What is Considered Processed Food?

| 1 min read

Chuck Gaidica with Grace Derocha



About the Show
On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they discuss the differences between minimally, moderate and ultra-processed foods.
“Picking an apple off the tree is technically process because you have done something to it to change it in some way. It’s not growing anymore on the tree. You’ve taken it down. So, what I want people to realize is that there’s different degrees of it. But then there’s ways that we can still do better.” – Grace Derocha
In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:
  • The purpose of processing
  • How food can be manipulated
  • Processed vs. Organic foods
  • Different preservation techniques
  • Side effects of a processed diet
  • Healthier food alternatives

Listen on

Chuck Gaidica: This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 37. Coming up we discuss processed foods. What’s okay and what should we avoid?
Chuck Gaidica: Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. The podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and well-being through small healthy habits we can start right now. I’m your host Chuck Gaidica. Every other week we’re going to sit down with a health expert from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, we’ll get into topics covering nutrition, fitness, a whole lot more. If you’ve been following us, we do that. We really dig into some cool topics. And on this episode, we’re talking about different levels of food processing and how it affects the health of our diet.
Chuck Gaidica: With me today again for a return visit from last week, look at that. We’ve got Grace Derocha who’s back. She’s a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Loves food, loves her kids, loves her husband, loves her family, and loves to inform us.
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: And we love having you on this episode.
Grace Derocha: Thank you for having me.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah, oh my gosh. It’s always a pleasure. Processed, not processed. Sometimes it’s a trick. Sometimes they make it look like it’s not processed.
Grace Derocha: That is true.
Chuck Gaidica: I mean, really. I drive into McDonalds drive thru, I’m just saying, and I get the bag of apple slices and I put them in the fridge because the grandkids don’t eat them and I notice the next day they look the same, somehow. There was a little processing, right? I mean, they look fresh and they’re still tasting good. I’m not saying they’re bad for you. But there are different levels of processing.
Grace Derocha: Yes, there definitely is.
Chuck Gaidica: Right?
Grace Derocha: And I think it is using the word processed, we kind of know that either it’s not the best idea and that we have to do a little bit better. And if I could … you’re going to hear me throughout say, “One of the things that I always try to tell people is to have more whole foods, less processed-
Chuck Gaidica: Sure.
Grace Derocha: And essentially, meaning less processed foods. But that word, processed, basically the definition of it is very simple. Processed foods are foods that have been deliberately changed in some way. And we’re going to talk about stages of that, but that is the simple, most real definition of processed foods.
Chuck Gaidica: But you know in our daily lives, we’re taking in things that, because we’re on the go a lot, you’re on the go a ton, and so, even my coffee in a K-Cup, that’s processed.
Grace Derocha: It is.
Chuck Gaidica: We put something in the microwave at home to heat it back up after last night’s leftovers, we’re reprocessing … I mean, we’re processing something, right?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: So, sometimes we do it to ourselves, but the overall goal is to not get stuff that’s been converted somehow, right?
Grace Derocha: Right. Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: Stay as close as we can to fresh as you say.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: All right, so, processed foods, they’ve been deliberately changed. Is that always bad then?
Grace Derocha: Not always. So, picking an apple off the tree is technically process because you have done something to it to change it in some way. It’s not growing anymore on the tree. You’ve taken it down. So, what I want people to realize is that there’s different degrees of it, but then there’s ways that we can still do better. And that’s kind of what this is about today.
Chuck Gaidica: And processing is also adding something to a product. So, we hear a lot about hydrogenated oils. I mean, there are certain ones that just kind of jump to the top. But what other additives, what other things are put in that we would consider processing?
Grace Derocha: So, any kind of additive to help the shelf life is a simple way to put it. Some of the most common ones, and I know you’re going to know some of these, MSG, monosodium glutamate, so that is one of the most common additives that enhances flavor and it’s-
Chuck Gaidica: Doesn’t that keep meat looking fresher too?
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Like it doesn’t get that brownish-gray color?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Right.
Grace Derocha: And mostly you’ll see them in any of those frozen dinners or frozen meals, on the meat, even salty snacks or things that are canned because it adds flavor, but then also kind of helps with that shelf life of that particular food product.
Chuck Gaidica: And can’t you have reactions to some of that stuff? Because some people will get … what is it that’s in some wines that people get headaches-
Grace Derocha: Yeah, sulphites.
Chuck Gaidica: … I don’t mean because they drank too much, right?
