By Dee McCaffrey, CDC
Thomas Edison wrote “the doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather he will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” Even back in Edison’s day, it was recognized that every little choice we make concerning the food we put into our body matters. In today’s toxic food environment, it matters more than ever.
Most of us are aware that sugars and refined foods are the bane of good health, but beyond that, what does “healthy eating” really entail? With all the food industry advertisements touting “healthy” foods that come in cans, boxes, and bags, how are we to know what actually constitutes a real food? Is the coconut milk or almond milk that comes in a carton a real food? What are we to make of all the conflicting information about grains, coconut oil, and coffee?
Awareness is the solution
Recognizing the need for clarity in matters of food and health, and to help others make the transition away from processed foods, in 2007 Dee McCaffrey and her husband Michael McCaffrey, founded Processed-Free America — a Tempe, AZ based nonprofit organization. They coined and trademarked the term “Processed-Free™” to describe the philosophy of the eating lifestyle they wish to see restored in our nation. The nutshell of processed-free eating is this: eat foods in their closest-to-natural form as possible. In other words, eat the type of foods our great-grandparents ate — freshly prepared whole foods without added chemicals. The underlying theme of the processed-free foodstyle is that every little choice matters.
Processed-Free America (PFA) is a volunteer-run nonprofit committed to providing education, support services, a national awareness of the health effects of processed foods, and the healing properties of whole foods. Through online and in-person classes, podcasts, articles, volunteer-led support groups, one-on-one nutrition counseling, books, and videos, the processed-free message is reaching thousands around the country and overseas. Processed-Free America offers a certification program to individuals who want to teach the Processed-Free lifestyle in communities across the country and around the globe.
PFA’s work is very important because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a list of over 3,000 ingredients in its database titled “Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS).”
For example, even foods like non-dairy milks that are touted as healthy, contain an ingredient called carrageenan that has been linked to colon cancer. We have to be careful, even when shopping in health food stores.
In addition to the thousands of chemicals on the EAFUS list, there are an unbelievable number of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and hormone residues found in our produce, poultry, dairy, meat, and seafood. Many of these chemicals are called “anti-nutrients,” so named because they inhibit the absorption of nutrients from foods, or they leech stored nutrients from our body, resulting in nutrient deficiencies. Some food additives have been linked to unforeseen and powerful chemical reactions in the body and the brain, leading to food addiction, chronic inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and many other serious diseases.
To help you become a more confident and in-the-know food shopper, here’s the lowdown on some ways to make your processed-free choices matter:
Opt for organic foods and non-GMO foods:
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 over conventional is to avoid the residues of toxic pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on conventionally grown crops. The study also showed that pesticide residues were several times higher on conventionally grown produce.
The challenge many of us are faced with is the higher cost of organic produce. That’s where the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce comes in handy. The top 12 items on the list—the ones that have the highest levels of pesticide residues—are dubbed “The Dirty Dozen.” The EWG’s studies show that we can lower our pesticide exposure by 90 percent if we avoid eating the conventionally grown Dirty Dozen and opt for their organic counterparts instead.
THE EWG’s 2017 Dirty Dozen is as follows
(ranked from most to least residues):
- Sweet bell peppers
In the mid-1990s, new food proteins were engineered and introduced into our food supply. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have had their genetic code (DNA) altered to give them characteristics they don’t have naturally. In an effort to increase production and profits for food manufacturers, scientists artificially insert bacteria, viruses, and other genes into the DNA of common food crops such as corn, soybeans, canola (rapeseed), cottonseed, and sugar beets. Some dairy cows are fed a GMO growth hormone called rBGH/rBST to increase their milk supply.
Corn, for instance, has been genetically modified to make its own pesticide within the plant itself, so that when an insect eats the corn, it explodes their stomachs and kills them from the inside out. Is that happening to people too? Some experts believe it is. GMOs have never been tested for human safety, and food manufacturers are not required to inform consumers whether their food products contain GMOs.
