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SCIENTISTS HAVE DISCOVERED a powerful new drug that may help cure all chronic illnesses. It is a drug you take every day. What is it? It’s called food.
Mounting research shows that there is no magic bullet to treat heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, allergies, digestive disorders, headaches, fatigue, or any of the myriad problems we suffer from in the 21st century. But increasing evidence reveals something else. It shows that food is the most powerful “drug” we have not just to prevent, but also treat, cure, and reverse most chronic illnesses.
Hippocrates is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine and is referred to as the “Father of Modern Medicine”. A number of quotes are attributed to him including – “Leave your potions in the chemist’s crucible if you can handle your patients with food.”
Unfortunately, medical schools don’t teach physicians about three of the most important factors that contribute to and promote health — nutrition, toxins and environment. Mark Hyman is a leading functional practitioner, a practicing family physician, a ten-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine.
What is Functional Medicine you may ask. Functional Medicine is the future of conventional medicine–available now. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engaging both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It’s also the type of care we practice through our Health and Wellness Program, Nourish Balance Thrive.
As Dr. Hyman has stated, “I have at my disposal the best medicines and pharmaceutical treatments. I can send patients to the best surgeons and specialists anywhere in the world. But time after time, I find the most powerful, fastest acting, and most dramatic results come from using food as our main medicine. I use food for healing, not because I believe it is better to use natural treatments than to use drugs, but because it works better and only has positive side effects. And I’m not alone.”
As Americans are bombarded with information about “healthy eating,” but we suffer from higher rates of obesity and chronic disease than ever before. We are told one year to avoid fat and the next to avoid carbohydrates. It’s enough to make anyone distrust nutritional advice altogether.
In many ways, we don’t really need much advice as generally speaking we already know what we should do: eat a variety of foods, especially vegetables, low glycemic fruits, and whole grains, drink a sufficient amount of clean water; minimize meat and dairy consumption, avoid processed foods, soda and other empty calories as much as possible; and to watch how much we eat. In short… Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
When it comes to food, you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what we mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.
Uh-oh. Things are suddenly sounding a little more complicated, aren’t they? Sorry. But that’s how it goes as soon as you try to get to the bottom of the whole vexing question of food and health.
The whole point of eating is to supply your body and brain with the nutrients to maintain and promote healthy function and to allow the body to heal and repair itself. Hippocrates’s famous injunction to “let food be thy medicine” is ritually invoked to support this notion.
This encourages us to take a mechanistic view of eating: consume this food, to put in this nutrient; get out that physiological result. Yet people differ in important ways. Some populations can metabolize sugars better than others; depending on your evolutionary heritage, you may or may not be able to digest the lactose in milk. The specific ecology of your intestines helps determine how efficiently you digest what you eat, so that the same input of 100 calories may yield more or less energy depending on the proportion of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes living in your gut. There is nothing very machine-like about the human eater, and to think of food as simply fuel is wrong.
Further more people don’t eat nutrients, they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently than the nutrients they contain. Researchers have long believed, based on epidemiological comparisons of different populations, that a diet high in fruits and vegetables confers some protection against cancer. So naturally they ask, What nutrients in those plant foods are responsible for that effect? One hypothesis is that the antioxidants in fresh produce — compounds like beta carotene, lycopene, vitamin E, etc. — are the X factor. It makes good sense: these molecules (which plants produce to protect themselves from the highly reactive oxygen atoms produced in photosynthesis) vanquish the free radicals in our bodies, which can damage DNA and initiate cancers. At least that’s how it seems to work in the test tube. Yet as soon as you remove these useful molecules from the context of the whole foods they’re found in, as we’ve done in creating many antioxidant supplements, they don’t work at all. Indeed, in the case of beta carotene ingested as a supplement, scientists have discovered that it actually increases the risk of certain cancers. Oops!
