What's really wrong with processed foods? I enjoy them for the convenience and, I’ll admit it, the taste. If it was really so bad for me, would the U.S. government allow it to be sold everywhere?
Mike, Brooklyn

While it’s fine to run for the border every now and again, you shouldn’t make it a regular habit (ie. every meal). The USDA dietary guidelines recommend eating a diet high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in saturated fat and salt. Following this type of diet can help prevent conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity. But Gothamist realizes that it isn’t always easy to prepare three wholesome meals a day. When you’ve come home after 9 hours of work and a grueling subway ride where you’re packed in like a sardine, it is tempting to grab the nearest burrito and stuff it into your mouth rather than to prepare some wild salmon on a bed of steamed greens. 2004_06_ask_spam.jpg

Processed foods tend to be high in sodium and saturated fat (inlcluding hydrogenated fat, which extends food’s shelf life but raises your ‘bad’ cholesterol) , and your taste buds get accustomed to the high levels of salt and fat in these foods. The good news is that you can re-train your taste buds by weaning yourself off of the processed stuff. And while the FDA does regulate the food U.S. consumers eat, you really have to read the label to know exactly what goes into processed foods, and even then you might not be able to tell the whole story. Even “natural” processed foods, while they may not contain hydrogenated fat, can contain some scary stuff. For example, some vegetarian “meat substitutes” contain a substance called Quorn, which is derived from a vat-grown fungus and has been shown to cause severe allergies in some people (including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives, and difficulty breathing).

If you’d like to start eating less processed foods, Gothamist recommends checking out some cookbooks or magazines with simple yet healthy recipes, such as the Whole Foods Market Cookbook, the New Not-Strictly Vegetarian cookbook, or Cooking Light magazine. Your local Greenmarket is a great place to get fresh, seasonal produce as well. Try expanding your palate by adding one new (natural) food or recipe each week.
And if you’d like to learn more about processed foods, try reading the book Fast Food Nation or viewing the film Super Size Me.