what is food?

I did not get my Wednesday post done yesterday. My daughter needed my laptop all day for her school. I will do it another day.

I had mentioned before that I am reading a book called, Food Matters. It is a book that my son used for a college writing course. I am using it as a base for a Nutrition course for my daughter in the second half of the school year. A lot of the topics I choose to write about here will be writing topics for her.

I figured it would be a good idea to start at the beginning with What Is Food? There will be a lot of facts in this post, but some is my personal opinion.

According to Britannica.com food is defined as: substance consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and other nutrients used in the body of an organism to sustain growth and vital processes and to furnish energy. The absorption and utilization of food by the body is fundamental to nutrition and is facilitated by digestion. We will use this definition to decide if something is or is not a food, or instead a food item or substance.

One thing that really caught my attention is that water is not considered a food, as it has no nutritional value. However, water does so many vital things for the human body it almost seems odd to not consider it a food. But, by the definition water is not a food. You can read what items are considered food for the SNAP program according to the USDA. They call them eligible foods. You many notice that it does not exclude junk food, or highly processed foods. Last week I was watching a food line on TV, where they were handing out food to people who needed food, and I was surprised to see that Food Banks were handing out soda, chips and other various foods that I consider junk food, not really food. Obviously, that is my opinion because even chips under the definition can be called food, even if it is junk food. Thank goodness most states, I didn’t check them all, don’t consider soda a food, as it really is just sugared water with lots of other chemicals added. Some states consider food to be any item consumed for nutrition or taste, with some exceptions. That one is interesting to me. I chew gum because I have chronic dry mouth, but I have never considered it a food, and it really is not great for my teeth, but it is the most effective at creating saliva especially when I can not have access to constant fluids, like at work. It is mostly sugar and a bunch of additives and has absolutely no nutritional value at all, much like soda.

What about processed foods? Processed foods get a very bad rap, but is it accurate. Most foods are processed in some form or another. If you heat a whole food you are processing it. So, even organic foods that are frozen or canned are processed. Overly processed, or high processed foods are the foods that should be avoided. A lot of the processing process strips out the nutrients in foods, and then after they have processed it they have to add those nutrients back in using additives. Freezing, canning and boxed foods are made that way so they can have a longer shelf life. Does this make them less nutritious? Some people will say yes, others will say it is necessary to feed billions of people in the world without food spoiling too quickly. Highly processed foods are foods that have lots of fat, sugar and sodium added into them to, according to some, make them addicting and irresistible to the human palate. If you have ever tried sugar free cereal there is no doubt that sugar is irresistible. You will most likely add sugar to it. What about low sodium, or sodium free soup? Trust me it tastes like dishwater. You most likely will add sodium to it. As for low fat, well fat is delicious. When you remove fat from foods it doesn’t taste as good. That is why when they make low fat processed foods they add more sugar, sodium and other flavor additives to make it more palatable to humans. There are studies that show that the over consumption of these highly processed foods, even though the label may say they have nutritional value, may lead to Obesity, Diabetes and even Cancer in some cases. Don’t get me wrong we have eaten some of these foods for years at my house, and now I am trying to eliminate them from our diet, but it is extremely difficult. For one thing they are less expensive than whole foods, or less processed foods. They are easier to access than whole foods, or more lightly processed and or organic foods, especially in rural or poor areas. They last a really long time. If you don’t live close to a store and only shop 1 or 2 times a month, then you need food that is going to last a long time. I actually like frozen fruits and veggies as they last so much longer than fresh. The most important thing to remember when you live on a budget, with limited access is to buy the healthiest option foods you can afford. Eliminating cookies, candy, soda and other sugary beverages, pastries, cakes, high sodium foods, high fat foods, etc are all good places to start. After you have conquered that it is time to move to the next step. Message me to learn more. Learning to cook is one of the best things you can do for your health. Even if you don’t like whole grain flour, and have to use frozen veggies and fruit, over fresh organic, it is still a healthier option than buying highly processed already prepared meal options.

I am going to pick on a few foods that I grew up with and absolutely loved, and assess whether they are food, or not.

American Cheese. I actually love American Cheese, it melts lovely and I like the mild flavor. But, is it food? Yes, it is food, the label proves it, but it is a highly processed food, with very high sodium and completely created in a lab. Did you know that? I did not. So, while yes it technically is food, if the ingredients of the food can possibly not be digested well, or possibly cause illness should it be labeled a food? It can not even be called cheese, it has to be labelled processed cheese. Read more about American Cheese.

Next, Velveeta Cheese. OMG I loved Velveeta growing up. My grandmother always had it at her house, and it melted so nice and even made veggies taste good. Sound familiar? We always had it at our house as well. Velveeta is another cheese that is a highly processed cheese. I do not really consider it food anymore. Any nutritional value it may contain is awash when you consider the sodium in it and all of the preservatives and additives. Now, would I eat it if I had to? Of course! It has a very long shelf life and would be better than nothing. Read more about Velveeta.

Spam. While I never actually ate Spam, my grandmother did and so do a lot of elderly people I know today. Why? It is extremely affordable and lasts a very long time. Surprisingly Spam only has 6 ingredients. Yes, you read that correctly. I would say it qualifies quite nicely as a food. However, it is high and sodium and nitrates to maintain its long shelf life. There is a low sodium option. Read more about Spam.

The very last one, Kraft Mac N Cheese. A food staple in many American homes. It has a long shelf life, is easy for teens to make, and does have nutritional value. However, powdered cheese apparently has pthalates in it. What are pthalates? They actually are quite unhealthy and may show up on a food label as DEHP. Kraft recently announced no additives or preservatives in their Kraft Mac N Cheese. Unfortunately, DEHP can be leached into food from packaging. I am not saying there is DEHP in their packaging, but it should be on the label if it is, which I am not sure is a requirement. This makes me scared to let my kids eat it, or any other packaged food. Unfortunately, breaking the Mac N Cheese boxed style, has not been easy to achieve at my house, though I have at least decreased the consumption of it. Now, I am kind of picking on Kraft, but for many Americans their food products offer a easy, affordable food source. Read studies on pthalates.

So, what can you do if you rely on these types of foods to feed your family? Educate yourself as to what is in the foods you consume. Read blogs like this one, and others, to learn about food. Take a Nutrition course, or work with a Health Coach to help you find and make healthier food choices for you and your family. Write your Senators to insist on healthier foods, more food tests for safety of food, and better food labels. Trust me the food industry makes billions every year, they can afford it, they just need the will to do it. Raise awareness, such as I am doing here. Don’t nag, people don’t like that. Assess what you eat, and make small changes where you can such as removing soda and sugar drinks. Don’t expect to make changes all at once, it will take time. Don’t stress, you need food.


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