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October #Unprocessed: Food blogger challenges you to clean up your act

By Rene Lynch, Los Angeles Times

October #Unprocessed is back. Are you taking the challenge?

For the fourth year in a row, Santa Monica food writer Andrew Wilder of the blog Eating Rules is challenging America to change its eating habits for the month of October. The goal? Ditch the processed junk many of us eat on a daily basis.

But fear not, this challenge is not about deprivation, and there’s no way to fail. In fact, Wilder would like you to spend the month eating outrageously delicious food and enjoying every bite.

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“This challenge is about increasing awareness,” Wilder said. “Some people think ‘healthy’ food and ‘unprocessed’ food tastes bad, but that’s because they’re doing it wrong.”

Participants sign a pledge at Wilder’s blog and use the social media hashtag #Unprocessed to, as the case may be, cheer each other on, swap recipes or commiserate about giving up the likes of artificial sweeteners, chemicals and preservatives and other processed foods.

In short, whatever you eat must pass “The Kitchen Test,” as Wilder calls it — as in, could you theoretically make it in your kitchen using unprocessed ingredients. “That doesn’t mean you actually have to be the one to make it in your kitchen,” Wilder joked.

He uses bread as an example. Many supermarket breads are packed full of preservatives that provide a long shelf life. It’s better, Wilder said, to seek out bread made of 100% whole wheat and no added preservatives.

“I just want people to stop and read labels, and to think about what they are eating,” he said.

Last year, more than 6,000 people joined the challenge, and nearly 4,000 have signed up so far for this year’s installment.

Don’t worry about being “perfect” during this challenge. If you do happen to slip, Wilder said, don’t beat yourself up, just get back on track.

Wilder said he chooses to use October as the challenge month because it’s the gateway to worsening eating habits: It starts with Halloween candy, then there’s Thanksgiving indulgences, followed by a seemingly endless run of holiday parties.

Too many people wake up on New Year’s Day regretting it all, he said.

So Wilder wants you to get a grip now, because if he can get you to bypass the junk food between Oct. 1 and Halloween, you’re a third of the way through a holiday season that you can enjoy, not live to regret.

“It’s about finding the smart indulgences that are made from whole foods,” he said.

Take chocolate. Chocolate gets a thumbs-up from Wilder — if it’s made without preservatives, emulsifiers and the like. “Go for the high-quality stuff,” he said. (He personally recommends the Trader Joe’s Organic 73% Dark Chocolate Bar.)

Flour is OK, as long as it is of the unbleached and unenriched variety, Wilder said.

Those who have followed the October #Unprocessed challenge know that sugars provide a forum for endless debate, as seen here. Bottom line: Wilder would like you to pass up on table sugar in favor of honey or maple syrup, but, in keeping with the spirit of the challenge, he mostly just wants you to consider what you are putting in your mouth.

If you are still on the fence about taking the challenge, know this: Beer and wine pass the test.

“When people find out that beer and wine are OK they’re like, ‘Maybe I can do this thing,'” Wilder said.

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Food blogger Andrew Wilder in his kitchen. Photo courtesy of Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

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