28 Straight Days: A Challenge To Eat Healthier

Most Americans eat like crap.

I’m not talking about “super-sized” portions or overeating. I’m talking about common foods that most of us consume every day – crap that is making us overweight (obese), unhealthy, and slowly killing us.

Many of these ingredients and/or additives have become household names. However, many more are things we have never heard of. These additives are often sugar substitutes or preservatives or previously healthy ingredients that are stripped of their nutrients. The scary part is that they are found everywhere. I promise that you have at least one, if not dozens, of food items in your pantry or refrigerator right now whose ingredients are negatively affecting your health. It’s likely you’ve consumed something today that could ultimately cause cancer.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. If you want to, you can eliminate these unhealthy ingredients and additives from your diet. Today. Right now.

Below is a picture of some of this unhealthy food that Kristina and I eliminated from our house recently.

crap food

The 28 Straight Day Challenge: Eating Healthier

A few weeks ago, I asked if folks knew what they were consuming (blog post). I’d encourage you to first read/skim that post as it was much of the inspiration for this one. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

If you are still with me, get ready to start eating healthier. The 28-Day Challenge starts on Monday, June 27, 2011. Details of the challenge are below. For the most part, the format will be similar to last month’s challenge. Read The 28-Day Challenge: RECAP for more details.

If you are ready to join me, please follow the steps below:

1. From the “Top 10” list below, choose 5 ingredients/additives that you will be eliminating from your diet for 28 straight days.

2. Leave a comment below indicating that you will be participating. A simple, “all in” will suffice.

3. Send me an email – [email protected] – with the email address you’d like me to use to contact you. I’ll use this email address to invite you to the Google Doc and Spreadsheet as well as to communicate throughout the 28-Day Challenge.

4. Share with others who may be interested in joining us would benefit from this challenge. At the top and bottom of this post, I have easy ways to share with your social networks – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. You can also go old school and email this link to a friend or tell them on the phone, in person, via text, or IM. It’s up to you!

5. Begin looking at the labels on all foods in your house. See what you’ll be eliminating from your diet for the next 28 straight days, starting on Monday. Educate yourself on what you are consuming.

**Update 6/25/11: If you want to pick something that is *not* on this list for one of your five, that’s totally up to you. Great suggestion, Jeremy Hanks!**

Are you with me?

The Top 10 List

As I often do these days, I leverage my social network to educate myself on topics I’m not well-versed in. I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about healthy eating. I know the basics, yet I’m not a doctor (married to an Ob/GYN), nor am I a registered dietitian or a qualified nutritionist. One simple tweet netted over a dozen replies from folks offering to help. I emailed those willing to help – nearly all who are either RDs or run a nutrition-related business. Below is my compilation of the top 10 ingredients/additives to avoid as well as some brief commentary about each one. There was a lot of crossover in the replies; therefore, I only chose a quote or two from each. Remember: For the challenge, you are picking 5.

One more thing (disclaimer): Please consult a health care professional, like a registered dietitian, and/or someone trained in nutrition if you plan on drastically changing your eating habits. Also, there may be alternate names for some of the ingredients as well as varying opinions. Educate yourself!

Quick Reference List

1. High Fructose Corn Sugar (HFCS)
2. Aspartame
3. MSG (monosodium Glutamate)
4. Sodium Nitrate/Nitrate
5. Hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) oils / trans fat
6. Artificial Food Coloring (ie Red #40 or Yellow #5)
7. Enriched flour, white flour, or wheat flour
8. Low-fat, reduced-fat, or fat-free
9. Artificial hormones, specifically Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)
10. BHA & BHT (Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene)

More details on each…

1. High Fructose Corn Sugar (HFCS): According to Lauri Watson (RD & LD), HFCS is sometimes referred to as “corn sugar”. Lauri says,

HFCS is codeword for ‘processed food’. So eventhough the ‘corn industry’ is making great strides to market HFCS as having the same amount of calories as regular sugar, you will only find this food item in ‘frankenfoods’ or processed food products. Carefully examine the ingredietns list, if ‘high fructose Corn Syrup’ or ‘corn sugar’ is in the ingredients list, this food item is best left on the shelf.

