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Apr 11, 2010 01:54 PM

Processed Foods, What I eat & why. Jamie's Food Revolution has me thinking. What , if any do you eat & why?

Hello All,

I’ve been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and the thread here on Chowhound. It got me asking myself: What processed foods do I eat? And will I give them up?

I went thru my fridge and pantry today. I found there was stuff I could live without very easily, and will take steps to eliminate those going forward. However, there were things I said……ummm….wait a minute. I’m not sure I’m ready. I read all the labels, but one thing I should let everyone know is I’m new to the food thing (about 2 years) and I don’t know a lot yet.

My criteria for a “processed food” was if I could not recognize an ingredient or didn’t think I could make the same thing at home. That’s probably not the right way to go about it, I admit. I will educate myself further but I just throw this out in case I can get some early education on the quick.

Is what I have listed even a “processed food”? Do you have your own processed foods you will not give up at the moment? If so, why? I’ve tried to explain the reasons for mine as best I can.

---Hot Sauce – La Victoria Salsa Brava (hot). There are a few ingredients in this that I’ve never heard of but I don’t plan to give this up. I cannot eat a taco or burrito without it. The texture and heat level I cannot match with another hot sauce. The alternatives are either thin and vinegary or chunky salsas (both sometimes good) but never my first preference. I do make my own salsa sometimes, but not all the time.

---Sriracha – There’s some ingredients in this great condiment that I’ve never heard of. Are they bad for me? I’m not inclined to drop this product because I use it for a lot of things.

---Dry Pasta – I have a package of Anthony’s Spaghetti and I recognize semolina, but the next six ingredients I do not. None of them seem to be mentioned whenever I see a chef on TV making pasta. I use dry pastas mostly for convenience. I’ve never tried to make pasta…yet... I am sure I will in the future…I just don’t know if making my own pasta will ever completely replace dry pasta. Is this a processed food? What are the alternatives? I’m sure there are more high quality dry pastas than Anthony’s but I think the price may drive me away with those. At that point it becomes about both convenience and price.

---Bottled/Canned Gravy – I’m almost ashamed to say this one--- but not quite. I make my own gravy for all special occasions, but on a busy weeknight these little jars/cans have become indispensable for that quick meal when I want gravy. Most of the time, I fry up a few burgers, toss the gravy over them (adding some mushrooms), let them simmer a bit then eat them with mashed potatoes (real) and some veggie. It’s such a quick meal, and for a single parent that matters.

---Oyster Sauce – Wow, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in this I don’t recognize, but this could be because my bottle is Dynasty’s Oyster “flavored” Sauce. Perhaps, there is a real Oyster Sauce that is not flavored, but I’m not sure of that. I will look next time I’m at the Asian markets, but either way, I wont give this up just yet.

I guess that’s just a few for now. All in all, I found myself doing pretty well. I’m pleased I’m eating fairly well, with a few exceptions. I know I can improve. How did you do it? Do you fall back?

One other quick question on Brands, if you will indulge me? I have two (2) cans of tomato paste (sorry, I couldn’t find any other example).

One is Hunts – 5 ingredients (Tomato pastes, salt, spices, natural flavors, citric acid)
One is Safeway Brand – 1 ingredient – (Tomatoes)

Which is better and why? Are store brands inferior? Just curious about your thoughts.


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  1. I know I am going to regret posting in this thread because I can tell it will be one of those endless ones that go on forever.

    I think you are on the right path in starting to look at labels. The fewer ingredients and more natural the better.

    I can answer two of your questions.

    Lots of pastas dont have UFIs ... unidentified food items ... stuff you can not pronounce. They are your ordinary supermarket brands and not more expensive or artisan. I have never made my own pasta and I never intend to. There are too many good dried brands out there and if I want fancy smancy artisan, I will buy it rather than make it myself.

    Read the label. Find some you like without the junk. Your body does not need that stuff. The company making the product needs it to increase shelf life

    As much as I do NOT cook, I have stopped buying tomato sauce period and make it from tomato paste that only has tomatoes. That way if I want salt, I can add as much as possible.

    That is the big thing with processed foods ... way too much salt.