Grace Derocha: Yeah. Sulphites.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah. So, that’s an additive.
Grace Derocha: Yeah. So, that’s the same thing with MSG, is that some people are really sensitive to that and will get headaches and migraines and feel pretty sick from … and depending on the person, different additives can have an impact on how you feel.
Chuck Gaidica: And then when I look at other products, I’m now … I have become a real, I guess a pro at reading labels. I find it to be a nice challenge because I’m looking at ingredients, but I’m also looking at salt content, et cetera.
Grace Derocha: Right.
Chuck Gaidica: It amazes me how many times fancy words, emulsifier, right? Something got … you know, I love, as a little snack I have to admit, a sugar free pudding.
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: It’s a little 60 calorie thing. But how did it get so thick?
Grace Derocha: So, there’s usually two main emulsifiers, very good, that help thicken up a food product and also help with shelf life. Guar gum, have you heard that before?
Chuck Gaidica: I have.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, so that is used to thicken and bind foods like ice cream or salad dressings, sauces, soups. And then, there’s also carrageenan, which is also used to thicken, emulsify, help preserve food products. You can find it in cottage cheese, almond milk, ice cream, coffee creamers, dairy free products. So, there are some studies that have shown that both of those can possibly increase blood sugar and increase inflammation in the body.
Chuck Gaidica: So, this is an interesting thing to parse. And you’ll forgive me for … I’m not a doctor, I just play one on a podcast. When you say guar gum, am I wrong that that’s something derived from a tree?
Grace Derocha: It is.
Chuck Gaidica: So, does that not seem like a natural additive? Like, there would be certain additives that would freak people out. They’ve got a long name and it’s polypropol- blah blah blah and it sounds like it should be in my windshield washing fluid, right?
Grace Derocha: Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: But then there’s stuff like guar gum, and I’m like, I don’t know, should I be so freaked out?
Grace Derocha: Yeah. So, guar gum, in the actual state, does come from a tree and from a plant. So, I like … if I’m picking, sorry, guar gum I like better than carrageenan.
Chuck Gaidica: Okay, okay.
Grace Derocha: So, something to note, definitely. And it’s interesting because 60% of the food that we eat is processed.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah? Wow.
Grace Derocha: So, 60% of our calorie intake that we’re having especially in America has gone through some processing. And again, we know that there’s levels to that, but interesting to note, and also, anything that has a food label has been processed.
Chuck Gaidica: Oh, okay. Oh, very interesting.
Grace Derocha: Yeah. And again-
Chuck Gaidica: So, that’s a default-
Grace Derocha: Right.
Chuck Gaidica: … we should look at.
Grace Derocha: And again, if we’re thinking about what the definition is that I gave, I mean there is a big spectrum and wide range of what that can look like. What is it? Triscuits. Usually only has three ingredients: wheat, water, and salt. So, when you’re talking about probably more simple processing because there’s less ingredients, that’s something that is obviously processed because there’s a label and it comes in a box, but-
Chuck Gaidica: You’re saying there’s no preservative in one of those crackers?
Grace Derocha: No. There’s not.
Chuck Gaidica: Oh, very intriguing.
Grace Derocha: The flavored ones have some-
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah, right.
Grace Derocha: … but like, standard? No. So, it’s interesting to take note of that as a label reader, as you’re trying to be more informed and more educated about the decisions you’re making and the food you’re putting into your body.
Chuck Gaidica: So, I’m seeing even in restaurants, GMO is being put on … you know, we go through these phases and I don’t know that this is a bad phase, but I see GMO a lot. Explain that for all of us.
Grace Derocha: Yes. So, the definition, GMO stands for genetically modified organism. That is food that’s produced from plants or animals whose DNA has been altered via genetic engineering.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), but let’s just point this out: there are some corn on the cobs that we may have gotten over the summer that have been tinkered with, the little kernel, before they grow it. But yet, it’s still comes on a plant, I could have picked it in Iowa and eat it and think it’s all okay. But it has been changed a little bit so it doesn’t-
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: It’s pest resistant or whatever.
Grace Derocha: Right.
Chuck Gaidica: Right?
Grace Derocha: Exactly. So, 85% of processed foods in the US are GMOs.
Chuck Gaidica: 85%?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: So, there has been tinkering along the way. But are you seeing, as you look at all the research and you digest, forgive the pun, all this stuff, are you finding any reason for us to be concerned when it really is just they’ve created an apple that’s more aromatic and it just … it has a better shelf life?
