Hello best life seekers!
Are you confused by all the conflicting nutrition talk? One moment low-carb is all the rage, then it’s low-sodium. Fat is good. No, fat isn’t good. Blah blah blah. It’s enough to drive a person insane, right? Eating is a natural and necessary activity. It shouldn’t be rocket science and for 99.99% of the animal world, it isn’t! We humans just have to complicate things so let’s make it simple. Like the rest of the 99.99% of species, we should be eating whole foods.
We’re the only species that farms, manufactures and processes our foods, uses chemicals to flavor everything, and now is so alienated from our own basic means of survival – eating – that we spend years sifting through conflicting studies and blogs about nutrition and weight control and still wind up suffering from a host of modern diseases linked to our food habits.
Let’s take a look at the other 99.99% of the animal kingdom, which lack PhDs but seem to be doing fine. They eat whole foods. Every one of them unless they have the misfortune of relying on humans, at which point we feed them processed foods and wonder why they get sick. Just look to your pets – dogs and cats have skyrocketing cancer, diabetes and kidney problems among others because we are essentially feeding them processed food and calling it kibble.
Food is Simple
So what are whole foods?
Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, and are free from additives or other artificial substances before being consumed.
Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, tubers, and whole grains. For the carnivores out there, I would add that fresh meat in the butcher section of grocery stores fits the bill even though it’s not a plant. Same with eggs and milk.
If you understand the concept of whole foods, eating healthy won’t be a problem. Why do I say this? Because right now the standard American diet, which is unfortunately going global, is 63% processed foods, 25% meat, and only 12% fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts (half of this is french fries). And we have a horrible health score. Meanwhile, cultures whose eating habits revolve around whole foods, like blue zones such as Okinawa, boast populations who regularly live into their 90s.
Wanting more insight into identifying whole foods? Think of it this way: if you’re shopping in the fresh fruits and vegetables section and the item could use a produce bag, then you’ve probably found a whole food. Shelled nuts and seeds, as well as those bags of dried beans are also whole foods. After that, things tend to start becoming lightly processed. Dry rice, quinoa, barley, oats, etc. usually have been lightly processed but still fall into the whole foods definition. Most varieties of white rice, for instance, have been hulled, blanched, treated and who knows what as to be virtually free of nutrition. Used to these grains spoiled. Now they can sit on our shelves forever so be a little discerning when shopping in these aisles.
As you walk deeper into the store and away from the fresh produce, food items become quickly processed. Canned veggies are cooked, treated with preservatives and salts. If you pick up a can of soup, you’re losing more nutrition and picking up more chemicals and flavorings and processing. Just turn that can over and look at the ingredients. Condiments like ketchup and dressing come loaded with high fructose corn syrup. Manufacturers sneak this highly processed ingredient into everything, including soy sauce and sriracha sauce. If you’re in the deli, you’ll find it and other additives and artificial substances in things like potato salad, macaroni, etc. Even most rotisserie chickens come loaded with tons of additives and preservatives.
Almost everything on the shelves in your store is a processed food. We all know the snack aisle of cookies and chips is junk food and processed but so is most everything in the frozen foods aisle, unless you’re actually putting that bag of frozen peas in your cart. Chicken nuggets or chicken strips? Processed. Pizza and frozen meals? Processed. Macaroni and cheese? Pasta kits? Processed. These are all loaded with additives and artificial substances and very little, if any, nutrition.
What about those whole grain breads you love so much and which sport those awesome heart healthy advertisements? Processed. Flour is highly refined and processed these days and it’s the main ingredient in those breads. A whole grain is just that. It’s whole. If you eat a handful of nuts and seeds, you’re eating a whole food. Eat barley or quinoa and you’ll be eating a whole grain. Mill up flour and bake it the way the bread industry does? Processed.
Turn over the loaf and look at the ingredients. You’ll be lucky to recognize the list that can run into dozens upon dozens of ingredients. Fortified breads just mean a chemical bath of a handful of nutritional components that you could consume more easily and in higher quantities elsewhere. That’s not a whole food. Even if it says whole wheat. If it was whole wheat, you’d be eating a bowl of grain, not a fluffy, yummy vehicle for butter, sandwiches or what-have-you.
Marketing is pretty deceptive, which is why it’s best to keep it simple by understanding what a whole food actually is. Manufacturers like to lure us to products that they label as healthy. We see “made with 12 whole grains” and think we’re eating the whole food but we’re not. We’re eating something that’s been processed, usually with added sugars, chemicals for flavoring, salt, preservatives and artificial substances. Bread doesn’t really go bad any more which should be a red flag. In fact, you can pretty much keep most bagged bread – even the whole wheat or whole grain bread – for weeks or over a month without mold. That’s not normal. If even a brainless, opportunistic parasitic bacterium won’t eat it, why should we?
Whole foods are as close to the whole source of nutrition as we can get. That’s why raw carrots are better than carrot juice or cooked carrots. When we start stripping them of their wholeness or chemically alter them with heating, we lose nutrition or change its compounds. Processing foods does this and more. A chicken breast is more nutritious than that chicken nugget in the frozen food section or grilled up at McDonalds. Eggs and milk are whole foods whereas chocolate milk starts adding in preservatives and chemicals. Even almond milk isn’t the whole food a lot of people think it is. It’s still better for you, I’d wager, than a can of Mountain Dew. Cooking oils too are processed, from canola to olive to coconut oils.
The Modern Dilemma
What the whole foods issue points out is the fact that we’ve forgotten what it means to cook. We don’t cook anymore. We reheat items, usually heavily processed ones, and call that cooking. It is not. In this day and age of busy lives and schedules, cooking is a lost art but unfortunately its ramifications for our health are huge. Poptarts for breakfast or a Lean Cuisine for lunch are not real foods. They just aren’t. Look at the ingredients.
Eat out a lot? Most restaurant foods these days simply reheat already prepared and processed foods, many of which had to be delivered and stored, which means more preservatives, flavorings and other additives. Unless you actually see them cracking the eggs for your breakfast, know that they are using a processed egg mix of some sort. Ditto for every other item on your plate. Do you really think they’re making your chicken alfredo from scratch?
Having a nutritious meal of whole foods doesn’t include peeling off a film of plastic, popping a tray into a microwave, and waiting so many minutes for your “food” to cook. Neither will it be found in pulling the tab on a box and dumping all the contents into a sauce pan to boil for so many minutes. Steam in a bag veggies are about the safest you get but usually they come out like unappetizing mush. Right?
A bowl of grapes and walnuts for breakfast is an actual meal. Strangely, it doesn’t require cooking. Sliced avocado, tomato and cucumber is another whole foods meal. Again, no cooking. Weirdly, we were not born with stoves attached to our bellies, yet we think we must boil, fry, sauté or steam everything. I’m not saying go raw. I’m simply drawing our attention back to basics we have forgotten.
Nutrition isn’t hard. It’s very simple. 99.99% of all species get this. We humans have somehow forgotten it in our search for convenience, newness, yield and plain old lack of thinking. We all want a magic pill that gives us everything our bodies need in a day but that doesn’t exist. If we want health, we should go back to the basics. If we could make even 70% of our diet whole fruits and vegetables, 20% meats, and 10% processed foods, our health declines would likely reverse very rapidly. We’d be eating a blue-zone type diet after all. Maybe vegetarian and vegan would be even better. It’s at least food for thought.
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