Find more about Lauri on her blog, Redhead Recipes or on Twitter.

Michelle Larson, Nutritionist at Origin Nutrition, added,

HFCS is made of glucose and fructose just like table sugar, however in table sugar they are bound to one another and in HFCS they are not. The free, unbound fructose in HFCS does not stimulate your body to release insulin, which means it isn’t digested into blood sugar, but rather converted to triglycerides (a form of fat in your blood) and fat tissue. Because insulin isn’t released, it can’t enhance the production of another hormone called leptin, which regulates appetite control and metabolism. Therefore, because HFCS digestion fails to stimulate leptin, your brain doesn’t receive the signal that you’re full, and you’re more likely to overeat.

Rob Lekan, Independent Health, Wellness and Fitness Professional (@Positiveinlife on Twitter) wrote, “[HFCS] predisposes body to turning fructose, (naturally occurring), in to fat, is not metabolized by the liver, increased risk of heart issues, cancer, diabetes type 2.”

2. Aspartame: Michelle Larson says,

This artificial sweetener has potential links to brian tumors and lymphoma as well as many symptomatic complaints including headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, memory loss, and mood disruptions.

Tara Coleman, CN, adds,

Aspartame is the artificial sweetener sold under the name NutraSweet. It has been linked to everything from headaches to obesity to cancer.

Tara can be found on Facebook or her blog.

Finally, Heather states,

Although officially approved by the FDA as safe, there are a lot of questions that remain about the safety of this artificial sweetener. I don’t want to eat anything that may cause brain tumors, neurological problems, headaches, or seizures.

Heather can be found blogging on Side of Sneakers as well as her business, Neal Nutrition.

3. MSG (monosodium Glutamate): Lauri Watson says that,

MSG is a flavor enhancer that has been linked to headaches, heart palpitations, chest pain, diabetes, obesity and even infertility! It is an excitoxin which means it kills brain cells by causing the cells to fire repeatedly until they self destruct. It is commonly found in chinese food, soups, bouillon cubes, condiments, and other processed foods. Carefully scan the ingredients list for: monopotassium glutamate, hydrolyzed plant protein, yeast extract, autolyzed plant protein, glutamic acid, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, textured protein, gelatin, calcium caseinate.

Heather adds,

Although this tends to only affect people that are sensitive to it, I prefer to stay away from any ingredient that can cause harmful affects in any part of the population. MSG can cause headaches, nausea, and disrupted heart rate.

Finally, Rob Lekan tells us that MSG is “used in plenty of salad dressings and canned soups. It can create headaches, nausea, over eating, weight gain, as well as neurological disorders.”

4. Sodium Nitrate/Nitrate: Lauri Watson says that it’s “Used as a preservative and color enhancer in meats and fish” and “can react with various other chemicals to produce known carcinogens or cancer causing compounds.”

Rob Lekan adds that it “can form in the stomach and body to create carcinogens, raise blood pressure.”

Tara Coleman suggests to “look for deli meats that are labeled Nitrite Free.”

5. Hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) oils / trans fat: Rob Lekan says,

Things like peanut, palm and soybean oils, among others. This is all the trans fat oils that are found in a lot of baked goods, processed foods and mass made items. This is where all the oil clogs your heart and does lead to heart disease.

Melanie Albert, Founder & CEO of EXPERIENCE NUTRITION GROUP, LLC (& Official Health & Wellness Partner of the NFL Alumni) adds corn oil and soy oil to this list. She states,

both produced from USDA subsidized crops, are found in many processed foods and are full of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Use high-quality organic extra virgin olive oil.

Melanie also blogged about her Top 6 Foods To Crowd Out.

Carrie (MS, RD) who blogs at Confessions of a Registered Dietitian says that,

Hydrogenated fats are made by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats, thus turning them into saturated trans fats. The majority are formed from turning fats that normally would be liquid at room temperature to solids. This was originally done to keep fats from spoiling, making them cheaper.

