Sandra Robertson on What does “Processed food” really mean?

Sandra Robertson is a Practitioner of Chinese Medicine in Victoria, B.C., Canada. She is the author of Treating Children with Chinese Dietary Therapy. You can find more information at Nourishlifemedicine.com.

Food awareness

I recently spoke on a podcast and the subject of “processed food” came up frequently during the interview. After we had concluded I realized that I could have elaborated on the different levels and methods that are utilized in the processing of food. Not all processed food is unhealthy and in our often-busy lives, it’s helpful to make a distinction so we can choose efficiently and wisely for our health. Nowadays our grocery store aisles contain food products that have been hugely altered from their original states in ways that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago. Many staples such as bread, yoghurt, cereal, and baked goods have gone from being just simple processed food items to becoming ultra-processed food (UPF). Awareness and education of what we think we are eating and what we are actually eating is crucial not only to our own health but for the health of our children and grandchildren born into this world of quick, easy and addictive food products.

Processing foods

The processing of foods means any alteration from their original state such as cooking eggs, baking bread, freezing meat, grinding grain, or roasting vegetables. These are common ways in which we process our food on a day-to-day basis. There’s also fermenting, drying, and salt preservation; these methods were used in the past to help feed our ancestors through the winter and during times of food scarcity. Processing foods in these ways is still be considered natural and, in most cases, healthful.

Processing was taken a step further in the early 1900s. Napoleon’s government in France needed to figure out a way to preserve food for the sustenance of French troops. Napoleon devised a contest- whoever could come up with the best preservation method would win a cash prize. Canning came out as the winner, and this was the beginning of processing foods for the masses. Over the next 100-plus years, mass production of foods has ballooned. The addition of sugar, salt, and preservatives have made it possible to significantly increase the shelf life of packaged foods. These products now number in the thousands and line our grocery store shelves, cafeterias and vending machines. Essential vitamins and minerals are stripped from the original foods through harsh processing and restructuring while unpronounceable and unrecognizable ingredients are added in. The final product of this processing can hardly be called food anymore.

The Nova food classification system

I came across the NOVA food classification system that divides all food into four separate groups. It was pioneered by public health nutritionist Carlos Monteiro from Brazil to better help us understand the different levels of processing so that we can make better meal choices. Optimally, children and adults would only be eating foods from groups 1-3 and very occasionally or never have items from group 4.

The 4 classifications:

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Unprocessed foods are obtained directly from plants or animals with no alteration done to them such as a raw carrot or apple. Minimally processed comes from food that is unprocessed and might include drying, crushing, grinding, freezing, pasteurization, roasting, non-alcoholic fermentation, etc. such as dried apples, frozen peas, etc.
  2. Processed culinary ingredients. Ingredients such as oils, fats, sugar, and salt that come from the first group of unprocessed or minimally processed foods. They are used to help cook and season foods in group 1. The products are extracted by grinding, pressing, refining, milling, and drying. Examples are honey, maple syrup, butter, olive oil, white sugar, and coconut fat.
  3. Processed foods. Manufactured with the use of salt, sugar, oil, or products from group 1 or 2. They do not contain a lot of ingredients (unlike the ultra-processed products below), anywhere from 2-4. Examples of these foods are freshly made breads and cheeses, tomato paste, salted nuts, canned fish, etc.
  4. Ultra-processed foods (UPF’s). These are the “foods” (food should not be in the name of these products as they are far removed from the original group 1 and 2 foods) to be wary of and optimally “ultra-avoided”. They are industrial formulations that do not contain ingredients you would use when cooking at home. They often utilize chemical processes in the manufacturing and use flavour enhancers, food additives, and colours to make the food hyper-palatable. Hyper-palatable foods by-pass your body’s full signal and are overeaten. These non-foods are made to be branded, highly profitable, and convenient. They are marketed to children with the use of cartoon characters, bright colours and advertising. They fill us with empty calories that not only replace fresh unprocessed foods but are deleterious to our health.

