"By eating more whole foods, you are at such a higher chance of getting the nutrient diversity your body really needs, so that’s the bottom line: balance.” “So just because something is more processed doesn't necessarily mean it's completely devoid of nutritional value, just what we see, for a variety of ultra processed foods.”
In today’s episode, we are in conversation with Marissa Arnone as she discusses the difference between processed, ultra-processed, and whole foods to help us understand the types of foods we consume. We’ll explore the wide range of food choices on the market while examining their effects on society and our health.
Marissa became a personal trainer in 2020 while she was attending the University of Florida, then became a registered dietitian soon after graduating. She most enjoys her time working 1 on 1 with clients experiencing gut and hormonal imbalances seen in conditions like IBS, PCOS, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Shireen: In today’s episode we are in conversation with Marissa Arnone as she discusses the difference between Processed, Ultra-Processed, and Whole Foods to help us understand the types of foods we consume. We explored the wide range of food choices on the market while examining their effects on society, and our health. Stay tuned.
Marissa Arnone became a personal trainer in 2020 while she was attending the University of Florida, then became a registered dietitian soon after graduating. She most enjoys her time working one on one with clients experiencing gut and hormonal imbalances seen in conditions like IBS, PCOS, and type two diabetes. Welcome, Marissa.
Marissa: Glad to be here.
Shireen: Marissa, I want to dive right in and really understand a little bit more about your personal journey to becoming a dietitian, can you share with us any challenges or successes that you’ve experienced along the way, as a dietitian.
Marissa: I’m sure there’s a lot. It started back when I was in high school, I had a family member diagnosed with stage three cancer and seeing the disease progression startled me quite a bit at that age. And I started to notice how my parents started to change their diet in reflection of that. And once I got to a certain place, maybe around age 17, or 18, I knew I wanted to do something in the realm of nutrition, because I had a passion for disease prevention.
I’ve seen friends of mine growing up that had relatives that are really close to that pass away due to a variety of diseases like cancer, COPD, diabetes, and I wanted to make an impact in some way. So I became a dietitian, didn’t know what a dietitian was at first. Of course, I thought a nutritionist was the same thing as a dietitian, I didn’t know what I would go to school for to know what I was supposed to major in. Somewhere along the way, I realized that the major is called dietetics. So I applied and I went to the University of Florida, picked up a food sites minor as well just because I had the time and I had the electives. That was great.
Big challenges for me, probably just what was going on in my life around the time that I was becoming a dietitian and going through my supervised practice, I was having some family issues that made it hard, because you want to separate your work life from your personal life. But I wasn’t really loving where I was at in my personal life. So I found myself just more consumed in work and trying to keep myself occupied. So my mental space wasn’t the best while I was going through this process. But I had such a great experience in school. I feel like I learned so much at UF. And then I feel like I learned so much in my supervised practice. It really primed me to excel.
As a dietician, I love counseling. I knew I always had a gift for counseling motivated people, helping people along their journeys, keeping them accountable. So I just found a way to do everything that I’ve ever wanted to do, and that was to become a private practice dietitian. I think the hardest thing for me was figuring out what I wanted to specialize in because I wanted to help everybody. And once I actually looked at myself and what I was going through, I realized that my entire life, I had experienced hormonal imbalances. And then closer to my early 20s, I started experiencing gut imbalances as well. So I began figuring out what I could do for myself, of course, I was able to heal from a lot of that. And in doing so it sparked a passion to help other women like me that are experiencing things like this, and are seeing the kind of results they want to see just going through conventional treatment. So now that’s where I’m at and that is what I do in my time as a dietitian and I absolutely love it.
Shireen: That’s amazing. And I truly value how you mentioned just sort of looking at your own journey and really honing in on to say like, this is an experience that I relate with, I have this, and I’m going to take it and really make it my life’s work. So it’s quite admirable that you do that. Our episode today in fact, and we’ll get into it a little bit here as well, but our episode today is really focused on looking at foods and the power of foods, and most notably understanding this whole thing that we hear about processed foods, and really understanding what that means. And before we dive into a little bit of that, let’s start with some definitions. First, can you explain to us the difference between processed food and ultra-processed foods? What does that mean?