When William Prout isolated the big three macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats), scientists figured they now understood food and what the body needs from it; when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, O.K., now we really understand food and what the body needs to be healthy; today it’s the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem all-important. But who knows what else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot?
The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn’t matter. That’s the great thing about eating food as compared with nutrients: you don’t need to fathom a carrot’s complexity to reap its benefits.
The fate of each whole food rises and falls with every change in the nutritional weather, while the processed foods are simply reformulated. That’s why when the Atkins mania hit the food industry, bread and pasta were given a quick redesign (dialing back the carbs; boosting the protein), while the poor unreconstructed potatoes and carrots were left out in the cold.
If eating a healthy diet is this simple, why do so few do it? And why do we have all the complicated nutritional advice, contradictory research studies, and endless health diets? There are two important factors:
- We focus on foods to avoid instead of foods we should eat. During the past three decades, the focus has been on good food versus bad food, with the primary focus on avoiding the “bad.”But what qualified as bad kept changing. Fats were the enemy for years. Then carbohydrates joined the ranks of bad foods. Animal protein became bad and plant protein good. Of course calories were always on everyone’s mind.While we focused on identifying enemy foods, we forgot to discuss what foods we should eat. As nutrition research is beginning to show, what we fail to eat may impact our health more than eating “bad” foods.
- We experience a large gap between knowledge and action. We are all well aware of the simple mantra…fruits, vegetables, whole grains. We are intelligent and well informed. However there is often a gap between our knowledge of what to do and our actually doing it.
Despite a national fruit and vegetable campaign in 1991, a John’s Hopkins study found that American fruit and vegetable consumption has not increased. Few people manage to eat a balanced, “nutritious” diet. The study found about 10 percent ate the recommended “five a day” of fruits and vegetables. At least 50 percent did not eat any vegetables. More than 40 percent did not eat any fruit. And a whopping 82 percent did not eat any cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage). Keep in mind, the people surveyed considered themselves nutrition “savvy” (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2007).
One way to address both of these factors is to think about food as information and to ask:
What signals is this food sending my body?
Will this food create and support health or contribute to the development of dysfunction, symptoms, and disease?
Asking these questions can help you choose foods to include and motivate you to close the action gap!
What are some of the issues with our diet?
As a nation, we are increasingly eating more processed foods. Our supermarkets are full of convenient packaged foods that appeal to our taste buds, but compromise our nutrition. Because most of these foods’ natural nutrients are removed in the refining process, we need to get them elsewhere.
In addition, we are eating less variety of foods. Ironically, while 17,000 new products are introduced each year, two-thirds of our calories come from just four foods: corn, soy, wheat, and rice.
Nor is our food the same as it was 20 years ago. Nutrients in the soil have been depleted, so food grown in that soil has fewer nutrients. Chemicals are increasingly used in raising both plants and animals, particularly on huge industrial farms that specialize in a few products.
It is easy to fall into the pattern of eating fast, convenient, prepared food, especially in our often frenetic lives. But we are not nurturing and caring for ourselves or our families by doing so. Our Standard American Diet lacks nutrients and relies heavily on processed foods that include artificial color, additives, flavorings, and chemically-altered fats and sweeteners, as well as GMOs, pesticides, hormones and other harmful chemicals.
Our fast foods also remove us from the pleasures of creating and savoring a wonderful meal, and our fast pace often prevents us from connecting over a good, slow meal. We tend to eat for convenience and speed, not health and pleasure.
So there are many reasons why we might want to pay attention to what we eat. We especially need to pay attention when we are sick so we can help our bodies get the nutrients we need to heal. There are many health benefits if we look at food as medicine.
How Does Food Impact Health?
The food we eat gives our bodies the “information” and materials it needs to function properly, to repair and detoxify itself. If we don’t get the right information, our metabolic processes suffer and our health declines.
If we get too much food, or food that gives our bodies the wrong instructions, we can become overweight, undernourished, and at risk for the development of diseases and conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.
In short, what we eat is central to our health.
