Newsflash: We are not “just fine”

If I could have a dollar every time someone said, “I grew up eating highly processed junk food, and I turned out just fine” then I would surely be rich. And another one I’ve been hearing an awful lot lately is, “Easter only happens once a year so my kids will be getting candy.” Before I dive into the dozens of facts that prove we are truly (and unfortunately) not “just fine” I must first get this holiday thing off my chest.

Yes, Easter is once a year, but so is…

  • Christmas and Halloween and several other candy-filled holidays
  • Every kid’s birthday in the class
  • The junky packaged snacks given to kids after soccer practice and church service
  • Candy-filled party favor bags
  • The “100th Day of School” celebration
  • Visits from the ice cream truck
  • The Box Top “cupcake party” at school
  • The candy “reward” from the treasure box
  • The sucker from the bank
  • The frozen yogurt fundraiser for the elementary school (sorry but contrary to popular believe frozen yogurt is not “real food”)
  • The piece of candy after dance class
  • The visits from the in-laws bearing edible “gifts”
  • The playdate at someone else’s house where Oreos are a standard snack
  • The list goes on…and on…and on

My personal philosophy is that if I almost never give my children highly processed junk food they’ll somehow manage to still get plenty of it (from outside sources), and guess what…that’s been ringing true for quite some time now. I personally think one special treat a week is plenty and that’s what seems to work for us. It is a rare enough treat for it to actually feel, well, special. Seriously, if your kid eats a piece of candy after almost every meal how can it even be considered a special “treat” anymore? As I’ve said time and time again the problem is not necessarily the sweet treats themselves, but it’s the quantity in which they are consumed!

Sugar consumption is out of control

Did you know that according to a recent 60 Minutes story that “Americans are now consuming nearly 130 pounds of added sugars per person, per year?” Yikes! That’s more than a third a pound per person per day (approximately 3/4 cup a day!), and I would venture to say that most people don’t even realize they are consuming this much “added sugar” because it lurks in unexpected places like beverages, salad dressings, dried fruit, condiments, yogurt, crackers and even bread. “Sugar” comes in many different forms, which means it’s listed under many different names like brown rice syrup, honey, cane juice, agave, Sucanat, corn syrup, etc. making ingredient labels tricky.

Some scary statistics…all related to the food we eat

So how is it that we are “just fine” when:

  • “Our children have the destiny of a shorter life span than their own parents…your child will live a life 10 years younger than you because of the landscape of food that we’ve built around them.” (Source: Jamie Oliver)
  • “We spend our lives being paranoid about death, murder, homicide, you name it…it’s on the front page of every paper. Any doctor any specialist will tell you … diet related disease is the biggest killer in the United States right now here today.” (Source: Jamie Oliver)
  • Coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer – four of the top ten chronic diseases that kill most of us – “can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food.” (Source: Michael Pollan)
  • “Two-thirds [of America] is statistically overweight or obese.” (Source: Jamie Oliver)
  • “[To reduce heart disease] a government commission in the 1970s mandated that we lower our fat consumption. ‘When you take the fat out of food, it tastes like cardboard,’ says Dr. Robert Lustig. ‘And the food industry knew that, so they replaced it with sugar…and guess what? Heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and death are skyrocketing.’” (Source: 60 Minutes /
  • “Americans enjoy the cheapest food supply in the world, spending the smallest share of their income on groceries of any country.” (Source: Chicago Tribune Reporter)
  • “No other nation on the planet spends as much as we do on medical care.” (Source: Robyn O’Brien)
  • “People are fed by the Food Industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the Health Industry, which pays no attention to food.” (Source: Wendell Berry)
  • “Despite the fact that 25% of the population takes expensive statin medications and despite the fact we have reduced the fat content of our diets, more Americans will die this year of heart disease than ever before.” (Source: Dr. Dwight Lundell, Heart Surgeon)
  • “I freely admit to being wrong. As a heart surgeon with 25 years experience, having performed over 5,000 open-heart surgeries today is my day to right the wrong with medical and scientific fact. …The injury and inflammation in our blood vessels is caused by the low fat diet recommended for years by mainstream medicine.” (Source: Dr. Dwight Lundell, Heart Surgeon)

