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European tours make for amazing memories and I had made many when I returned stateside a little over 20 years ago (gasp). Many American tourists bring home trinkets to remember their travels, but I went even further. I went all in, adding 20 pounds to my waistline. This newly expanded version of myself served as my keepsake of my Euro travels (for a while, anyhow).
I’ve confided in you before about this larger version of myself, but have I ever told you how I got my weight off? I joined Weight Watchers! Again, I went all in, training myself to hold my breath while drinking Diet Pepsi and counting my daily points when eating and drinking anything that wasn’t labeled “diet.” I bought light bread, low-calorie veggie burgers and fat-free cookies. Finally, I was getting healthy … and skinny!
A new version of myself during my senior year in college, I lost my European pounds and then some. It was a whole new life and I was loving it.
This counting points (aka counting calories) thing actually worked … until it didn’t.
I soon became immune to the counting and point calculators. I stopped logging my every morsel and didn’t just go to bed when I was out of my points. I began eating my banked points from that day and commenced eating the next day’s points in advance.
Slowly, my new clothes became a bit too small. The fat-free cookies weren’t quite as satisfying and I wanted beer a little heartier than Michelob Ultra. I was (quite literally) fed up! The Weight Watchers honeymoon was over and I quickly adopted a slew of fad diets, trying to get back into my size fours.
Not only did I embark on this dieting roller coaster, but I took every opportunity possible to lambaste myself, faulting myself and my willpower (or lack thereof) for my expanded waistline.
I tried everything. I quit drinking coffee in favor of milk and honey (omitting the only naturally calorie-less thing I drank aside from water). I skipped dinners at my sorority house, opting instead for sub-zero, penal runs in the dark. Ravenous upon my return (although I couldn’t run very far in the freezing Syracuse temperatures), I would scavenge in the kitchen, eating anything and everything that was available instead of eating a full sit-down meal.
My habits were down the drain and I was off the rails, but I thought I was just doing what it took to lose the weight. I prayed to regain self-control and willpower. I hoped my cravings would go away.
I loaded more and more Equals into my coffees (when I realized my milk concoctions were sabotaging me). It took me many years before I relinquished my beloved diet products.
I began to dip a toe into eating more caloric foods like oats and brown rice (hello, fiber …). I ditched the light and fat-free dressings that, unbeknownst to me were laden with sugar, and took up full fats (egads). It was so simple. I didn’t realize it could be this simple. Just eating real foods cured me of cravings, yearnings, angst and weight gain. I stopped blaming myself for my choices and started making better ones naturally.
It’s hard to break habits and to make changes, especially if we’ve worked diligently to adopt new, lighter versions of foods we feel are helping us. Daring to eat olive oil instead of my spray-on Pam was scary. I thought I would blow up with the first dribble into my pan, but I didn’t. It was magical and yet so very simple.
The foods I was eating to get skinny have since been branded by the health world as “ultraprocessed foods.” These are basically anything that comes in a package and that isn’t green (and no, green lifesavers don’t count).
Foods that are ultraprocessed are the cookies and cakes, the cereals and overly sweetened jams and peanut butters. They’re the breakfast and granola bars we rely on as snacks. Countless prepared meals and frozen items are in this category, and the sad news is that they’re unavoidable. Really, they are. We have grown so dependent on them as a nation that we have not only brought them into nearly every travel hub in the world, but we bring them into our schools on a daily basis.
It’s no surprise (yet the results are shocking at the same time) that a new study came out connecting these ultraprocessed foods with an increased risk of developing symptoms of dementia. The study followed over 70,000 participants in Brazil for 10 years. Brazilians eat about 25 to 30 percent ultraprocessed foods in general, which is lower than many Western countries. Ultraprocessed foods consist of about 58 percent of Americans’ daily caloric intake, which is a bit higher, but on par, with the United Kingdom’s 54 percent and Canada’s 48 percent. We know that many processed foods contribute to heart disease, higher cholesterol levels, diabetes and overall health issues, but the study carved out more tangible results for our brains.
According to the published outcomes, daily caloric intakes that consist of more than 20 percent of these too-good-to-be-true packaged goods may raise our risk for cognitive decline.
The study defined ultraprocessed foods as “industrial formulations of food substances (oils, fats, sugars, starch, and protein isolates) that contain little or no whole foods and typically include flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives.”
The study found that men and women who ate the most ultraprocessed foods had a 25 percent faster rate of executive function decline (planning, self-control, time management and organization among other skills) and a 28 percent faster rate of overall cognitive impairment when compared to those who ate the least amount of these types of food.
The problem with these foods doesn’t stop at their ingredients list and calorie count. Eating them decreases our intake of important, beneficial foods that contain critical nutrients and essential fiber.
The study took different types of processed foods into consideration as well. Artificially sweetened soft drinks and sugary beverages increased the risk of dementia, whereas risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease was linked to ultraprocessed meat, fish and eggs.
What to do
Whenever possible, make it from scratch and eat at home. This is never going to be possible for all of us unless we live off the grid as hermits. Social life and going out are an important part of the human experience, but doing what we can to minimize the effects of ultraprocessed foods on our bodies is vital.
Effects seen in the study were proportionate to the amount of ultraprocessed foods that were substituted out in favor of unprocessed foods. Participants who omitted ultraprocessed grub by 5 percent decreased their risk of dementia by 10 percent. Those who made a 10 percent substitution decreased their risk by 19 percent and those who went as far as to decreased their processed food intake by 20 percent experienced a 34 percent lower instance of developing symptoms of dementia. The moral of this story is that we reap what we sow. If we do what we can … and then do a little more … we just might be able to remember why we did it later in life.
Coconut milk tomato bisque (vegan)
Extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, chopped
1 red onion- diced
1 large shallot, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, rinsed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can whole tomatoes – (Organico Bello is the cleanest canned tomato brand I can find with ingredients consisting only of tomatoes)
2 cups veggie stock
1 can — 15 oz — coconut milk
Fresh parsley to finish
In a large pot, over medium heat, coat the bottom with extra-virgin olive oil.
Add carrots, onions, shallot, celery, garlic and thyme and sauté for three minutes. Add bay leaves, oregano, basil and garlic powder, salt and pepper and continue to cook until onions are translucent.
Add tomatoes and smash.
Stir in veggie stock and simmer for as long as possible — at least 30 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Fish out thyme sticks and bay leaves with tongs.
Allow to cool and use an immersion blender to purée until smooth.
Mix in coconut milk.
Return to low heat, stirring until combined.
Serve with a sprinkle of parsley.