No Processed Foods for 100 Days: A Doable New Year’s Resolution

Four years ago (back in 2010), Lisa Leake and her family of four went 100 days without processed food on a small budget.  That experience led to her creation of a very popular blog and a bestselling book, 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love.  Leake’s blog provides support, motivation and recipes for anyone who adopts the very doable New Year’s resolution of no processed foods for 100 days.  And if this resolution seems too challenging, guidance to meet a ten day pledge of no processed foods is available on Lisa Leake’s blog and can be the basis of a very manageable New Year’s resolution.

Defining the meaning of “real food,” as distinct from “processed foods,” is at the heart of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, a book worth studying.  Lisa Leake further simplifies Pollan’s rules, with her suggested plan of action.  Her summary of “the exact rules we followed during our 2010 pledge” of no processed foods for 100 days consisted of these seven basic rules: (1) No refined grains, only 100% whole grain; (2) No refined or artificial sweeteners, only honey and pure maple syrup; (3) Nothing out of package that contains more than five ingredients, (4) No factory-farmed meat, only locally raised meat products; (5) No deep-fried foods; (6) No fast food; (7) Beverages only to include water, milk, occasional all-nautral juices, coffee and tea, and wine and beer in moderation.

Acres U.S.A. magazine recently reported (November 2014 issue) on a new study published in the journal Obesity by Dr. John Sievenpiper of Toronto, Canada’s St. Michael’s Hospital’s Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre which found that “eating about one serving a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils (pulses) can increase fullness, which may lead to better weight management and weight loss.”  These unprocessed (or whole foods) are metabolized (or break down) slowly, with their low glycemic index.  Excellent sources of protein, they can be incorporated easily into a diet that leads to the successful completion of the resolution to avoid processed foods for 100 days. (This website has recipes for delicious bean burgers as well as a simple recipe for hummus (made from chickpeas) which are tasty ways to include pulses in a whole foods diet.)

Support for Lisa Leake’s basic rule to avoid artificial sweeteners has also gained recent support from the findings of a study by Dr. Eran Elinav, an immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and his collaborators, which was recently published in Nature, the international weekly journal of science.  According to an article in the New York Times on September 18, 2014 by Kenneth Chang, Artificial Sweeteners Alter Metabolism, Study Finds, “Artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes.”

Another very doable New Year’s resolution, which fine tunes a commitment to avoid processed food, is to join a community supported agriculture farm (CSA farm).  In addition to avoiding processed foods, a shareholder in a CSA commits to eating with the seasons and becomes a part of a small community that supports a particular farm family.  In the modern world’s conundrum of hubbub and the loneliness of disconnection, membership in a CSA farm leads to a whole foods diet as well as knowing where and how your food is grown and the valuable feeling of connection to the land on which your food is grown.  This website takes pride in maintaining directories of CSAs throughout the United States and Canada.

And for those who already have a share in a CSA, a resolution to control the daily intake of sugar is a very fine resolution given momentum by the hard hitting documentary film, Fed Up narrated by Katie Couric.  As a personal note, I’ve been conscious of keeping sugar consumption on a daily basis below 50 grams and it has resulted in better health and some weight loss.  The current draft guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) point out that sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy intake (calories consumed) per day, which is equivalent to less than 50 grams (approximately 12 teaspoons) of sugar per day for an adult of normal Body Mass Index.

Both Michael Pollan and the film Fed Up share the view that consumption of sugar, in all its forms, is not healthy.  However, according to a recent study carried out at Harvard Medical School, as reported in the article, Vulnerability to Fructose Varies, Health Study Finds by Anahad O’Connor in the New York Times (10/14/14), the consumption of high fructose corn syrup “may promote obesity and diabetes by overstimulating a hormone that helps to regulate fat accumulation” and appears to be in an unhealthy league of its own.  In contrast, Pollan in his Food Rules puts all types of sugar into the same “avoidance” category .  In any event, Rule 4 of his Food Rules, “Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup,” remains critical.   [Pollan’s basis for this rule was “not because high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is any worse for you than sugar, but because it is, like many of the other unfamiliar ingredients in packaged foods, a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed . . . [and] it is being added to hundreds of foods that have not traditionally been sweetened.”]  Finally, Pollan’s Rule 5, “Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients,” which closely complements Rule 4, is still of upmost importance in our age of highly processed industrial food when there “are now some forty types of sugar used in processed food, including barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, cane juice, corn sweetener, dextrin, dextrose, fructo-oligosaccharides, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, sucrose, invert sugar, polydextrose, sucrose, turbinado sugar, and so on.”

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

(Frank W. Barrie, 1/1/15)


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