Grace Derocha: He’s going to make me answer this. So, if I was on a soap box-
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: I’m going to go on one right now.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Ideally, in a perfect world, I would like people not to have GMOs because we don’t know longterm what the impact is on our human bodies. You know what I mean?
Chuck Gaidica: So, you and I share … we share a lot of things because our families knew each other, you know?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: And still do. But we also share this love of apples and peanut butter. We’ve talked about it, right?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: I just cut into an apple the other day, I forget which ones I bought. I thought a bouquet of roses had just shown up in my kitchen. I mean, really. I’m smelling it thinking, over time flowers are less aromatic for whatever reason, roses they don’t even smell sometimes.
Grace Derocha: Right.
Chuck Gaidica: You know, I buy something for Susan because I got in trouble. I cut an apple and I’m thinking, wow, I don’t remember apples smelling this good.
Grace Derocha: Did it smell like a sweet apple?
Chuck Gaidica: It did, but it smelled to me like it had a floral-
Grace Derocha: A little flowery?
Chuck Gaidica: … you know, arrangement showed up on my plate and I thought that can’t be an accident. I know that they want me to think this is the best apple ever, I’m going to buy more of that apple.
Grace Derocha: You’re smart.
Chuck Gaidica: But is that a GMO? They’ve tinkered with it-
Grace Derocha: Probably.
Chuck Gaidica: Probably, right? Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, and oftentimes, because of the population and the supply and demand, there’s less supply and there’s more demand, many of the things that have been done, like you mentioned with the corn, or potentially those apples, was they have tinkered with it to help it flourish, grow faster, and kind of be more pest resistant.
Chuck Gaidica: And be more appealing to me when I cut into it, right?
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck Gaidica: But you’re telling me something. I’m playing the other end of the statistics now. 85%, you just said, have been tinkered with if you will. That means you’re only allowing us 15% of the product mix to go pick from. That’s going to be tough for people on the go. I mean, if you’re really into organic and you know what you’re doing, I get it. But for a lot of us mere mortals, we’re just trying to get …
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: I just want four apples, got to go, you know?
Grace Derocha: I know. There are certain companies that are trying to avoid using GMO products, you know, and sometimes they’re even having their own … like Ben and Jerry’s, Blue Diamond, Annie’s, Aunt Millie’s, Activia. So, there are some that are trying to do better.
Chuck Gaidica: And I would assume that that’s more than just a marketing prank, that we really are maybe gravitating towards those? We’re going out of our way to find those non-GMO products, right?
Grace Derocha: Right.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: And even if someone who’s listening, this gives them a moment to think about it, be a little more informed, try to make a better decision, most of the time, when they can-
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah. So, I used the word organic like I know what I’m talking about. I mean, it just sounds organic, right? That’s all I know. So, what does it really mean? What’s the definition?
Grace Derocha: So, organic are non-GMO foods free of synthetic additives like any pesticides, any chemical fertilizers and dyes. So, that is the real definition of organic.
Chuck Gaidica: And in general, it’s supposed to be better for you all the time, right? To get an organic head of lettuce versus otherwise?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Is it worth paying the difference you think?
Grace Derocha: Most of the time.
Chuck Gaidica: All right. So, I’m going to drill down on this for just a minute.
Grace Derocha: Oh, here we go.
Chuck Gaidica: You’re a mom, right?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: I’m going to assume what my wife Susan has said to me. I’ve asked her, “What is your job when you go shopping?” She said, “To bring home the best value, the biggest shopping buck that we could spend on things that we need for our house,” within reason. Not buying dumb things that are going to hurt you. You look at the price of some organics and you would wonder, “Am I really going to pay that much more for the carrots?”
Chuck Gaidica: What do you think? As a mom that’s shopping for your own family, what do you do?
Grace Derocha: So, oftentimes when I know there’s certain things that are grown that are using more pesticides or fertilizer. Usually berries is a great example. I try to usually buy organic berries because I know that they use a lot of different things to help grow those.
Chuck Gaidica: You mean like blueberries, or what kind of-
Grace Derocha: Strawberry, yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Strawberries? Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries too. All of them.
Chuck Gaidica: Wow.
Grace Derocha: So for me and my family, since I know that, I try to then keep those more organic.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: And then, you know, we grow our own garden for a lot of things too.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and what are you getting out of your garden? Even now, still producing something maybe?
Grace Derocha: Yep. Well, lots of herbs and spices like we talked about last week. But I have tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers. I do have a watermelon and a cantaloupe growing right now which is exciting-
Chuck Gaidica: Going well?
