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Processed Food

Eating quality food is ESSENTIAL to our health, and is particularly important to growing children so that they can develop to their full potential physically and psychologically. Processed food is slowly taking over our supermarkets and our diets, and I think is one of the most important contributors to disease.  Even food that most of us don't consider as a processed, like milk for example, is actually highly processed and frequently has additives.  Next time you pick up a carton of milk, read the ingredients list.  If the carton you chose is not organic, I bet "milk" is not the only ingredient in there.  Do you know what those other ingredients are that you are drinking? And we haven't even talked about how the milk is altered through the pasteurization, homogenization and the defatting process!  Wikepedia's definition of food processing "is the set of methods and techniques used to transform raw ingredients into food for consumption by humans. Food processing takes clean harvested or slaughtered and butchered components and uses these to produce attractive and marketable food products."  Funny that they are saying transforming  "raw ingredients" into food.  I think it is more the other way around.  The raw ingredients are the food, and in the processing they become a non-food.  My definition of processed food is any real food that has been altered in any way in order to lower its production cost, lengthen its shelf life, make it look more appealing, or makes you want to eat more of it, and that results in the reduction of its nutritional content and/or the increase of toxins.

Processed food is a huge business, and by using slick advertising and packaging methods that make us believe they are healthy, we are replacing the real foods that provide us with quality nutrition with "food products" that not only have less nutrition, but also all kinds of other stuff like transfats, preservatives, flavourings colourings, etc., which greatly adds to our body burden if consumed regularly.  So let's go through a few of these processed foods and suggest real food alternatives.

I haven't found one brand of commercial salad dressing that I would consider healthy.  This is why when you signed up for these tips, you got a yummy healthy salad-dressing recipe.  Commercial dressings are full of refined vegetable oils meaning they are heated in the extraction process oxidizing them and making them rancid.   Often soybean or canola oil is used, both of which are usually genetically modified. These dressings are also full of preservatives, flavourings, emulsifiers, colourings, and they often contain MSG or "hydrolyzed protein", which are a neurotoxins. Homemade salad dressing is so quick and economical to make, that if you care about your health and the health of your family there really is no excuse.  Mix some organic extra-virgin olive oil from the first cold pressing with organic balsamic or apple cidre vinegar and some unprocessed mustard, and spice to taste. If you wish to up the omega 3 content, you can add a bit of unrefined flax oil. (Should be in a dark bottle and kept in the fridge.)

The next huge category of processed food that is very popular with families, is boxed breakfast cereal. Sorry folks, but despite the health claims on the box, those cereals that are made into flakes, shapes or puffs are terrible for you. The grains in these cereals are not prepared properly through soaking or fermenting so the phytates that prevent digestion are not destroyed, yet the heat and pressure of the extruding process does destroy most of the nutrition, and in particular the proteins which seem to be rendered quite toxic.  These very difficult to digest cereals are often fed to very young children as one of their first solid foods, and one might ask if this is part of the reason for the explosion in gluten/wheat sensitivity.  These cereals tend to increase blood sugar very rapidly, which is another major problem that is exacerbated when consumed with skim milk, as there is no fat to slow the sugar into the bloodstream. If you soak stone-cut or rolled oatmeal overnight in warm water with a bit of apple-cidre vinegar, it will cook up in less than 3 minutes for breakfast the next morning. Add pasture-fed butter and/or raw whole milk, sweeten with raw honey or maple syrup rather than white or brown sugar, and you have a healthy breakfast. Or have free-range eggs and vegetables for breakfast!   Choose flourless breads made from sprouted grains, and eat them with a quality fat like pasture-fed butter or raw cheese as opposed to margarine or "butter spreads".  (Even if the margarine says "no transfats", it is a manufactured fat, so it will mess up the body.)  Soy cheese, soy milk, soy burgers etc. are made from soy isolate, which is processed junk that is cheap to produce and has been marketed as a health food.  There is nothing healthy about it.  For more info on the problems with soy, click here.  Rice cakes are NOT a health food, and neither are crackers. Crackers often list vegetable oils in the ingredient list, yet the product is solid, so those oils have been turned into transfats. Don't eat them!

Juices are also touted as healthy, but they are really just bottles of sugar, as almost all juice on the market is pasteurized.  If it is in a tetra-pack that you can store for months, that is a tip-off that it has no nutrition and lots of bad stuff!  Remember that real food spoils.  You are better off eating whole fruit, as you not only get the nutrition, but also the fiber. If you want juice, juice your own and drink immediately as the vitamins degrade quickly once exposed to oxygen.  Buy full-fat organic natural yoghurt and add your own fruit, as flavoured yoghurts are also just pots of sugar. Try to avoid all packaged food. If you are not sure, read the ingredients list and if there is anything there that you don't recognize (what is sodium caseinate? What is xanthan gum?), don't eat it.  If the food did not exist in pre-industrial times, don't eat it.

Stick to organic or biodynamic vegetables and fruit, medication-free pasture-fed meats, dairy, poultry and eggs, wild fish, whole grains, nuts and seeds that preferably have not been ground into flour many months ago (soak before you eat!).  If you have access to raw dairy from organic pasture-fed cows take advantage, as that is indeed healthful food.  Adding some unpasteurized fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kavass, natural yoghurt (milk and bacterial culture should be the only ingredients in yoghurt), fermented meats  etc. to our diet is a good idea, as the fermentation process increases the nutrition and the digestibility of the food.  So stop the processed food, choose quality real food, and notice how much healthier, happier and more calm you and your children become. I feel like I have barely scraped the surface with regard to this critically important topic. For more info on the GRAS list and how food companies manipulate food to make you eat more, see You are what you eat - processed foods.

Related tips:
Food - Our Raw Material
Maintain bone mass by preparing grains, nuts and seeds properly
It's not what you eat but what you digest that counts
The Soy Controversy

Farlow, C.H. Food Additives: A Shopper's Guide to What's Safe and What's Not KISS For Health Publishing, 2001.
Fallon, Sally and Enig, Mary; Nourishing Traditions, Revised 2nd Edition NewTrends Publishing Inc., Washington, D.C., 2001.
Chek, Paul; You Are What You Eat CD Series  Chek Institute, San Diego, CA, 2002. 
Online, www.chekinstitute.com You are what you eat - processed foods.
Schlosser, Eric Fast Food Nation Houghton Mifflen, New York, 2002.
Price, Weston Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Pottenger Price Foundation, 1945.
Online www.westonaprice.org
Chambers, Judy, personal communication, online www.dynamicbynature.com