    Ironically after all these years of shunning salt, I am living now in a tropical area where there is a lot of sweating going on and I noticed there was a lot more salt in the food ... which I was avoiding until I almost passed out yesterday. Something salty revived me. I guess it is like an athlete who loses a lot prespiring and downs those sports drinks.

    However, most of us are not losing tons of water and that is one big objection to processed food ... too much salt.

    I do not think that your list, with the exception of the gravy, would be on Jamies hit list. That is not what that show is about. It is about not making a diet exclusively of corn dogs, fast food, pizza, etc and eating fresher and from scratch as much as possible ... which is really a LOT less expensive than processed foods.

    A can of beans will cost about a buck and often has salt and preservative. That same buck will buy at least a pound of the same bean which will last for many more meals.

    If you lack time ... the freezer is you friend. Make big batches of stuff. Cook once and microwave much.

    8 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      yea, ive been watching, and i dont think jamie would have a problem with a can of beans, a frozen bean and cheese taco being eaten every day is what he's trying to correct,

      jamie would say taht if youre eating a snack, grab a can of chick peas and salt and pepper, rather than a bag of cheese doodles,

      he's about eating healthy being something thats not just the right thing to do, but something one can do conveniently and without a whole lot of drama

      1. re: rworange

        Your post has me it possible to soak and then freeze beans instead of using the canned? My problem is the fore-thought to remember to soak beans so I usually used canned but I would be just as happy with dried if I could whip them out of the freezer when I get home from work to thaw or run them under hot water for a while like I do with corn and peas etc. Has anyone tried that?

        1. re: melpy

          I freeze beans after I've soaked and cooked them, and they are perfectly fine. Is there a reason you want to freeze them pre-cooked?

              1. re: melpy

                For hummus, you're working with cooked chick peas, so no worries there - soak, boil, cool & freeze. Falafel is a different story, as I believe you need to grind up soaked but uncooked chick peas. That's outside my area of expertise (deep frying scares me), but hopefully someone else will weigh in.

            1. re: melpy

              There are many threads on the bean thing, but really $1 of pinto beans from the bulk bin at even Whole Foods yields 3 2cup storage containers,. They freeze well. No need to soak, just put on a simmer and 2 hours later you are done. I mash them when they start to soften roughly with the potato masher because I like the creaminess. If you do a big Sunday cook for the week this works out well as one of the items to cook.

              1. re: melpy

                I freeze beans but microwave to heat. Also, you don't need to soak. Just bring them to a boil and simmer till tender.

            2. Yeah, condiments are the toughest. I went through this a couple years ago and started weeding out the fake-o stuff in my pantry and fridge. Artificial sweetener, HFCS, gums, thickeners, all that stuff went. Not that many of those things don't have their place (I mean, carageenan is made from moss or something, so it's pretty dang natural), just that I want to KNOW when I'm eating them rather than them being in everything.

              Re: brands, true story. A few years ago my mom was in the dairy aisle and saw a stocker pulling all the sour cream off the shelf. She asked what he was doing and he said there'd been a mixup in the factory and all the lids were on wrong and he'd just noticed it -- the Daisy Brand lids were on the store brand tubs and vice versa. He told her that you should always buy store brand for two reasons. They're fresher because they have a higher turnover rate than name brands, and they're often exactly the same product as the name brands, made and packaged in the same facility, just with different labeling. Dairy, canned goods and frozen foods were his big recommendations.

              Oh! Another one I know is that Kroger's store brand organic milk is Horizon.

              There's an old thread on brand loyalty (I think in this section) that's really interesting if you'd like to see where people won't buy store brands.

              I guess the answer to your question is no, store brands aren't inferior, especially when you're talking about something like canned goods or frozen veggies -- what you're paying extra for with name brands is their advertising!

              2 Replies
              1. re: LauraGrace

                On the other hand, if the name brand is on sale AND you have a coupon -particularly if your store doubles it- the store brand can end up costing more.

                1. re: LauraGrace

                  Gotta add my .02 worth regarding the sour cream. The only ingredient listed on a container of Daisy sour cream is grade A cultured cream. Can't say the same for any of the other brands my local store carries.

