08 Feb Whole Foods vs Refined Foods
As part of the 30 Day Kick in the Whole, I’ve been fielding enquiries as to whether a particular food is ‘whole’ or not. There’s definitely a black-and-white, and a grey area to this way of eating, and for me, the black-and-white is the most important area to look at when cleaning up our diet. Highly-refined, processed foods are everywhere, and it is a challenge to cut them out from our diet completely. That is why this Kick in the Whole is called a challenge, because it requires a lot of preparation, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of determination.
As part of my research into public health nutrition, this morning I came across an article in The Lancet that succinctly describes what refined and processed foods are, and how they are having a massive global impact on health:
“Ultra-processed products are made from processed substances extracted or refined from whole foods—eg, oils, hydrogenated oils and fats, flours and starches, variants of sugar, and cheap parts or remnants of animal foods—with little or no whole foods. Products include burgers, frozen pizza/pasta dishes, nuggets and sticks, crisps, biscuits, confectionery, cereal bars, carbonated and other sugared drinks, and various snack products.
“Most are made, advertised, and sold by large or transnational corporations and are very durable, palatable, and ready to consume, which is an enormous commercial advantage over fresh and perishable whole or minimally processed foods. Consequently, their production and consumption is rising quickly worldwide. In the global north—ie, North America and Europe—ultra-processed products have largely replaced food systems and dietary patterns based on fresh and minimally processed food and culinary ingredients that have less fat, sugar, and salt. In the global south—ie, Asia, Africa, and Latin America— ultra-processed products are displacing established dietary patterns, which are more suitable socially and environmentally.
“Ultra-processed products are typically energy dense; have a high glycaemic load; are low in dietary fibre, micronutrients, and phytochemicals; and are high in unhealthy types of dietary fat, free sugars, and sodium. When consumed in small amounts and with other healthy sources of calories, ultra-processed products are harmless; however, intense palatability (achieved by high content of fat, sugar, salt, and cosmetic and other additives), omnipresence, and sophisticated and aggressive marketing strategies (such as reduced price for super-size servings), all make modest consumption of ultra-processed products unlikely and displacement of fresh or minimally processed foods very likely. These factors also make ultra-processed products liable to harm endogenous satiety mechanisms and so promote energy overconsumption and thus obesity”.
This article, entitled Profits and pandemics: prevention of harmful effects of tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries by Moodie et al, was published in The Lancet online in 2013 as a response to the UN-led meeting to discuss the burgeoning pandemic of non-communicable diseases around the world (non-communicable diseases include cardiovascular disease and obesity, as opposed to communicable diseases such as HIV and Ebola). ‘Unhealthy commodities’ such as alcohol, tobacco and processed food, are the principle cause of the pandemic, which, their research showed, lead to 29.3million deaths from a non-communicable disease in 2010. That number is growing exponentially.
At present, we have some choice as to whether we participate in the consumption of these products or not. Governments are doing very little to regulate transnational companies’ dissemination of these products, and are leaving it to ‘individual responsibility’ and nudge principles as a public health strategy. So, for now, the onus has to be on us to participate or not.
One week in, how many times have you rejected convenience for the sake of your health?