Consider that in light of Webster’s definition of medicine: “The science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.” Food acts as medicine, to maintain, prevent, and treat disease.
What does food do in our bodies?
The nutrients in food enable the cells in our bodies to perform their necessary functions. This quote from Perspectives in Nutrition, a popular textbook describes how the nutrients in food are essential for our physical functioning.
“Nutrients are the nourishing substances in food that are essential for the growth, development and maintenance of body functions. Essential meaning that if a nutrient is not present, aspects of function and therefore human health decline. When nutrient intake does not regularly meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity, the metabolic processes slow down or even stop.
In other words, nutrients provide our bodies with instructions on how to function. In this sense, food can be seen as a source of “information” for the body. See examples in Food As Information.
Thinking about food in this way gives us a view of nutrition that goes beyond calories or grams, good foods or bad foods. This view leads us to focus on foods we should include rather than foods to exclude.
Instead of viewing food as the enemy, we look to food as a way to create health and reduce disease by helping the body maintain proper function.
Why should I care?
The nutrients in food give our bodies the information and materials they need to function properly. But our daily diets may not always be providing all the information our bodies need.
We all know that we need to get a basic balance of nutrients every day. But we may not be aware that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is woefully deficient and lacking in key nutrients. Moreover, some of our processed foods include chemically-altered fats and sugars that may be giving our bodies the wrong signals.
If you are interested in more specific information on the nutrients you need and how best to get them, see the section, What Do Specific Foods Do? This information springs from research coming out of an area of healthcare called Functional Medicine, which is a dynamic approach to assessing, preventing, and treating complex and chronic diseases, and includes research about the role that nutrition plays.
What is the connection between food and disease?
As a society we are facing significant health problems.
- The United States ranks ninth in life expectancy among nations in the developed world.
- We have a workforce plagued with absenteeism and reduced productivity because of chronic health problems, including depression.
- 78 percent of healthcare expenditures are for the treatment of chronic disease.
Many researchers now believe that these problems are largely related to diet. While they used to believe that diseases-such as type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers – were caused by a single gene mutation, they are now generally attributing these conditions to a network of biological dysfunction. And the food we eat is an important factor in that dysfunction, in part because our diets lack the necessary balance of nutrients (Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2004).
To prevent the onset of these diseases, we need to know how multiple nutrients in a diet interact and affect the human body’s functions, according to the Nutrition Society, Europe’s largest nutritional organization.
The Functional Medicine Perspective
One component of Functional Medicine focuses on how diet impacts health and function. When Functional Medicine practitioners examine the role of nutrition in chronic disease, they look at multiple systems, such as the digestive system, the immune system, and the detoxification system, because of the interconnections between those systems. For instance, the father of modern medicine Hippocrates said “All disease begins in the Gut” and research is proving he was absolutely correct. We now know that 80% of the immune system is contained in the gastrointestinal system and many diseases including auto immune conditions are now being linked to faulty digestion, an altered microbiota and/or increased intestinal permeability, ie. leaky gut.
Functional Medicine maintains that chronic disease is almost always preceded by a period of declining health in one or more of the body’s systems. Thus, these practitioners seek to identify early the symptoms that indicate underlying dysfunction, possibly leading to disease.
One of the ways Functional Medicine seeks to address declining health is to provide the foods and nutrients needed to restore function. This is a cost effective, non-invasive intervention that aims to stop the progression into disease, and in many instances reverse it, or put it into remission.
What are the top 10 things I should do?
Start with one key rule of thumb: Include foods that are natural and whole while excluding those that have been refined, processed, or otherwise adulterated.
1. Eat a variety of foods.
Studies show that people who eat a variety of food are healthier, live longer, and have a reduced risk of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Food variety means including foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, meat, fish, seafood, nuts and seeds. Variety also means including an array of foods within each of these categories. For instance whole grains can be wild rice, quinoa, oats, rye, or barley.
