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Processed foods and Soybeans and Tofu– oh my!

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Lately, around the blogworld, many bloggers have been getting into the raw-food movement.  I don’t think anyone would question the fact that raw fruits and veggies are healthy.

However (and I really don’t mean to point fingers; I’m just venting, so please don’t take my opinions personally), some posts seem to have taken on a holier-than-thou tone, making it seem like this is the healthiest way to eat and that people who don’t eat this way are inferior.  I’ve actually been getting a few emails from girls who now feel badly about the way they eat thanks to these posts.  Bloggers, please remember that you have a responsibility as someone putting content up for public view!  Yes, you should be allowed to write what you want (freedom of the press, after all).  But remember that impressionable young girls and boys will be reading, so please try to think before you publish.

It’s sad to see people–who don’t have the credentials to give nutritional advice–telling others they are bad if they eat tofu, soy, or processed foods.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying processed foods now and then, sans guilt.  No, you will not live a shorter life than someone who is so strict with her diet that she’ll never allow herself even the occasional treat.  In fact, you may even be healthier than those who are 100% strict all the time.  Why?  The stress caused by ensuring one eats a “perfect” diet (and the amount of time it takes to plan this) could be more detrimental to one’s health than eating the occasional processed food.  My great grandma’s mantra (which is, coincidentally, the mantra of many other centenarians) was “everything in moderation.”  She enjoyed a cup of espresso every day (Gasp! Caffeine!  Evil!), ate sausage on occasion (not that I’m advocating this from an ethical standpoint), and quite enjoyed her cookies, thank you very much.  Oh, and she was a healthy, active lady into her nineties! (My grandma has a similar attitude, and she’s healthy and happy at 85.)

Many processed foods boast health benefits. For example, tempeh has probiotics and protein, frozen veggies actually contain more vitamins than fresh ones, and don’t forget the health benefits and endorphins one can get from enjoying the taste of a delicious food.

And for convenience sake, sometimes an energy bar or a packaged product is a great choice.  If you choose the right one, you can get a nice dose of necessary vitamins (such as Vitamin B12 for vegans), protein, a serving of whole grains, and fiber.  Plus, life should not be all about food, and having some of these convenience items on hand can give you more time to enjoy other aspects of life.  Amy and her Bistro Burgers have helped me out on many an occasion.

All that being said, I do believe it is important to eat mostly unprocessed foods.  Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while knows that the bulk of the food I eat is unprocessed fruits, veggies, beans, and grains.  Maybe I don’t eat processed foods every day, but I sure enjoy them when I do indulge.  And I don’t think I’m any less healthy than someone who won’t ever allow herself to eat any of these things.  (Perfect past medical tests, through-the-roof energy levels, and strong hair and nails can attest to this.)

Now, on to the soy issue.  Soy is NOT the devil!  The problem is that manufacturers have started to put soy in almost every processed food, causing some people to get too much of it (in its most-processed form).  Too much of any food will be unhealthy.  Did you know that an excessive amount of broccoli can cause acid poisoning?  Yes, the results of a few studies show soy to be detrimental to one’s health. (If you shove an ungodly amount of any food down a rat’s throat and don’t give the rat any other foods for a varied diet, the rat is going to get sick!)  But the Japanese eat soy every day–mostly in unprocessed forms–and history (not a small study on any scale!) has proven these people to have some of the longest, healthiest life spans of anyone in the world.  What would you rather believe: a few small studies or the history of an entire population?

Finally, as I wrote on my FAQ page, one can eat a “perfect” diet, never allowing oneself any processed or so-called “unhealthy” foods, and then get hit by a bus.  Do you really want to look back on your life and say, “Gosh I wish I’d eaten more of my favorite foods and not been so restrictive with my diet”? Besides, with the volatility of science, who knows what “perfect” is anyway!

So my point with the above essay (Did I really just write an essay when I didn’t have to for school?) is that you completely deserve a life that is FREE from food guilt.

One more time, let me stress: Please don’t take offense to this post if you are a raw-foodist.  I have absolutely nothing against you or your lifestyle.  I simply wrote this to counter the people who say raw foodism is the only very healthy diet.  Live and let live. 🙂   .

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Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 
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  1. Katharina says:

    I agree with you! It really bothers me when people beat themselves up about eating “unhealthy” foods once in awhile. For instance, when my friends talk about “fat this” “fat that” when it comes to ice cream or cookies, I’m like… okay this isn’t going to kill you. I know this is kind of another issue, but since I’m very thin a lot of my friends will feel badly about eating around me. I think that ties in with the whole… giving food too much power. There’s such a twisted view on food in our culture today. I think focusing too much on food can be a bad thing. Placing waaay too much importance on what you put in your mouth can lead to unhappiness and stress. I think if you have the basic ideas of healthy living instilled in your mind you can be mindful without being obsessed. However, I know that I eat mostly unprocessed foods since I like cooking and it’s cheaper. Life is too short to revolve around eating the perfect diet.