                2. I'm wary of using the term "processed" to mean unhealthy or unnatural or both. Honey is a processed food - it wouldn't exist without the intervention of bees. So is butter, and flour, and soy sauce. And olive oil, which does not come flying out of olives without some help from us.

                  I think it's more useful to wonder what each ingredient does to your body, and to consider whether you want to ingest it. For instance, I steer clear of Lay's Barbecue Chips, even though there's nothing inherently evil about what's in them. I just feel gross if I eat too much fat, sugar and salt.

                  But the fact that I don't recognize an ingredient doesn't mean it's dangerous. There are lots of words I don't know. Guar gum sounds scary, but it's just ground up beans. And surely you remember the dihydrogen monoxide panic of 1997:


                  8 Replies
                  1. re: small h

                    I think there's a big, big difference between olive oil and Twinkies or Wonder Bread. I recognize that the term "processed" can be a bit of a red herring ("But these potato chips are *all natural*!") but in general I cannot imagine any negative health effects from the "great-grandmother diet" -- eating only foods your great-grandmother would recognize.

                    Just because not all "processed" food is bad for you doesn't mean we discard the concept altogether. Maybe it's not THE deciding factor, but surely we can think of how much it's processed as one of several *guides* for making wise food choices?

                    1. re: LauraGrace

                      <I cannot imagine any negative health effects from the "great-grandmother diet" -- eating only foods your great-grandmother would recognize.>

                      If only it were that easy. I never knew my great-grandmother, but I'll bet you dollars to donuts she made liberal use of schmaltz. My grandmother kept kosher, so margarine was a big part of her cooking, and she always had a jar of maraschino cherries on hand - red dye #2, anyone? And I'm no saint, cooking-wise, but I eat lots of healthy things that my ancestors would probably not recognize as food, like tofu and seaweed and seitan.

                      My point is that it isn't so easy to find a bumper-sticker-ready phrase that tells you what to eat. Michael Pollan's "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" is my favorite, but in my grandmother's home, "not too much" was not an option.

                      1. re: small h

                        Oy. ;) Ah well, the Weston Price folks will tell you that animal fat is GOOD for you!

                        I guess MY point is that there's no use throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I don't think that level of processing (or "whether your great-grandmother ate it" even) should be the *only* or *comprehensive* standard for healthy eating but just because it's an imperfect measure doesn't mean we chuck it. I don't think there *is* a perfect standard, so we can use a judicious combination of factors, one of which in my opinion should probably be amount of factory processing. And then every so often say, What the hell, and have a great big bag of White Castle french fries. ;)

                        1. re: LauraGrace

                          I agree, there's no perfect standard, and even if there were, in a decade or so it would be replaced by another. I'm old enough to remember when margarine was better for you than butter, and saccharin was safe. And then it wasn't safe. And then it was safe again!

                          1. re: small h

                            The point of labeling some food "processed" is that it identifies the presence of edible food-like substances. Things that were not eaten by human beings at all before the 1930s are now showing up on our shelves. These items have not undergone the same scrutiny, the severe trial and error that all foods were given over time in past societies. Frequently these items contain wholly synthetic material that remains undigested in the body, these are clear divisions between old and new. That is why, though there might not be a "perfect standard", there is certainly a standard by which Americans did not become diabetics at age 13 and die of obesity before 50. There are also standards of eating that stretch the limits of how good we feel in our bodies and how much time we can enjoy life on this planet.

                            1. re: FullPalate

                              Olestra would be an excellent example of what you describe. But I think the problems of diabetes and obesity have worsened significantly only over the last 20 years or so. I wonder what was "right" from the '30s to the '70s that suddenly went "wrong."

                              And now you've got me thinking about how we differentiate between edible substances and food. Nutritional value? No, because then vitamin pills would be food. Perhaps if something can be burned for fuel, it is food?

                      2. re: LauraGrace

                        Last night I watched a program on Henry VIII's health - or rather ill health. There's wasn't a lot of 'processed' food in his diet, but it was unhealthy, especially after a jousting accident limited his activity. They estimated that he consumed 5000 calories/day, mostly in meat, bread, ale, wine (with sugar), and very little in the way of vegetables (peasant food). They suspect he had type 2 diabetes. By the time of his death (age 55) he had a 50+" waist, and weighed some 400 lbs.

