What are whole foods? Most people ask me that question once I tell them that my family and I are on a whole food diet. It’s a difficult definition to nail down, so I will give several definitions.

  1. First, whole foods are minimally processed. It’s hard to not process your food at home. If you grind your own wheat to make flour, you technically just “processed” your wheat. If you have a juicer and you make your own apple juice with that juicer, you just “processed” your apple to get the juice. So processing in and of itself is not bad- processing is bad when  bad things are added or good things are taken away from the product being processed. If you buy white flour, it is a processed food. The wheat is ground then sifted to take away the bran and germ, leaving the endosperm. The flour is also bleached using benzoyl peroxide, a chemical that is on the National Institutes of Health Hazardous Substances Database as a potentially harmful ingredient. 45% of the nutrients are lost by sifting the flour. To replace the 35-40 nutrients that were taken out of the flour, the United States enriches our bleached white flour with vitamin B1, vitamin B2, niacin, and iron. Sometimes Vitamin D and calcium are added also. Do you see how something harmless and good for you can be processed to be something harmful and/or something not as nutritious? 
  2. A second definition of a whole food would be any food that occurs naturally. This is an easy one. Your natural foods are foods that you could grow in your backyard. That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat oranges because they don’t grow well in Virginia. Any food that any single person anywhere in the world could grow is a whole food. Think obvious: what do you plant in your garden? Fruits and vegetables. What do farmers the world over grow? Grains. What could you raise to give meat and milk? Cows, pigs, sheep, goats… the list goes on and on. What did your great-great grandparents have on their farm? They were practically self-sufficient, weren’t they? They would have bought sugar, salt, tea, coffee, and a few other items; but most of it they produced themselves. I’m not saying we need to do that now- most of you have no time- but it’s a good way to think “whole foods.”
  3. The third definition of a whole food is any food that has no artificial additives.   Tell me about fruit- be general. Are fruits vibrant in color or dull? Are they full of flavor or tasteless? Are fruits good for you? Are fruits sweet? Fruit is good for you,  is generally sweet, and usually is very colorful. Look at a Nutrigrain Bar label sometime. This is something that is advertises itself as “more of the whole grains your body needs” and “made with real fruit.” What is the first ingredient in the filling? High Fructose Corn Syrup. What is the second and 4rth? Corn Syrup and Sugar. What is the 9th ingredient on the list under “filling?”  Natural and artificial flavor. What about the 17th and 18th? Red #40 and Blue #1. We just agreed that fruit is attractive, tasty,  and sweet. So- why were these things added?   Compton’s Encyclopedia states: “Processors sometimes add sweeteners to food in the form of sugars or syrup as well as spices, flavoring, and colors. Such additives are used to supplement the nutritional value of the food, to prevent or slow chemical deterioration, to thicken or firm food, to aid in ripening, to make the food look more attractive…” Did the corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavor, and colors supplement the nutritional value? No. Did they prevent or slow chemical deterioration? Sugar does, to an extent. Did they thicken or firm food? Sugar and corn syrup would, again, to an extent. Did they aid in ripening? No- they most likely were hiding the fact that the fruit wasn’t ripe. Did they make the food more attractive? Yes, the colors and flavors did. To make this short (because I could go on a while): they added ingredients to something that was good and nutritious in and of itself to make it prettier and taste better. Now why the fruit needed that, I don’t know for sure. But I could guess. 

Moving on: I am going to try to keep this simple. I could go into detail, but I will leave that for another time. I will be talking about three main things today: Additives, beverages, and fats and oils. 


 We’ve just looked at some additives in a food that is generally known as “healthy” and advertises itself as such. But why are these ingredients not good for you? And is there evidence that they aren’t? I’m going to start with the one of the most argued about additives: MSG.

