Because the nutrients in whole foods are essential to your health
A lot is made these days of eating whole foods. But does it really matter? You bet it does.
Here’s a quick lesson on why it is important and simple guidelines for keeping whole foods in your daily nourishment. In a companion blog, I will go into greater detail for how to identify and choose whole vs. depleted food.
Why whole foods are important
Our bodies are chemical factories. Everything we do – whether it is moving muscles, thinking thoughts, digesting food, making babies, growing children, fighting disease or repairing injuries – all these things are really a series of chemical reactions. The purpose of eating, in addition to pleasure, is to deliver the chemicals the body needs in order to do all these things and to deliver the energy (calories) needed to power it all. We call these chemicals and sources of energy “nutrients.” For the body to function properly, we need aproper balance of both the energy-containing nutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) and the non-energy nutrients like vitamins, minerals, water, anti-oxidants and fiber.
Where whole foods come into play
The plants and animals we eat come neatly packaged by nature with a good balance of the energy and the non-energy nutrients we need. So what is the problem, you ask. The problem: The modern American food system has gotten in the way. Much of the food we eat is processed. A better word is “depleted”. Nutrients are intentionally removed, primarily the vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. The result is that the natural balance between energy and non-energy nutrients is grossly tipped toward more energy nutrients (calories) and less non-energy nutrients. The amount of loss and the resulting imbalance is staggering.
How bad is it? This may be hard to believe but more than half of the food in the typical American diet has been grossly depleted of nutrients! The consequences: The long term results of this imbalance are:
poor function such as fatigue, weakened immunity, infertility, poor mental function, early aging and
disease such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, skin problems and neurological diseases
How to distinguish whole foods from depleted foods
Whole foods are plant and animal foods the way nature produced them, before processors get to them and start removing constituents. Whole foods can be raw or cooked. And it doesn’t matter whether it is literally whole, chopped or even pureed, just as long as it is all there. Peeling a potato or carrot would be an example of minimal depletion, but peeling is not the problem. The problem is factory-based processing done by the food industry that removes dramatic amounts of nutrients.
Most of the loss and imbalance comes in three categories of food: added sugars, refined grains and added oils. Learning to identify and avoid these often hidden foods will be the subject of an upcoming blog. In the meantime:
• Choose food that is recognizable and has suffered as little processing as possible.
• Limit foods with added sugar (you’ll have to read the labels). Sugar that is naturally in foods, such as fruit, is fine.
• Choose whole grains.
• Limit added oils, especially in fried food and pastries, and be careful not to overdo oil-based dressings.
While this may, for the moment, sound like a diet of avoidance, eating a whole foods-centered diet is a diet of abundance, interest and great pleasure, plus of course, health.
Stay tuned for more detail about creating a whole foods-centered cuisine.