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

Using Raw Herbs in Chinese Medical Dermatology

Sabine Schmitz (M. Med. TCM) is a graduate of the Zhèjiang Chinese Medical University in Hángzhou, China where she majored in Chinese medical dermatology. Her enormous knowledge treasures from China as well as her many years of experience benefit many patients with chronic and complex skin diseases – such as psoriasis and eczema – but also many other patients with various diseases. Sabine has a busy TCM practice specializing in skin diseases, gynecological disorders and infertility treatment. Her first book with Singing Dragon, Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine (Revised Edition) was published in 2020 as part of a new dermatology series. Her second book with us, Treating Acne and Acne Rosacea with Chinese Herbal Medicine, will be published in November 2021.

When I look at social media these days, I see more and more reports from patients describing improvements in their skin diseases by using Chinese herbs. That is a good thing because it spreads awareness of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and gives other patients, who might currently be looking for a suitable therapy, options and ideas. Sometimes, patients upload pictures of granules, sometimes raw herbs or, in rare cases, I see pills. However, today I would like to discuss why raw herbs are best in the treatment of chronic and complex skin diseases from a therapist’s point of view, who sees difficult skin diseases every day.

Using decoctions as treatment

The wide variety of treatment options developed over the centuries and the extensive range of internal and external applications TCM offers are a direct response to the flexibility required in curing complex disease patterns. When talking about raw herbs, I am referring to “decoctions”, in Chinese this is called jiān jì (煎剂). As seen in practice, decoctions, or teas, of raw herbs are the most effective form of treatment. They are easy to prepare and drink. And when I say easy to prepare, I mean boiling raw herbs up for a couple of hours a week – it’s not rocket science and most patients will do this when the benefits are properly explained to them. Continue reading

Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine

We are thrilled to announce that the new, revised and updated edition of Treating Psoriasis with Chinese Herbal Medicine, the wonderful book by Sabine Schmitz, is being published by Singing Dragon in July 2020.

In this video, Sabine introduces her book, the first comprehensive English-speaking guide to treating psoriasis with Chinese herbal medicine.

We have implemented some exciting changes into this edition:
  • We’ve vividly enriched the book with illustrations, photographs of both the skin and the tongue (including a tongue atlas), as well as in-depth case studies and new information based on the latest research.
  • It is beautifully designed and type-set – readers will now find it much easier to navigate and dip in and out of the text as needed.

The perfect resource for Chinese medicine practitioner or student interested in treating skin conditions, this is the first ‘Western’ Chinese medicine publication dedicated specifically to psoriasis, and it takes a modern, practical approach to treatment, looking at the root cause of the condition from a Chinese medicine viewpoint, examining the most common Chinese medicine syndromes and formulas that have been proven to be most effective, and discussing the role of environment and emotional health.

New TCM Dermatology Series with Singing Dragon

This book is the first of a new TCM dermatology handbook series that Sabine is working on with Singing Dragon, with practical books about the most common skin diseases.

We’re creating the ultimate resources for practitioners to use in clinical practice – easy to read, use and navigate in day-to-day practice, and based on her many years of experience in treating skin conditions with Chinese medicine.

To keep an eye out for upcoming books in the series, subscribe to the Singing Dragon mailing list by clicking here.

Chinese Medicine Psychology: Applying classical ideas to contemporary clinical settings

By Dr Mary Garvey

Our new book, Chinese Medicine Psychology: A Clinical Guide to Mental and Emotional Wellness, is the culmination of many years of clinical work, teaching, research and collaboration. It includes and expands upon some of our previous conference and published papers. It also contains a lot of new material to provide a more complete guide to Chinese medicine’s practice response, management and cultivation of mental and emotional well-being.

What does the book cover?

The book applies classical ideas to the contemporary clinical setting, modern disease categories and individual patient presentations, and is in two parts. Continue reading

Meet the Singing Dragon Author: Z’ev Rosenberg

As part of our Meet The Singing Dragon Author series, we speak to authors to discuss their motivation for entering their respective industries, inspiration for writing their books, what challenges they faced, and who they would recommend their books to. Is there a specific Singing Dragon author you would like to hear from? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation using #MeetTheSDAuthor.

Z’ev Rosenberg, author of Ripples in the Flow: Reflections on Vessel Dynamics in the Nàn Jing

How did you become interested in Chinese medicine and acupuncture?