  2. brandi says:

    great post – I’m glad you wrote it and you are not out of line at all.

    There are so many “ways to eat” that there is NO PERFECT DIET FOR EVERYONE. Some people are allergic to things, so they can’t have them.

    does that make them less healthy or mean they’re not eating “right”? No. You just have to find what works for you, keeps you healthy AND makes you HAPPY.

    I know I was happy eating my slice of tart last night 🙂 and I’ll be happy having my green smoothie later today.

  3. nicole says:

    yay i love the post! i actually have been very confued with why soy is bad. I love Tofu, since i try to be mainly vegitarian except seafood,its my weakspot. but with your post it doesnt make me scared of tofu anymore.

    you are not out of line at all it will be very helpful to peopl

  4. Sara says:

    Holler! Go CCV. I’m with you. I’ve been feeling the same way and it’s good to see you get gutsy and voice your opinion 🙂

  5. Vegan_Noodle says:

    I definitely eat my fair share of processed foods when I don’t have the time to cook. I agree that they aren’t bad. Unfortunately, there are so many people that blog and claim to know things about nutrition that don’t. I try to never make any health claims on my blog… just here’s what I eat, I liked it, and I feel good. It is too bad that some readers are more impressionable than others. We should all do what feels right for our own bodies! Thanks for reminding all your readers of this.

  6. Virginia says:

    i agree with you! eating raw foods is healthy, but that doesn’t make it healthier than someone that eats cooked foods that are good for you! i am glad you voiced your opinion on this!

  7. Janna says:

    Thanks for writing this. I am one of those people who started to feel bad about the way I eat based on a lot of the “raw food is the best” type posts.

    NO ONE really knows what the “perfect diet” is… there are so many studies that come out that say something is good one day and bad the next.

    We all know the general basis to healthy eating, fruits, veggies, whole grains etc and if we follow that and then once in a while we want to indulge in something, then why not!

    For me personally, I try and stay up to date with studies just to see what’s out there… and becuase of a thyroid condition I try to stay clear of soy. But otherwise, totally agreed, everything in moderation!

    We should eat foods that make us FEEL GOOD.

  8. Katherine says:

    Thank you so much for this post!! I appreciate your rant and I think it is incredibly insightful. I think the most important point is to eat WITHOUT GUILT. Women (and men!) today are made to feel guilty for their food choices from all sides – magazines, television, just walking down the street. I’ve found the blogging world to be a source of great inspiration to make some healthier choices and reevaluate my diet, but I’ve also chosen the blogs I read very carefully. I’ve definitely come across my share of judgemental blogs and I opt not to read them.

    That said, I also respect a blogger’s right to put their own feelings and beliefs up on their blog. If a writer feels very strongly that soy and processed foods are going to kill you, it’s their right to say so. However, it’s also my right not to continue visiting their blog and I have to be in tune with myself – does a blog triggered disordered thinking or behavior? Am I benefiting from reading this blog? Or does it make me stressed or feel guilty?

    One of the best raw blogs I’ve found is ChoosingRaw.com. While Gena feels strongly about the benefits of a raw diet, her foremost concern is stressing that people should follow the diet that works best for them. She encourages experimentation with more raw foods, but she would NEVER judge a person or a diet choice, especially not on her blog.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment, but your post really got me thinking!

  9. fitforfree says:

    Hi Katie,

    Thanks for this post. It balances out many of the other posts I’ve read recently! And in my experience (with MY physiology!) I agree with your opinion—my body doesn’t protest when I eat moderate amounts of processed foods (being vegan, my lunch often needs a veggie burger protein kick!).

    That being said, I think that some people life a more physically + emotionally stable life when they adopt a more restrictive diet. My mom, for example, struggled with her weight and blood sugar (and concurrent body dysmorphia) her entire life—fifty years of yo-yo dieting and back pain from the extra weight—before adopting a low-carbohydrate diet, losing over fifty pounds (and with it, the back pain!), and learning not to FEAR food. She’s healthier now than I’ve ever seen her, and I think her “restrictive” diet has actually FREED her from a lot of stress!

    Many vegans/raw foodists I’ve met revel in their “restrictive” diet as well, because it frees them of physical problems and emotional attachment to certain foods. I may not stay vegan forever, but for now, it’s freed me of love/hate relationships with a lot of non-vegan foods (and reduced stress in my life!). I believe I am a MUCH healthier physically, mentally, and emotionally, since I cut out animal products from my diet.

