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Obviously, whole foods are best; however, is it realistic for us to slow cook each meal every day? Sometimes our busy lives hinder healthy food choices, and major manufacturers have profited from this dilemma. In order to make foods more convenient, they have added preservatives to extend shelf life, colors to entice us, and sweeteners to satisfy our cravings. Somewhere along the way, we lost the impression that food is nourishment. Unfortunately, much of what we find on grocery store shelves is filler. Sure, it drives hunger pangs away, but how much of it is your body able to use or even metabolize? Here's a good starter list of undesirables to avoid:

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
I'd be remiss not to place this one first since it has fallen under severe scrutiny lately. HFCS is a dirt cheap sweetener and preservative. Take a look—it's in virtually all processed foods. It's even found in canned kidney beans. The problem with HFCS is that it is very high in calories and yields no nutritional benefit. Same goes for sugar, even organic sugar. However, HFCS supports genetically modified agriculture and a 2009 Environmental Health study revealed that it contains detectable levels of mercury. There is also the study published in the August 2010 edition of Cancer Research that asserts fructose can accelerate the growth of cancer cells. In addition, HFCS can contribute to obesity, which can lead to other medical conditions such as diabetes.

Enriched Bleached Flour is called that because vitamins and minerals that were destroyed during the bleaching process have been reintroduced—it's basically reanimated dead flour. Bleaching (which uses chlorine, oxide of nitrogen, and chloride) strips the wheat germ and bran, resulting in loss of vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, niacin, and other nutritional benefits. Furthermore, enriching only adds a fraction of the lost nutrients back into the flour. This combined with residual bleaching chemicals makes factory-produced baked goods unhealthy.

Artificial Flavors and Colors First, artificial flavors are inexpensive, very stable, and they aren't inherently harmful. But, they often indicate poor quality food and fail to replicate natural tastes.

Artificial colors and dyes generate more controversy. Manufacturers use dyes for a few reasons: to lure us into thinking that their foods are attractive and healthy and because they are more stable and colorfast than their vegetable-based counterparts. The human body is not designed to ingest petrochemicals, yet various foods are colored with FD&C dyes, some of which are coal tar derivatives (e.g., Yellow 5 and Blue 1).

Saturated Fats raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels—it's Spackle for arteries. These fats can be found in meats, dairy, eggs, and some plant sources such as palm, coconut, and palm kernel oils.

Refined Sugar, like HCFS, provides no nutrition and promotes obesity. Sugar swiftly breaks down and enters the bloodstream very rapidly, where it triggers insulin production in the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar out of the blood; any excess sugar is stored as fat. And, when the pancreas is generating insulin, it is unable to produce glucagon, a hormone that tells the body to burn fat for energy. Therefore, your body is storing new fat while holding on to previously accumulated fat. Furthermore, for vegetarian purposes, refined sugar is sometimes processed with bone char (degreased cattle bones) to whiten or decolorize it.

Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate are preservatives found in processed meats such as bologna, hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, and some canned soups. Their safety has been debated since the 1970s due to concerns regarding the formation of carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines, which have been linked with various cancers including esophageal, bladder, and pancreatic.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer usually found in Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups, and processed meats. The FDA has received reports of adverse reactions to MSG including, but not limited to, headache, weakness, heart palpitations, and flushing. Consequently, many Chinese restaurants now advertise “No MSG” on their menus.

Chemical Sweeteners include aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Your body isn't designed to digest these foreign substances, and sometimes those who consume them can suffer side-effects such as migraines, irritability, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and joint pain. And although they're used in diet foods and drinks, some studies actually suggest that they may increase one's weight by fooling the brain into thinking that sugar-free desserts don't contain many calories.

Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) are antioxidants used to prevent fats and oils from becoming rancid. Banned in several countries, these petrochemicals are safe for human consumption according to the FDA, but some people have difficulty metabolizing them. In fact, BHA is listed in California's Prop 65 as a probable carcinogen, and there are studies that indicate the same cancer causing possibilities for BHT.

Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats) are worse than saturated fats because not only do they increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but they also decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol. A diet high in trans fats results in being overweight, sluggish, and hypertensive.

Earnestly considering your personal wellbeing will help you begin making more informed decisions about what goes into your body. Once you start choosing healthier options, you'll start feeling the results.

So, What Now? Here are a Few Time-Saving, Healthy Tips:
Organize your grocery list according to the layout of your favorite store.
Enlist those living in your household to help with meal preparation, including the kids.
Pick a “down day” to prepare slow cooked meals in bulk.
      - portion them out into individual meals so all you have to do is reheat during the busy work week
Making a large casserole for a party? Make two and freeze one for yourself.
Use fresh ingredients in your crock pot.
Hire a personal chef to get you on the right track concerning meal planning, preparation, and meals in general.
Check to see if your grocer carries frozen or canned meals that are healthy, natural, and preservative-free
      - such as Amy's Kitchen, Cedar Lane, or Annie's Homegrown.
Try to shop mostly from the outer aisles of the store. This is where all of the fresh ingredients are located.

Take the following once a day: easily digestible multivitamin, B12, and a glass of green tea. If you're a coffee drinker, try replacing it with green tea, which contains cancer-fighting catechin polyphenols, most notably the powerful antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Note also that your second or third brew of the same green tea leaves will reduce caffeine content.