Because certain nutrients are present in particular foods, eating a variety of different foods allows you to get a variety of nutrients. Variety means that you will include protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber in your diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently launched a visual graphic to help you make healthy dietary choices at Choose My Plate. This graphic has replaced the traditional food pyramid and recommends dividing your plate into four quadrants, with fruits and vegetables taking up half the plate. Proteins and grains should take up the other half.
By eating a diet that includes a variety of foods, you will be providing the nutrients that are involved in functions such as hormone synthesis (which influences your mood) or boosting your immune system.
2. Increase fruits and vegetables.
Scientific data on the benefits of fruits and vegetables in preventing a variety of diseases has been mounting. For example, several studies show that the higher the consumption of fruit and vegetables, the lower the incidence of cardiovascular disease, including stroke (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008).
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion recommends five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day, depending on caloric intake. A serving is one piece of fruit, ½ cup of vegetable, 1 cup of salad greens, or ½ cup of juice.
Fruits and vegetables are not only full of vitamins and minerals, but they contain beneficial phytonutrients. A plant cannot flee or fight so it is equipped with “phyto,” or plant, nutrients that can defend against disease, blight, radiation, weather, insects, and anything that may threaten its survival. When we eat these plants, we also benefit from the protection of the phytonutrients. Phytonutrient content is indicated by the color of the food. To get a variety of phytonutrients, aim for a minimum of five colors a day.
Fruits and vegetables also influence gut flora (good bacteria) and contain fiber to assist in the performance of the gastrointestinal system. Fruits and vegetables slow carbohydrate absorption and are generally low in calories. They also give us a feeling of fullness, and we eat less.
What about fresh versus frozen?
Fruits and vegetables processed for freezing tend to be flash-frozen at their peak ripeness and nutrient density. Freezing locks in plant nutrients.
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are shipped to other states are generally picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. In addition, fruits and vegetables begin to lose nutrients moments after they are picked. Shipping and storage can also negatively impact nutrient content due to variables such as temperature, distance for shipping, and handling procedures, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Center.
The solution is to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables that have traveled the least amount of distance to the table whenever possible and supplement that with frozen products.
3. Choose whole grains.
Data from the now famous Nurse’s Health Study shows whole grains reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and improve the health of the gastrointestinal tract. Whole grains contain multiple nutrients. But when whole grain is processed, the following amounts of nutrient content, or “information,” is lost:
- 60% of calcium
- 85% of magnesium
- 77% of potassium
- 78% of zinc
- 75% of vitamins
- 95% of fatty acids
- 95% of fiber
Because the nutrient content is essentially stripped during processing, manufacturers then fortify the food with nutrients such as B-vitamins. Unfortunately fortification cannot possibly compensate for all of the active components in grain. One extremely important component that is left out is fiber. (There are undoubtedly other important components left out that haven’t been identified yet.)
Fiber makes us feel full faster and longer; therefore, it may prevent overeating. Fiber also plays an important role in the digestive system, allowing nutrients to be more fully absorbed and slowing the rise in blood sugar glucose, as well as aiding in the elimination of waste.
4. Include beneficial fats.
For years, fat was deemed to be public enemy #1. Even today many Americans view fat as something to avoid in their diets. But, as we learn more about the effects of fats in the body, the message has become that fat, in and of itself, is not the issue. After all, fat is a vital nutrient.
The issue is the type and quality of fat that is predominant in the Standard American Diet.
Our bodies need a balance of two types of fatty acids: omega 3 and omega 6, but we tend to get too much omega 6.
Omega 6: Animal fats, butter fats, and corn oil contain a predominance of omega 6 fatty acids and tend to produce inflammation in the body.
Omega 3: Plant oils, such as avocado, olive oil, canola oil, flaxseed oil, oils from nuts and seeds, and fats from fish whose diet is made up of algae contain a predominance of omega 3 fatty acids and have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Inflammation is essential to the body’s ability to maintain immunity and protection, but too much inflammation can cause injury. It is important that the body maintain a balance of pro-inflammatory messages and anti-inflammatory messages.