Labels

The companies that produce UPF’s are allowed to use words like “natural”, “healthy”, and “organic” in their marketing and on the packaging which can be misleading to consumers. The ingredients may have started out as natural or healthy, but after stripping the fiber, bleaching the flour, and adding in high amounts of sugar and preservatives, it is nothing of its original nature. Organic Doritos™ does not suddenly make Doritos good for you because they are organic! Smart bread™ is not a wise choice and fits into group 4 above. Reading labels is the only way to find out what is mostly living inside the package. “Mostly” since ingredients such as “spices”, or “natural flavours” do not require any further explanation.

Gut microbiome health

When we eat, we are not only feeding ourselves, but we are also feeding the trillions of different bacteria that reside in our gastrointestinal tract. Since the role gut microbiota have on our health has been discovered (1) many studies have been done linking how our diet affects our microbiome. (2) (3) (4) (5) Dysbiosis-an imbalance in the gut microbiome- has been found to be indicated in chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more recently mounting evidence to increased COVID-19 severity. (6). Dysbiosis occurs when there is a decrease in microbial diversity. The good bacteria in our gut help us to digest our food, produce vitamins, regulate our immune system, and protect against the bacteria that cause disease, so we want to keep them happy.

Eating a varied diet is one of the ways we can increase our microbial diversity. Lots of fiber, probiotic, and prebiotic-rich foods will feed the “good” bacteria. Ultra-processed foods that are basically sugar, refined wheat, corn, oil, and soy, feed the “bad” bacteria. Diversity is severely lacking in these products as they are all essentially made of similar ingredients. The “bad” bacteria then take over and can cause cravings for sugar and more of the same unwholesome foods. Young children are particularly vulnerable as the assembly of microbial communities is taking place in their guts from the time they are born and is established by the age of three. They acquire a taste for UPF’s, and it can be challenging to introduce new flavours and textures into their meals. Over time, our guts and tastebuds become hijacked by these unnatural foods.

Ultra-processed food concerns

There are real consequences to eating UPF’s aside from the obvious lack of nutrients, minerals, and fiber. A recent study done at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered that eating UPF’s (even in reduced amounts) may harm young children’s skeletal development. They found that UPF’s can cause reduced bone quality. This is especially concerning for children as their bones are in the developing stages and are continually growing and reshaping themselves. (7)

UPF consumption has also been linked to rising childhood obesity rates into adolescence and early adulthood. (8). Obese children face complications such as breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, insulin resistance, early markers of cardiovascular disease, and psychological effects. [i]

Insulin resistance- one of the complications of obesity- leads to type 2 diabetes. This disease used to only be seen in adults but is now on the rise in children. It is much worse for a child to develop Type 2 diabetes than for an adult. Diabetes-related complications- eye disease, kidney disease, nerve disease, strokes, heart disease, toe, and foot amputations- develop rapidly in children and will negatively affect their quality of life into adulthood. (9)

[i] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight

Awareness for better health

As they say, knowledge is power. Becoming more mindful of what we are buying and which companies we choose to support will be a huge step in the direction of wellness. Reading labels will help guide us to avoid and minimize group 4 UPF’s in the diet. Even if the packaging states it is natural and healthy, the ingredients might prove otherwise. If the list of ingredients is long, this is another clue to its increased processed nature.

There is no arguing that processed foods have made cooking easier, more efficient and extended the shelf life of many different foods for us. UPF’s on the other hand are unnecessary, insidious dietary additions that only seek to create profit for the food giants, leaving us and our children sick and malnourished.

You can learn more about and get your copy of Treating Children with Chinese Dietary Therapy, here.


