By the end of the day, almost one quarter of the U.S. population will have eaten fast food. Though it has been difficult to empirically establish a causal link between fast food and obesity, fast food remains a focal topic in the obesity discussion. Given that the rates of obesity among American children and the number of fast food restaurants have both doubled since the late 1970s, it’s easy to see why fast food is such an easy target. While I believe that fast food plays an important role in American obesity, I think it is actually a facet of the bigger problem of our reliance on processed foods, and our subsequent detachment from the process of food preparation.
Today, Americans eat 31% more packaged food than fresh food, and consume more packaged food than their counterparts in nearly all other countries. Given our current access to nutritional information about the foods that we eat, I wonder how much more attention we would pay to our diets and health choices if we also played a more integral role in preparation and production.
I recently took a look back at the NYC Department of Health’s great ad on soda. Check it out below:
The videa of the man eating 16 packets of sugar is funny but poses a very interesting question: if you would never eat 16 packs of sugar, why do you drink 16 packs of sugar in a 20 oz. bottle of soda? Simply put, our lack of exposure to the production of soda makes us more likely to blissfully drink a bottle of it. If most of us were tasked with making our own bottle of soda, I’m sure we would balk at the idea of mixing in 16 packets of sugar with mysteriously labeled “natural flavors” into a bottle and then drinking it on our way back from work.
Replace that scenario with any of the McDonald’s menu items that have made the news, or pizza from large chains, and you’ll find that public objections to these foods almost always occur after we’ve seen the images of production. However, the ingredients in these foods and the stomach churning nutrition facts have been publicly available for years. This is symptomatic of the fact that the further we get from the steps of food preparation and production, the less likely we are to pay attention to the food’s impact on our bodies.
Becoming more attached to food preparation extends into the process of dieting as well. If you are developing a weight loss plan for yourself, keep in mind that processed foods should not be a part of it. Successful weight loss is much easier to achieve when you are involved in the planning and the preparation of the meals and snacks that you eat. Once you have set your weight loss goals, you can control the amount and type of ingredients in everything you eat by preparing your food. This increases your ability to track your food and hold yourself accountable to your diet regimen. Don’t let the cheapness and convenience of processed foods lure you in. Processed foods generally contain more sodium, fat, and calories while providing fewer nutrients than fresh foods.
I’m not advocating for a complete return to the home cooking of the early 1900s. Rather, I think that there is room in today’s society for us to be more thoughtful and diligent about the preparation of the food that we eat. Considering growing health concerns over the rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in America, there are some great reasons for us to be more attentive to the breakdown of our meals and snacks. We all either live to eat or eat to live. In that daily interaction, there is an immense opportunity for us to take greater ownership over what we put in our bodies when we prepare it.
This article originally appeared on sweeterspoon.com.