Eat Unrefined Food

Nutrition Fundamental # 4: Eat Unrefined Food

Let’s tackle the subject of food processing.  You can probably guess by now that eating foods in their unrefined state is best.  That means food without barcodes!  The processing of food is a recent phenomenon among developed countries.  Did you know that until 1938 in the United States it was illegal to sell white flour and white sugar, because they contain bleach, a caustic chemical, which was not considered fit for human consumption?  The Pure Food and Drug Act, passed in 1906, protected Americans from food manufacturers selling anything that was not pure, unadulterated food (1).  Unfortunately, in 1938, food manufacturers pressured Congress to pass the more comprehensive Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which increased the power of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (3)  Soon after, the FDA began to allow nonfood items such as bleach and additives to be added to our foods thus starting the landslide of processed foods found on grocery store shelves today.  These new foods are much prettier, softer, whiter, and cleaner looking than the real food.  Refined & processed foods also have a much longer shelf-life.   But this convenience comes at a cost. In the next few posts, we will delve into the nutritional “cost” of food processing.

Here are a few statistics to ponder:

— The FDA has currently approved more than 3000 food additives. (8)

— The average American consumes about 150 pounds of food additives a year, the majority of which is sugar and other sweeteners, followed by salt, vitamins, flavors, colorings, and preservatives, totaling nearly 10 percent of the food we eat per year. (7)

— Seventy-eight percent (78%) of processed foods contain genetically modified (GM) ingredients. (4)

— The average meal now travels 1500 miles from the farm to the factory to the supermarket. (4, 7)

— A study published in the Nov 2009 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry found that participants whose diet was high in processed foods had a 58% higher risk of having depression five years later.  The researchers concluded that, “This study adds to an existing body of solid research that shows the strong links between what we eat and our mental health.”  (5)

–Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed 20 studies involving over 1.2 million people from 10 countries and found the intake of processed red meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats significantly increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  They found a 42% increased risk of developing heart disease and a 19% risk of developing type 2 diabetes for every 1.8 oz increase in daily intake of processed meat (2 slices of deli meat or 1 hot dog).  A review of the same data showed that the consumption of unprocessed red meat from beef, lamb and pork is not linked to an increase in heart disease or diabetes. (6)

Your assignment: pay attention to how many processed and refined, “barcoded” foods you eat this week.


1. Facts on File, Inc. “Landmark Document in American History: Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (1995)
2. Loidolt, K. Shoppers Guide to Healthy Living (2007)
3. “Pure Food and Drug Act” Wikipedia  (2010)
4. Kenner, R. & Schlosser, E. Food Inc. [Motion picture documentary] (2009)
5. Paddock, C. “Researchers Say Healthy Diet Protects Against Depression in Middle Age” Medical News Today. (2009, November 2)
6. Paddock, C. “Bacon, Sausage, Deli, Processed Red Meat Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes” Medical News Today (2010, May 18)
7. Minich, D. An A-Z Guide to Food Additives, Never Eat What You Can’t Pronounce. San Francisco: Conari Press (2009)
8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS)” (2010, October 14)

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