Marissa: Yes, processed foods are any whole food that has been changed in some way. But that includes things like canning, packaging, washing, cutting up, all of that makes a food process. So you may realize I’m processing food by cooking food, this is normal, it does not mean something is bad. Ultra processed foods are foods that are taken completely away from the raw food product.
I like to use the example of Cheezits. It’s very like, yes, it has a resemblance to cheese, it has cheese flavor, but when you look at the ingredients, what do you see: not cheese, and then maybe a couple other ingredients, there’s a lot that goes into them. And really, they’re far removed from the original product. That’s how I usually like to.
Shireen: And so if we were looking at a less processed version of cheese, would that be milk? Or are we saying, only process up to a certain level to get it to the cheese? Like, help me understand how you would look at cheese then? Or is there no version of cheese that exists that is not ultra-processed?
Marissa: Well, when you look at the processing of cheese, in general, you have its milk that has to be aged, so in a way that is processed. So that’s a form of processed dairy. I would say as well, maybe if we took any vegetable, and then looked at veggie straws, there’s another way to look at the difference between a whole food, which is completely like you could get it off of a tree, you could get it from the ground, that is the whole food product, and then taking it teaching in some way, maybe washing it, then that food becomes processed. And then all of the other things that go into creating a packaged food product that would make it ultra-processed.
Shireen: Okay, so we’re really, like, drastically changing what is even like by nature, how it exists versus how it ends up on our plate or in a snack bag or something. Got it. So how do the differences between the two really affect the nutritional value and I have a feeling where you’re going with this, but help us understand why that ultra process those extra steps really change up in any way, the nutritional value itself.
Marissa: It can happen in a lot of different ways. It’s a very nuanced subject. But typically what you see with more processed foods is a higher caloric content in relation to the nutritional value. A lot of ultra processed foods are what I would consider energy dense, high calories, low in nutritional value, because of the you know, rapid heating processes, changing it in so many ways.
For example, a whole fruit that contains fiber, and all of the vitamins and minerals and then creating a juice product from that you’re removing the fiber and those vitamins and minerals will degrade over time as it’s sitting on a shelf, for example. That’s why people recommend that you drink juiced products right away right after they’re juiced instead of storing them for later because of that degradation of the vitamins and minerals. So you can see that happening in a variety of ways.
Another would be rice, the milling process of rice, you take the brown rice, which has the wheat, the bran and the germ, then you mill it and you’re removing the bran and the germ, which do contain healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Now, all in all, brown rice versus white rice, there isn’t too big of a difference. But that’s just one example of down the line of processing how that can strip a food of its viable nutrition. So I think that would pretty much sum it up.
Shireen: So is it safe to assume then by what you just mentioned that when food is ultra processed? Is it bad for us?
Marissa: Not always, there are ways that companies of various food products will actually add nutrition back to a product after it’s been processed. That’s why cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals. So there’s fortification, there’s enrichment, you’re adding back what was lost through processing, so you can look at the package on a label and see, oh, well, this is a processed food product, but there’s still no you got your fully in there, your all of your B vitamins, really a variety of nutrition, even though it is processed, that can happen a lot. And that does happen a lot, that can help prevent efficiencies.
So just because something is more processed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely devoid of nutritional value, just what we see, for a variety of ultra processed foods. Baked goods, for example, fall in that category, typically, high sugar, high fat, a lot of processed foods have a lot of sodium. So we see when someone is consuming more processed foods than anything, they have a diet that’s higher in calories, higher sugar, higher fat, higher sodium. That’s pretty indicative of the typical Western diet. But there are some processed foods that I would deem a little bit more health conscious than others doesn’t necessarily mean if you’re eating processed foods that you are unhealthy. I think there’s always a balance when it comes to that.