If you aren’t personally overweight or don’t experience any major health problems I can understand how you might think your health and eating habits are “just fine,” but how do you expect to feel, let’s say, 10 years from now? Plus I would venture to say that today there’s not a single person reading this that doesn’t know someone with a food-related health problem like heart disease, certain types of cancer, hyperactivity (in children), asthma, diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, autoimmune disorders, and/or constipation. And the amazing thing about all of this is…as soon as you change your diet the majority of these food-related health problems are completely reversible.

I used to think we were “just fine” as well

I admit I thought our family was just “fine” and healthy before we cut out processed food. After all none of us have ever been overweight or had any serious medical problems. I grew up on my fair share of Doritos, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, candy and other sweets, and while still eating highly processed food I successfully completed my first sprint triathlon. Overall I felt like a young and active mommy. And while we didn’t get on this “real food” bandwagon to solve any health issues, the events that took place soon afterward were surprising. My HDL (a.k.a. the “good” cholesterol number that should be high) went up by 50%! My younger daughter’s constipation completely disappeared and her asthma improved 10-fold. I suddenly had more energy (I used to think experiencing “afternoon slumps” was normal, but those days are long over for me). Not to mention it just made sense to know where our food comes from and to not eat from packages with ingredients we couldn’t even pronounce.

Still to this day I honestly didn’t think our eating habits were “that bad” before cutting out processed food. We were never ones to frequent McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza or the prepared frozen food aisle, and sodas only made rare appearances in our house. Apparently all the refined grains and added sugars we were consuming was making a much bigger impact than I thought.

The point is this is our wake up call, and it’s time for some serious change. Smoking cigarettes used to be viewed as harmless and now look what’s happened to that industry. I fully expect the big food companies to follow in those very same footsteps because highly processed foods are clearly causing health problems. And if we, as consumers, “vote with our dollars” then they will surely get the message.

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  • Comments

    1. Michelle Watkins |

      This is all true and unfortunately it is hard to get people to understad the impact when they have been eating like this for years – and when an organic fresh from the local farm turkey is oodles more in cost than a regular turkey – etc etc. There has been NO getting my family on board with this and they frankly think I am nuts. They tease me and look for evidence that what I am saying is wrong and there is so much of it out there!!! I hear things like “well so and so told me that eating organic is a waste of money”. I understand completely their point of view as it seems that food advice changes every 3 months and the up front price of healthy food versus processed junk is noticeably higher but in this case I think that the results of eating organic unprocessed speak for me and that is going to have to be enough.

    2. Becca |

      Hi, I have a question, do you have any suggestions for replacements for cream soups, mayo, etc. in many casseroles? Is cream cheese or sour cream ok? I looked over your recipes but didn’t really see many casseroles on there. We make a ton of them but would like to do them healthier Thanks!

      • Helen |

        I make my own white sauce for casseroles, 2 TBSP butter or equiv., 2 TBSP flour or equiv. (we use spelt usually), whisk for a minute or two, then add 1 cup liquid: milk or equiv., stock, throw in a little wine, whatever. I usually use stock or almond milk, or a combination. Add salt if you need it and seasonings – anything works! Takes some practice to get it right, but soon you’ll be able to whip it up!

      • |

        I’ve found that I can substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream- in fact we use it quite frequently to now make our own ranch dressing. It’s wonderful!

    3. Laura Lee |

      I just found this blog from Pinterest and I am blown away… in a good way. My husband and I do a very good job at eating healthy with tons of whole grains, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats; however, we sure do love our veggie chips, dark chocolate, and CFA. My eyes have been opened by all of those posts I’ve read and I’m extremely thankful because they have given me more of a desire to pursue this even more! I have recently been debating about trying a clean eating diet. Can you please help me understand the difference between clean eating and raw foods? Are they pretty much the same thing? Also, what are your views on Raw Foods? Thanks for helping and posting this AMAZING information!

      • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy) |

        Hello Laura Lee. So happy you happened upon the blog. :) Um, I would say that clean eating and real food eating are the same thing. It just means that you are eating foods that come from nature rather than from a package with a long list on ingredients. Eating real is about cutting processed food out of your life. If you haven’t taken a look at “Real Food Defined”, it will help explain: Raw food, however, is real food that is uncooked or barely cooked at a low temperature. “Raw foodists” are often vegan but you can expand the definition to include unpasteurized animal products. Many define raw food this way:
        Uncooked – never heated above 118 F degrees.
        Unprocessed – as fresh or wild as possible
        Organic – no irradiation,no preservatives, no pesticides and no GMOs.
        Hope that answers your question. ~Amy

    4. |

      I just love this article. My son is three and we don’t give him chocolate milk, pop, apple juice, and he gets no sweets for holidays (from us) and everyone thinks we are nuts! When he was 13 months old, his great aunts were FREAKING out because I wouldn’t let him have a giant chocolate rabbit on Easter – he had no idea it was Easter, let alone any need to eat a giant chunk of chocolate. Society is really weird with how we think special occasions make everything okay, even when the person in question is too young to even know what a special occasion is….

      • Calendula |

        For several overlapping medical reasons, I avoid excess processed sugar. There is enough sugar in flour, fruit and most accompanying sauces (teriyaki, BBQ, etc.)

        The trouble is, when I’m at family dinners, office parties and so on. I might have already consumed processed sugar in bottled salad dressing, sugar in the cornbread, sugar in the coleslaw, sugar in the ketchup, then friends, family, and co-workers cannot handle that I resist dessert! I know that I’ve already over-consumed sugar…precisely as you said, because it’s a special occasion, which is bad enough, but people persist in pressuring me about dessert! “Not even fruit?” “What about a few bites of mine?” No, no, and no.

        I beg off by declaring that I’m “too full.” But why in the world do sooooooo many people care what I eat or don’t eat? If I point out all the sugar in the meal, I end up guilting them, so that’s not polite. Nor is it polite to bring my own food, or to request that they prepare something special just for me. So, what does one do? Show up after the meal? Never accept invitations? So much of our culture involves eating at a restaurant or eating Aunt Frieda’s cooking, and the conversations surround partaking of the meal.

    5. |

      Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find
      It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope
      to give something back and aid others like you aided me.

    6. Kimberly |

      I have been really inspired by your blog. It lead me to further research and other blogs. I even read the book by Micheal Pollen about eating real food. We (my husband and I) are slowly removing processed foods from our diets. Eating organic vegetables and dairy is pretty easy and grass feed humanely raised meats are too. The real hard to leave out thing for me is my daily 12oz coca cola. For my husband it’s the Welches grape Juice. The coke is my only added sugar, but unfortunately the juice is just one of my husbands sugar vices. I’ve gotten him to eat plain yogurt sweetened with real fruit and honey but he still adds a lot of honey. How do I get him to reduce the amounts of sugar/honey sweetened foods that he eats? Both of us have health issues. He is a heart transplant recipient and I have type 2 diabetes and kidney failure. The real food diet is recommended for my husband but for me as a person with renal failure they recommend more processed foods due to their lower phosphorus level such as white bread no beans or dairy and it is very limiting. I basically just decided to eat the real food anyway and see what happens. Well I have more energy, sleep better and all around just feel better.
      But I would really welcome some tips about getting sugar out husband’s diet. I’ve cut down my soday intake to one every other day and I will keep reducing it slowly. We have come a long way in a short time but still have a way to go. However, one thing I wanted to say is that your blog really inspired me to learn more and begone my journey. THANK YOU!

      • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy) |

        Hi Kim. Sounds like you are definitely on the right track. Encourage your husband to keep cutting back on the amount of sweet he adds, if you don’t think cutting back cold turkey will work for him. The thing is, when you completely cut sugars out for a few weeks, you eventually lose the craving and taste for it. We know that is not realistic for all, but it does work if you can stick to it. Otherwise, baby steps move you forward, too. And that is what matters most-moving in the right direction. What worked for my family regarding the soda pop habit, is adding a bit of 100% fruit juice to sparkling water. You still get the fizz and a bit of the sweetness without the chemical cocktail that is cola or other soda pops. We found it very satisfying and remains our drink of choice, other than plain water, most of the time. We now add only a little splash for flavor. Hope that helps a little. ~Amy

    7. vc |

      I am past school brrthdays, but now i have many occasions (Not only sugar, other processed foods too)….
      1. Prom fundraiser candy cane sale
      2. Jolly rancher chews, fruit snacks, fruit roll ups and more at the cafeteria
      3. Charity popsicle sale
      4. Prizes for reading certain numbers of books
      5. Gatorade, chocolate milk, chocolate soda, san pellegrino (flavored) and lemonade on sale at the cafeteria
      6. Ice cream cart
      7. Bake sales
      8. Prom lunches (Where the prom comitte makes a deal with the cafeteria to have all proceeds go to prom) thaat have desserts such as cobbler, pie, cheesecake, ice cream and churros.

    8. Dede |

      Hi! I love your site and just bought your book. We have been doing our best to feed our kids wholesome, nutritious food, but we do find it difficult given the outside environment. My 1st grade daughter just complained to me that she never gets treats withher lunch. Occasionally, I give her a homemade cookie or Hershey’s kiss (which I view as a less offensive candy), but it sounds like a lot of kids get candy and cookies every day with their lunch. Any advice on how to explain this to a 1st grader? Thanks!

    9. Sarah |

      Wow. I consider myself so incredibly fortunate that I live in an area (San Francisco) where people are really conscious about what their kids eat, so in some ways it’s easier to accomplish giving your kids the healthy things. For example, my daughter’s preschool is no sugar/healthy food, so when I pack her lunch, I CAN’T pack a dessert, and I’m glad for that. School potluck a follow the same rules, so people wind up bringing things that are home made, while ingredients, and no sugar. Birthdays at school are “no food”, so instead of bringing cupcakes, we bring play dough or stickers or books for each child. At the playgrounds, you rarely see kids chomping down on cookies or chips. It’s usually pretty good stuff. So, when I offer my kids a whole grain and flax seed banana muffin made with unsweetened applesauce instead of sugar, I don’t feel like an outcast, lol!
      That said, it’s not a utopia! It is still REALLY hard, especially when the sweet tooth is genetic, lol! We still do cupcakes at birthday parties and holidays, etc. However, we rarely have sweets in the house, and when we do (which is usually around the holidays, when my daughter is just given stuff.), we ALWAYS have conversations about why we can’t have too much, that it’s not healthy for your body, and too much isn’t a “treat”‘anymore, etc., etc. We are FAR from perfect but we try really hard. I’m hoping my efforts to cook every night, not to buy processed foods, and my and my husband’s regular exercise habits will have a positive impact on our kids. It’s SO SO challenging to fight against the sad “norm” in our country!

      • Laura |

        Sarah, You are a shining example of creating a positive and healthy eating lifestyle for your family. I love the “no food” birthdays at school policy. Give yourself a huge pat of the back for great effort and success. You are an inspiration!

    10. alexia |

      I hear the same things all the time. Most of the junk comes from nearby family who just doesn’t get it. They actually overindulge my kids because they think I am depriving them. Unfortunately, we also live in an area where the schools pass out junk for every little thing. All we can do is what we are doing and know we are doing right by our kids. I don’t remember how I stumbled across this blog a few years ago, but I did. I saw you mention the book, In Defense of Food. I bought it. I read it. It changed my life. I have actually gotten rid of every health issue I had. Thank you.

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