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This Is Healthy?

Read it and weep

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The next time you reach for a "healthy" frozen microwaveable meal because you're too rushed (or lazy or unadventurous) to cook a meal from scratch, do yourself a favor and take a minute to look at the ingredients in that "Healthy Choice" or "Lean Cuisine" or "Smart Ones." What you see should send you rushing to the organic produce aisle.

Here's a partial ingredient list from a Healthy Choice Roasted Chicken Breast dinner:

Chicken breast with rib meat, rendered chicken fat, chicken broth, chicken broth powder and chicken powder (how do you powder a chicken?). If you bought a chicken dinner because you don't eat red meat, you should know that there's beef extract -- and clam extract -- in this meal. The lactose intolerant should look out for the cream, butter oil, enzyme modified butter fat and nonfat dry milk (if they're going to include butter oil and fat, why bother with nonfat milk?).

Roasted gold potatoes, mushrooms, mushroom powder, peas, and carrots. Gee, that almost sounds natural -- until you get to that powder stuff again.

You'll also be eating:

Locust bean gum (also known as carob bean gum), carrageenan (a seaweed extract) and xanthan gum. They're used to thicken, emulsify (help liquids stay mixed together) and stabilize foods. These additives are necessary because processed foods have to last a long time -- check out those "Use by" dates -- and are subject to temperature changes in shipping and warehousing. No need to add them if you cook it yourself.

Autolyzed yeast extract. Also known as MSG -- that infamous "flavor enhancer" some Chinese restaurants proudly proclaim they don't use. Maybe that's because MSG has been linked to fun reactions like hives, diarrhea, asthma, migraines, stomach cramps, depression and anaphylactic shock.

Sodium Tripolyphosphate. When food grade, it's used as an "improver" in fish and meat processing. When technical grade, it's used as a detergent foaming agent.

Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil. Here's a quote from the Health Education Alliance for Life and Longevity (HEALL) website: "Modern-day diets high in hydrogenated vegetable oils . . . are implicated in causing a significant increase in heart disease and cancer."

Kind of kills the appetite, doesn't it? It's hard to completely avoid eating processed foods -- they're everywhere. They do save time, some of them actually taste good, and eating them once in awhile won't kill you (I don't think so, anyway), but do you really want to put all that stuff into your system more than once or twice a year?

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