References

  1. Sekirov I, R. S. (2010 Jul). Gut microbiota in health and disease. Physiol Rev., 90(3):859-904.
  2. De Filippo C, C. D. (2010). Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. doi:10.1073/pnas.1005963107. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., 107(33):14691-14696.
  3. Mokkala K, H. N. (2020 Apr;). Interactions of dietary fat with the gut microbiota: Evaluation of mechanisms and metabolic consequences. Clin Nutr, 39(4):994-1018.
  4. Ruiz-Ojeda FJ, P.-D. J.-L. (2020). Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials. Adv Nutr, S31-S48.
  5. Zmora N, S. J. (2019). You are what you eat: diet, health, and the gut microbiota. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol., (1):35-56.
  6. Yeoh YK, Z. T. (2021). Gut microbiota composition reflects disease severity and dysfunctional immune responses in patients with COVID-19. Gut, 70:698-706.
  7. Zaretsky, J. G.-F. (2021). Ultra-processed food targets bone quality via endochondral ossification. Bone Res, 9-14.
  8. Chang K, K. N. (Published online June 14, 2021). Association Between Childhood Consumption of Ultra processed Food and Adiposity Trajectories in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Birth Cohort. JAMA Pediatrics.
  9. University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. (2021, July 28). New study reveals serious long-term complications in youth-onset type 2 diabetes. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210728201347.htm

Learning How to Tailor Treatment to a Patient’s Needs with Nora Franglen

Nora Franglen has been a Five Element Acupuncturist for many years and has refined her profession over a lifetime.

We have an extract from her latest book, A Five Element Legacy, where she provides guidance to other practitioners on how to tailor treatment to a patient’s needs, the difficulty of a fixed diagnosis and how to measure if treatment has been successful.

In A Five Element Legacy, Nora Franglen reflects on a lifetime of practising five element acupuncture, and offers advice and insights into developing patient-practitioner relationships, tailoring treatments to individual patient’s needs and the importance of taking your time and trusting your feelings. Read more about the book here.

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Treating Emotional Trauma with Chinese Medicine

CT Holman, M.S., L.Ac. discusses what motivated him to write, Treating Emotional Trauma with Chinese Medicine: Integrated Diagnostic and Treatment Strategies.

“Having experienced emotional trauma as a child and as a young adult, I was motivated to delve deeply into the nature of spirit. Beginning with practicing meditation and then going to graduate school for Chinese medicine, the nature of balancing emotions intrigued me and inspired me to further study with several prominent teachers in the field of Chinese medicine and shamanism.

My teachers’ insights provided me with several tools to stabilize patients after they had experienced an emotional trauma. Once their energy was grounded, I could use techniques to soothe the triggering of the trauma memory and address their individual emotional/spirit imbalances. Through working with several patients to resolve emotional trauma, I discovered effective methods to transform trauma and enable the patient to step into their full potential.

After treating patients for emotional trauma for 15 years, I was asked to write a book,  Treating Emotional Trauma with Chinese Medicine: Integrated Diagnostic and Treatment Strategies, detailing the various treatments and self-care methods I utilize in my clinic. The undertaking was a healing one for me and supported me to step more fully into my being.”

In the below video CT describes the etiology and three-staged treatment approach that is described in detail in his above textbook:

CT Holman teaches Chinese Medicine (including facial diagnosis, qigong, shamanic drumming and channel palpation) internationally and operates a thriving general family Chinese medicine clinic in Salem, Oregon, USA. For more information, visit www.redwoodspring.com.

Acupuncture Without Needles?

I have spent a lot of time developing my technique with an acupuncture needle. First as a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and then as a teacher of needle technique, and now as the author of The Living Needle, a book on the subject. I have a lot of friends who aren’t acupuncturists that ask me if there is anything in all that work for them, other than just getting treatments from me. The answer is a resounding yes! While the needle is certainly the most well-known tool of the TCM practitioner and a very useful one as well, it is not the most important thing at my disposal, or even completely necessary to my trade.