Katie Heddleston, a Cleveland-based Registered Dietitian, had this to add about Trans Fats & Partially Hydrogenated Oils,

Eating trans fats increase your risk for cardiovascular disease by lowering your HDL cholesterol and raising your LDL cholesterol. Eating trans fats also increases your risk of type II diabetes. [Partially Hydrogenated Oils] is just another term for trans fats! You will see this in your ingredient list, and not on the nutrition label like you will with the trans fat term. But make sure you are reading the ingredient lists and looking for this term because zero on the nutrition label just means under 0.5 grams — there still good be hidden trans fat in the product.

Katie Heddleston writes the blog Healthy Heddleston.

Finally Michelle Larson adds this,

These words mean the fat you are about to consume is damaged. Saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats can all be damaged- transformed into fats that your body cannot effectively utilize. In fact, trans fats actually alter the structure of your cellular membranes. They have been associated with many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

6. Artificial Food Coloring (ie Red #40 or Yellow #5): Lauri Watson says “Research indicates that artificial food coloring may aggravate ADD and ADHD symptoms and could trigger allergic reactions.”

I like what Tara Coleman has to add on this one, “Anything with a Color and then a number. These are fake and gross and will not do you any good whatsoever!”

Heather add this about “Red dye #40”

Like any food additive, there’s always a risk when you introduce a chemically altered substance into the foods we eat. Red dye has been proposed to play a role in ADHD, hyperactivity, and memory problems.

7. Enriched flour, white flour, or wheat flour: Michelle Larson says,

If a grain doesn’t say “whole” that is your indication that it has been through the refining process, which removes integral B vitamins (necessary for proper stress responses among other things), antioxidants (like vitamin E), and trace minerals while concentrating sugars. Refined grains give you calories without their naturally-occurring nutrients

Tara Coleman adds,

Enriched or Bleached Flour has been stripped of most of the beneficial nutrients that are found in grains. It also tends to be processed faster by the body and is more likely to be stored as fat. Even though your bread says Whole Wheat or Whole Grains check the ingredient list!

Stacy Spensley, Certified Holistic Health Coach, once heard the comparison, “It’s like giving someone a dollar and getting 60 cents back.”

Stacy can be found at Center Stage Wellness & on Twitter @CenterStageHC.

8. Low-fat, reduced-fat, or fat-free: According to Michelle Larson, this applies to product containing naturally-occurring fats (e.g. dairy products)

When food manufacturers remove fats, they replace them with carbohydrates- fillers, emulsifiers, and sugars. Consequently, our obsession with low-fat foods has us consuming excess carbohydrates and sugar, dietary components that are linked to two of our country’s biggest health problems: diabetes and obesity. (This one is hard for people to swallow…the low-fat fixation is so deeply embedded that I’m not sure this is an argument anyone can win with merely a sentence or two.)

Stacy Spensley echoes the above,

Anything labeled “low fat” that comes in a regular version. People are still trapped in the mindset of the low-fat diet, but our bodies need fat to function and feel full. Low-fat products simply replace fat with sugar, salt, or fillers to make up for the flavor and texture. You’re better off eating a single serving of the full-fat food instead of eating 2 servings of the low-fat food (often the calorie-savings is minute) to feel satisfied.

9. Artificial hormones, specifically Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH): Rob Lekan tells us that rBGH is

found in dairy products that aren’t labeled as no rBGH. It messes with hormone levels, as in early onset of puberty, linked to cancer, antibiotics resistance and is produced by Monsanto. If you really want to be frightened, look for them and genetically modified organisms.

Heather adds,

It may take a little more research than just looking at the label, but artificial hormones (from milk, meat, etc) shouldn’t be in our food. They disrupt the normal balance of hormones we already have in our bodies.

10. BHA & BHT (Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene): According to Lauri Watson, these are “often used as a preservative” and

have been linked to cancer and other side effects including increased cholesterol, liver and kidney damage, infertility, immune disorders, and behavioral problems.

Heather adds that they can “disrupt estrogen levels and may play a role in hyperactivity, dermatitis, and asthma.”

Rob Larken reminds us that they are “banned by the World Health Org. and California.”

Others listed sodium, Calcium Disodium EDTA, TBHQ (tert-Butylhydroquinone), any added sugar, Phosphoric acid (found in soda), soy, & Potassium Bromate (used to help bread rise).

The Next Move Is Yours.

Will you join me, starting Monday June 27th, for 28 straight days?

DJ Waldow