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Whole vs. Processed Foods

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The modern food industry has changed the way we think of food.

The modern food industry has changed the way we think of food. When we say "salt," for instance, we typically visualize tiny white, free-flowing crystals, and when we say "sugar," a similar picture comes to mind.

But this even texture and flawless white colour are the result of several steps of processing and refining. It's not how salt and sugar occur in nature.

Salts

Common table salt is made by refining rock salt, which strips its natural mineral balance, reducing it to 99 percent sodium chloride. The rest are additives-bleaching and free-flowing agents, stabilizers and aluminum
compounds. Even sea salt, if it's white and free-flowing, has been highly refined and is lacking in essential minerals and trace elements. Like common table salt, refined sea salt is mostly sodium chloride and contains no other nutrients.

Whole, unrefined sea salt, available in health food stores, is light grey in colour. Because it is hand harvested and naturally dried by the sun and air rather than through the artificial heat of a kiln, it retains a moist, lumpy texture. Unprocessed salt contains more than 80 essential minerals and trace elements that closely resemble the constituents of human body fluids blood, lymph, sweat and tears are all salty.

The essential trace mineral iodine is present in unrefined sea salt in a form that is easily assimilated. Iodine is a vital constituent of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland, which controls several biochemical reactions, including oxygen utilization, protein synthesis and the rate at which the body burns food. The refining process destroys the iodine in white sea salt. An inorganic form of iodine, most often potassium iodide, is added to refined table salt. However, this type of iodine is not readily assimilated by the body. It passes in the urine quickly, usually within 20 minutes, whereas natural iodine from unrefined sea salt is retained for 48 hours long enough to be utilized by the thyroid. Unrefined sea salt can even help normalize blood pressure by breaking down fats and cholesterol in the arteries and promoting good circulation.

Refined fats have little nutritional value. They contain poisonous trans fatty acids, free radicals and other toxic substances.

Natural, unrefined fats protect cellular health and are a concentrated source of energy.

Sweeteners

Like refined salt, white sugar has been stripped of all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that naturally occur in the whole sugar cane plant. The whole plant contains only 14 percent sucrose, along with fibre, water and various other nutrients. The refining process separates the sugar from the molasses, the nutrient-rich part of the sugar plant. Refined white sugar is pure sucrose. Brown sugar is refined sugar that has some of the molasses added back to it, mostly for colour. It is still a refined sugar product.

Diets high in refined sugar promote blood sugar imbalances, including hypoglycemia and type II diabetes. Diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in North America and elsewhere in the industrialized world. It often leads to other debilitating conditions such ascoronary heart disease, kidney damage, nerve degeneration, and impaired or lost vision and hearing.

Your health food store has a wide selection of natural sweeteners that are excellent whole-food alternatives to refined cane sugar. Enjoyed in moderation, they form a wholesome part of a healthy diet:

  • Sucanat and Rapadura are dehydrated sugar cane juices containing the nutrient-rich molasses that refining typically removes. They are high in chromium, which helps balance blood sugar. They also provide many other important minerals, including magnesium, silica and iron, and can be substituted for sugar in any recipe.
  • Date sugar is made from whole, pulverized dates. It is highly nutritious and provides vitamins, minerals and fibre. Truly a whole food, date sugar comes with a high price tag, but offers a fabulous nutrient profile in return.
  • Raw honey has a long history of use as a medicinal food for various ailments, including colds, coughs and digestive difficulties. Along with its naturally sweet taste, honey offers small amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Never buy pasteurized honey; its enzymes have been destroyed by heat. Make sure your honey is from a reputable source and does not come from sugar-fed bees.

Maple syrup, barley malt, stevia (a herbal extract of white chrysanthemum) and rice syrup are other whole-food alternatives that can be used in place of refined sugar.

Fats

Producers of margarine and commercial vegetable oils have persuaded many consumers to give up natural fats such as butter, which has a long history of safe use. Instead, we are told to choose hydrogenated fats such as margarine and vegetable shortening, which contain little or no saturated fats but load the body with trans fatty acids and other unnatural substances that are far worse than the natural fats they are intended to replace.

Remember that eating a whole-foods diet does not mean depriving yourself of fats. It means choosing the right fats natural, unrefined fats, which are a concentrated source of energy and play an important role in metabolism and in protecting cellular health. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and the carotenoids depend on the presence of dietary fats for their assimilation. Such natural fats are also precursors of hormones and hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins.

Many nutrition researchers today refuse to accept the assumption that natural saturated fats, from either animal or plant sources, cause cardiovascular disease, referring instead to the statistical correlation between the increased incidence of heart disease and the increased consumption of refined vegetable oils and foods.

Organic butter from pasture-fed cows and extra-virgin olive oil are the safest fats to use in your kitchen. You can also use cold-pressed, unrefined vegetable oils such as flax seed, sesame, sunflower or safflower oil in salad dressings. These should be kept refrigerated and must never be heated or used in cooking or baking, as they break down quickly when exposed to air, light and heat.

The more natural and whole your food is, the better it is for your health. There isn't a single food that has been made more nutritious by processing and refining.

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