As I discuss in The Living Needle, what is most important is that the body is engaged, and not simply engaged in a passive way, but really meaningfully engaged. This can be accomplished with or without a needle. While it is wonderful to be able to make direct contact with the deeper tissues, the fact that is so often forgotten by providers and patients alike is that all the body’s tissues are interconnected into one vast network. This means that contact with any tissue will necessarily affect all the others. Because of this, as any good massage therapist knows fingers can be just as powerful as needles. This reality is perfectly clear not only in massage, but in trigger point therapy and any number of other manual techniques using nothing more than a finger or an external tool to create pressure.

Am I suggesting that you don’t need to see an acupuncturist? Not necessarily because there is a wealth of diagnostic and other skills we bring to the table, I’m just suggesting you might not be stuck waiting on your appointment to start seeing benefits. You don’t even have to go to a massage or physical therapist to start reaping some rewards (though in a lot of cases you should go see them too). What I’m suggesting more than anything, is that your health and well-being are your business first and there are some simple tools and tricks close to hand that you can start using right now!

All around your house are implements that you can bring to bear on your aches, pains, and even internal medicine issues; from the handle of a spoon, to a toothpick, or a rolling pin, almost anything can be used to apply targeted pressure to the body. And of course you always have fingers. Here are a couple specific things that you can try.

  • Digestive Rolling: Get a round implement, a dough roller, stiff cardboard tube, or even the side of a pencil. Find the front edge of your shin bone just under your knee. Place the tool just below the knee and about half an inch outside the edge of your shin bone. It shouldn’t be pressing on the bone, but it should be pretty close. From here, with strong pressure (it shouldn’t be painful, but you should know you’re doing it) roll whatever you’re using down the front of your leg to your ankle. Come back to the start and do it again. Roll down nine times and then do the other leg. This area of the body has a strong effect on the digestion and rolling it like this will bolster stomach function and up-regulate peristalsis. This is a big deal, because with the chronic stress most of us live under our digestive system is underfunctioning most of the time, and chronic underfunction in the digestive system can lead to all sorts of long term illnesses!
  • Morning Wake-Up Call: Get that same item you used to roll your shin and put it on the floor. You’re going to sit down and put your foot on it so that the inside edge of your foot, just behind your big toe is pressing against it. Put some pressure on it and roll it back and forth from just behind the big toe to the heel, keeping the pressure focused mostly on the inside edge of the foot. This will again stimulate digestive function, but will also help with adrenal function and cortisol, which can help you feel brighter eyed on those draggy mornings!
  • Stress Buster: Feeling stressed? Especially that kind of stress where it feels like someone is squeezing the middle of your chest and refuses to let go? Grab the handle of a spoon or a toothpick if you like a little bit of a sharper sensation, or even just use your finger if you don’t have anything else close to hand. On the underside of your wrist, find the two tendons that run down from your hand. About an inch and a half below the crease of your wrist you’ll find a little tender spot between those two tendons. Press and hold there, making little counter-clockwise circles. On the top of your foot, between the bones behind the big and second toe, slide back toward the top of your foot until you feel where those bones almost meet and then move back toward your toes just a little. You should find another tender spot there where you can repeat the same procedure. While you’re rubbing either of these spots try to slow your breathing down and take nice long breaths. Within a minute or two you should feel a lot better!

The most important thing to remember with any of this is that the real treatment, the fundamental improvement isn’t about the tool that you use, it’s about the meaningful engagement with the body. Most of us live a life where we are largely separated from our bodies as far as awareness goes. The adage I often share with students and patients alike is that most of us don’t know we have feet until we stub our toe. So while you’re doing any of these practices, really get involved. Don’t simply poke away at the body while you make a mental grocery list of other things you have to do. Be aware of the sensations you feel under your fingers and in your tissues. After all, it’s your body, you might as well get to know it!

This more than anything is the real art to medicine, the ability to actively connect with a body and respond to it in the moment. This is also where real health lives. If you want to learn more about engaging the body feel free to pick up The Living Needle: Modern Acupuncture Technique.

