My research on choosing the best foods for best results for fat burning & best performance is based on a solid Paleo/Primal research foundation! With respect to food processing, this translates to our bodies not having the ability to deal with many of the food processing techniques very well. In some cases food processing increases availability of energy from foods but in many cases our bodies don’t recognize the chemical compounds added to foods and often have effects on our bodies that are not good. However, all of this can often be confusing for some people and put others off completely, therefore, I’m taking a crack at it from a different angle here.
Consider for a moment if everyone limited their exposure to processed foods. I have discussed this in a previous blog post, which was more theoretical and less practical. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to apply this and I’ve come up with my Food Processing Spectrum (below). This provides a practical tool that people can use to guide them to create the least processed meal options available.
Think of food a spectrum of processing and choose the least processed foods that you can. I’m not a raw food purist or anything, but be sure to eat more foods that are less processed over those that are more processed. In fact, for 60 days just omit all foods from the processed side of the spectrum and see how that works for you.
You want to make sure that most of the foods you eat come for the least processed end of the spectrum. Things that will “process foods” include:
a) Cooking: Bring foods to their safe (bacteria killing) temperatures, but try to avoid overcooking them. Charring of meats (for example) leads to formation of heterocyclic amines (HCA) that have been shown to be highly carcinogenic compounds.
b) Pasteurization: This is essentially heating to very high temp. Most beverages that were once alive in North America (i.e. Dairy & Fruits beverages) are pasteurized to prevent bacterial growth. This denatures enzymes that are normally present in the fresh foods. It is currently illegal to sell unpasteurized dairy products in North America. Putting fruits & vegetables in a blender, however, creates a living smoothie with the entire enzyme profile intact. Canned foods (i.e. fruits and veg) are often pasteurized to prevent bacterial growth, but in doing so many of the plant-derived enzymatic benefits are lost.
c) Blending: Breaks up solids and even cells (depending on your blender). It can liquefy many of the components and therefore creates a drinkable meal option. Be VERY careful with smoothies as it’s always better to eat your calories vs. drink them! Depending on the composition of the smoothie, these can be very high in available carbohydrates and therefore cause huge spikes in insulin, therefore stopping fat burning & leading to fat storage!
d) Milling: This is pretty much exactly the same as Blending but with solids (i.e. all grains). This is used to create flours and much of the original content is removed then added back. However, one of the biggest issues with this process is that it is all done by machine today and the particle size that results from machine milling is so fine that it can penetrate the gut wall and cause overt irritation or at least increase inflammatory response. There is also evidence that some of the naturally occurring irritants in grains (i.e. Lectins, etc…) that are not removed in usual production are causing increased inflammatory responses. Either way, grains seem to be a bad choice!
d) Freezing: This process cools the food in order to significantly slow down the molecules and enzymes that lead to spoiling. They are not stopped, but are severely slowed. The major drawback with freezing some items (i.e. fruits) is that the fluid in the cells freezes and when they are thawed this intra-cellular liquid expands and bursts the plant tissues therefore making things mushy! Freezing does NOT kill enzymes and is a great second choice to fresh for most people.
e) Chemical additives, preservatives & artificial ingredients: These are the most encountered and least recognized food processing techniques in existence today. If you eat anything in a package at all, you are consuming these chemical ingredients. Many are designed to extend shelf-life, decrease cost of production for the food company, and many also have the added benefit of stimulating appetite in consumers can lead to food addiction or over-consumption. Regardless, none of these ingredients are used with your health in mind. Therefore, we NEED to avoid them as much as possible.
f) Fermentation: This technique is a more natural processing technique. It allows bacteria & enzymes that occur naturally in the foods to work to start breaking down the food into components (example is Eskimos that buried meat & consumed it fermented). Obviously, this is not without some risk for foodborne illness, but when done properly it can be an awesome way to increase the nutritional value of many food items.
Obviously, there is a lot more to this story, but this seems like a good start.
Be sure to choose the least processed foods that you can on a regular basis. Try this for 60 days and see how you look, feel & perform!