“C’mon, live a little … just a bit won’t kill you.”

If you eat healthy, you’ve heard this a million times. Even though my standard response is to smile or chuckle awkwardly, on the inside I’m releasing a long, sad sigh of desperation because I know the science says eating “just a little bit” of processed chemical-filled food every day (like most people do) very likely will kill you.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for periodic indulgence. I’ve been known to plow through half a pizza and go too hard on the red wine or bourbon every now and then. That said, I avoid fake processed foods at all costs.

Here are 3 numbers that will make you want to avoid processed foods:

  • 5,000: Number of chemicals approved by the FDA in the foods we eat.
  • 70: Percent of foods that are altered with chemical ingredients.
  • 75: Percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves that now contain genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients.

C’mon, how bad can this stuff really be? For years I asked this same question while scarfing down Cocoa Pebbles, McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers, and Velveeta Shells and Cheese. However, even I was surprised when I read this in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association:

Bad eating habits kill more people every year than smoking.

We now know eating processed foods will do the following:

So what’s the best diet for a long, healthy life?

It’s obvious eating fast food and too much sugar can be detrimental to your health. However, here’s a bit of fascinating science you may not know. In 2014, a research team led by Dr. David Katz from the Yale University School of Public Health reviewed the major mainstream diets popular today: low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, and vegan.

Their report (which was titled, “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?“) concluded the following:

What is “real food?”

Real food is food that comes from the earth or from animals that eat stuff that comes from the earth. Real food diets are the best diets because they emphasize lots of plants like green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fruits. When you’re at the grocery store stick to the outside aisles, where you’ll find most of the real food. Perishable is a good thing. Your food should go bad.

When you buy packaged foods look for short ingredient lists and ingredients you recognize as food. If something sounds like a chemical, opt for another product. There are also sneaky artificial ingredients that food companies are allowed to put in packaged foods these days. “Natural flavors” is one of the most common ingredients you’ll see. Here’s the problem though: they’re anything but natural.

“Natural flavors” is the term food companies and scientists are allowed to use for any substance that originated in nature. However, food companies can then add other ingredients (both natural and artificial), yet still declare “natural flavors” on the food label.

All told, 80 to 90 percent of “natural” flavors are made up of chemical solvents and preservatives, according to David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group.

The bottom line.

At the end of the day, if you don’t know what an ingredient is, put the food back and pick something else. Eating real food is a lifestyle, and it takes time to adapt. Be patient, stay the course, and you’ll find yourself looking and feeling better than you ever have.

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