                    2. I think I will become a real label reader nowadays. Of course, I've known the labels have existed but this program has really got me interested. I will look more closely at the dry pastas.

                      I did notice that most of my stuff was mostly condiments. I usually buy and make fresh foods so I did pretty well on my own personal inventory through my cabinets/fridge. Even my bread made it. I buy it from an Asian market and they list the ingredients. Its just white bread, but the ingredients are rock solid. I have done the Atkins or a "low carb" type diet a few times in the past and condiments were my killer there, mostly because of the sugar.

                      I appreciate the info as to the brands. I'm really going to do more research on this for personal reasons. But my perception or taste will play apart too. For me, my opinions vary wildly on this issue right now, with not much rationality. For certain items I have no issue buying store brands, other items I buy brand names. Right now it could be habit or taste, I'm not sure. Would love more info on store brands and how they are made.

                      As to the "processed" term being a negative or positive. I agree with the notion that it could be either. I used the term mostly for convenience, but what I'm getting from the show is eating more natural things. I know that might not be right, but my own feelings of the show are telling me, "if you don't know what it is... check it out, or bypass the product." That's what got me looking at the labels.

                      Finally, I don't agree with most of you in that JO's food revolution is about getting rid of the fatty fried foods. That first show with the family dumping all of that stuff on the table was, but the theme from the show that I get is--- eat/advocate for fresh foods with little or no processed stuff. I remember when he read off that label on the chicken product in the I'm reading too much into this. Maybe this is a personal journey.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: Rocky Road

                        I agree with you. Jamie's focus seems to be the reduction of fatty fried foods, but his true emphasis is on REAL foods--minus the horrible chemical soup of preservatives, additives, and other by-products of convenience foods--cooked healthfully. He uses olive oil. He's not opposed to meat...he just wants folks to eat more vegetables, too!

                        I'm really getting interested in the entire "Real Food" movement and have also read enough Weston Price-ish stuff (with a judicious eye and a critical mind; I'm no zealot) that I'm reconsidering the role of fats in my diet (trashing the carcinogenic ones, the high omega 6 ones, and giving pasture butter and organic lard a second chance by adding them to my current mostly olive oil regime) and I've completely eliminated ANY foods with high fructose corn syrup from my house (that required a 90 mile trip to Whole Foods to find condiments without the HFCS!) and any hydrogenated oils. White flour is almost gone (can't quit on the good baguettes, nor would I want to..) and I'm eating a lot more cultured dairy (starting to make my own kefir; buy Fage by the case), fatty fish (sardines, especially) and making sure there ALWAYS is plenty of fresh fruit in the house.

                        I mean, really, how stupid was it for me to say, "Oh, we can't afford those grapes. They're almost three dollars a pound!" and then turn around and run out to the QuickStop when we got a terrible craving for SuzyQs at $1.49 a pop? I know better. I've studied foodways and nutrition my entire life....and yet I was practicing "false economy" at the grocery store, for some dumb reason.

                        Now, we get (organic or "certified natural") beef, pork, and chickens from local farmers in bulk, and store in our freezers. We get eggs from pastured chickens. I bought a case of Organic Valley pasture butter when Whole Paycheck had a big sale, recently, and froze it. I rendered lard (really; it was easy with a large slow cooker) from same organic hog one weekend, and froze that. I ordered a case of good olive oil and stored it in the fridge downstairs (aka the basement/pantry)....My new adventure involves driving to a different farm once a week to buy raw milk (illegal in Iowa but I've a long history of civil disobedience in my family ;-) from Jersey cows.

                        I stopped eating at ANY chain restaurants, and have become more conscientious about packing food and snacks from home, to avoid the temptation. I find that I'm least likely to suffer from that "processed crap" physical reaction when I eat at lovingly run, ethnic Mom-and-Pop restaurants (Vietnamese, Thai, authentic Mexican) because I live in a part of the country that doesn't know who Alice Waters IS and thus we have no "artisan/locavore" restaurants whatsoever...

