real potato.  Real rice grains.  Corn on the cob (unless you’re snobby and like it cut off).

Only use oils and fats which require only THE BARE MINIMUM of processing.  Pressed olive oil and coconut oil.  Butter.  We don’t want processed fats.  Not good.  Not good at all.

Eat your fruits fresh.  Of course there is wiggle room for frozen, dried, and canned.  Just don’t wiggle-worm it into much with added sugars and preservatives.

If you add sweetener, recognize it as the treat it should be.  I love Disney World, but I don’t live there.

See boxes as potential WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING.  If it comes in a box, scrutinize it for its nutritional value.  Need help?  There’s a comment box below.  For free.

Processed foods and ultra-processed foods?  Sure!  You CAN eat that stuff.  You CAN eat it every day.  It IS your choice.  You can eat the processed and ultra-processed foods and be a diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and autoimmune disease statistic.

Or you can endeavor each day to follow some basic, simple food guidelines.  Over and over and over and over and over again.  I wish I could tell you you’ll be able to stop and go back to those old foods like you used to be able to.  You won’t be able to. Sure, for a brief trip to Disney World, maybe, if you’re lucky.

Well, I’m starting to lose my thoughts with the ever-present commotion in our home.  Please.  Eat real food.  Keep it real.  Keep it simple.  Watch out for food sensitivities too.  But that’s a different post.

Don’t wait for the government to start taxing your sugar consumption.  Start now.  So the sugar withdrawal is over by then.  😉

Until next time.


19 thoughts on “A Letter on Avoiding Ultra-Processed and Processed Foods

  1. barbara

    EAT REAL FOOD???? That is exactly the problem. It is hard to find food which has not been modified by corporate America. Current lobbying is for not even labeling foods which have been treated or changed in some manner. All that matters is shelf life and corporate bottom line. Sugar in all its forms, synthetic fats and emulsifiers, irradiation, pasteurization to 212*F and pesticide laden flour, fruits, vegetables, meats and fishes are the standard today. Only when people realize that when you eat “cheap food”, the producer has taken shortcuts to bring the item to market faster in the least costly manner. Your health is not considered, nor is the damage done to the soil or the animal or the workers by using these shortcuts.

    There is a reason that supermarket beef and chicken is tasteless. Farmed fishes too. If it is packaged and the ingredient list is unpronounceable, walk with your pocketbook. It does make a difference.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      “Walk with your pocketbook.” Right! Our talking and acting do make a difference! I recently wrote an article for Molly Green on artificial colors; I learned that many, many chain food companies and processed food companies are starting to voluntarily take the artificial colors out due to consumer pressure. I think, if we persevere and keep “talking” and speaking with our wallets (And I hope I never come off as too light/hypocritical. I am aware that, especially until a family finds cheaper sources and gets the hang of eating this way, switching to real, fresh, whole food can be more expensive and daunting.) that our food sources will improve. But if we let up, because we can’t band together behind “Paleo,” “Low-carb,” “GAPS,” or another name, it’s not going to happen. But I’m pleased to see the colorants being changed out! Let’s keep the movement going forward! Have a great weekend!


  2. Lindsay

    “I was a robot designed to proudly and arrogantly earn honors.” THIS. This is why I love you. 🙂

    So much truth in that. I look back at my time in pharmacy school and see the same thing! And not only were we arrogant about our honors, I was also arrogant about my presumed bounty of knowledge. Most of which I learned in school and hadn’t researched myself. Heaven forbid I should be a rebel and form my own opinions!

    Good luck with your toddler entropy. You know I can relate. 😉

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      “I was also arrogant about my presumed bounty of knowledge. Most of which I learned in school and hadn’t researched myself.” YES! (And thank you, I love you too.) And so when confronted with a different opinion, I at first for so long (until I had to find a solution to my problem) scorned any alternative thoughts. I really look back and wonder how some friends lived with me. (Organic? WHY ? Gallstones? JUST TAKE IT OUT! Juice boxes bad? WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM? Can’t eat nuts? WHATEVER. And so on.)

      Well, toddler took one hour nap. Didn’t even get the dishes done. At least nobody is crying (not even me 🙂 ). “See” ya’!

  3. EmilyMaine

    Love this post! It is all so easy and true. I especially like the comment in adding sweeteners. Even if we are using healthier natural sources like maple or raw honey it is still a treat and we need to remember that. I have been very good with sugar lately which has been a challenge as this pregnancy loves it but I do feel better for it. Had to smile about the terrorising toddler. It is a phase worthy of some hair pulling all in its own let alone combined with tween craziness! Hang in there! X

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Yes! I’ve learned the word “split parenting” this week, referring to having kids in different phases, making it somewhat challenging to deal with. (Cough. Cough. Yes, it is…)

      And Easter totally reminded me that even “good” sugar and “good desserts” (ha!) are not for me to over-do. I paid for it. (Actually, so did my husband and kids. Watch out for “Mean Mama.”) Disney World for a day, grumpy for the week. Oh, well.