Mounting evidence suggests that eating beneficial fats helps maintain this balance. The Standard American Diet tends to be deficient in anti-inflammatory fats and excessive in pro-inflammatory fats. Widespread use of corn oil and consumption of grain-fed beef, rather than grass-fed beef (also containing omega 3 fatty acids) has potentially contributed to pro-inflammatory health issues.
In his book Eating Well for Optimal Health, Dr. Andrew Weil suggests “it is more than possible that the epidemic of coronary heart disease and fatal heart attacks that took place in the 20th century correlates not so much to excesses in what people were consuming, but rather with the deficiencies of protective factors that in the past neutralized harmful effects.” Omega 3 fatty acids are an important protective factor, and deficiency is prevalent.
5. Drink water.
When concocting a recipe for health, one of the most important ingredients is water. The body is made up of up to 65 percent water. The brain is composed of 70 percent water and the lungs are 90 percent water. A whopping 83 percent of the blood is water.
Water is needed for the digestion, absorption, and transportation of nutrients. Water keeps skin smooth and soft, serves as a solvent for waste, reduces toxicity, and flushes toxins and excess salt from the body. It also regulates body temperature and is useful in managing hunger. Sometimes the cue for thirst is confused as a cue for food.
The loss of only 5 to 10 percent of body water can cause dehydration. (You lose water during the day when you perspire and urinate, and water is even expired through the lungs when breathing.) When dehydrated, the body is unable to cool itself. Dehydration also increases the tendency of blood to clot.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) advises men to consume roughly 3.0 liters (about 13 cups) of water a day and women to consume 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of water a day.
Eighty percent of this should come from drinking water and other beverages, (but not soda, coffee, or alcohol). The remaining 20 percent should come from foods – especially fruits and vegetables, which are 70 to 95 percent water.
Your water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are, and where you live. It’s generally not a good idea to use thirst alone as a guide for when to drink. By the time you become thirsty, you may already be slightly dehydrated. Note that as you get older, your thirst sense is diminished. It is especially important for older adults to drink water before they become thirsty.
6. Include green tea.
The healthful properties of green tea are primarily attributed to its potent antioxidant activity and polyphenols (phytonutrinets) called catechins. The most active of these polyphenols in green tea is called epigallocatechin (also known as EGCG).
Numerous studies have shown an association between the consumption of green tea and protection against cancer, including breast cancer, colon caner, and esophageal cancer.
Green tea and green tea extracts have also been used for improving mental alertness, aiding in weight loss, protecting skin from sun damage, and lowering cholesterol. An International Heart Journal (2007) study showed that green tea catechins decreased circulating LDL cholesterol. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the green tea increased fat burning, as well as improved insulin sensitivity and glucose control during moderate exercise.
Generally, two to three cups of green tea daily is the recommended intake for the most benefit. When steeping green tea, it is recommended that you use hot water (185 degrees) rather than boiling hot water (212 degrees). Boiling water will “cook” the tea leaves and create a bitter tasting tea. You can substitute green tea for some of the recommended water you should drink daily.
7. Control portions.
While calories are not the whole picture, it has long been shown that moderate calorie restriction is a way to slow the aging process.
A 2006 Clinical Interventions in Aging article on delaying age-related disease recommended, on the basis of current research, a diet low in calories and saturated fats and high in whole grains, legumes, and fruits and vegetables – all of which maintain lean body weight.
Here are some strategies to avoid overeating:
- Pay attention to what, when, and why you eat. Keeping a food diary helps people lose weight.
- Discern between hunger and thirst – you might think you are hungry when you are really thirsty.
- Try to avoid eating standing up, watching TV, or driving.