My interest in Chinese medicine began in my teen years, when I started practicing yoga and macrobiotics at seventeen years old in New York, to which I continue to practice both disciplines today. This was in part to the “sixties revolution” where consciousness and ecology came in on the boot heels of the Beatle’s personal explorations. I took classes in shiatsu with Shizuko Yamamoto in New York and Boston, and opened macrobiotic centers in Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico after a stint in the natural food business in the early 1970’s. Continue reading

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As part of our Meet The Singing Dragon Author series, we speak to authors to discuss their motivation for entering their respective industries, inspiration for writing their books, what challenges they faced and who they would recommend their books to. Is there a specific Singing Dragon author you would like to hear from? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation using #MeetTheSDAuthor.

Ilkay Zihni Chirali, author of Cupping Therapy for Bodyworkers

How did you become interested in cupping therapy? Were there any challenges in entering this field?
I would not be exaggerating if I said that I was born into the cupping therapy world! My grandmother, who at the time was living with us in Lemba in Cyprus, was a renowned midwife and herbalist. She would often use this technique to treat the expectant mothers for their various complaints, including colds and muscular aches and pains. It was my mother’s duty – and, much later, mine – to wash and clean up the cups after each use. Later on in 1982, when I studied traditional Chinese medicine in Melbourne, Australia, to my surprise I discovered that cupping therapy is also part of the traditional Chinese medicine treatment tools. Needless to say I was so familiar with the techniques that our professor, Dr Wang, asked if I could assist him during the sessions!
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Finding Wisdom in Water’s Depths

John Kirkwood has been working, living and playing with the Five Elements for 30 years. In this article, he discusses how we can explore the Water Element – that of fear – during the coming winter season. John is the author of The Way of the Five Elements and The Way of the Five Seasons.

In the northern hemisphere winter is beckoning. Nature’s focus slides down and goes within.

As practitioners we are not separate from nature and its changes. To be fully present in the treatment room we must take account of the season and our relationship to it. Winter conveys the essence of the Water Element and all of its associations. Great yin: dark, cold, deep, within. How comfortable are we with what we find there, deep inside ourselves – the hidden places, the dark secrets, the cold corridors of our history?

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Ross Rosen is a licensed practitioner and Master of Chinese medicine, as well as the author of Heart Shock – Diagnosis and Treatment of Trauma with Shen-Hammer and Classical Chinese Medicine. In this article, he writes about unravelling the past to create a happy present and future, and the rising practice of treating trauma with acupuncture.

The prevalence of those who have encountered trauma in their lives is staggering. If my medical practice is any indication, roughly 75% of those I treat have signs and/or symptoms of past traumatic events. And whilst most patients seeking treatment (and most medical providers for that matter) don’t recognise the connection of their symptoms to traumas that may have occurred even decades prior, not addressing the traumas can create a major roadblock to successful treatments, handcuffing the practitioner and frustrating the patient who does not fully find relief.

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Rebecca Avern is a traditional acupuncturist and founder of The Panda Clinic, a children’s acupuncture centre in Oxford. She is also a senior lecturer and clinical supervisor at the College of Integrated Medicine, Reading, UK. In this piece, the author of Acupuncture for Babies, Children and Teenagers discusses the values of acupuncture for children and the diverse range of conditions it can help treat.

Acupuncture is used all around the world to treat children. In the developing world, where antibiotics and vaccinations may not be available or affordable to many families, acupuncture may be used to help children through acute illnesses. Treatment during, for example, a severe febrile disease may reduce the chances of the child being left with significant morbidity, such as breathing problems or even paralysis. Some of my colleagues in the wonderful World Medicine charity (www.worldmedicine.org.uk) treat children hit by poverty, trauma and natural disasters all around the world. Acupuncture’s ability to treat both the body and the spirit means it is of great value to these children, who may have suffered huge amounts of trauma, as well as coping with enormous physical hardships.

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An Early European Acu-moxa Encounter

Charles Buck is widely respected as a practitioner, educator and author in the field of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Originally from a medical science background he became one of the first to practise and teach Chinese herbal medicine in the UK over thirty years ago. He has since gained respect for his knowledge and insight and has made significant contributions to its development in the UK and Europe. In this article, he gives a short overview on how  traditional Chinese therapies, such as acupuncture and moxibustion, first made their way to Europe, based on his book, Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.

Between 1580 and 1680 Jesuit missionaries, traders and diplomats brought a slow trickle of hearsay medical knowledge to the West from China. Trade with China introduced Europeans to Ming and Qing dynasty ideas and aesthetics through fine commodities such as porcelain, silk and tea. Information on acu-moxa treatment filtered into Europe on the back of the wider romances with Chinoiserie that occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries. Around the same time the Chinese purgative herb da huang (Rheum palmatum) was supplied as a medicinal product to apothecaries across Europe – coming along the Silk Route it was distributed via Istanbul and known as ‘Turkey Rhubarb’.

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