    Sorry about THIS essay!!! I appreciate your opinion—never hesitate to share it!

  10. Leah says:

    I completely agree with you. I’m reading all of these blog posts every day about people who are cutting more and more out of their diets, and I’m thinking to myself, Wow I must really be unhealthy…then i look at what im eating…fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats, yes some “processed soy milk, and tofu, protien bars, and “processed” ezekiel bread…and then i stop and think, wow i really couldn’t be much healthier than i am. I think it may be fun to try a raw diet for a week or so, but personally, as an athlete, i really don’t think its a healthy choice…but thats just my 2cents

  11. Kati says:

    Hi Katie with an e ;),

    I think you’re absolutely right. Dogma is dangerous. Flexibility leads to freedom. Good for you for endorsing moderation. It sounds like my great-grandma was the same way yours was (a cookie with her breakfast – gasp!) and she lived to be 93. Let’s all do the best we can and more importantly than anything else, enjoy our lives! Food is not everything…

    But as far as foods go, I think a whole foods approach lays a strong foundation for your body to be able to handle the occasional treats. To me it seems like the only healthy (and sane!) way to live.

  12. Lexi says:

    AMEN is all I have to say! I rarely comment on blogs, but after reading this post I couldn’t NOT post. I am SO HAPPY you wrote this and stood up for all of us out there who not only don’t adhere to a strictly raw diet, but eat the occassional processed food and feel fine, dandy and HEALTHY doing it. There are so many bloggers out there who are preaching raw food, raw food, raw food and are acting high and mighty doing it. I appreciate and value your view point, and I think it is spot-on. Thank you, Katie!

  13. Emily says:

    Hi Katie! I really liked your post! I think blogger definitely should be careful about the kind of diets they promote, especially ones that are extremely restrictive and contradict recommendations (although, I don’t always agree with all recommendations, they are there for a purpose). I haven’t completely eliminated processed food from my diet, and I don’t plan to do so. One of my goals this past year was to reduce the amount of processed foods I eat because (like you mentioned), eating mostly unprocessed foods is best. I definitely can’t and won’t give up eating cheese or ice cream or any of the bars I enjoy!

    As for the soy issue, as someone who has done some research on soy, I know that there are risks and benefits associated with consuming it, but there is not a cookie cutter recommendation for each person. However, I don’t think all studies conducted on soy are flawed. The conflicting studies just show that there is a lot of information we don’t know about soy. Personally, I try to avoid soy because it irritates my GI tract, but I don’t find anything wrong with consuming moderate dietary soy if it doesn’t bother you.

    Thanks for the great post!

  14. Eddie G says:

    I totally agree!

  15. Aimee says:

    Great post! I get so stressed that my diet isn’t perfect, but I don’t want to come to the end of my life and wished I would have enjoyed more birthday cake.

  16. Mary says:

    WOW! I have being feeling like I needed to change my diet…I’m not into the 100% raw food thing and felt like I should be a little more concerned with cooking my food. I have cut out most (not all) processed food and have been feeling great. Thanks for the post…makes me feel much better about my ‘healthy’ diet.

  17. Run Sarah says:

    I love you Katie! These thoughts have been ruminating in my mind for the past few weeks and I haven’t been able to put them into words yet. The 100% raw food movement worries me as does vegans & vegetarians cutting tofu & soy products completely out of their diet because many people don’t realize how much iron, calcium and protein are derived from it. None of the meta-analyses I could find showed a deterimental effect on soy consumption (except for those with allergies, obviously). I’m not sure what studies people are reading but it’s important to never base opinions on isolated studies but to look at the meta-analyses of all studies done on the topic to get an un-biased result.

  18. OH Katie, you said exactly what I’ve been thinking for weeks now. There is so much pressure (at least that I feel!) to “eat clean” and all this raw stuff… a) I like to cook. Meaning, hot pan, stove on, cooking things til they’re HOT. b) processed is not necessarily bad. Everything is processed in some way unless you pick it off a tree yourself! c) MODERATION (as you said) is key. Sure 9 diet Cokes in a day might not be the best choice. But, one or two won’t kill ya!

    Love ya girlie!!!

  19. kirsten says:

    Excellent post as always Katie ! 🙂 I had been feeling bad about myself the past few weeks for not eating enough raw foods (aside from plain old salad, I don’t like raw vegetables much) and this made me feel so much better! I was starting to become so worried about what to eat that it was really stressing me out. I really appreciate this post and I am glad you decided to share you opinion.

  20. elise says:

    word CCV! everything in moderation. fads are fads, as others before it, this one will phase out eventually….at least raw is a better fad that atkins (maybe we are making progress?haha). i second your thoughts on soy.

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