Sunday, 16 June 2013

progress by removing the processed

Yes, I know.

It has been over three weeks since my last post.

Finding the time to blog both meaningfully and wholeheartedly can be somewhat challenging at times. Between working full- time as a pharmacist and then preparing customer orders for the change room, very little time is left to research and then prepare these posts.

However, never fear - for I am here today to talk about the merits of removing processed food from one's diet.

Those of you who have followed the change room since its (relatively recent) beginning will already know how I feel about living and eating healthfully - "First, do no harm. Or, failing that - at least minimise harm." It is for this reason I choose to eat meals with a low glycaemic index and choose organic produce whenever possible. Only once I have prevented (or to the best of my ability, minimised) harm, can I fully reap the benefits of nourishing my body.

It is in my opinion that the very first step towards nourishment begins with the removal of processed food from one's diet. Another (perhaps more familiar) way to phrase this is - eat more whole foods.

Whole foods resemble their natural state as closely as possible. They have undergone little or no processing, are unrefined or minimally refined, and are therefore far more nutritious and more healthful than their processed counterparts. Ideally, they should also be organic and sourced locally so that they retain as much of their nutritional value as possible.

You see - fruit, vegetables, meat, grains; all of these foods begin as living things. Animals nourish themselves by eating, and plants nourish themselves by absorbing nutrients through the soil. Once a fruit has been picked from a tree, a grain has been harvested, or a vegetable has been pulled from the ground, it can no longer be fed more nutrients - its nutritional value can only diminish.

This decline in nutritional value continues the longer the food remains uneaten. If it needs to travel a great distance before it reaches its point of sale, it will no longer contain all of the nutrients (and health benefits) that it possessed when it was still fresh and whole. When it needs to undergo further  processing or refining as well, its nutritional value is even less impressive.

Wholegrains are an important example of this. You may have heard of the term 'wholegrain' and wondered what the fuss was all about. In short, it is this - grains are made up of three parts (the bran, the germ and the endosperm). When grains are unrefined, all three of these parts remain intact, and all of the nutrients, fibre, good fats and antioxidants that they contain remain intact as well! Unfortunately, most breads and cereals contain refined grains - the bran and germ is removed to yield just the endosperm, which happens to be the least nutrient- dense part of the grain. The end result is a product that is robbed of its natural nutritional value.

An increased awareness of this has lead to an increased demand for wholegrain products - and for the most part, manufacturers are responding accordingly. Just be mindful that 'multigrain' is not the same as 'wholegrain'. It's a clever little trick that can be quite confusing - multigrain just means that there are a few different types of grains present, none of which might be whole.

Of course, there are varying degrees of processing. I purchase (organic) frozen blueberries - but the blueberries are locally sourced, frozen very shortly after having been picked, and they are still entirely intact. I don't, however, purchase bottled blueberry sauces, for example. I make my own. That way, I know exactly what is going into my food and I can control the quantity and quality of each ingredient.

Now, I don't know about your sauces, but mine certainly don't last months on end. So how is it that commercially available sauces (and soups and biscuits and juices) can?

The answer, of course, is the addition of preservatives and chemicals. If you have already read my post on why we should choose organic products and produce, then you will know why minimising our exposure to toxins is important. Not only can the use of these chemicals be harmful, their addition to food can also deplete food of their nutritional value.

Store- bought apples are (literally) a shining example. They are usually up to a year old and coated in a thin layer of wax. The waxy coating serves to preserve moisture and shelf- life, and is (usually) completely safe for human consumption. The problem is, there is evidence to support the claim that this waxy layer can draw nutrients from the apple and reduce the apple's nutritional content.

So, an apple that is freshly picked from a tree is most ideal, an un- waxed apple from a local farmer's market is next best, a waxed apple from the local greengrocer (washed thoroughly with water and a bit of vinegar to remove the wax) is next on the ladder - and all three will be far more nutritious than a tin of peeled and cored apples floating in sugary syrup (from the 'canned fruit and vegetables' aisle of the supermarket).

Eating a diet rich in whole foods can seem daunting at first - there is no denying that having processed foods on hand is very convenient. But once your fridge and pantry is well- stocked with whole foods, the task will be much less intimidating. Being in control of exactly what and how much goes into your meals means that you are able to tailor your foods to suit your tastes and needs. You might be surprised by how much less salt and sugar you'll need - and your health will thank you for it.

Start with a few simple things - homemade juice, pesto or soup - and then expand your repertoire and build upon your pantry until you start to create your own cakes, breads, stocks and cereals. Hey, who knows - you might even want to try some of the recipes I've posted on this blog.

Spinach and mixed nut bread, an 'ayurvedic' buckwheat salad, a short stack of protein pancakes -  the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Progress by removing the processed, and nourish your body with whole foods. Good luck.

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