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"What are processed foods?"

Hey everyone, it’s Dr.Oza again. I thought we’d talk about something a little different today, something called a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) Diet. Though this sounds daunting, I assure you it’s not. One question I receive a lot as a physician is “what are processed foods?” I feel there may be a misconception about what makes a food “processed”. Instantly when an individual thinks about processed foods, they think of fast food chains. However, reality is, anything that isn’t a whole food is a processed food. Let me give you an example:

Think of an apple,

If eaten straight from the tree or from the supermarket it is a WFPB.

If cooked into apple sauce, it is minimally processed.

If it is put through a juicer and made into apple juice it has been further processed….You get the idea!

But if simply cooking an apple into an apple sauce makes it processed, then why do we always hear “processed foods are bad for you?”

Well here’s the deal, we need to remember that not all processing necessarily bad. For example, all fruits and vegetables create certain nutrients called phytochemicals to help them fight off different diseases so they can grow. With the wonders of nature, these phytochemicals, when we ingest them, are beneficial to us too! For instance, when a tomato is processed, some of these phytochemicals are present in higher amounts than when not processed! But this is not to say that all fruits and vegetables have higher amounts of these phytochemicals when processed. For some, when processed, these phytochemicals are destroyed. But this was just an example to show you that MAYBE not all processed foods are bad.

So why DO we process foods? Commonly, we process food to increase shelf life such as in frozen vegetables. However sometimes when food is processed, essential ingredients are removed such as fiber. Other ingredients may have been added to improve shelf life or to add taste such as sugar, salt, fat, preservatives and additives. The removal and addition of ingredients makes the processed food more calorie dense as opposed to nutrient dense and ingesting nutrient dense products is what the WFPB diet is all about!

I’m not here to advocate a raw food diet. This does not mean we just eat green leafy vegetables (although we should be eating them daily). Greens are nutrient dense but do not provide enough calories on their own to sustain us and therefore, need to be eaten with other whole foods such as beans, legumes, lentils, fruits and vegetables. I’m just here to provide you with some information to help you to make informed decisions with regards to your nutrition. As Michael Pollen says “EAT WHOLE FOOD, MOSTLY PLANTS AND NOT TOO MUCH”. It is important to remember one of our mantra’s here at Mindful Medicine is, balance. Balance between work and home, friends and family… processed and non-processed foods. If we try to think of everything in life as a weighing scale, we’ll be well on our way to living a Mindful Lifestyle!

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