Monday, January 5, 2009

Whole and Processed Foods

Do you know what differentiates whole foods from processed foods? There are many misconceptions about whole and processed foods. Generally, processed foods do come in packages, cans, and boxes. Many whole foods come in packages, cans, and boxes as well, but the critical difference is in the ingredients and the way the food is actually processed or not. Anything which has been altered from nature is processed. That should be simple enough, right? Not always. Here are some examples:

Dairy products. Just because the label states "organic" or "natural" does not make it a whole food. Most dairy products are pasteurized, which denatures fragile proteins, fats, and digestive enzymes - and also life-giving probiotic properties which sustain health. Many dairy foods contain chemicals such as growth hormones, steroids, and antibiotics. Unless the product reads "organic", you are likely to be purchasing a product that contains these ingredients. Many dairy foods come from cattle or goats which are fed corn, soy, or grains. These feeds make dairy products unhealthy to consume. Make certain your dairy products come from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals.

Many dairy products are also non-fat or low-fat, reducing the healthful properties of raw dairy products produced in clean environments. For many years, misinformation has been given to the public by health experts about the importance of eating low-fat and non-fat dairy products -- touting them as health foods when they are not. For more information, visit the Weston A. Price Foundation, a respected, non-profit group promoting health through whole foods.

Grains. These foods are some of the most notorious for having labels which read "whole grains", when in reality, most of them are not whole at all. You have only to read the label to uncover the fact that most "whole grain" foods are not whole because the main ingredient is some type of flour, which goes rancid quickly after grinding. There are almost always other ingredients in these products as well, from sugars to emulsifiers and other chemicals you cannot pronounce to bind the product together. Many of these products also contain soy or corn, and sometimes roasted nuts (also not a whole food). The way to know if a grain is whole or not is to read the label. Simply put -- if the product contains flour, it is not a whole grain. Sprouted, whole grains are healthiest - and consumed in moderation. Good choices are Ezekiel breads (sprouted whole grain varieties), and organic grains from the bulk section that are whole and not ground up.

Canned and packaged vegetables and fruits. Some of the best examples of processed foods can be found in canned and packaged produce. Most canned produce contains at least some sodium. Others contain chemical preservatives to keep the product fresh longer or sugar of one form or another. Canned and packaged fruits and vegetables are never as high in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients as compared to their fresh or frozen counterparts because many of those have already been cooked.Best bets are organic, local, in-season produce or frozen fresh organic selections.

Nuts. Any nut that has been roasted is not a whole food. Raw nuts with nothing added are whole foods. Roasting alters delicate oils and proteins in nuts, rendering them denatured and are unrecognizable by the body as a whole food. Sprouted, raw nuts are a good choice too.

Meats, fish, and poultry. These are by far one of the most confusing foods to determine whether they are whole or not. When you pay a visit to your local grocery store and go to the meat counter, you may believe that all meats available in fact whole foods. The problem lies with how the animals are raised before they are slaughtered. As with dairy products, animals that are fed soy, corn, or grains, and then slaughtered for food are unhealthy to consume. Cattle and other animals have stomachs that are designed to digest grasses - not other feeds like grains and soy. Because these animals have a difficult time digesting these feeds, they become sick and farmers administer antibiotics. Many of these same animals are also administered steroids and hormones to speed up the growth process - leading to faster turnover in farm production and profits. These meats are not good for your health to consume. Look for organic, sustainable meats that are grass-fed and pasture-raised.

Fish selections should be in keeping with safe fish choices and generally not from farmed sources. Visit the Monterey Aquarium site for more information on safe seafoods.

Oils. Safe and healthy oils are those that are the least processed - extra virgin olive and coconut oils, flaxseed oil, and grapeseed oils that are cold pressed in dark bottles and have not been sitting on the shelf more than a couple of weeks. Any packaged product containing an oil should be suspect because you cannot determine what type of oil is used with ease and how long it has been sitting around. Unhealthy oils include most vegetable oils, and in particular, soy, cottonseed, and canola oils. These are not whole foods as they have been highly processed from their original sources (canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant) - and are considered industrial grade products.

Fruit and vegetable juices (and juice products such as supplements and pills). Most juices have been pasteurized and filtered, thus eliminating nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. What remains is liquid sugar in most cases. Pills and supplements simply cannot contain all you need for health, as well as valuable nutrients are effectively dead by the time you consume them in those forms. You are better off eating the raw fruits or vegetables. Except in rare cases, despite what many labels claim, you cannot get your daily nutrients from drinking bottles of juice and fruit and vegetable "pills". Making your own juices at home and including a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best way to benefit from drinking juice. Avoid high glycemic vegetables such as carrots and include as many greens as possible. Visit Dr. Mercola's web site for information on the proper ways to juice.

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