This is Part 2 of the Nutrition series.
A processed food is one that has been chemically or mechanically altered in such a way that part of the food has been removed. The king of processed foods is refined sugar. The sugar we eat comes from sugar cane, a huge grass that grows in tropical climates. First, the cane is pressed, releasing the juice from the plant. Then, the cane juice is chemically processed to separate out the sugar. Pure sugar is a chemical isolate, containing just a small part of the original plant. A lot of material has been removed in the process. Refined sugar is a pure carbohydrate, with no protein, fat, fiber, micronutrients, or enzymes in it at all. We will look more at what refined sugar does to the body later. For now, it’s just a perfect example of a processed food.
White wheat flour is another widely consumed processed food. White flour is much less problematic for the body than refined sugar, but it still has its drawbacks. To make white flour, the outer hull of the wheat seed is removed. This makes flour that is softer and much better for baking delicious bread and pastries. Yum! The problem is that the refining process removes important nutrients. In fact, it is such a big problem that most white flour in use today is “enriched” with added vitamins. Years ago, the governments of the world recognized that people who relied on white flour for the bulk of their nutrition were not getting enough of the essential nutrients contained in whole wheat, so they began using enriched flour to feed their armies. Enriched flour is now so widely used that you don’t even notice it or think about what it means, but you recognize the term right away. Processing the wheat takes some of the nutrients away, so enrichment aims to put them back. The added vitamins may help with the problem to some extent, but eating whole foods with their nutrients intact is a better way to go.
Two dangerous processed foods that are often hidden in other processed foods are high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil. Usually, you have to look closely on the ingredient list of packaged foods to find them. High fructose corn syrup confuses our liver and our cells, and is linked to a wide range of preventable diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Hydrogenated oil is often used in fried foods and packaged deserts, and it is included in many premade foods and meals. Hydrogenated oil is linked to obesity, cancer, and heart disease. Avoid these chemically altered foods whenever possible.
A good example of a meal that is high in corn syrup, sugar, hydrogenated oil, and empty calories from processed flour is a typical hamburger, fries, and a drink. The fries are often cooked in hydrogenated oil. Soda is usually sweetened with corn syrup, and so it ketchup. Milk shakes are sweetened with a lot of refined sugar. Even the hamburger bun has sugar in it. Such a meal is delicious, and won’t cause health problems if we only eat it once in a while. But as a regular part of our daily nutrition, these kinds of foods contribute directly to the very serious world-wide nutritional health crisis. Other foods high in corn syrup, sugar, hydrogenated oil, and empty calories include candy, pastries, chips and snacks, processed meat, salad dressing, and premade meals.
The best and easiest way to get all of the essential nutrients we need for a vibrant and healthy life is to eat whole, unprocessed foods, most of the time. You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of rigidity in Middleway Method, so we’re never going to say, “Never eat processed foods.” That’s unrealistic, and not very much fun. Since joy is another aspect of the Preliminary Practices, we have to leave room for chocolate, right? However by choosing to cut back on our consumption of processed foods, especially refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour, and hydrogenated oils, and by choosing to eat more unprocessed foods, especially fruits, nuts, eggs and dairy products, and vegetables, we immediately begin giving our bodies exactly what they need.
This is Part 2 of the Nutrition series.