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

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.

The six most important fingernail images for diagnosis – extract from Fundamentals of Chinese Fingernail Image Diagnosis (FID)

Li-Fu-Li_Fundamentals-of_978-1-84819-099-3_colourjpg-webIn this extract from Fundamentals of Chinese Fingernail Image Diagnosis (FID) the authors explain the six most common shapes and colours of fingernail images. Formed by blood and Qi between the nail bed and nail plate, the fingernail image can be used to observe pathological changes within the body. The extract explains how to identify the shapes, their significance in terms of Qi and Blood changes and the diseases or disorders these indicate.

Read the extract…

The book is a practical quick reference guide and introduction to FID will be useful for anyone interested in diagnostic techniques. It is available to buy from the Singing Dragon website.

How can a new acupuncture practitioner become a great practitioner?

By John Hamwee, author of Acupuncture for New Practitioners.


Students come out of College full of enthusiasm for acupuncture, inspired by treatments they have witnessed and keen to help patients who have found no solace in other systems of medicine. It is a wave they can ride for quite some time, and one which often helps them to do extraordinary work. But sooner or later they will come up against difficulties and dilemmas which are really challenging and which they will need to resolve if they are going to carry on doing good work. These difficulties may have been mentioned at College, but living through them is quite a different matter. How do you cope, for example, with a patient who insists of coming every week but shows absolutely no signs of improvement? Or who is clearly getting better but denies it? Or with a sudden influx of young adult patients with cancer?

My new book, Acupuncture for New Practitioners, provides some practical tools for dealing with situations like these, but in the end what it is all about is learning to practice in a way that does not deplete or exhaust you – a familiar experience for many practitioners – but instead nourishes and sustains you. It is quite simple, really, but it is profound; and once grasped it will affect not just your work but the whole of your life. For being able to stay steady in the face of suffering, to be compassionate towards those who annoy or frustrate you, to refuse to become downcast by failure or puffed up by success, and to find joy for oneself through helping others – these surely will enhance everything you do outside as well as inside the treatment room.

This book comes from two sources. One is that I found the first few years of practice really difficult. It took me many laborious years to learn the lessons contained in this book and it would have saved me much struggle and heartache if it had been available then. Secondly, I had the opportunity a few years ago to work in a clinic with a group of young qualified, but inexperienced acupuncturists, helping them with their diagnoses and treatments. What I saw, of course, is that they were falling into exactly the same sort of traps that had ensnared me, were puzzled by the kinds of responses to treatment that had troubled me, and were generally trying so hard to do everything right that they were missing what really mattered. I wrote this book for them. And I hope you can still hear the tone of an affectionate talk to a few dear friends – for that is what it is.


John Hamwee has been a practising acupuncturist for 20 years. He also teaches zero balancing workshops in the UK and US. He is the author of Zero Balancing: Touching the Energy of Bone and Energy Medicine. He previously worked as a Senior Lecturer in Systems at The Open University, UK, for whom he wrote numerous textbooks. He resides in Kendal, UK.

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2012.