  • MSG is short for monosodium glutamate. It is a flavor enhancer found in most processed foods today. It is created using processes that break down and change glutamate into free-form glutamate. Free glutamate can enter the blood stream 10x faster than regular glutamate. A primary effect of MSG is triggering an insulin/adrenaline/fat storage/food craving response. This is the “I’m hungry again and hour after eating Chinese food” feeling. Glutamate is something our bodies need- it is found in meats, vegetables, poultry, and milk. It helps our nervous system function properly. But when it is broken down and changed into MSG it is changed to a neurotoxin. A neurotoxin is a substance that that destroys nerves or nervous tissue. Now for the scary part: in animal studies, MSG has been linked with brain lesions, retinal degeneration, and obesity. Obesity makes sense- MSG makes you hungry, you eat more food containing MSG, you’re hungry again… it’s a vicious cycle. In fact, test animals are injected with MSG to cause obesity so that scientists can study diabetes. I have the names of three different studies where they did this.  So it sounds like diabetes is linked to it, too, doesn’t it? American sare consuming an estimated 160 million pounds of MSG annually. Is there any wonder we are one of the most obese countries in the world? Would you like to know the side affects? Bronchospasm; irritability; heart papitation; nausea; abdominal discomfort; fibromyalgia; blurred vision; asthma; vertigo; headache; depression; migraine; sight impairment; caution advised if aspirine sensitive. I don’t know about you, but that make me want to go out and get some Chinese food right now.
  • Another additive, or a group of additives, you should know about- preservatives. BHA and BHT are not good news. In some countries, they are banned. America, sadly enough, is not one of those. Effects: hives; hay fever; heacache; wheezing; fatigue; asthma; may affect kidneys, thyroid, stomach, and reproduction; hormone disruption; endocrine, gastrointestinal, liver, respiratory, skin, immuno and neurotoxicity; animal carcinogen. Yes, that’s right: it is KNOWN to cause cancer in lab rats. Aluminum is also a not so good preservative. You’ve probably heard that it has been linked to Alzheimers- this is true. The European Parlaiment is trying to ban it as an additive. It is on the Nation Institutes of Health’s Hazardous Substance Database. What about nitrates and nitrites? Those have begun to cause quite a stir. They are added to meats mainly- to preserve meat color. This is because it is hard to keep meat fresh. I’m sure you’ve all seen old red meat- it gets brown and ugly- you don’t really want to eat it after seeing it. Nitrates nitrites keep it looking a deep red. So you when you see those ingredients on the lable you should be asking how old the meat really is. 
  • Food Coloring. It’s so pretty, isn’t it? There’s nothing like baking at Christmas and using your reds and greens to dress up that icing. After this, you might want to look for the natural reds and greens- they do exist, and they don’t cause problems. I’m sure you’ve heard the battles about food coloring’s effect on children with ADHD. I honestly didn’t know what to believe about this. I’ve read both sides. Both sides seem right. Then my Aunt Rachel came down for Christmas. She told me that she has seen two different children respond very well to the lack of artificial colors in their diet. Wikipedia actually states that academic performance improved in non-ADD children who had artificial ingredients eliminated from school food programs. If it improves non-ADD children what does it do for those who have ADD or ADHD? If there are any specific ones that you should avoid, here they are:  Blue 1/Blue2- May cause cancer (1)/ causes brain tumors in mice (2); Red3- causes thyroid tumors in rats, may in humans; Yellow 6- found to cause adrenal gland and kidney tumors, contains small amounts of many carcinogens. 
  • The last of the additives: Sweeteners. This is a hard one for everyone. It hits home one way or another. There are two kinds of sweeteners that you truly should avoid at all costs: High Fructose Corn Syrup and Artificial. I know, that stings. Every processed food you buy has one or the other. You’ve heard people rant and rave about how bad they are for the body, but no one seems to explain WHY they are bad. That’s why I’m here! Let’s start with high fructose corn syrup. It is made from corn by changing the sugar in cornstarch to fructose. That should sound bad already. Remember one the definitions of a whole food? A food that is minimally processed. Researchers at Rutger’s University found that high fructose corn syrup may start a chemical chain reaction leading to diabetes. I found several sources that said that. It causes obesity, which leads to diabetes. It also causes oxidative damage that leads to wrinkles and premature aging. And there is the possibility that it may contain mercury. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy says that HFCS may contain higher levels of mercury than previously thought- it comes from the way it’s made. Once again, I’ve read both sides of this, and don’t know what to believe, so I’ll just throw it out there.  To sum up high fructose corn syrup, Katherine Zeratsky, a Mayo Clinic Nutritionist, recommends that moderation is the key since more research is needed. She says to limit processed foods, drink less soda, and avoid foods/beverages that contain sweeteners. My last two additives: artificial sweeteners and sugar. In the late 1900’s, the average American consumed 5 lbs sugar/person/year; it is now over 100 lbs/year. Sugar consumption in the US: 23% Soft Drinks; 14% Cereals and Commercial Baking; 10% Confectionery; ³25% Home Use. And now we have artificial sweeteners competing with sugar for the spotlight. We’ve heard many things about artificial sweeteners over the years, both good and bad. We’ve heard that they are healthy- they help you lose weight and they don’t raise your blood sugar. We’ve heard they cause cancer. So what is true and what isn’t? Here is what I know: when I was pregnant, my doctor told me to stay away from artificial sweeteners. I agreed, and didn’t think any more about it… until I read this: The effects of saccharine inclue diarrhea; diuresis; eczema; nausea; hives; headache; developmental and reproductive toxicity; suspected mutagen and carcinogen. That made me sick. And I know what you are thinking, “that’s just saccharine, I can still use Aspartame or Acesulfame-K.” Let me tell you about their side effects. Aspartame’s problems reported to authorities: fatigure, irritability, headache, MS-like symptoms, depression, anxiety, vision problems, dizziness, memory loss, hyperactivity, migraine, aggression, insomnia. Not recommended for children or pregnant women.  Acesulfame-K: causes breast tumors, lung tumors, cancer, and leukemia in rats. That should scare you. 
 I’ve heard the argument that animals and people aren’t the same, you can’t say that what happens to rats will happen to us, they dose the rats too high in those studies… Time after time, results that showed in lab rat studies have shown up in humans years later, when the tested product had been on the market long enough to cause a buildup in the human body. The doses given rats are not any higher than the doses we get in our “give me a Large fry and a Big Mac” society. We overeat, we get more “poison.”  Let me get off of my soapbox now. I understand that artificial sweeteners are the “only” way that diabetics get to enjoy something sweet. In reality, there are other options. Stevia is one. It’s expensive, but no more so than artificial sweeteners are.  “Think cancer.” Everytime you see something that is artificial, it has most likely been linked to cancer in animals and humans. You don’t want to eat or drink cancer. 

