The first buds of spring are just around the corner and the earth’s new warmth will produce an abundance of fresh vegetables after a dormant winter. It’s a time to savor crisp snap peas; peppery radishes; sweet strawberries; and antioxidant-rich spinach. Nature knowingly and easily provides us with “whole foods” this time of year. It is the ideal time to provide your body and soul with what it truly craves and needs; i.e., foods from nature not a factory.
What are whole foods and why are they so important? Any food that is as close to its natural state as possible and has little or no processing can be included in the whole foods category. We can easily include all fruits and vegetables, although highly sweetened, canned fruit or high sodium, canned vegetables do not make the grade! Likewise, unprocessed grains such as brown rice, whole barley, wheat berries, and quinoa are excellent sources of whole foods, but refined white flour, white rice, and “instant” oatmeal are worthless imposters.
Beans and legumes (lentils, red beans, chickpeas, etc.), nuts and seeds, and natural sweeteners (honey, agave, etc.) are also great whole foods. Animal and dairy protein can fall into this category, but should be the highest quality you can find and afford, i.e.; organic, grass-fed, or at least minimally processed with no antibiotics or hormones.
Consuming whole foods on a daily basis are vital to our physical well being. Foods in their whole state contain necessary water, vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, fiber, and carbohydrates that fuel our bodies and help prevent disease. The body spends 80% of its time digesting food, so it is very beneficial to supply the body with foods that aid in that process. Our bodies evolved to use nutrients in the amounts and combinations provided by the food that grows naturally on this planet. Foods are made up of hundreds of different health-giving substances that work together to provide optimal health. You can’t replace the life giving benefits of whole foods with supplements (remember there is a reason they are called “supplements”). We should be eating 70-80% of our daily foods from whole foods.
Whole foods are not a new concept, but luckily it is making a comeback! Hippocrates’ stated over 2,500 years ago, “Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food.” It has only been within the later part of the 20th century with the industrialization of processed foods that we abandoned real whole foods.
Our parting from a traditional whole foods diet has resulted in near epidemic incidents of diseases, such as chronic heart disease, adult-set, type 2 diabetes, and obesity, to name a few. Many of these diseases are also showing up in children, something almost never heard of in the earlier part of the 20th century. Embracing mass produced, highly processed, nutrient-deprived foods is robbing us of our good health, and ultimately our quality of life.
What can you do? Educate yourself (This blog and the recipes on THE WHOLE MEAL are a good place to start!). Shop the outer aisles of the grocery store (produce, fresh meats, dairy, bulk grains) avoiding the processed foods. Choose the best quality whole foods you can afford. Get to know your friendly farmer’s markets, local produce stands, and food co-ops. These will be the best sources for fresh, seasonal, local produce. Purchase and eat seasonal produce which will save you money, as these are found in abundance for the time of year. Aim to add more raw fruits and vegetables to your daily diet, to maximize live enzymes and nutrients. Challenge yourself to eat vegetarian for most of the day.
Always remember that you are the one who controls what goes into your body. Eating whole foods, however, is not about being obsessive or perfect, rather it is understanding that our bodies thrive on whole foods and help us resist disease. I like to tell my kids that no food is bad food, just some foods are better to consume most of the time if they want to feel good, not get sick, and live a high quality life. It’s all about the 80/20 rule, which is eat whole foods 80% of the time, and you can still live in the modern, all about convenience, gotta-have-it fast mentality 20% of the time.