Shireen: And then speaking about that balance, what should we look for if we want something that is process, but still healthy? Are there things that you can point us to either on the box or container, whatever that we should look for,
Marissa: I would definitely look for protein, how many grams of protein is in something just for satiety as well. And protein is very important macronutrient for our health. The fiber content. That’s always a great indicator of if something’s going to sustain you if it’s going to help with your gut health as well. Again, those vitamins and minerals. So below all of the macronutrients, you see the percentages of vitamins and minerals. You want to see a good variety there, you don’t want to see 0% all across the board. And looking at the fat content, I would say just be wary of certain foods that are too high in saturated fat and trans fats as well. But other than that, trying to stick with those minimally processed foods.
I made a video about all of the foods in my pantry and in my refrigerator that were processed. And I was throwing out things left and right like almond milk, spinach, which was in a container, which is processed. Canned beans, there’s so many different foods that even I consumed day to day that are considered processed, but are minimally processed. It’s still close enough to the original food product to where it’s healthy, and it’s good for you. So staying more towards the realm of minimally processed foods, and using the highly processed foods in moderation and making sure when you do eat them looking at protein, looking at fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Shireen: When you mentioned that moderation, I guess the immediate question that comes to mind is what are the results of a high intake of such ultra-processed foods?
Marissa:Right, like I said, with the typical Western diet known as SAD, the Standard American Diet, that’s now the new term for it. This is a diet made up of a lot of highly processed foods. This is typically the diet pattern of an American. And what we have seen is this causes an increased risk in obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancers, diabetes, there’s a pretty comprehensive list out there all of the nutrition related diseases that can happen as a result of eating too many processed foods, because like I said before, we’re removing in most cases, a lot of the nutritional value.
So you can still be eating enough calories so to speak, but not getting enough of your micronutrients, your vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal health. When your body’s not getting enough of those things, it creates deficiencies, which can lead to a cascade of effects, ultimately creating an environment for inflammation and disease down the line.
Shireen: You know, one of the things I want to point back to just a second here is something that you mentioned just a minute ago, Marissa, so you talked about when I questioned you about what should we look for on the packaging or the container when we’re buying separate processed foods, and you immediately and perhaps even unknowingly went to the nutrition label.
What I’d like to point out to people is sometimes you know, you’ll look at the front of the box and continuous cereals are you know, they’re known for doing this. If you’re looking at a cereal box for instance, it will say things like, and we probably hear this through media as well as like this box, you know, lowers cholesterol, and they’ll be like all of these claims that the front of the box will make. We may think then and assuming so to say, no, I’m having this, this, this brand of cereal is advertised as good for my heart. So I will have it.
But then we used to flip to the back and you read the nutritional label is not such good news. Because it’s packed sugars or other things. Can you help us understand how to go about making these informed decisions for yourself, because we may look at the front of a container or box and think, yes, this is healthy for me, and I am doing right by and I’m having these nutrition, you know, nutrition rich foods, where that may not actually be the case.
Marissa: Yes, this goes back to food labeling laws in America, there are certain things that by law, a company can put on the front of a product for certain reasons. And it is, again, a very nuanced subject, but being able to understand it at a simplified level can really help us make informed decisions at the grocery store. So looking for things like those cholesterol claims, it’ll usually come from the fact that there’s a particular ingredient in the food product as a whole that has been scientifically shown to achieve a certain result, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that food product that you’re holding in your hands is going to help lower cholesterol for example.
Also looking at if something says non GMO, that’s a pretty common one. Organic, Made-With, 95%, organic ingredients, things like this. There’s a lot of controversy around it. Some people are completely against GMOs, some people are all for and will only eat organic foods, I would say generally, organic is better, because while it’s not completely void of pesticides, it does significantly lower the amount. And certain GMOs, again, super nuanced can be good can be fine, some not so much.