On to beverages.

Now, I know I will be stepping on toes here. I would apologize, but I’m not doing it to be mean: I am just presenting the information that I have found in my research. What are the two main beverages marketed today? Soda and coffee.

  • Advertisements are especially prevalent for soda. Interesting facts: soda contributes about 10% of calories in an American diet, and the average American drinks 40 gallons of soda a year. 15 billion gallons sold in 2000- at least one 12 oz can for every man, woman, and child. Carbonated soda provides more sugar for the typical 2-yr old than cookies, candies, and ice cream combined. Scary facts, aren’t they? The pretty much agreed upon effect of soday are obesity, tooth decay, caffeine dependence, and weakened bones. Harvard did a study on soda and found a direct link between soda consumption and childhood obesity. The National Soft Drink Association says, “there’s no scientific evidence that comsumption of sugars per se has any negative effect other than dental carries.”  So even if you want to say that sugar doesn’t cause a person to gain weight, the NSDA just said the sugar will cause tooth decay! That sounds like a pretty good reason already to stay away from soda. What about that caffeine? I know, everyone loves their caffeine. But what do you know about it other than it gives  you energy? Caffiene occurs naturally in Kola Nuts. Why is it added to Soda? National Soft Drink Association says it enhances other flavors because it is bitter. Blind tests at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions conducted by Roland Griffins found that only 8% of regular soft drink consumers could tell the difference between regular and caffeine-free sodas. This study included only subjects who claimed to drink soda for the caffeine. When a person is dependent on a drug, his neurochemistry balances in his brain are upset. Withdrawal symptons when you don’t have soda are a bad sign. Effectsof caffiene: cardiovascular, respiratory, kidney, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, liver, and neurotoxicity; incomnia; nervousness; hyperactivity; irritability; migraine; birth defects; infertility. Not recommended for young children and infants. We’ve covered obesity, tooth decay, and caffience dependence. The last one is bone Weakening. Animal studies show that phosphorus can deplete the bones of calcium. 12 oz can of soda averages 30 mg of phosphorus. A 1994 Harvard study found a connection between bone fractures and soda consumption in 14 year old girls. Girls who drank cola were 5x more likely to suffer fractures than those who didn’t drink soda. 
  • I don’t have a lot to say about coffee now- it’s main problem is caffeine, which I just talked about. One thing about coffee and then I’ll move on: something in coffee increases calcium secretion. That means that your body is not able to adequately absorb the calcium that you consume. A note here: osteoporosis is a big thing now. Think about what you are doing to your body.  