      Why DOES pregnancy love sugar? Well, actually, I think there is science for that—with pregnant women being naturally in an insulin resistant state physiologically–but still. Why? 🙂 Have a beautiful, glowing, lovely week!—-Terri

  4. Tim Steele

    Great reminders. The FDA barely regulates food additives at all. There are no trial needs, just toxicity and cancer data. Most additives aren’t toxic in the short term, but long term effects are not studied. If people knew what “Big Food” is up to, devising shelf-stable foods that look, smell, and taste exactly like fresh, they’d boycott all processed foods. Here’s a partial list of what’s in our boxed foods (from Wiki on “food additives”). And remember, if it’s less than a gram, it does not need to go on the label!:

    – Acids
    – Acidity regulators
    – Anticaking agents
    Anticaking agents keep powders such as milk powder from caking or sticking.
    – Antifoaming agents
    Antifoaming agents reduce or prevent foaming in foods.
    – Antioxidants
    – Bulking agents
    Bulking agents such as starch are additives that increase the bulk of a food without affecting its taste.
    – Food coloring
    Colorings are added to food to replace colors lost during preparation, or to make food look more attractive.
    – Color retention agents
    In contrast to colorings, color retention agents are used to preserve a food’s existing color.
    – Emulsifiers
    Emulsifiers allow water and oils to remain mixed together in an emulsion, as in mayonnaise, ice cream, and homogenized milk.
    – Flavors
    Flavors are additives that give food a particular taste or smell, and may be derived from natural ingredients or created artificially.
    – Flavor enhancers
    Flavor enhancers enhance a food’s existing flavors. They may be extracted from natural sources (through distillation, solvent extraction, maceration, among other methods) or created artificially.
    – Flour treatment agents
    Flour treatment agents are added to flour to improve its color or its use in baking.
    – Glazing agents
    Glazing agents provide a shiny appearance or protective coating to foods.
    – Humectants
    Humectants prevent foods from drying out.
    – Tracer gas
    Tracer gas allow for package integrity testing to prevent foods from being exposed to atmosphere, thus guaranteeing shelf life.
    – Preservatives
    Preservatives prevent or inhibit spoilage of food due to fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms.
    – Stabilizers
    Stabilizers, thickeners and gelling agents, like agar or pectin (used in jam for example) give foods a firmer texture. While they are not true emulsifiers, they help to stabilize emulsions.
    – Sweeteners
    Sweeteners are added to foods for flavoring. Sweeteners other than sugar are added to keep the food energy (calories) low, or because they have beneficial effects for diabetes mellitus and tooth decay and diarrhea.
    – Thickeners
    Thickening agents are substances which, when added to the mixture, increase its viscosity without substantially modifying its other properties.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Holy smokes! It sounds horrible. (It is horrible.) But I think maybe I could use some of that stuff. Hahahaha! Like sweeteners for my disposition, preservatives to keep my skin young, glazing agents to make me look nice and shiny, bulking agents to tone my arms and legs, acidity agents to keep my acidic tongue in check, and so on and so forth.

      Okay. Not really. Don’t eat that stuff, folks!!!!!

      Thanks, Tim. Take good care.


      1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        Yes. I found this to be true for me too. When I transitioned (and I pretty much did it one day, saying “Today is the day I start this crazy, whole, real foods diet eliminating XYZ.” [GAPS]) it was HARSH for me. My dreams even haunted me. It was painful. So as much as I can, I FEEL what people trying to change are going through. (My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have this same processed food addiction, so he doesn’t quite get it completely.) But once on the other side, life and food feel so much better. I love the line in this article about a Michelin chef not having Doritos on the menu, or something like that! Right!

  5. Susan

    I so needed this great laugh! I got it about diet and have been living it seriously for 6 years, I’m still having troubles with both Lyme and CIRS. But I’m a LOT better off for all of you who dedicate even one article to helping people understand ONE thing; Diet = Life Squared. Thank you and my dear friend, Jehovah, for saving mine.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Susan, I’m a lot better off for those who put their mouth on the line on-line ( 🙂 ) to disseminate their experiences. If they had not, I’d still be saying “Eat in moderation” and expecting obese and diabetic patients/friends/family to be cured. Just curious what you’ve found most helpful for your Lyme and CIRS, outside diet, if you come back to reply. May God’s peace, love, and joy, the Great I Am, fill you each moment with increasing strength, endurance, and courage. X, Terri

  6. andthreetogo

    Yes, Yes, Yes to all of these. Though I do admit occasionally having an unhealthy snack, I always strive to keep my food real. It is much easier here actually than in America to keep away from processed foods. The only thing that is hard is finding organic and non-GMO food, but at least when we eat out or at home, I know it is made fresh, never packaged!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      You’re so lucky to be surrounded by such food! Yum! When I read your comment (about an unhealthy snack), I JUST remembered a dream I had last night. There was a pack of Oreos sitting 3/4 eaten on our kitchen counter. Someone came over and was in my kitchen and saw those. Ha! Yes, we have unhealthy treats too. My kids especially on vacation or special times. I haven’t let Oreos in the house again, though. Too dangerous. But now I can’t say, “No Oreos. Not even in my dreams.” 🙂

      1. andthreetogo

        Good on you! That’s awesome. Amazingly I don’t think I have dreamed about food… I know it’s seems like it has to be considering how much I love food, but no!
        You always make me think 🙂 haha
        Yeah, Oreos are scary,
        But I am lucky enough to not like them anyways… Now homemade chocolate chip cookies with lots of butter and sugar… My lips are sealed haha

      2. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

        When I “changed” (and I quit pretty abruptly), I dreamed about food. Made me mad. Because I couldn’t even escape that stuff by going to bed! LOL!

        Can you believe that my daughter just asked for “dirt pudding” for her birthday (which isn’t till fall)? Maybe my dream was prepping me. (And chocolate chip cookies were my favorite too.)

      3. Marybeth S

        I had been on the potato hack when my husband starting reading to me an article on Persian food. I had to tell him to stop as I could not think of real food while just eating plain potatoes!

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