Tag Archives: Kitty Broihier


How Unprocessed Do We Need to Be?

First things first: I’m not one of those dietitians who hates all processed foods—you won’t find me proclaiming the evils of food processing from the aisles of the local Whole Foods or farmer’s market. Nevertheless, I was intrigued enough by the concept to purchase and read Megan Kimble’s Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food...

And it confirmed what I thought already: striving to eat a completely unprocessed diet is ridiculous. At least for me it is. Reading Megan’s account of her attempts in this regard, however, were interesting, informative and entertaining. But, it left me shaking my head and wondering what the point really was, in the long run—especially because not all types of processing render the food overly-handled, devoid of nutrients or laden with added substances that might be better avoided.

Unprocessed book

While this is not a book review exactly, the reading of this book is what prompted me to think more about choosing processed foods. Her goal it seems, was to see if she could figure out where to draw the health line in the food processing continuum. Which processed foods are so minimally processed that they are fine for the body and the planet, and which could she firmly stamp as unacceptable—and for those she was going to avoid, how would she make do without them and what would she swap into their places?

There’s processing and then there’s processing

Not all processed food is bad for your health, and the author of Unprocessed acknowledges that. Obviously, there are levels of food processing, and I’m a big fan of some of it. Food processing started out mainly as a safety measure—one that would keep food fresher longer and prevent food-borne illness. Who can argue with freezing as a processing step that preserves food safely?

Let’s face it, pretty much all food purchased at supermarkets these days is processed in some way. According to a recent study from the University of North Carolina, 61% of the food we eat is “highly processed.” Even fresh fruits and veggies are processed—which many people consider to be unprocessed, but aren’t: they’re washed, sometimes treated to prevent spoilage, trimmed, cut up into different shapes, and often packaged either at a manufacturing facility or in-store. Obviously, fresh produce is minimally processed. Lots of foods are more obviously processed, such as cereals, crackers, breads, candies, pastries and snack foods, canned foods of all kinds, and of course, frozen convenience foods—even the ones from the more health-conscious or organic brands. So when we talk about “processed food” we need to realize that it’s a very inclusive term; one that includes plenty of really healthful foods that we should be eating more of, not trying to remove from our plates.

Processed food can help me eat better

Yep. You heard me. Without some help in getting food to my table, I’d be less likely to eat some of it (and I don’t think I’m alone in this view). It would take too long to shell all the beans and peas I want to consume, there’s no way I will crack nuts and seeds by hand the rest of my days, and you couldn’t pay me to take meat and poultry from live animal status to plucked, skinned, trimmed and ready-for-the-grill status.

Waiting for salt to appear from seawater she collects in a pail and grinding her own wheat by hand—these are not activities I see myself doing (though I did enjoy reading about her trials and tribulations in do so). I don’t have a book project prompting me to do these things, after all! In many cases, Kimble chooses the path of complete processed food avoidance, finding it easier to abstain completely than make some small allowances while not letting her efforts slip away. Not eating something at all when one cannot figure out about absolutely every ingredient in it sounds easy, but in real life, it isn’t, she finds. How does one eat out at all? How does one not spend all day sourcing and preparing food and ingredients? It all sounds like a decent into drudgery to me. I prefer to eat well and healthfully, and enjoy myself too.

Unprocessing your diet

Many people could improve their diets substantially by making just a few smart choices in the quality of food they purchase—and none of these choices require all-day (or multi-day) effort. Megan Kimble gives some good examples of how to do this right up front in her book, including:

  • Buying food that doesn’t need a label at all—fresh produce.
  • Next, choose single-ingredient foods (those for which the ingredient list is just one word long—or maybe two): rolled oats, cream, navy beans, wild rice.
  • Choose which ingredients you want to avoid before you start shopping. You’ll save yourself some agonizing decisions while standing in Aisle 9.

Other ideas that might help you unprocess:

  • Opt for locally-produced foods when you can (many are made the “old-fashioned way” using whole food ingredients and therefore have fewer additives, etc)
  • Frequent farmer’s markets and look for signs at the supermarket for “home grown” or “local farmer” items
  • Check out smaller local shops (they will frequently have more small-batch products that may be less processed than supermarket versions)
  • Grow your own produce, if practical
  • Learn to can/preserve foods if you have that interest (or barter something with a friend who does like to do those things)

That’s All You Ate?

food diaryIf you’ve ever kept a food diary, you know how striking it is to see that list of everything you ate staring at you in black and white. But how many of us are truthful when we record our daily food intake? And if we’re not, how useful is this tool?

I happen to like keeping track of my food intake using an app because it’s convenient and like many folks, my phone is always handy and it sure beats taking a notebook along wherever I go. But, even as a dietitian, I’m often surprised at just how little food it takes to reach my daily caloric allotment!

I recently read a report via Sciencenewsline of a study conducted by researchers at the University of South Carolina. The article discussed how the oft-cited, CDC-funded national nutrition research project called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) may be invalid due to food journaling errors by the participants. NHANES relies on self-reported food and beverage consumption over 24 hours, as well as physical exams, to guage the health of the population. The data is used far and wide by researchers, the government and public policy groups, as well as nutrition and health organizations for comparison and planning purposes.

drive through foodSo what was the problem? It turns out that the data they collected from peoples’ food diaries resulted in “physiologically implausible” caloric intakes. According to the report, the participants under-reported their food intake—quite significantly in some cases—with the most overweight men and women under-reporting by roughly 700-850 calories per day. Gee really? Is anyone surprised that people were altering their food journals (whether or it was intentional or not). Who among us really wants to ‘fess up to those extra calories we’ve consumed?

donutOf course, when it comes to our health behaviors, fudging to make ourselves look better isn’t uncommon. We embellish and conceal lots of things when we think someone will review it and pass judgement on us (think smoking or illegal drug use, number of alcoholic drinks per week, supplements the doc might frown on, how often we exercise). Luckily, keeping track of our food intake doesn’t have to involve doctors, friends or even family. You can certainly track what you eat without anyone even knowing. And when something is private you remove the reason for fibbing. Being honest about your food intake can be helpful in a number of situations. Probably the most common use for food journaling is weight loss, where tracking calories eaten and expended via exercise can shed light on why you might be gaining (or at least not losing) pounds. Beyond that, the nutrient breakdown of your food intake might be interesting for people with certain health conditions like diabetes, or for those trying to alter the balance of their diets—to get more protein and fewer carbs for example. With pie charts and graphs, all this info is easy to understand.


You don’t have to spend money to track your diet and learn to live a healthier lifestyle. Thereare free online sites, such as ChooseMyPlate.gov, where you can track your personal food intake, that of your entire family and even perform a recipe analysis on your favorite casserole. Sparkpeople.com and FitDay.com are two other free options you might also want to check out.

myfitnesspalIf you want to be able to use your hand-held device while you’re eating, there are several popular apps you can use. MyFitnessPal and Sparkpeople are two apps that are free and easy to use. These apps allow you to track your food intake and exercise so you can monitor  daily calories and your fat, carbohydrate and protein intake. The cool charts and graphs that it spits out are fun, too. The best part? There is no one looking over your shoulder and judging you. It’s all just for you—and using these tools might just help you make better food decisions in the long run. And after all isn’t that what you want?