The third and last section: Fats and Oils.

  • Fats and oils are not always bad things. Your body needs a certain amount of fat and oil to properly function. Lowfat diets in children have been linked to a failure to thrive. Cholesterol is something everyone thinks of soon after they hear the word fat. Cholesterol is something that our bodies use to give cell membranes stiffness and stability and  to make salts for digestion. It is also used as an antioxidant and is needed to make seratonin function. Seratonin is your “feel good” chemical. Low cholesteral levels have been linked to aggression, violence, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Now that we have established the fact that we need fat, we need to talk about how much. The typical American consumes too much fat. Bad fats need to be limited- don’t eat the fat on your steak, cut it off before you cook it. A lot of the fat comes from the way we cook our meats. If you carefully trim you meat before you bake, fry, broil, or grill it you will notice a huge difference! 
  • Hydrogenated oil is another fat that you should know about.  Hydrogenation takes an oil and saturates it with Hydrogen. The problem with hydrogenated oil is that your body doesn’t know what to do with it. Effects of hydrogenated oils: atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, birth defects, problems with bones and tendons. It has been linked to increase in heart disease. Dr. Walter Willet, chairman of Nutrition at Harvard medical, did a 14 year study of 85,000 nurses. Conclusion: a high rate of heart disease among nurses who consumed hydrogenated oils. (same findings: Dr. Henry Blackburn, professor at U of Minnesota; Dr. William Castelli, Director of Framingham Cardiovascular Institute.) Dr. George Blackburn from Harvard published this statement: “no increase in heart disease in those countries where the people consume oil… that has not been hydrogenated.” Hydrogenation preserves the oil- over 90% of our foods contain hydrogenated oils. They are bad news- you should really stay away from them.
  • Butterfat is another touchy subject. Butter is a rich source of Vitamins A, D, K, E; it is also a good source of carotene. Vitamin A is more easily absorbed from butter than other sources. Carotene is converted to Vit A in our bodies and has protective properties against cancer (lung and cervical) and against UV rays. Carotene gives butter its deep yellow color. Butter had antimicrobial, anti tumor, and immune system supporting properties. Butter is about 80% fat.Gasp! I know- it sounds awful. Believe it or not, butterfat is a good fat. Now you shouldn’t sit down and eat a stick of butter every day. That is an unwise and unhealthy way to use a good fat. But butter does have its place in our refrigerator. 
  • Margarine… margarine has a lovely history.  There are many stories about how and why margarine was created, but the common theme is that it was created in France as a cheap butter alternative. The cheap part made it available for the common person who didn’t have a milk cow and couldn’t afford to pay for butter. Margarine was made with animal fats at first, then the trend turned to making it with oil. Are most oils liquid or a solid at room temperature? Liquid, right. And that presented a problem, until hydrogenation was invented. We just talked about how bad hydrogenation is. The first patent for the hydrogenation process was in 1903. Proctor and Gamble had to give away the Crisco originally. No one wanted it. But, thanks to good advertising and free samples, Margarine was outselling butter by 1957.  Margarine looks good because it has a yellow dye in it. It was marketed in its natural color for a while- a very unappetizing gray- with a little yellow capsule in the container so that you could stir in your own color. The flavor is thanks to scientists in their lab making and artificial butter flavor. There are preservatives in margarine. There is also vitamin A and D- I think this is the margarine industry’s way of trying to make up for the fact that you are missing out on all of those naturally-occurring vitamins in butter. 

Finally: the last of the last. Oils.

  • I will tell you what I know: soybean oil may cause tumors. Soy products have isoflavones that can depress thyroid function and cause goiters. Two times as many diabetic children received soy formula in infancy as opposed to non-diabetic children. Scientists are still researching the affect of soy on the human body, but so far it doesn’t look good.  
  • Canola oil comes from rapeseed. Rape is a very poisonous weed. The oil was used in animal feed in England and Europe between 1986-1991. The oil was taken out when (I found this hilarious!) cows, pigs, and sheep went blind, lost their minds, attacked people, and had to be shot. It has been associated with fibrotic heart lesions, and it creates a vitamin E deficiency. Do you really want to be using something that might make you go crazy? 

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