By Lyons Optimal Wellness, Cliff Colgan, Nutrition Therapist
What a wiggly term “whole foods” has become in America these days. Whole food has been adopted by a leading grocery retailer as its name, Whole Foods. Whole food suggests a pureness and freshness that goes with healthy eating and good nutrition. Yet Whole Foods, Natural Grocer, aka Vitamin Cottage, and natural food stores havefood products that have been manipulated, milled, baked, refined, and processed. Not to say this manipulating is necessarily bad, but it does change how the body responds when confronted with a large daily amount of altered food. The natural farmer’s markets, so popular around Colorado communities, signify the consumer’s desire to make more local whole foods a larger part of their diet.
Whole foods, to me, are foods that come out of the ground as little altered by man-made chemicals or mechanical processes as possible. Whole foods are also animals that have been raised in pastures or from water sources as unpolluted as possible. My whole foods have not been altered genetically in the lab, which has been labeled GMO.
What is done to even the most pure of foods to allow them to last longer in the store or home pantry can change its energy content and the nutritive value. For example, to many, it is hard to argue that extra virgin olive oil is a whole food and good for you. But that oil was once in an olive with all its flesh surrounding that oil. Some are choosing to eat the olive instead of the olive oil to get their oil because of the antioxidants and other nutrients in the olive.
Another food that gets called “whole” is grain, as in whole grain wheat. But the wheat kernel is just the seed of the wheat plant. Wheat seeds pack a lot of carbohydrate energy, even in “whole grain” form. When grains get separated from the plant they are no longer whole, they are a concentrated food source. When a third of a cup of a grain gets combined with a non-starchy vegetable and beans or animal based protein, you have a balanced meal. More grain at a meal quickly adds calorie energy that can be turned to fat if the calories exceed what the body needs for immediate energy.
The same can be said for fruit juice, even when juiced fresh at home from whole fruit. Juicing an apple takes the fiber away and allows fruit sugar to enter the bloodstream much more quickly. Drinking fruit juice can supply quick energy but much more than a few ounces can raise blood sugar and insulin levels also. Eating the apple provides energy longer and provides fiber that keeps the GI tract healthy and strong. I believe the two best reasons for eating “whole food”, cooked or raw, is obtaining phytonutrients and bulk. Phytonutrients are all the good substances in the food that work to keep our bodies healthy in ways we don’t fully understand. Bulk is the fiber that stretches the stomach and intestines to signal enough food has been eaten and dampens our appetites. Fiber also ensures food moves quickly through our intestines, which prevents constipation.
Nutritionists have been accused of making this eating business too complicated. It is a valid charge so I will repeat Michael Pollan’s suggestions when eating gets confusing:
- Eat whole unaltered foods
- Mostly plants (non-starchy)
- Not too much
I have recently come across an heirloom seed distributor named Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They can be reached on line at www.rareseeds.com. Their online fruit, vegetable, and flower catalog has beautiful photos of rare, great-tasting whole foods and flowers. Their seeds can make a nutritious, interesting garden a reality.