By Dee McCaffrey, Director of Nutrition, Processed-Free America
National Nutrition Month® is upon us. This annual campaign held in March
by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics aims to focus the nation’s
attention on the importance of making healthy food choices.
Are you familiar with the acronym S.A.D.? It’s an abbreviation for
Standard American Diet — a modern dietary pattern that is vastly
different from the way Americans ate as little as 100 years ago. As you
are probably aware, the S.A.D. is rife with nutrient-poor,
ultra-processed foods, and SADly, current generations are experiencing
the health consequences of this deeply entrenched dietary pattern. We’ve
swapped butter for margarine, eggs for Eggbeaters, whole grains for
refined flour, healthy fats for trans-fats and refined cooking oils, and
naturally sweet foods for refined sugars. We’ve also genetically
modified common food ingredients such as corn, wheat, and soy to allow
them to withstand spraying with massive amounts of herbicide. As a
result, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, food allergies, irritable
bowel diseases, autoimmune disorders, and cancer are on the rise, mostly
attributed to consumption of S.A.D. foods.
Traditional wisdom and sheer intuition would tell us that not only is it
unnatural to replace whole, real food with refined chemical
concoctions, it simply cannot be sustained. Fortunately, although the
S.A.D. has become the norm for many who may not be ready or willing to
let it go, the tide is beginning to turn in a new, yet traditional
Thousands of people across the country are participating in a transition
from the S.A.D. to a more life-affirming way of eating characterized by
the acronym S.O.U.L., which encourages us to eat foods that are
Seasonal, Organic, Unprocessed, and Locally grown or produced.
Research published over the last 30 years increasingly demonstrates that
S.O.U.L. food is the primary promoter of health and the main protector
from disease. Fueled by the promising results of scientific research and
the personal testimonies of thousands who have reversed chronic
conditions, the S.O.U.L. foodstyle is becoming more mainstream.
A diet built around S.O.U.L. foods aims to increase nutrition and
improve health because it includes the foods of our great-great
grandparents — the foods of gardens and farms, traditional food
preparation techniques such as soaking and sprouting grains, fermenting
and culturing foods, and pasture raising livestock in humane conditions.
Most notably, it is a call to action to do our part to sustain future
generations and a call to honor our bodies’ true needs.
How can modern-day Americans adopt a S.O.U.L. foodstyle? By making
small, gradual changes, rather than changing everything all at once, it
becomes doable and achievable. Here are some ways to begin incorporating
more S.O.U.L. foods into your diet:
Eat seasonal foods when possible
Unlike out-of-season produce which is harvested early in order to be
transported many miles to your local grocery store, fruits and
vegetables grown in season on local farms and harvested at peak ripeness
are fresher and contain higher levels of nutrients. Even though we may
like to eat strawberries year-round, the best time to eat them is when
they can be purchased directly from a local grower shortly after
Choose organic when possible
A comprehensive study of the nutrient content in organic foods published
in the July 2014 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition found that
overall, organic fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contained 17
percent more antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts,
and for some antioxidants, the difference was even larger.
However, the main reason to choose organic produce is to avoid the
residues of toxic pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on
conventionally grown crops. Many pesticides, even small doses, are known
to cause serious damage to human health, such as cancers of the
reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems. Antioxidants, on the other
hand, have been shown to help prevent the development of cancer, heart
disease, diabetes, and many other serious diseases.
Additionally, foods that carry the USDA Organic label, by law, cannot
contain ingredients that derive from genetically modified organisms
(GMO’s), which have also been linked to several health conditions such
as food allergies, autoimmune disorders, and cancers.
The challenge many of us are faced with is the high cost of organic
produce, but not all fruits and vegetables need to be consumed organic.
That’s where the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to
Pesticides in Produce comes in handy. This guide, updated and published
annually, helps shoppers prioritize the most important items to buy
organic and which are safe to eat conventionally grown. For the most
current list, go to foodnews.org, or download the free Dirty Dozen
Choose foods that are in their closest-to-natural form
There are many compelling reasons to avoid processed foods, as a large
body of research continues to mount evidence of their negative effects
on human health. The bottom line is that at our core, we’re all designed
to eat real foods that aren’t foreign to our DNA.
New research is showing us how nutritional components in foods “talk” to
our genes, providing them with vital information about how to express
themselves. In other words, the foods you eat will either tell your
genes to “turn on” or “turn off” disease traits. So, while we are each
born with a unique and specific set of genes that we can’t change—we can
change how those genes are expressed by changing what we eat.
A diet built around S.O.U.L. foods is recommended by health experts for
prevention and management of disease. Every one of the thousands of
nutrients contained in real foods work together, synergistically, to
keep the integrity of the food’s message intact. When we eat processed
foods, the nutrients are either missing, altered, or synthetic, and our
genes don’t receive the messages to “turn off” disease, but instead,
receive the fragmented messages to “turn on” disease.
Processed-foods are everywhere in our food supply, even in natural food
markets. That is why my husband and I founded Processed-Free America
(PFA) — a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping folks make the
transition from S.A.D. to S.O.U.L. You can learn more about becoming a
Processed-Free Facilitator at processedfreeamerica.org.
As you celebrate National Nutrition Month®, consider making small
changes in your food choices that help you transition from S.A.D. to
S.O.U.L., for the betterment of yourself, your family, your community,
and the planet.
Dee McCaffrey is an organic chemist, nutritionist, and author of The
Science of Skinny and The Science of Skinny Cookbook. Dee lost 100
pounds and has kept the weight off for 25 years by following a
whole-food, processed-free diet. She is the founder of Processed-Free
America, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing a national
awareness of the effect processed foods have on our health, and the
healing properties of natural, whole foods. She offers fee based one-one
one nutrition counseling to help clients find the right nutritional
balance for their lifestyle. Learn more at www.processedfreeamerica.org.
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