Grace Derocha: Yeah, okay. But like they’re small. But they’re going to get … I feel like it’s going to get there.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Did I say zucchini? Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Zucchini? Okay.
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah. And then, when you … do you can anything? Will you put it in a jr yourself?
Grace Derocha: I feel like our garden isn’t big enough to can most things, but when we do go picking, we usually go berry picking, I try to pick a farm that is organic, we’ll freeze some of that for smoothies and oatmeal and things later.
Chuck Gaidica: So, when I hear other phrases and I see things on a salad dressing. You know, low sugar, or whatever it is. The other one that’s been around for a while, which we now will discuss, low fat.
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: What is the true definition and what’s supposed to be happening in that product if it’s low fat?
Grace Derocha: So, this is what I tell people about this, outside the labeling/marketing. So, if you have something that is made and it’s 100%, and if you say now it’s like low fat or low sugar, that means they’ve usually taken out some fat to make it lower fat, but there is still some. But then usually to still keep it at 100%, to keep it filled, they usually add things. Whether that be sugar or salt or additives to allow that to still look and feel and taste like what you might usually know if it was 100% fat. Does that make sense?
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, what I’ve seen, and I don’t know about all the other ways, but I’ve noticed low fat items especially salad dressings tend to have more sugar because you’re losing that sensation on your tongue of the fat, right?
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck Gaidica: That satiation of, “Oh, it tastes good. It’s like a burger but I…-
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: … dug into it.”
Grace Derocha: And fat adds flavor.
Chuck Gaidica: Right. And so, that’s one of things. It is sugar then?
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Wow.
Grace Derocha: Sugar, salt. Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, low fat means it’s reduced fat content, but yes, generally higher in salt and sugar to kind of make up for taste and texture. Sometimes I would just tell people, “Maybe use the full fat one,” depending on the person and their health goals, but if you like how the full fat version tastes, maybe stick with that and use a little bit less.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), or if you’re making a homemade raspberry vinaigrette with olive oil or something, right?
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: If you’re really using good stuff, or you’re infusing it like our last episode, you’re talking about rosemary and stuff in the olive oil-
Grace Derocha: Right, and you and I have talked about some of those good heart healthy oils and the best that are important to start to incorporate for good heart health. Use those.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: And you don’t need as much once you add the vinegar, acid, or other herbs and spices
Chuck Gaidica: And it seems as we talk about all these categories of processed foods. Moderation has got to be a word that … if you’re doing it all the time and all you’re eating is fast food and all you’re eating is stuff that’s been tinkered with, well maybe that’s an issue. But if you really are being careful and you add a little bit of lowfat salad dressing, you’re probably all right.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely. Everything in moderation.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Even moderation.
Chuck Gaidica: So, if we look across the horizon, there are some accepted categories of process food: minimally processed, moderate, and ultra processed.
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: I know we’re getting a little wonky here, but what does that mean to all of us? What is minimal processing?
Grace Derocha: So, minimal would be foods that have been washed or peeled, sliced, juiced, frozen, dried, even pasteurized.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Grace Derocha: Food is changed only a small amount between the farm and us.
Chuck Gaidica: So, my frozen bag of blueberries in the winter because I didn’t find them … although, now those are coming more regularly-
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: But they’re flash frozen right off a bush, put in…-
Grace Derocha: Washed.
Chuck Gaidica: … washed, and then they’re right in the bag. So, not so bad.
Grace Derocha: So, that would be your minimal. Even like when you buy pre washed lettuce, that’s another minimal category. Nuts that may be roasted, minimal. Frozen fruits, frozen vegetables, dried fruits, rice.
Chuck Gaidica: What is the stuff that they irradiate? What is it that they do to kill germs? I know that there was some food that they were putting down some conveyor belt and running it under some kind of radiation to kill-
Grace Derocha: Yeah, so like really high heat?
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah. But is that … that’s still processing?
Grace Derocha: Yes, that’s definitely processing.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah. And you wonder if it’s converting any of the cells of that food product, right?
Grace Derocha: Or like taking away some of the health benefit that might have been there.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, killing off the good stuff-
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck Gaidica: … for the gut health or whatever. All right, so then if we get to moderate processing, we’re still talking about moderation, but what does that mean? What is moderate?
Grace Derocha: Yes. So, foods that have ingredients that add things for taste or texture or appearance like some of those additives-
Chuck Gaidica: Okay.
