“Natural” and “whole foods” are buzz words these days, but what do they actually mean? What are whole foods and why are they important? Whole foods are foods in their most natural, unaltered forms. They are foods the way that, as some say, nature intended. Whole foods were custom designed to keep our bodies in good working order; these are the foods that have sustained humans and animals for millennia. In other words, they are foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat, nuts and beans, foods unprocessed and free of chemicals.
Eating these types of foods is beneficial to people in two important ways, as well as to the planet that we inhabit. The first benefit is optimal health. When we eat a diet of primarily unprocessed whole foods, we naturally lower our consumption of high-fat, high-cholesterol foods, animal foods and packaged foods, and we increase our consumption of fiber, complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. In doing this, we lower our risks of coronary heart disease, hypertension, lung, colorectal and breast cancer and diabetes.
Nutrients lost when whole wheat is refined:
39% vitamin E
66% vitamin b-6
55% pantothenic acid
*These are replaced commercially after the refining process.
The question of protein is a common one when the topic of vegetarianism arises. Americans have been led to believe that it is difficult to get enough protein. In fact, most of us (including vegetarians) eat more than twice the protein we need, and one of the most important causes of osteoporosis is excess dietary protein. As long as two protein-rich foods such as brown rice and beans or broccoli and soy, are eaten in the same day, the diet provides enough energy and total protein without the risk of losing calcium. This is called “mutual supplementation” or more commonly, “eating complementary proteins.”
The Mediterranean food pyramid is a useful alternative to the American food pyramid. This pyramid emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and olive oil at its foundation, while dairy products and meats are eaten in small quantities. People who have been following this diet for years are found to have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and digestive disorders. They are living examples of the benefits of a natural foods diet. When they do include meat, poultry and fish in their diets, naturally raised meats are the safest and highest quality meats available.
The Many Powers of Fruits and Vegetables
Excerpt from National News, Vol. 16. No. 8.
More than 80% of us don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. Why does it matter? Five of the six top causes of death in America are diet-related. Here is the latest on how fruits and vegetables fight disease.
Broccoli: the star. In a 10-year study of 35,000 women, broccoli was number one among high-antioxidant vegetables and fruits in warding off fatal heart disease, says experts at the University of Minnesota. Harvard researchers report that people who eat the most cruciferous vegetables, mainly broccoli and cabbage, have half the risk of bladder cancer. Cruciferous vegetables also include Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale.
Apples: Apples and apple juice contain antioxidants that help prevent clogged arteries. Chemicals in apples block a process called oxidation that enables bad LDL cholesterol to form plaque in arteries, promoting heart disease.
Prunes: antioxidant champ. Tufts University researchers find that prunes are number one in antioxidant activity of 50 fruits and vegetables measured. The prune ranks so high because it is dried from concentrated antioxidants. Next in total antioxidant power: raisins, blueberries, garlic, kale and strawberries. Antioxidants help combat virtually every chronic disease, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
Greens: for bones. Eating romaine lettuce daily could cut women’s odds of hip fracture as much as 45%. The reason: Greens are rich in bone-strengthening vitamin K.
Carrots: vs. heart disease. Eating a small carrot a day could cut your risk of heart attack 45% compared with people who eat less beta carotene, say Dutch researchers. Other research found that Swedish women who ate lots of beta carotene-rich fruits and vegetables for 20 to 45 years were less apt to develop breast cancer.
The second personal benefit of the natural/whole foods diet is the internal process that occurs when one begins to make conscious choices about their food. As a person’s diet changes, they will feel its benefits in a variety of ways: increased energy, better digestion, clearer sinuses, less general discomfort and an indescribable, yet palpable, sense of balance and well being. These benefits are the hardest to measure; yet they are the life-altering and satisfying elements that make such choices worthwhile.
A natural/whole foods diet has a profound and powerful impact on the planet. It is not enough to eat whole foods unless we also eat foods that were grown sustainably and organically. These are foods that are grown in a way that seeks to replenish and maintain soil fertility while eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Soil is nurtured and vitalized through various methods that result in naturally strong and disease resistant crops. Organic growing has been shown to be energy efficient, resource conserving, environmentally sound, productive and profitable. It is a system that encourages and promotes sustainability.
Finding organically and locally produced foods is easier than it used to be. Check at your local co-ops and with the community-supported agriculture farms for more information, or look for these topics in the Green Guide.
As consumers, we have the power and the responsibility to make choices to support the health of the earth. If we commit to actively choosing our food and supporting sustainable farming by buying locally and organically produced foods whenever possible, avoiding highly processed mass-produced and heavily marketed foods, and cooking at home, we will be participating in growing a healthy planet for ourselves and the next generation, and bringing ourselves closer to the sources of our food, the rhythms and cycles of the land and our communities and families
The most important thing about buying and eating food is that it feels right. It should feel right in your body, and in your conscience. Start by taking the foods you already eat, and make them whole; bread, granola, tortillas, muffins, bagels, pancake mixes, rice, pasta, cookies. Then begin to add fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains into your daily routine. Pay attention to where the food comes from, and how it has been grown or processed. Go slowly so that changes will last. Enjoy yourself. Food is an affirmation of nature and life. As humans we are a part of that celebration!!