When I look at the basic types of foods that we want to get in our diets, one would be lean proteins. I like to opt for natural pasture raised cuts of meat and wild caught fish. So erring on the side of sustainability. And then same thing with you know, our fruits and veggies being more organic than our are fats and oils. I like to look more at anti-inflammatory oils that have a lot of omega three fatty acids, which would be olive oil and avocado oil.
This is difficult unless you talk to a dietitian or really start to research nutrition on your own as far as even just the difference in oils, because it’s not something that’s usually disclosed on a label. But I will give you one example of how nutrition labeling is bogus some times with, I’d gotten a Sam’s Club before and I’ve seen the same exact brand of ground turkey. One says 100% all natural, antibiotic free. The other one just says natural. The one on the left had been $3 more expensive per pound as the one on the right. But because I’ve studied nutrition labeling laws, I know that saying 100% natural, that’s an unregulated term, it really doesn’t mean anything and antibiotic free by law, they can’t use antibiotics in our livestock, and then give it to us for consumption. So putting that on there, that’s redundant, that that’s a no brainer.
But people don’t know that because it’s not advertised because these food companies do want you to spend more money on the same product to render a profit. So there are a bunch of nuances if you ever have questions about that, particularly, my DMs are open. Even if you see a label at the grocery store, like what does this mean? This is something I love to do with my clients. I even love to do grocery store tours with my clients to really get in front of the food products that they are buying every day and help them decipher is this actually better? Why am I really spending $2 extra on this and so on.
Shireen: And so and that is so helpful. You know, one of the things that I would like to ask you about this, then it becomes like, let’s look at the whole foods then right in this case, if so many foods we consume have been processed in some aspect or another, what makes a food a “whole food”?
Marissa: Right, if it is completely untouched, coming from the ground coming from the tree, you know, there is so much processing that is involved in just the packaging and shipping of food to grocery stores. And even then that amount of time you trace could be degraded, and the product or maybe you buy something that’s not in season in your area. So if you really want to eat more whole foods, I recommend eating produce that’s in season, first and foremost, because it’s going to be in the closest proximity to you is going to be when the soil is the most viable for nutrition. And it’s good even tastes better.
You may notice a strawberry in season versus off season tastes completely different. So just a really simple way to get in more whole foods in your diet is to pay attention to where you live, and what fruits and vegetables are in season at that time at that can even help so much more with the nutritional content. But bare bones, anything that’s considered a whole food is right from the earth, if you have your own garden, that’s a plus, you have a lot of whole foods in your bench.
Shireen: That’s interesting. And then what are the key nutrients that whole foods provide that are often lacking in processed and certainly in ultra processed foods?
Marissa: A lot of it would be, namely, fiber fiber is a big one fiber is something that gets stripped of a lot of fruits and vegetables. When it comes to processing and whole grains as well, you may notice a whole grain bread is going to have a lot more fiber than a white bread or an enriched bread. So that’s another big thing I like to decipher with my clients, especially those that have type two diabetes, because we want more fiber with the amounts of carbs that we’re eating to slow down that digestion process and create a slow release into the bloodstream. So I like to share the difference between whole grains, and white and enriched grains. So that’s a big one.
And then your micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, things like vitamin C, magnesium, Zink, copper, selenium, a lot of things that people don’t think about in their diet on the day to day, but are very important. And you shouldn’t have to necessarily think about all of these things day to day worrying about, am I getting these 20 different micronutrients, it should happen naturally, just as a result of eating a healthy balanced diet. So by eating more whole foods, you are at such a higher chance of getting the nutrient diversity that your body really, so that’s the bottom line is balance.
Shireen: What would you say to someone, Marissa, who’s saying, I hear you, I want to eat healthy, but how do I balance that with the convenience of just being able to walk into a store and pick up something quickly? On the run, you know, just a busy lifestyle and things to do? How do you balance that?
