“Presently, a full two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years.” Do these statistics surprise you? This quote is from a wonderful article written by Dr. Joseph Mercola. In it, Dr. Mercola discusses the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) which is filled with highly processed and refined “food”, and how these foods are making us fat. He also discusses the faulty science behind the USDA’s food guide pyramid, which was replaced with My Plate in 2011.
The USDA food guide pyramid (on the right below) encourages individuals to eat between 6 to 11 servings of breads and cereal per day. Most carbohydrates, whether complex or simple, are essentially chains of sugar, bonded together. When these chains are digested, the body breaks them down into individual molecules of sugar. So, basically, your body doesn’t know the difference between a can of soda and a piece of whole wheat bread. The only difference between the soda and the bread, is the length of time it takes for those sugars to be processed by the body. Because the bread contains fiber, the process of breaking down the molecules of sugar takes longer. But, in the end, the bread will break down into the same sugar molecules that are contained in the soda. For more information on just how carbohydrates are processed, see this article from New Health Advisor. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not demonizing all carbohydrates by any means. Carbohydrates are ESSENTIAL to any healthy diet.
While My Plate (below on the left), has slightly lowered the amount of grains, it eliminated fat from the picture. Fat is very important for our body. Deficiency in essential fats can cause serious health problems. For more information on the importance of fat in the diet, check out this in depth look at fat at the Weston A Price Foundation.
So, just how do we eat healthy, if the food guides provided by the government are faulty? It’s not rocket science, in fact, the secret to eating healthy is fairly simple. Are you ready? Just eat REAL FOOD. You’re probably saying “Well if I’m not eating real food everyday, what am I eating?” When I say “real food”, I mean whole food, not the packaged, refined and chemically laden food most of us eat every day. At my house we call refined food “food like substances.” They look, smell and taste like food, but they’re not.
Whole vs Processed vs Refined:
What is a “whole food”?
Whole food is defined as food, as close to its natural state as possible, which is supportive of health, and does not contribute to disease . Whole food is generally intact, and sold with little or no packaging. This is food the way mother nature intended it, such as apples, broccoli, beef, chicken, fish, or eggs. Whole food does not necessarily need to be a whole plant, but part of a plant, such as rice, nuts, seeds or legumes. Since these foods are picked directly from the plant, in the natural state, the essential nutrients remain intact.
What is a “processed food”?
These foods, which start as whole foods, are altered through cooking, refining or juicing. For example, a potato would become processed as it is cooked and mashed prior to eating. Other examples include grinding wheat berries into whole wheat flour or cooking brown rice to make it edible.
What is a “refined food”?
A refined food is a barely recognizable, minimized version of a whole food. These foods have been chemically, or mechanically processed, resulting in the elimination of some or all essential nutrients . Typically, additives, preservatives and flavor enhancers have been added to increase shelf life . Some examples include lunch meat, potato chips and bleached white flour
Whole foods are nature’s foods. Whole foods are the animals and eggs fresh from the farm, or fruit plucked from the tree or vegetables pulled from the earth. You can walk into a wheat field and pick handfuls of wheat berries, but, you can’t walk into a wheat field and pick a bag of flour or loaf of bread. That is the difference between whole foods, processed foods and refined foods.
Health Benefits of Whole foods
✦ Phytonutrients and antioxidants: Whole fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients or plant nutrients. These nutrients, which give plants their bright color, contain antioxidants, helping to reduce inflammation, sugar cravings and fight chronic, degenerative diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
✦ More good-fat: Whole foods, such as fish, grass-fed beef and plants increase the amounts of healthy omega-3 fats in the diet .
✦ Lots of fiber: Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain lots of fiber. While fiber cleans the digestive tract, feeds our good bacteria and keeps us full, it also helps lower risk of disease such as stroke, cancer, coronary heart disease and obesity.
✦ Nutrient-dense: Whole foods are very nutrient-dense. This means they are low in calories, but very high in essential nutrients, so you get more “bang for your buck”
Reasons to Avoid Refined Foods
✦ Refined flour, sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup: Refined sweeteners and carbohydrates are empty calories, and considered “negative nutrients.” This means the body needs to use its own reserves of essential nutrients to digest the food. These sweeteners also cause chronic diseases such as, fatty liver disease, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.
✦ Artificial ingredients: These ingredients are chemicals and not actually food, such as coloring, preservatives, flavor enhancers and texture agents . Studies show that these chemicals can lead to cancer, allergies, hyperactivity, brain disorders and Alzheimer’s Disease
✦ Trans fats and processed oil: Refined foods are high in “bad fats” such as trans fats and processed vegetable oils, including soy, and corn oil. These fats can cause inflammation in the body, leading to many different chronic diseases, as well as heart disease.
✦ Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s): Refined food contains GMO’s, which are genetically engineered to either resist pests or herbicides. Studies show these foods lead to tumors, allergies, liver and kidney damage, or organ failure.
The upside down pyramid:
Now that you know the difference between whole, processed and refined food, you may be wondering what type of whole foods you should eat and how much. Well, a picture is worth a thousand words as they say. Dr. Mercola has developed a pyramid as a guide for how to eat healthy. The base of the pyramid is healthy fat and vegetables. The next level of the pyramid is healthy, organic, grass-fed or free-range protein. The next layer is fruit, which should be eaten in moderation due to the sugar content. And, finally, the tip of the pyramid is grains, cereals and pasta.
Whole food alternatives to popular refined food:
The following chart is from website Weed em and Reap. It contains healthy, whole food alternatives to standard American food.
Cooking whole food can be easy:
Now, you may be thinking that whole foods aren’t very convenient and take a long time to cook. As I showed in my blog: “5 whole food breakfasts in 5 minutes or less”, it can be very easy.