Get fresh in your eating selections

Think about what you ate yesterday. How much of it was already prepared, or came from a package? Frozen meals, packaged chocolate chip cookies, and even pasta sauce from a jar might be a few examples of what are considered “ultra-processed” foods.

Packaged, prepared, and otherwise processed foods are convenient, but two large recent studies suggest that they may also be making us sick. The findings of these studies, published in the May 29, 2019 journal BMJ, conclude that people who get many of their meals from packages may have increased risks of heart disease, stroke and premature death.

Researchers in one study followed more than 100,000 French adults for about five years, and found that the more ultra-processed foods people ate, the higher their odds of a first-time heart condition or stroke. The risk was 23% greater among those who ate the most ultra-processed food.

The second study included nearly 20,000 Spanish adults, and showed that ultra-processed foods were linked to a shorter life span. Those with the highest intake were 62% more likely to die over two decades, compared to those with the lowest intake. Both studies took into account weight and other lifestyle habits.

Many scientists believe that additives or contaminants formed during industrial food processing may have negative effects on metabolism and the cardiovascular system. So, what can you do?

Think about options that offer convenience, affordability, and are reasonably healthy.

Fresh or fresh-frozen vegetables are a great example! A bag of plain, fresh-frozen vegetables can be quickly steamed and seasoned with a splash of olive oil or lemon juice, and a touch of your favorite spice or spice blend. Compare this to a box of frozen vegetables in a processed cheese sauce.

A can of soup made with vegetables, beans, herbs and spices may be a little high in sodium, but is a smarter choice than a dried soup or noodle dish loaded with preservatives. Like the vegetables, the prep time is the same; the first option actually costs less and is a considerably healthier choice.

Local farmers markets are starting up for the season, and this is your opportunity to enjoy the very freshest food possible! Ask the vendors about their favorite way to prepare the vegetables, fruits, and meats that they sell — they often have simple, delicious ideas to share.

Keep in mind that when you shop at a farmer’s market you are not only making healthier food choices, you are also supporting local farms and investing your food dollars back into our community. A win-win-win!

Chautauqua County has high rates of both heart attack and stroke, but an estimated 80% of heart attacks and strokes are preventable. CHQ250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team(CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year. This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team. Please direct questions or comments to: activecounty@co.chautauqua.ny.us.

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