Before I came to the US, I had heard claims that the food isn’t quite as good as in Europe. Coming from The Netherlands, I supposedly had better food with fewer additives and fewer GMOs. And since certain additives were banned in my country, but not in the US, I knew I might experience a difference. Sadly, the difference was worse than I expected. I will get into that in a bit and I will try to briefly illustrate the problem, as well as the difference between additives in Europe and the US.
Before I talk about the food, it’s important to know that I barely did workouts the year before I came to the US. Although my diet was otherwise healthy, I also regularly ate sweets and pizzas (every 2 or 3 days). It wasn’t at all uncommon for me to go crazy on sweets. Yet, my weight never went above the 187 pounds mark (85 kgs). And whenever it came too close to that mark, I either did some exercises (although I couldn’t stick to a routine, since I didn’t feel obliged to go to the gym, because I didn’t have a membership) or simply held back on what I ate for a few days. It wasn’t the best wellness plan, but it worked just fine for me.
So, when I first arrived in the US in February, I thought I might eat more for a good while,
but get the weight off again later. It turned out that it wasn’t quite that simple. And then when I hit 210 pounds (95 kgs) and was lying down on my side in bed, I realized I felt a lot unhealthier than I did before. That’s when I decided to do something about it. I started working out and although it took me a while to get into a decent routine, I think I did well for about 2 weeks. Before those 2 weeks, I had seen my weight going up and down, but after, I saw that I actually gained weight. It didn’t make sense to me, since that hadn’t happened to me before. The exercising was serious and I really didn’t do anything crazy diet-wise. Besides, I had eaten more food and more calories back in The Netherlands without gaining all that weight. I’m sure my weight gain can to some extent be explained by looking at my intake of calories, but something just seemed off. Besides the weight gain, the digestive problem I had experienced during my first 2 weeks in the US seemed a fair indication too.
And indeed, something is off. What I noticed first is that the water quality isn’t quite the same. I used to drink a lot of tap water, but in the state I live in now, doing that is out of the question. And drinking bottled water isn’t much of an improvement from that either. The distilled water tastes like plastic and even the spring water has the same issue, although its taste isn’t as bad. I used to see water and soft drinks in PET bottles in The Netherlands, but in the US HDPE plastics seem more popular. I never tasted plastic in bottled water from my home country and my guess is that HDPE plastics aren’t as safe as officially claimed.
Next is the breakfast. If not bought from a bakery or the bakery section, bread will stay ‘fresh’ for about a month… and that is with the bag opened. I never knew it could last beyond 5 days the most. Also, the bread has a weird taste to it. Another popular breakfast option are biscuits, but they seem quite sweet to me. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is something I noticed and had to get used to. Finally, healthy cereal and muesli is a lot harder to find. It might seem a minor difference, but it’s a noteworthy observation.
But when it comes to American food, I am especially disappointed in the many useless additives. The crazy amount of artificial food dyes in the US became apparent quickly, since someone close to me is allergic to them. Some of those dyes are even banned or used only rarely. You would think that strawberry jam doesn’t need Red #40 and having made it from scratch myself, I can assure you that it’s absolutely unnecessary. Yet, the store bought strawberry jam I have contains that dye. If you’re allergic to it, it can give you terrible pains and the feeling you’re about to die. Yet, companies use Red #40 quite often and in products you wouldn’t even expect it in, like chocolate cake for instance. And how about Yellow #5 in pickles? It makes the pickled water seem radioactive, so you would imagine it’s better not to add it. I was quite surprised to see all the products that contain artificial coloring. Where I come from, pickles don’t have dyes at all, because they really don’t need it. It’s that simple. Admittedly, the European Union lists a lot of additives that are claimed to be safe as so-called E-numbers, which makes it harder to figure out what’s exactly in your food. The US seems more straight-forward about their ingredients, but the FDA allows more additives that are known for their potential side-effects. Clearly, both the EU and the FDA have issues to solve.
Let’s say you’re allergic to artificial food dyes. You don’t want to check the ingredient list of every single product, but you still try to be careful. With some foods it’s obvious that they contain dyes, but as mentioned before, some aren’t quite as obvious. And so, an allergen can sneak in from time to time, giving you terrible pain, you can’t really do anything for a good while and the allergic reaction can occur on and off for a few days in a row. You may not even know what food contained the dye and if you’re not sure what you’re allergic to and the doctors can’t tell (which does happen), then you may one day overdose on an allergen, leading to death. And even if you’re not allergic to dyes, they still can lead to some pretty bad side-effects. Colorful food might seem appealing, but they might be a health hazard in the long run.
But it’s not just me who notices the difference in food between Europe and the US.
A friend living in the US told me,
“…after we lived in Italy for three years and moved back to America, we noticed our energy, health, and quality of food was not the same. […] I also lost weight since I started eating food without all the crap in it. I also felt the food was of better quality in France, Germany, and Switzerland during my last two trips.”
It seems to me that there is a food crisis in the US. Sure, there’s plenty of food to eat, but there’s something wrong with most of the processed foods. And so I believe it’s unfair to blame the average American for their eating habits and lifestyle. Food companies, farmers and the FDA are the ones who are really to blame. After all, eating at least some processed foods is completely normal and you can’t expect everyone to have the time and money to eat organic and to make their meals from scratch.