Vitamins, minerals and orangutans…
The Mother Nature’s Diet healthy lifestyle is built around the 12 Core Principles, an easy-to-follow set of nutrition and lifestyle guidelines – not hard rules, but guidelines to help you find the optimum diet and lifestyle for you, so that you get the best results.
In conversation recently, someone asked me ‘Why Core Principle 3, why do we have to cut down, or cut out, processed foods?’
I’ll answer that question now. Firstly, one reason we strive to minimise processed foods in our diet is in order to help us comply with Core Principle 1 (grains and excess starchy carbs) and Core Principle 2 (refined sugar).
We can walk the aisles of a modern supermarket and succumb to the illusion of choice – row upon row of different shapes, sizes and flavours; all the brightly coloured attractive packaging; it’s easy to think the 50,000 foods in a modern supermarket are all different. But in reality, many of them are actually just variations of the same thing. The truth is that a lot of processed foods are made from a basic starch (wheat, corn, rice, oats) with added soy and sugar. Then oils are added, such as palm oil or various vegetables oils, and then small amounts of other ingredients are added and finally artificial flavours, colours and preservatives round out the manufacturing process to create the final ‘food’.
It’s only in this final stage – adding the artificial colours, flavours and individual shapes and sizes, that many of these foods are differentiated from each other. There may appear to be 138 different breakfast cereals in your local supermarket, but if you break them down and look at them nutritionally, they are virtually all the same product. It’s only the shapes and colours and flavours that vary. These breakfast cereals are all made of wheat, oats, corn and so on, and they are all loaded with sugar. In 90% of cases, most of the calories are all coming from the same things.
From a biodiversity point of view – processed foods are nutritionally bland compared to fresh whole foods. So, we avoid processed foods as much as possible to help us meet Core Principle 1 and Core Principle 2.
Vitamins and minerals
Next, processed foods tend to be lower in micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) than fresh whole foods. Ideally, we want a diet super-high in vitamins and minerals, above the standard advise to eat our 5-a-day, and we’re far more likely to get those nutrients eating scrambled eggs, a big crunchy salad, and a dinner of fresh fish and mixed greens, than from eating pop tarts and microwave ready-meals.
Very, very tasty
Food manufacturers combine refined sugar, processed oils (usually vegetable oils or palm oil) and refined salt in precise quantities in processed foods in order to make those foods as irresistibly tasty as they can. There is a whole world of science behind this which is fascinating and scary all at once, how manufacturers make these so-called hyperpalatable foods to hit your ‘bliss point’ – that’s the precise combination of sugar, fats and salt to make you crave that food as much as possible – their goal is to sell more food, but the end result is overeating: these foods are addictive; people spend more money; eat too much; it’s contributing to the rise in obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Some years ago we all started to worry about trans fats in our diet. It was proposed that these unhealthy artificial fats were raising LDL cholesterol and contributing to heart disease. In a victory for the world of healthy eating, over a decade or two, food manufacturers generally cut right back on their use of some of these processed vegetable oils and massively reduced the trans fats in processed foods (they’ll do anything to keep sales rolling! Hint: think, let’s all buy more organic veg and grass-fed meat and dairy, and see the economies of scale push prices down to meet consumer demand for higher-welfare food!)
However, in many cases, they replaced the processed vegetable oils with palm oil, and this swap has brought it’s own problems. There are now growing concerns that palm oil may pose some cancer risk, and some now agree that palm oil raises cholesterol as much as trans fats did in the first place. The jury is still out on the science of all this – but the MND way is simple, we just avoid all this by not eating processed foods – simple!
And those orangutans…
Beyond nutrition, there are further reasons we want to reduce or completely eliminate processed foods from our diet. All this increased demand for palm oil is threatening to cause the extinction of the orangutan. Growing oil palms for the palm oil business is a major cause of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia, and if we don’t urgently stop this deforestation, the orangutan will be extinct in little over a decade.
In the UK, less than 20% of the money you spend in a supermarket ends up going back to the farmers. So think about that, if 20% goes to pay for the ‘real food’ then what is the other 80% paying for? Processing, artificial colours and flavours, packaging, distribution, shelf space, marketing and advertising. Now I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my money buying nutrition for my family, rather than paying for the ad agency that came up with some clever slogan to sell more sugar to my kids, or the TV ad campaign designed to get me to buy more food than I need. No wonder farmers are being squeezed so hard and struggling to make a living – and this all drives poor animal welfare standards, poor topsoil management and more. In the US, it’s worse, barely 10% of supermarket spend goes back to the farm.
And finally, packaging – I like to buy vegetables that still have some mud on them, I like to know my food is fresh and local if possible. Vegetables don’t need to be sealed in plastic wrapping. All that single-use plastic finds it’s way to our seas and oceans, or ends up in a landfill site somewhere, and I never met anyone who wants a landfill site near their home. Processed foods are hugely wasteful: think about that frozen oven pizza, it tends to have a cardboard box, then inside plastic wrap, around the pizza which sits on a polystyrene ‘tray’, and all that packaging ends up in the bin.
If we stop buying processed foods, and stick to fresh whole foods, we avoid all that wasteful packaging. Buy local and we minimise carbon mileage too.
So there are lots of reasons behind Core Principle 3 of Mother Nature’s Diet. Healthier and better for us, better for the environment, better for animal welfare and better for farmers – everything about Mother Nature’s Diet is designed to do our best to meet all these criteria.