Almost everyone has heard the phrase “you are what you eat”. Some of the first recorded versions date back over 200 hundred years in the French and German literature stating that the food one eats has a bearing on one’s state of mind and health. Later in the 1920-1930’s an American nutritionist Victor Lindlahr coined and popularized the phrase in an advertisement, “Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.”
Naturally it is a basic truth that living organisms are made up of what they eat. In more complicated life forms it is felt that senses of taste and smell have evolved to guide away from toxic materials and towards more beneficial materials. Who doesn’t like sugar and fried foods? They have high level of energy to stave off starvation. Starvation was much more likely before we had mass food production and super markets. It has long passed the time of hand to mouth existence and is now a for-profit business.
Much is written about how unhealthy processed foods are. What exactly are processed foods? Processed foods are any food that has been altered in some way during preparation for distribution. It could be freezing, canning, baking or drying which are healthy interventions to keep food safe from dangerous bacteria and decomposing. A good example is pasteurized milk. Other examples of processed foods include: breakfast cereals, cheese, bread, savory snacks (chips, pies and pastries), meat products (bacon, sausage, ham, and salami), microwave meals, and soft drinks.
Some ingredients (preservatives) are added to extend self-life while others are added to make them more appealing both visually and more flavorful. Many of these ingredients are salt, sugar and fat. Unfortunately these additions make these foods much more desirable and less healthy. It is hard to eat a single chip. Unfortunately there is also evidence that young children introduced to foods with high levels of sugars develop a “sweet tooth”.
Other ingredients in processed foods are added to make the foods look more attractive. Most readers have heard about dyes added to food and their effect on behavior. An example is Red dye #3 which is made from petroleum products. According to Jamie Alan, PhD in Contemporary Pediatrics, Red dye #3 is found in 2876 food products not just maraschino cherries.
You would think that since it is so common it would be safe. There have been studies to look at the dyes such a Red dye #3 to see if they increase the symptoms of ADHD. Some have shown an increase while others have not. Red dye #3 is banned from cosmetics has it has been found that when Red dye #3 was eaten by rats they had an increase in thyroid cancer. Dr. Alan wonders why if its addition to food is strictly cosmetic then why is it still added to food.
The dyes have many names so looking at labels is difficult. Try the website ewg.org.
by Sally Robinson, MD Clinical Professor
Keeping Kids Healthy
UTMB Pediatrics - Pediatric Primary Care
UTMB After Hours Urgent Care