                        It's been just three months since I completely gave up the (bad) processed foods, the occasional junky desserts, the occasional fast food....and I cannot tell you how much better I feel: more energetic, less prone to "ups" and "downs" and food crashes, my arthritis is better and I haven't had the hint of a cold or sniffle. Even some stubborn, horrible eczema on my hands--which I'd been treating with medication for literally four months, with no improvements--has cleared up and vanished.

                        Jamie Oliver's show has just come along to reinforce what I'd already decided to do, after getting sobering test results (pre-diabetic blood sugar levels, high triglycerides, etc.) from the doctor's office late last year. Nina Planck's Real Food, Michael Pollan's works, documentaries like Food, Inc., ---all are converging into what truly may become the "Food Revolution" that Oliver so sincerely seems to want.

                        1. re: Beckyleach

                          Beckyleach - where are you in Iowa, and where are you finding raw milk (you can privately email me if you'd like)? I'm in Waukee now, just west of DSM, and I agree with EVERYTHING you said. I haven't made nearly the drastic changes you have yet, but I'm improving my diet all the time. I belong to a CSA during the growing season, get my meat from an ethical producer who comes to the area every couple of weeks, try to eat as little processed, "fake" food as possible, and fully believe that there's nothing harmful about the whole milk, cream, pastured butter, etc. I enjoy. (In other words, I don't think fat is the enemy.) I've read "Real Food" by Nina Planck and all of Pollan's books. So yeah. It is SO refreshing to read a post like this from someone else who lives in IOWA!

                          1. re: tara3056

                            Hi, Tara,

                            I don't know how to click through to your email...I live in NW Iowa, so you'd have quite a drive. However, I can ask my "supplier" if she knows--through various underground channels; I think she had friends attending the raw milk conference in WI last week, too--anyone in your part of the state.

                            I ALWAYS feel the same way when I see an interesting foodie post from an Iowa. LOL!

                            1. re: Beckyleach

                              Becky, thanks, I'd appreciate that! Let me know if she knows of anyone around here... I'm actually pregnant right now, so I don't think I'd be able to take immediate advantage of it if I found someone, but I'm sure my hubby would love the opportunity to get his hands on raw milk. I'm not actually sure how to email anyone on here, either, so feel free to shoot me an email at tara_krogh @ if your "supplier" turns anything up! :D

                              Des Moines is getting better and better. There are multiple CSAs available + a food coop with a huge selection but they only deliver once a month, great farmers markets, a few select restaurants that really focus on local, seasonal, organic produce and meat, and Gateway Market is a cool grocery store that offers a lot of unique products. It still has a looong way to go, though, and while the corn fields surrounding the city are beautiful in July, it kind of turns my stomach a little to think of where it is all destined to end up. I wish more than anything that we had a Whole Foods nearby; I've actually thought of taking a couple of huge coolers to Omaha for a large grocery run.

                              1. re: tara3056

                                Oh, Tara, Des Moines would seem like PARADISE compared to a small town in NW Iowa. (I'm south of "The Lakes") You wouldn't believe what I go through hunting and gathering food: hours on the internet each month, seeking leads; driving all the way to Omaha (90 minutes one way) to shop at Whole Foods probably once a month; every grocery trip in my small town requires I hit up both grocers JUST to find some un-wilted produce--forget "organic'; I go to the Farmer's market ( imagine: four trucks of a little bit of food, gone in a flash! That's our "market") every Thursday in the growing season; I put in hours of volunteer time and drive 70 miles one way, at 7am, no less, to get to my monthly Co-op shares breakdown; I got my pork from Sioux Center, my beef from Storm Lake, my eggs from 40 minutes north of me, the milk requires a similar drive....I garden every year (and start my plants from seed; no heirloom veggies at the garden centers, here!), and I order in bulk from Amazon when they have something good on sale.....I've also driven all the way to Sioux City for their farmers' market, used to drive 70 miles round trip to get to a CSA (where I had to pick the food), etc. My Food Miles are a disgrace.

                                On and on and on it goes. I feel rather Paleolithic, I spend so much of my life seeking, gathering, and preparing food.

