Will you please address the problem with refined foods, including “health foods”?
Commercial enterprises have moved far beyond the healthful offerings of cornflakes and breakfast cereals into a bewildering array of modified foods touted as health foods. Today there is very little that has not been manipulated, modified, augmented, or in some other way adulterated before it is offered for us to eat. There are a few very important principles we should understand.
We generally recommend “whole” foods. By this we mean food in its natural, unadulterated state. One can take this recommendation to the extreme and promote only raw foods. Such a diet results in an insufficient calorie intake, with resultant weight loss and intestinal discomfort. The quantity of raw food that needs to be consumed to provide nutrients for a balanced diet is beyond most people’s intestinal capacity. The cooking of grains, legumes, and many vegetables enhances their digestibility, and the blending in of other ingredients and herbs can enormously increase their palatability.
Additives and Flavorings
Most commercially prepared foods are overly seasoned with salt, so the average individual has difficulty maintaining the recommended salt intake if eating such foods in any quantity.
An additional problem is the excessive sweetening of prepared foods. High-fructose corn syrup has been the target of much criticism, but we need to remember that common table sugar is half fructose; in fact, honey, sugar, and maple syrup all contain fructose. Fructose in excess is poorly handled by the liver and, consequently, is converted into fat, making for a “fatty” liver. Many of us are overweight and have more fat than is healthful in our livers. An eventual result can be cirrhosis of the liver.
A third problem is the high fat content of refined foods. Saturated fats and their synthetic counterparts, the trans fats, are harmful. Fat does make for more palatable food, and a little vegetable fat probably is of minor concern and may help provide fat-soluble vitamins. The difficulty is that many products carry excessive amounts of fat to help with palatability. Simply check the fat content of the vegetarian sausages and other processed foods you may like in order to grasp this point.
Refining foods by extracting the wheat germ to produce white flour or by extracting gluten or texturized proteins from wheat or soybeans alters the natural balance of the foods. Extracting oils from nuts, vegetables, and even olives means we obtain very concentrated amounts of the extract. In small quantities this may not be harmful, but generally we tend to overconsume the concentrate or the depleted residue. The refining process sometimes removes vitamins from the food, and then manufacturers add back some of what they have removed and call the product “enriched.” The “depleted” part has been enriched, but the “whole” grain does not need enriching.
It is also wise to consider “food supplements” and vitamins. Some supplements may be necessary to compensate for our abnormal lifestyles, but studies have implicated excess vitamins with increased rates of cancer, examples being lutein and vitamin E. Some extra vitamin D for those of us who spend our days cooped up and out of the sunlight for years on end is a good idea, but the dosage should only be enough to restore normal blood levels.
Fresh vegetables, lots of fruit, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, along with a little dairy or dairy equivalent, should form the basis of a healthful diet. Excessive texturized protein, processed foods, and “created” complexes need to be viewed with caution. If you do choose to eat them, do so in moderation.
Send your questions to Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or e-mail them to [email protected]. While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is the director of the Health Ministries department of the General Conference. Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is an associate director of the Health Ministries department of the General Conference. This article was published March 22, 2012.