Grace Derocha: … could include sweeteners, oils, spices, coloring. Oh, we didn’t even get into coloring.
Chuck Gaidica: Oh.
Grace Derocha: And preservatives.
Chuck Gaidica: Why don’t we hear a lot about that anymore? I remember long time ago, you know, red dye number whatever was bad, and that this was bad.
Grace Derocha: Well, remember when we were kids, some of the fever reducers were cherry flavored and it was red. And now, they’re not. They’re clear.
Chuck Gaidica: Right.
Grace Derocha: So, I think we’ve tried to make some adjustments with things. Even my kid’s colorful rainbow goldfish do not use dye. They use beet juice to make it red-
Chuck Gaidica: Oh, yeah.
Grace Derocha: … tumeric and carrot juice to make it orange-y or yellow. And then, spinach or a different green vegetable juice to make it green.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: But some products are still using food dye.
Chuck Gaidica: But are we finding … we don’t hear about it anymore, even with whatever color you could pick out of the rainbow, that any of those are bad. You don’t hear stories about that as much as you hear about other things like processed or GMO.
Grace Derocha: But they’re not great. So like, that coloring process is processed. But I think we’re … yeah, I feel like you’re right. I don’t think we hear about it as much, but it’s definitely still something that we have to watch out for.
Chuck Gaidica: So, I can only admit this to you, nobody’s listening, right? You know, if I walk down the aisle … I was just shopping with Susan the other day, and I happened to cut right down the cake making aisle. I didn’t buy anything. But there’s the yellow cake box, and it hit me, because I knew what we were going to talk about, and as I’m walking past it I’m thinking, “You know, that flour that’s in that yellow cake box, that isn’t yellow-
Grace Derocha: No.
Chuck Gaidica: … so, that’s got yellow dye blah blah blah, right?
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck Gaidica: I mean, so some products, it’s just a slight little change.
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Still looked good to me. I didn’t get it.
Grace Derocha: I know. Yellow cake is one of my favorites.
Chuck Gaidica: Oh. Chocolate frosting-
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Who are you kidding? Okay, so now, we get to the evil Darth Vader category. Ultra processed, dum dum dum. What does that mean?
Grace Derocha: So, these are foods that are industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source. So, they’re full of additives and artificial things. So, think like fast food, soda, candy, chips, crackers, deli meat, frozen dinners, frozen pizzas even. They’ve really-
Chuck Gaidica: Wait, frozen pizza is bad?
Grace Derocha: Well, it depends on the kind.
Chuck Gaidica: I’m kidding. Yeah.
Grace Derocha: But yeah, so, they’ve really changed it up.
Chuck Gaidica: But now there are fake burgers made out of plants and everybody is … this is like a rage, but that’s-
Grace Derocha: But it doesn’t look like a plant anymore.
Chuck Gaidica: It’s ultra processed, isn’t it?
Grace Derocha: Yeah. Because I think that’s the key. If it doesn’t look like what it originally was. Speaking of, those add beet juice to look like the blood of a-
Chuck Gaidica: I know. And coconut oil. And I learned this from Grace Derocha, if an oil sits in a room at room temperature and it’s rather solid, maybe not the best choice of an oil. Am I right?
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck Gaidica: If it doesn’t … and then it liquefies when you cook it, or yeah?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Okay. So, all right, we can go down that rabbit hole in another episode. But is everything that’s in this range of minimally, moderately, and ultra processed foods. Is it then just a choice of moderation? Like, what if you do like regular peanut butter that has some oil, and I know it’s all put together by somebody.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, I would say, how often are you eating it? This is something that I think about with my family too, my kids like peanut butter. So, we try not to get that kind because there are different kinds that even add sugar or other oils when peanuts already have oil. So, if it’s something that you’re having often then try to make the better decision.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Grace Derocha: It’s interesting, there is different research showing different things. But like, the hunger hormone, ghrelin, we all have it. But it is released more frequently in ultra processed diets because the way they make food, it triggers in the brain reward.
Chuck Gaidica: Oh, interesting. I have read other studies that indicate, and I won’t name the companies, that some of the fast food companies purposefully have upped that, maybe it’s not ghrelin, but they’ve upped something to make me crave more of what they’re trying to sell me, whether it’s fries or burgers or whatever.
Grace Derocha: Well, and there was a study, it was just last year at U of M right here, where they studied people that were eating a lot of processed foods, more in that ultra processed range, junk foods if you will-
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: … and they noted that coming off of that was similar to drug addicts, coming off of drugs and the feeling that they were feeling-
Chuck Gaidica: Interesting.
