Monday, April 4, 2011

Refined Foods: Perhaps not so “Fine”

Over the past couple weeks I have been studying all the vitamins and minerals our body needs, the sources they come from, their functions, various uses in treatment and the effects of deficiency or toxicity.
I came across a few themes when it comes to vitamins and minerals. First, significant amounts of many vitamins and minerals are lost during food processing and/or cooking. Second, depleted soil (which is an ever-increasing problem with modern agriculture) causes nutrient depleted foods. Here are a few examples (all taken from “Staying Healthy with Nutrition” by Elson M. Haas”):

o Vitamin E – “The protective covering or germ part of the grains is what contains the E, which is lost easily in the milling of flour or in the refinement of grains. For the vitamin E to be preserved, extraction of the oils from nuts and seeds must be done naturally, as by cold-pressing, rather than by heat or chemical extraction, which is used commonly in food processing”
o Folic Acid (a B Vitamin) – “Folic acid is sensitive and easily destroyed in a variety of ways—by light, heat, any type of cooking, or an acid pH below 4. It can even be lost from foods when they are stored at room temperature for long periods.
o Potential Mineral Loss in…Wheat Milling – “Manganese 88%, Chromium 87%, Magnesium 80%, Sodium 78%, Potassium 77%, Iron, 76%, Zinc 72%, Phosphorus 71%, Copper 63%, Calcium 60%, Molybdenum 60%, Cobalt 50%”
o Potential Mineral Loss is…Refining Sugarcane – “Magnesium 99%, Zinc 98%, Chromium 93%, Manganese 93%, Cobalt 88%, Copper 83%
o Magnesium – “Many factors affects magnesium availability from goods. One is the amount of magnesium in the soil in which the good is grown…”

These are just a few examples. Many vitamins and minerals follow the same patterns. This is a big problem! We are eating food that may give us energy to burn, but doesn't provide us with the nutrients we need to sustain basic bodily functions, such as cardiac function, fluid and pH balance, conducting nerve impulses, muscle contraction, blood clotting, maintaining strong bones…the list goes on!

So what can we do to make sure we get the vitamins and minerals our body needs? Supplements can help, but unfortunately good health isn’t as easy as popping a pill. We should avoid consumption of refined foods and eat whole foods instead. Look for cold-pressed oils instead of vegetable/canola oils processed at very high heats (you’ll likely have to go to a health food store). Buy local produce that is picked ripe (when its at its highest nutrient content), so that you can eat it fresh, since nutrients often degrade over time. (Your know the produce in the grocery store doesn’t get here from Peru overnight!) Also, eat a variety of foods, especially vegetables since different foods are high in different nutrients. Once the food is in our hands, how we prepare it also affects the nutrient content (see below).

Check out this pyramid, taken from the website of Udo Erasmus, Ph D. in nutrition and an expert on Fats and Oils for more info on how processing affects our food.