 

Justin Phillips, LAc teaches needle technique and advanced needle technique at AOMA. He also runs a private acupuncture practice in Texas. His new book, The Living Needle: Modern Acupuncture Technique explains the fundamental principles of the art of needle technique for acupuncturists.

Reflecting on a Lifetime’s Practice of Five Element Acupuncture

Nora Franglen’s latest book, Blogging a Five Element Life, shows the holistic nature of life as an acupuncturist, and is a must read for anyone interested in acupuncture or Chinese medicine.

We have an extract from the book, which features advice on treating patients effectively, guidance on acupuncture techniques and her thoughts on the elements and how they can be applied to public figures.

Click here to read the extract

Click here to read more about Blogging a Five Element Life.

If you would like to read more articles like this and hear the latest news and offers on our books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer, and please also tell us about your areas of interest so we can send the most relevant information. You can unsubscribe at any time.


Books By Nora Franglen

Blogging a Five Element Life

The follow-up to Nora Franglen’s first book of collected posts on the holistic life of an acupuncturist, this provides further insight into the everyday musings of a master of her craft. From her love of London’s cafes to challenges she has experienced in her clinic, it reveals how acupuncture can enrich and balance all aspects of our being.

Read more about the book here.

 

On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist

Based on her well-read blog, Nora Franglen provides a rich insight into the inner thoughts and feelings of a master acupuncturist. Covering everything from her love of coffee shops to how to treat patients effectively, it is reveals the holistic and rich nature of acupuncture.

Read more about the book here.

 

The Handbook of Five Element Practice

A companion for practitioners of Five Element acupuncture that strengthens the foundation for practice. With detailed outlines of the different components of Five Element diagnosis and treatment, this complete manual will support and invigorate practice. It also includes a Teach Yourself Manual.

Read more about the book here.

 

The Simple Guide to Five Element Acupuncture

This accessible guide explains the history and philosophy of five element acupuncture, and shows how it addresses specific health needs and general well-being. With case studies throughout, the guide explains how an acupuncturist diagnoses and treats patients, and looks at the character of each element.

Read more about the book here.

 

Keepers of the Soul

With profiles of well-known figures, the book explains the spirit of each of the Five Elements of Chinese medicine, and what they look like in different people. The philosophy behind Five Element acupuncture is explained, including what it means to live in harmony and how the Five Elements help shape our body and soul.

Read more about the book here.

 

Patterns of Practice

Considering acupuncture in its wider context, this book contains Nora Franglen’s reflections on her practice and explores how the search for acupuncture points can lead the practitioner deep into challenging areas of existence.

Read more about the book here.

 

5 thoughts from Nora Franglen

Franglen_On-Being-a-Five_978-1-84819-236-2_colourjpg-webIn this extract from On Being a Five Element Acupuncturist, master acupuncturist Nora Franglen shares her thoughts on how much she hates “the placebo effect”, allowing the elements to surprise us, how to deal with “Aggressive Energy”, bringing acupuncture back to China, and a remarkable difference between two elements.

Read the extract…

The book is based on her widely-read blog about the wholeness of life as a Five Element practitioner. Nora Franglen’s breadth of interest shows how the curiosity and life experiences of the individual lie at the heart of what makes a true acupuncturist, over and beyond the necessary knowledge and expertise in the technicalities of practice. From her penchant for coffee shops to reflections on challenges she has experienced in the clinic, Nora illustrates how the Five Elements influence, illuminate and, ultimately, enrich all aspects of her life, and vice versa.

The right path in acupuncture needling: putting your soul in it – by Ioannis Solos

Solos - Hua TuoWhen you look through paintings of ancient acupuncturists, you can’t help noticing that most of them hold long walking sticks or calligraphy brushes, swords, or bottle gourds. Of course, these “objects” were included in the paintings for a special reason. The pole, the sword and the calligraphy brush share many common core theories, but ultimately these instruments are intended to become extensions of the hands, and connect with the inside, or as the Chinese say: 内外合一 (the internal and the external become as one). Only then, the energies can flow unobstructed and the Intention (意) can reach the tip of the instrument, like is demanded in the calligraphy or martial theory. The bottle gourds often represent the “dantian”. The ancient acupuncturists would often hang bottle gourds at the door of their clinics, as a sign that they are medical specialists and have entered the gate of the Tao.