Grace Derocha: … because of how they felt when they ate those types of foods.
Chuck Gaidica: See, and we didn’t even get to the category of diet food, right?
Grace Derocha: Right.
Chuck Gaidica: If you look at some of these prepackaged, frozen meals that are already there and they’re a low cal kind of thing, if you look at the amount of processing and what’s in them including sodium and maybe not sugar content, it’s astounding.
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: And sodium is just … it’s not good for inflammation. It’s not good for your heart. It’s not good for your blood pressure. It’s not good for your taste buds. You know, we have taste buds and-
Chuck Gaidica: It is for that first minute though. Come one, I mean if you add salt to … even if on that little watermelon you’re growing … I don’t do this, my wife used to do that as a kid-
Grace Derocha: My cousin used to to that.
Chuck Gaidica: … a little salt, not sugar. Salt on fruit. And it just … it does kick it up a notch for at least that brief moment.
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative), but …
Chuck Gaidica: Not good for you.
Grace Derocha: She doesn’t … Susan, you don’t need salt-
Chuck Gaidica: She doesn’t do that now-
Grace Derocha: Yeah?
Chuck Gaidica: No, no, no, no, no.
Grace Derocha: But yeah, no, I had a cousin who added salt and sugar to watermelon and I was like, “What are you doing?”
Chuck Gaidica: Susan grew up, I thought that this was the strangest thing, salt on stuff like watermelon and sugar on green beans. It was like completely … she’s from the south, I’m from the north, and I looked at her like, “What?”
Grace Derocha: I mean, there is something about that sweet and salty combo.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: That happens, but-
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah, but this wasn’t together. This was just a flavor enhancer-
Grace Derocha: Interesting.
Chuck Gaidica: … and you could call it natural, you know?
Grace Derocha: Right. Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: It was just salt or sugar, but very strange. But it does something for your palette. It really does.
Grace Derocha: Yeah. Well, and I of want to remind people like, come back to tasting food in that whole food, original state and enjoying it.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), taste a green bean for it being a green bean. I know it seems boring at times-
Grace Derocha: I know, but it’s so good.
Chuck Gaidica: It doesn’t need all that butter and salt, does it?
Grace Derocha: No.
Chuck Gaidica: No. All right, so, how do we set ourself up for success going forward? What should we be doing and not doing? Let’s talk about what we shouldn’t worry about because goodness knows there’s enough to worry about.
Grace Derocha: So, I think things like I mentioned, if it’s something that you’re having pretty often. Foods that you’re having often. I think peanut butter is probably a good example in my house, my kids love that for lunch. I use it as one of my favorite snacks. So, we try to pick a peanut butter that is less processed and non-GMO. So, keeping that in mind.
Grace Derocha: And then also thinking of practical swaps. So, if you are having fruit yogurt, for example, maybe get a plain Greek yogurt, and then add your own fruit. One, because oftentimes, there’s extra added sugars in fruit yogurt and because there’s fruit in it, now you have to stabilize it with some kind of additive so that it doesn’t go bad, you know what I mean?
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: So, these things piggy back off of each other when you could do something like a plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt so there’s protein. And then you had your own fruit. And boom. Delicious, less processed.
Chuck Gaidica: A little more work and a little more planning if you were not really just grabbing that little container to be on the go.
Grace Derocha: Yes. And to be fair, yeah, I mean, that is fair. But you probably have fruit in your house. Well, most people.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah, and you probably have … I’ve seen some that have that little side cup of honey. Really, you could still just add honey yourself, right?
Grace Derocha: Exactly.
Chuck Gaidica: I mean, you could.
Grace Derocha: Thank you, exactly. Exactly my point. So, there’s a lot of different things. You know, keep an eye out for things that are hydrogenated, that add trans fat because we know … there’s some things that we definitely know are bad, like that. Trans fats, we know are bad for the body, increase free radicals, can potentially cause cancer.
Chuck Gaidica: Okay.
Grace Derocha: There are things that … you know, obviously like candies or sugary cereals that have colors are using food dyes most of the time.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Those little orange slices that are covered in little sprinkle sugar, are those bad for you? I’m just asking for a friend.
Grace Derocha: You can have them sometimes.
Chuck Gaidica: Okay, all right. I was just-
Grace Derocha: Or like you said, like those apple slices that are-
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah. No, I mean candy.
Grace Derocha: I know.