These unlabeled genetically modified foods carry a high risk of triggering life-threatening allergic reactions, and evidence collected over the past decade now suggests that they are contributing to higher allergy rates. Milk is the number one food allergen in the United States. Soy and corn allergies rank right behind it. GMOs have been linked to the alarming increases in allergies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, and obesity.
It is estimated that genetically modified ingredients are found in 80 percent of processed foods. That’s just one more reason to stop eating processed foods and begin following a processed-free lifestyle.
Clean eating with organic
How else can you avoid GMOs? The USDA National Organic Program strictly prohibits the use of GMOs in any food carrying the USDA Organic seal. So, if your food carries the USDA organic seal, you know it’s not made with GMOs. Also, organic growers and many other food companies are voluntarily labeling their products with a Non-GMO Project seal verifying that their foods do not contain genetically modified ingredients.
The best way to avoid GMOs is to avoid any food that contains ingredients made from the five major GMO crops (also called “at risk” ingredients): soybeans, canola, corn, cottonseed, and sugar made from sugar beets, all of which are typically used in processed foods. Unless these foods are grown organically, a large percentage of them are GMO.
While not genetically modified, coffee is one of the most heavily chemically treated crops of any agricultural commodity in the world. Over two hundred pesticides are used on coffee crops, so you may want to opt for organic coffee when possible.
Coconut oil provides health benefits that surpass even those of other highly regarded oils. While it’s true that coconut oil is a saturated fat, it’s a plant source of saturated fat with a unique molecular structure that is very different from the type of saturated fats that come from animal foods. This unique structure, called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), is what provides many of coconut oil’s health benefits. It does not raise the bad (LDL) cholesterol, but it increases the good (HDL) cholesterol. Additionally, MCTs do not store easily as fat in your body; instead they get burned for energy immediately. This gives coconut oil a unique ability to promote weight loss by improving metabolism and helping you burn more of your stored fat.
About half of the MCTs in coconut oil are a special type of fat called lauric acid, which converts in the body into a powerful compound called monolaurin. Monolaurin strengthens the immune system, wards off colds and flu, and destroys viruses and bacteria.
Molecularly, saturated fats are the most stable of all the different types of fats and can withstand the highest cooking temperatures of any fat or oil. Most other oils, especially the polyunsaturated oils and canola oil, become rancid and produce harmful free radicals when heated to cooking temperatures. Coconut oil is the amazing exception. It has a very high temperature threshold and is able to take heat up to about 350°F on the stovetop and 400°F in the oven without breaking down the way other oils do.
A processed-free lifestyle encourages consumptions of whole grains over refined grains, but you can take it one step further and choose what are known of as ancient grains. An “ancient grain” refers to species of whole grains and seeds that have been part of the human diet for 10,000 years, but haven’t been modified over time by plant science.
Ancient grains include einkorn, emmer (farro), spelt (the original unhybridized wheat species of 10,000 years ago), freekeh, and kamut, and non-wheat grains such as quinoa, red and black rice, blue corn, buckwheat, barley, rye, oats, amaranth, and millet. These grains retain their original high-quality nutrition, distinctive rich, nutty flavors, and are less allergenic than modern hybridized and genetically modified grains.
“Modern grains” such as wheat, corn, and rice have been extensively cross-bred to make them easier to grow and process into flours and starches that are used in breads, cereals, pastas, and baked goods. “Modern wheat” is a hybrid descendant of the three ancient wheat varieties. Because of the changes modern grains have undergone over time, they have less nutrition and some people have developed allergies to the cross-bred, genetically altered proteins in the grains.
Research shows that many ancient grains are higher in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than modern grains. All grains can be cooked similar to rice — add one cup of grain to two cups liquid, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and let cook until the grains are tender and chewy. The dried grains can also be ground into flour to make breads and other baked goods.
The little choices you make each day matter. What will you put on your fork today to make your health a top priority?
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-foods 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-on-one nutrition counseling to help clients find the right nutritional balance for their lifestyle.
Processed-Free America is based in Tempe, AZ. Reach us by phone at 602-666-6257 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.processedfreeamerica.org
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