Marissa: I would say learning if you don’t know how to cook yet cooking is something that is a basic necessity everybody needs to know how to cook. I did not know how to cook up until four years ago. And ever since I learned how to really cook and has changed my life. Being able to make a plan for yourself. I talked about meal planning. So watching there’ll be my clients understand how to meal plan. And it’s so important because convenience is so important. But so is eating a nutrient rich diet that will give you the energy to have a busy life.
So what I have my clients do a lot of the time is create a plan, basic, what they want for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Look on Pinterest, there’s a website I love called Yummly.com. It’s up, it’s free, and you can rouse all the recipes there. Pick out what you want for a week, go to the grocery store, get your ingredients and then start batch cooking. So when you create a meal, usually at dinner, create three or four servings of that meal so that you do have leftovers for the next couple of days so that when you are in a pinch, take something out of your food storage container in your fridge and bring it to work with you. And then you can heat it up there instead of having to always go out
And going out to eat, and for convenience. Again, it’s always about a balance. If you do it a couple times a week, that’s no big deal. But for the majority, definitely try to batch cook your meals, it’s going to make a big difference. It’s going to save you time, find recipes that take 20 minutes or less and then batch cook those recipes and you will spend so little time in the kitchen but be eating such great meals that are really balanced. This is the key.
Shireen: And so it’s all about planning ahead is what I’m hearing you say it’s like if you plan ahead if you don’t make it like okay now what do I do? You’re obviously gonna make the wrong decision. Get ahead of it, plan ahead and prepare your meals in advance as well.
With that Marissa can’t thank you enough for coming on this episode. We are toward the end of the episode. However, I would love for our listeners to know how can they connect with you and just learn more about your work?
Marissa: Well, I am on Tik Tok @MarissaCPT, I’m on Instagram @Marissa.Arnone, that’s just my first name, not my last name. And my website is sofitsocietyllc.com, you can check me out there you can apply to work with me even depending on licensure and where you’re at in the world, I would love to have free chat with you just to see where you’re at.
Shireen: And then Marissa, you have a promotion for our listeners as well. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Marissa: Sure. So the first person that goes to my website and applies to work with me, in a state that I have the jurisdiction to work with you, I will be offering a free one on one consultation that is $150 worth. It’s a full assessment. Food journal is included so you can track and I can measure if you have deficiencies, I can recommend supplementation that really just depends on where you’re at. And after that, I am also running a 12 week program, you can find all the information on my website right now.
If it’s too late, I am having new cohorts. I’m gonna keep running this program. So there will be a waitlist for you to join as well. And if you email me email@example.com, asking for my three day free masterclass on gut and hormone imbalances, I will get that to you as well and that’s for anybody.
Shireen: That’s grea.And then Marissa, real quick, what states are you practicing in currently?
Marissa: It’s complicated. Usually what happens is when I get a new clients decide to apply to work with me, I will research the licensure laws in that state, and then determine because there’s really not a good comprehensive list because things are constantly updating. But for the most part, it’s the majority.
Shireen: Great. So the odds are we should likely go ahead and try to set up that one on one consultation because you would be able to work with us and the odds are at least that you would be able to okay.
Marissa: Yes, the odds are in your favor.
Shireen: Well, with that, Marissa, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was such a pleasure talking to you and really understanding and getting to understand what is process versus ultra-process and then of course whole foods and itself. to our listeners, thanks again for tuning into this episode. We want you to head over you know the drill at this point, we want you to head over to our social media and answer this quick question: What are some examples of processed, ultra process, or whole foods that you commonly use in your diet? And how do you perceive the difference in terms of taste and convenience? And then just overall nutrition value? Head over to our Facebook or Instagram. Find this podcast post and comment below again letting us know what are some examples of processed, ultra processed, or whole foods that you commonly use in your diet and how do you perceive some of the differences that you find amongst these various foods. We’ll continue the conversation there. Thank you for having me and bye, everyone.