Chuck Gaidica: It’s really candy in a bowl that I know is not there for me to just walk past every day, but Susan … oh, she’s evil. She’s evil. Because I can’t look at them and not eat them, you know? It’s just the way it is.
Chuck Gaidica: What about paying attention? What about getting yourself indoctrinated to reading the labels? This was a tipping point moment for me. I thought that’s going to be the most boring, cerebral … I’m not going to ever do it. And I started doing it and tracking. So, I’m actually answering to my little app on the phone.
Grace Derocha: Yes, making yourself accountable.
Chuck Gaidica: Yes.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: And all of the sudden, I get to this tipping point, and boom. And now, I look at every can and it blows my mind what I’m discovering.
Grace Derocha: If you know better, you do better. Usually. So, I’m glad that you reached that tipping point. And I’m hoping that more people will do that.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: If you look at the label and you look at the ingredients and there are a million things you can’t pronounce or you feel like what is … like, this sounds like some weird alien life form, maybe back away from the weird alien life form ingredients.
Chuck Gaidica: Well, this is your Triscuit rule kind of, right?
Grace Derocha: Right. Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: I mean, three ingredients-
Grace Derocha: Less ingredients-
Chuck Gaidica: Less ingredients.
Grace Derocha: … and in the order that they are listed on that ingredient list. So, if you’re kicking off with high fructose corn syrup, that means in that product, there’s the most of that ingredient.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative), well, you know, that’s intriguing because that’s a whole different thing when it comes to talking about additives and ingredients because you will notice the sweet potato chip or whatever, sweet potato cracker, right?
Grace Derocha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chuck Gaidica: Try to find the sweet potato on that list of all that stuff that makes up the cracker. It’s mid-range if not even lower.
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: But until you read the label, you don’t get it. You think, “Well, that’s got to be made out of,” … the thing is, the whole thing is made out of sweet potato-
Grace Derocha: And you could easily buy a sweet potato, cut it thin, throw it in your oven and make your own sweet potato chips.
Chuck Gaidica: Oh, that is so much work, Grace Derocha, … but you know. I mean, not everybody has the time.
Grace Derocha: I know.
Chuck Gaidica: But I know what you mean.
Grace Derocha: Right. And I’m just saying. It doesn’t have to be every day, but maybe try it, like experiment. We talked about that last week with herbs and spiced. You can be … and if that’s something you’re eating all the time. If you’re buying those sweet potato crackers or sweet potato chips all the time and eating them regularly, maybe try to make some sometimes for yourself.
Chuck Gaidica: So, we’re coming out of the season, as we’re racing out of summer towards fall, but we’re still seeing farmer’s markets in places based on late growing vegetables and fruits-
Grace Derocha: Like apple orchards.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: You know, with winter squashes, pumpkins, apples, pears, those are definitely still in season into the fall, especially here in Michigan.
Chuck Gaidica: So, I’ve got to assume a big thumbs up from you that if you’ve never done this, it’s not a bad thing to do, right?
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Visit those places for some of your-
Grace Derocha: Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: … produce, yeah.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely. And the farmers will tell you, and you can ask them. You know, “Is this organic? What did you use to grow it?” If it was just a farm and they used fertilizer from the cow as opposed to a chemical one, then you know it’s more whole food-y and less tampered with.
Chuck Gaidica: But you know to some brains, it still sounds kind of weird. If you gave me the choice between cow platters and a little spray from somewhere, I don’t know. But I know what your point is.
Grace Derocha: Just make sure you wash it properly.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah, okay. All right. And then, I’ve heard this phrase and I want you to explain it. When you’re going to the grocery store, you’re going to shop the perimeter.
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Okay, what is that?
Grace Derocha: Less processed around the perimeter. So, if you think of your local grocery store, the one that you go to-
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah?
Grace Derocha: There’s usually your produce.
Chuck Gaidica: Right.
Grace Derocha: You know, on the outside.
Chuck Gaidica: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Grace Derocha: And then, maybe like the meat market or fish-
Chuck Gaidica: And I want to come back … keep going in the circle, but I want to come back to the meat counter. But go ahead.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, maybe … well, I guess a little bit like your cheese and dairy and-
Chuck Gaidica: And then maybe your bakery depending on what kind of breads and things are there, right?
Grace Derocha: Exactly.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: But when you’re talking about the aisles, that’s most of your food labeling.
Chuck Gaidica: The straight aisles is where we’re finding the cake with the frosting and the can, right? In the aisles that I went down to try to cut across the store-
Grace Derocha: Your frozen dinners, your crackers and soups that have a lot of sodium and guar gum.
