One of my favorite stories I've ever seen on the internet actually involved, of all things, a McDonald's Happy Meal. New York artist Sally Davies bought a Happy Meal at Micky D's and, rather than eating it, set it on a shelf in her apartment. A year later, she photographed the Happy Meal. To nearly everyone's surprise, the food looked exactly as it had when she'd bought it.
Beyond being hilarious (though not as hilarious as McDonalds' subsequent attempts to prove to the public that yes, their food really does mold) this story actually illustrates an important, though counterintuitive, point:
You want your food to mold.
Anything that stays fresh for an extended period of time is loaded up with preservatives and other chemicals to increase longevity and amplify taste. However, those chemicals also:
- Increase your odds of being obese.
- Lead to a massive increase in the likelihood you'll suffer from heart disease and diabetes.
- Make you crave more of the same foods.
Our bodies aren't very effective at metabolizing foods laden with preservatives. That inefficiency slows down your metabolism in general, so even when you have a healthy dinner after grabbing a prepackaged lunch at the convenience store, your body won't use those nutrients and calories to full effect, in all likelihood causing you to gain, not lose, weight.
It may be impossible to avoid all processed foods completely. In some cases, it may even be unnecessary (frozen fruits and vegetables, while not as good as fresh, aren't harmful), but it is good to cut out as much chemically processed and enhanced food as possible. And there are a few tricks you can try to help you:
- Read the label: You should be able to. If you can't pronounce most of the ingredients in your meal, you probably shouldn't be eating it.
- Look specifically at the first ingredients: I'm not saying you should eat a bag of potato chips, but if you do, the first ingredient should be potatoes. If high fructose corn syrup or anything that sounds like it came from your high school chemistry lab is among the first ingredients, leave it on the shelf and move on.
- Plan meals in advance of grocery shopping: If you head to the supermarket without a general idea of what you need, the odds of buying things that a) you won't use, or b) you shouldn't ingest, skyrocket. Fruit, vegetables and unpreserved meats spoil, so you have a smaller window in which you can use them. Head to the grocery store with a list of only what you need, so you won't end up wasting money on things you don't.