- Eat slowly and chew. You will get more “food experience” from fewer calories.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals (every three to four hours). Skipping meals or waiting too long before eating causes excessive hunger and may lead to eating larger portions at the next meal.
- Americans tend to use visual cues to tell them when they are full, such as when the plate or bowl is empty. So use smaller plates.
- Be aware of what a serving is: one serving (three ounces) of meat, poultry, or fish is about the size of a deck of playing cards. A one-cup serving of potatoes, rice, or pasta looks like a tennis ball. One serving of fruits or vegetables is about the size of a small fist. A one-ounce serving of cheese is about the size of your thumb.
8. Avoid trans-fatty acids.
Trans-fatty acids are man-made fats, created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is favored by manufacturers because it increases shelf-life and adds stability to foods.
When a trans-fat is eaten, the body recognizes it as a fat and uses the trans-fat for function just like any other fatty acid. Fats are powerful modulators of cell function, but because hydrogenation alters the chemistry of the vegetable oil, it is less effective as a fat. For instance when trans-fats are used to makes cell membranes, the membrane can become excessively permeable.
Trans-fatty acids can affect function and responses of many cell types. They have been shown to cause endothelial dysfunction, raise LDL, lower HDL, increase triglycerides, and promote inflammation (New England Journal of Medicine, 2006).
A marketplace survey published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2008) showed that the food industry has made progress in reducing trans-fatty acid content in a variety of products. However researchers recommended consumers read labels carefully because the trans-fat content of individual products vary considerably. Products lower in trans-fats tend to cost more, which may be a barrier to their purchase for price-conscious consumers.
9. Avoid corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners.
The U.S. department of Agriculture reports that the consumption of high fructose corn syrup increased more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990. Now evidence is mounting that corn syrup has negative impacts on health.
For example, research reported at an August 2007 National Meeting of the American Chemical Society stated that soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup may contribute to the development of diabetes, especially in children. Additionally the researchers, from Rutgers University, found “astonishingly high” levels of reactive compounds (called carbonyls) in the soft drinks containing high fructose corn syrup. The compounds, associated with “unbound” fructose and glucose molecules, are believed to trigger cell and tissue damage. The researchers noted that by contrast, reactive carbonyls are not present in table sugar where fructose and glucose are “bound” and chemically stable.
A 2004 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition identifies an association between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and the epidemic of obesity. Because the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of high fructose corn syrup differs from ordinary glucose, these researchers suggested that high fructose corn syrup may contribute to increased calorie intake and weight gain. For example, when we eat ordinary sugar, the body produces an important signaling hormone called leptin that tells the brain that the body is full and hence controls our eating. But when we eat high fructose corn syrup, we don’t produce leptin and don’t get a signal to stop.
It is best to avoid or limit soft drinks, including diet soda. A study published in Circulation (2008) found a 34 percent increase in risk for metabolic syndrome in subjects who consumed diet soda. (Investigators felt that weight gain over the years might contribute to some of this, but even after adjusting for demographic factors, such smoking, physical activity, and energy intake, there was still an adverse association between diet soda and metabolic syndrome.) Metabolic syndrome is a condition that can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
10. Limit processed foods.
The Standard American Diet is severely lacking in nutrients, in large part because of the many processed foods we choose. While these processed foods lack nutrients, they often contain artificial color, additives, flavorings, and chemically altered fats and sweeteners. And while some of these processed foods claim to be low in fat, they are often high in sugar.
Michael Pollan, in his recent book In Defense of Food suggests, “if you are concerned about health, you should probably avoid products that make health claims. Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.” (And many of the claims are misleading. For example, one product proudly claims that it “contains 9 grams of whole grains.” This might impress you, unless you know that a gram is about the weight of a paper clip!)
A common recommendation for healthy eating is to shop around the perimeter of the supermarket, where the fresh, natural, non-processed foods tend to be. However this is not fail safe. Sometimes additives and preservatives and corn syrup have been added to dairy products or salad dressing that would otherwise be considered natural.