                                (The Omaha Whole Foods is the BEST I've ever seen, anywhere. It is huge, has a vast Food Court section, the produce is so beautiful it makes you weep.....we often go there and spend half the day, what with the samples, the visual stimulation, the meals, the people watching....)

                                1. re: Beckyleach

                                  Wow, am I impressed! It takes real time and dedication, not to mention extra gas money and such, to eat so well in your particular area. I had to laugh at how you feel "Paleolithic" - a pretty apt comparison, but really, it's such a noble cause. Not many people care enough to even cook their own food these days, much less seek out good quality, ethical food. Food is one of the greatest joys in life, to me, so usually "the hunt" is mostly fun, but I can imagine how much easier it would be for you if you lived in an area even moderately better, like DSM. As for me, I appreciate what I have here, no doubt, but I went to San Francisco and Napa/Sonoma last year, and let me tell you, I almost BOILED over with jealousy. Their farmer's market almost - literally - made me cry, and the restaurants were to. die. for. The meal I had at the *Cafe* at Chez Panisse (not even the actual restaurant, just the cafe upstairs) was one of those meals I'll remember forever. Paris is like that for me too. They take all they have for granted, and I went through weeks of moderate depression after eating so well there and then coming home to Iowa.

                                  BTW: You're making me REALLY want to go to Omaha's Whole Foods soon. It sounds heavenly. Unfortunately it'd be 2 or maybe 2.5 hours of driving each way, butttt..... I still really want to go. *sigh*

                                2. re: tara3056

                                  hi tara,
                                  you might be able to find raw milk (if it is available and legal) in your area by typing in something like "where can in buy raw milk in...)your county or zip code.
                                  or contact the agriculture division of a university near you.
                                  good luck.

                            2. re: Beckyleach

                              THIS. I've been getting my meat and eggs from a local co-op who in turn gets its stuff from local farms. I wish I could get raw milk and cream--in Virginia it's illegal unless the milk comes from your own cow so people get around that by purchasing "cow shares" but it's not cheap and I don't drink enough milk to justify paying that much. The closest I come to processed food is Marco Polo brand caponata (love that stuff), Huy Fong sriracha and mustard. I make my own ketchup and mayo. I look better, I feel better, and my husband has dropped sixty pounds. Viva la revolution! :D

                              1. re: MandalayVA

                                Here in Iowa, we can't even get around the raw milk prohibition by buying cow shares - not allowed. So that's why I was particularly interested in finding out if the other poster lived anywhere near me and how she might be getting her raw milk!

                                Becky: If you see this reply, too, I have a question: can you tell a difference in the taste of raw milk vs the stuff you get at the grocery store? If so, how does it taste?

                                1. re: tara3056

                                  Sweeter. It tastes like dessert. :-) Okay, not really, but it does have a sweetness to it that you rarely find in "store milk." And, of course, it's creamier, since all that luscious butterfat is left in...There are no "off flavors" and I honestly think I can tell that it wasn't stored in plastic.

                                  What's weird? My CATS DON'T LIKE IT! Stupid cats.

                                  1. re: Beckyleach

                                    Sounds delicious!! Ooooh, the butterfat left in... that's the best. And if the cow breed were something like Guernsey instead of the typical Holstein, that means even more delicious fat (and of course, my view on natural whole foods incl. ones with lots of fat: bring it on!) I half-worried you would say it has a more barnyard-y or grassy taste.

                                    (As an aside for anyone else reading this and thinking that the above statement about fat must mean I'm an unhealthy blob of a person, never fear: my cholesterol is great and my weight's very normal and healthy! I'm way more worried about Diet Pepsi and egg substitutes than I am about the kinds of things I eat)

                          2. You mention dry pasta but you didn't say specifically what the ingredients were that troubled you about it. My dry pastas all list (after semolina) niacin, ferrous lactate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid. These are all B vitamins and iron. Whole grains are normally good sources of these essential nutrients. White flour has lost a lot of these through milling. In the United States it is required by law that processed flour must be enriched with these nutrients so any dry pasta you buy in the US will have them. (Enrichment Act of 1942.)