Chuck Gaidica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). But if you’re looking to … you’ve just come into the store, you’re trying to put together a meal. You didn’t have a plan, you didn’t make a list. It’s like a last minute deal. Staying and shopping the perimeter, by default is kind of healthier?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Not necessarily but-
Grace Derocha: Yeah, most of the time. Definitely.
Chuck Gaidica: So, let me jump you back to the meat counter. Whether it’s already sliced for you and it’s hanging up in a little plastic thing, or I’ve gone to get the smoked mesquite turkey sliced lunch meat-
Grace Derocha: Oh, lunch meats.
Chuck Gaidica: Right? It’s turkey.
Grace Derocha: Lunch meats are really processed.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: I mean, they’re just really high in sodium. There is a reason that they can sit for so long-
Chuck Gaidica: There’s a reason on two slices between two pieces of bread tastes so good.
Grace Derocha: Correct.
Chuck Gaidica: Because try … remember what turkey tastes like without gravy at thanksgiving?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: It’s just kind of like-
Grace Derocha: It’s a little bit dry-
Chuck Gaidica: It’s plain. But it’s plain.
Grace Derocha: Yeah. It’s dense with protein, but not very flavorful, if you will.
Chuck Gaidica: So, are we seeing all kinds of stuff in lunch meat then? Are we seeing stuff for color? We’re seeing stuff for taste?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah?
Grace Derocha: So, we’re seeing color, we’re seeing taste, we’re seeing nitrates-
Chuck Gaidica: Binding agents to put turkey together so it all sticks together in a round piece.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, because you know at thanksgiving what turkey really looks like-
Chuck Gaidica: Right.
Grace Derocha: … and then when you are at the deli counter, what the turkey looks like there. There’s a difference.
Chuck Gaidica: Do you ever buy processed meats for the kids? Are you ever … come one, do you ever do bologna or anything?
Grace Derocha: No, not bologna. But hot dogs, but I do buy a brand that doesn’t … that is organic and doesn’t have that.
Chuck Gaidica: But it’s meat?
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: It’s not like a veggie hot dog-
Grace Derocha: It’s like a processed meat.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Yeah, still.
Chuck Gaidica: So again, moderation.
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Okay. So, if we want to do a takeaway on all of this, try to avoid that category of ultra processed.
Grace Derocha: Yes.
Chuck Gaidica: Right?
Grace Derocha: Whenever you can.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Especially since we know the impact chemically in the body, with hormones, us wanting that more, how that chemical imbalance happens with the ghrelin and that hunger hormone and that craving. And then, we know it’s filled with things: sodium, extra fat, extra sugar, extra additives, preservatives to help that shelf life.
Chuck Gaidica: So, the closer we can be to the tree, to the plant, whatever it is-
Grace Derocha: That whole food-
Chuck Gaidica: … even the farm, right?
Grace Derocha: Yeah.
Chuck Gaidica: Even organic meat, which you can find-
Grace Derocha: Yeah, absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: … it is more expensive, but if you want grain fed beef, you can find it.
Grace Derocha: Absolutely.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah. So-
Grace Derocha: So just try.
Chuck Gaidica: Yeah.
Grace Derocha: Especially if you are eating something all the time. If you are having … I keep saying peanut butter, but if you have yogurt every single day and that’s one of your go-tos, then try to pick one that’s better for you.
Chuck Gaidica: All right, well you have encouraged me, and the other encouragement I just want to point out is that on the perimeter, there is the angel food cake in that thing. It’s out there. You go past the veggies and you turn left at the meat counter, and right there, I’m telling you. It’s got that black plastic bottom with the clear top.
Grace Derocha: And then you’re going to put your organic berries on top of it.
Chuck Gaidica: And a little yogurt. Bada bing, bada boom. I’m healthy. Grace Derocha, thank you. It’s good to have you with us again.
Grace Derocha: Thank you so much.
Chuck Gaidica: If you want to learn more about this podcast, we want you to do so. First of all, thanks for listening to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Chuck Gaidica: If you like this episode and you want to learn more, previous episodes, you know, keep up with us and what’s coming, check us out at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast, or you can leave a review or rating on iTunes or Stitcher, you can get new episodes on your smartphone or your tablet, and you can subscribe to us as well on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or … you’ve got an app, you probably will find us there as well. I’m Chuck Gaidica, thanks for checking it out.

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