Most specifically for the pole, in basic Yiquan training, one first should pay attention in holding the body of the stick firmly, always looking at its tip, while seeking the forces in the six directions (up-down, left-right, back and front). At this stage these rules would ensure the establishment of a correct frame and the ability to exert whole body power towards one point, which is the tip of the pole (点) where the intention and spirit should always project towards.

Although the acupuncture needle is a much smaller instrument however, similar rules apply. For example, in the Neijing we learn that:

The Tao of grasping the needle requires holding it firmly, like it is a precious treasure. Insert [the needle] with the finger straight [perpendicular], and not angling towards either the left or right. The spirit is at the tip of the needle. Focus on the patient. Be careful to avoid blood vessels, and then needling will bring no harm. (Ling Shu—Jiu Zhen Shi Er Yuan)

Traditionally, acupuncture training was inseparably connected to the training of spirit (shen 神) and intention (yi  – 意). This was accomplished through rigorous Neigong training. It is not by accident that besides the Imperial Palaces and the cities, traditional medicine often flourished around Taoist and Buddhist centers, where people trained martial arts and required realistic tuina, traumatology and acupuncture skills. Taoist and Buddhist Doctors were able to make martial and medical connections early on and strongly enhance the efficacy of their treatment, eventually reaching high levels of mastery. The ability to develop good body frame (in agreement with the internal and external harmonies), concentrate the spirit, train the mind and intention, were also vital for acupuncture, and could strongly influence the outcome of the treatment:

A continuous failure to induce curative effect is due to the acupuncturist’s inability to concentrate his spirit essence. When one pays no attention to the mind and intention, his internal and external [harmonies] will be in disagreement, and this will give rise to doubt and may lead to danger. (Su Wen— Zheng Si Shi Lun)

The [correct] method for using the needle demands to [completely] understand the physical form and qi, and their position. Left and right, upper and lower, yin and yang, exterior and interior, and whether [the amount] of qi and blood is sufficient or scanty, [or] if the movement [of qi] obeys or counters [the normal flow]. [If one completely] understands whether the [qi movement] obeys or counters [the normal flow] then they can establish how to best offer treatment. Examine the roots and branches, check about cold and heat (i.e. chills and fever), derive the location of the evil, and acupuncture needling will not cause any harm. (Ling Shu—Guang Neng)

Acupuncturists who have practiced Yiquan, can often use their understanding of the art to direct the intention-yi (意) towards the tip of the needle, and strongly influence the movement of qi.

Zhan Zhuang is the most direct way to reach such a goal because it’s simple, flexible and literally to the point. Connecting the inner with the outer, consciously controlling your every movement and progressing in your training daily will enable you to reach beyond and above all written instruction. You learn in the void, and that’s where the best things come from. But after reaching that point, that’s when you become your own teacher, or a “universal teacher” as is described in the martial classics, and then everything is possible.

The true qi follows tranquility and nihility (i.e. the void). If the essence and the spirit are guarded internally, how can illness develop? (Su Wen—Shang Gu Tian Zhen Lun)

Because of the way standard TCM is practiced these days, this training is something that many seem to neglect. I hope that through my latest book, western acupuncturists have a rare chance to develop this understanding, and refine their practice towards eventually reaching higher levels of mastery.

Ioannis Solos studied Traditional Chinese Medicine at Middlesex University and the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. He enjoys researching, teaching, practicing and critically interpreting the ancient philosophy and culture of China, internal martial arts, health preservation practices, classic medical texts and lesser-known Chinese esoteric traditions. He is the author of Developing Internal Energy for Effective Acupuncture Practice and Gold Mirrors and Tongue Reflections, both published by Singing Dragon.