I never paid much attention to my eating habits. During my college years, I was like an animal eating everything in front of me; late night huge burgers, out of the refrigerator pasta for breakfast, sweet treats three times a day. My body just handled it, and I never had to worry about the goodness of what I ate except for the indulgence of my palate which pretty much was satisfied with anything I could wrap my hands on when the hunger sensation was present (every other hour or so).
“…I knew then something had to change… I had to learn cooking in order to change my eating habits.”
Getting older, old habits persist but the body takes a very different pace, and changes start to affect what the mirror can no longer hide. I went from 6-pack abs to 1 pack, and the word fitness was a close encounter of the third kind – out of this world- I knew then something had to change. Out of curiosity and as in many occasions of my life, I decided to take a turn and disrupt my eating habits into a new and better me. So I started looking at my refrigerator, my food storage, and my wallet to see what I needed to change. Wallet was easy – I needed to spend less – the rest, I’m still in the “pursuit of happiness”.
“Cooking fresh food bought at the local farmers market… Taste was flavorful, rich and inspiring”
First things first, I knew I had to learn cooking in order to change my eating habits. That wasn’t a problem to me; I found out that cooking helped me to relax and forget about the daily stress of work. So, being this my first step into a new me, I looked up my options for mastering the art of cook and supermarket went from cans and pre-cooked food to raw and fresh ingredients. Also, a great advantage about cooking is that it gives a tremendous boost to your creativeness, think about creating 3 x 7 meals per week and trying to avoid as much as you can for repetitions. This creativeness process motivated me to find new options out there, go to different markets looking for new ingredients, new alternatives and change my habits for good. Without thinking about or looking for it, the words farmers market, fresh, organic and whole crashed into me like the long waited solution of a lifetime scientific problem.
Cooking fresh food bought at the local farmers market for the first time was like winning a full vacation to your favorite spot in the world, and eating the food was even better. The taste was flavorful, rich and inspiring, something different was going on, and I wanted to know what it was, why and how. So I started researching, studying and comparing what experts had to say about fresh food, organic food, nutrition, and wellbeing. A new turn in my life came up; habits were broken, and a passion was born.
Fresh, Frais, Firsh, Fresco food – What is it?
“Many people considers fresh as the closest you get it from the farm”
As per the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the term “fresh” in labels of products refers to food that has not been processed or altered in any way on the process from harvest to the displays in the store. So basically, this includes no frozen foods (poultry and meats), canned foods, dried food, chemically preserved foods, among many others.
As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of fresh is “… having its original qualities unimpaired”. So original qualities goes directly to the source, and here is where local farmers markets come up and stand in front of the real fresh meaning in foods. Many people consider fresh as the closest you get it from the farm; it is about how long the food takes from the picking process in a farm to your plate. Truth is, original quality of the food can be impaired by the way it is manipulated, by the time it takes to get to your plate, even by the way it is stored before consuming, and some of these factors can be controlled by the consumer, and some others by the provider.
Is there a significant difference between eating fresh vs. processed food? Yes, there is. But the answer goes beyond a simple yes. As life itself, to talk about benefits and risks, differences or choices in food, implies a wide spectrum of alternatives and the combinations of those make a simple answer very complicated. But this is really good for us people of earth. We have the freedom to choose and pick healthy options from a very wide variety of choices; we need to understand the impact those choices have on our health, our everyday living and work, step by step and day by day, to change our habits into a new and healthier way of life.
Scientifically speaking, there is no much information on studies determining if fresh is better than processed food (even if we talk about heavily processed), but there are some studies that go into specifics of each side of the equation and let the readers decide for themselves the best conclusion about the findings.
One big concern on processed food is the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in food cans. BPA is a synthetic compound employed to make some plastics and epoxy resins. In my own language, many food containers, water bottles and most relevant for this post, some food cans contain BPA. Some food cans are coated with this compound so to avoid direct contact between metal and food, making possible for the food to last longer and prevent damage.
Some studies determined the danger of consuming products that were packed in cans and jars that use BPA and its links to endocrinological disruptor, behavior in children, alterations on blood pressure, heart problems and, in animal tests, some types of cancers.
The use of preservatives to keep processed food in good condition for a long shelf life is also of concern. The list of chemicals used in processed food is long… very long, and some of them, if consumed on a regular basis, will very likely have a toll on your health. From high blood pressure, GI tract problems, diabetes, and many others, as soon as the body consumes the food and start digesting the ingredients, some of the preservatives goes into your system and may alter the way cells work in your body. The production of hormones in your body could be altered as well and on a long run, your health could be compromised.
“So if it’s not good for you why not avoid it? … Life is short and knowledge helps you make the choices to live a better life”
Fresh food also has some risks, but most of them are under the control of the consumer and not the manufacturer. Since it lacks preservatives, fresh food tends to deteriorate faster than processed food, so trips to the supermarket have to be more often, and you have to pick your food more carefully. Also, in most cases, fresh means uncooked, and cooking is time-consuming for most of us. It’s not a matter of opening a can directly to the microwave and having your meal ready to eat in 5 minutes. Washing and preparing the food before consuming is also important. There are more risks of consuming bacteria in fresh uncooked food if it’s not handled properly before consuming.
The benefits for fresh food are convincing as well. Food tastes different (better different I mean) and there are scientific studies that demonstrate why and how they do. Preservatives have a strong influence at this point. When consuming fresh food, you are avoiding eating preservatives and ingredients that are not part of a healthy daily diet. So if it’s not good for you why not avoid it? I will say it is about the experience that you live as soon as you eat a fresh spinach, fresh fruits cut by yourself, the way you cook grains and legumes from scratch, and how cooking fresh food helps improve your social live, boost your creativeness and how it makes you feel better about yourself knowing you are doing good to your body and your health.
Life is short, and knowledge helps you make the choices to live a better life. I like the idea of knowing how food affects my life, my health and the people that I love around me. I want to help others to get the knowledge needed to make their own decisions about food and life itself.