A Whole Food Diet [enter stage left]
I’m so excited that the practice of thoughtfully preparing foods from their natural state continues to grow in popularity with modern people. The industrial food system of mass food processing and refining has contributed significantly to many degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and cancer. Consider what’s offered in the middle aisles of most grocery stores: refined wheat flour products, chemicalized foods like nitrate-preserved meats, and packaged foods with canola oil and other refined vegetable oils as well as sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Fortunately, we can reconnect to preparing and eating foods which promote vital health and happiness late into life, as indigenous people all over the earth have done for thousands of years.
The facts: our level of vitality is negatively influenced by the nutrient-poor products of our industrial food system. We have less energy when we consume grains stripped of their natural food-state vitamins and fiber-rich bran. Decreased energy and lower vitality is also associated with consuming refined vegetable oils which renders them highly unstable and oxidized (rancid). Nutrient void fillers added to industrial foods as well as chemical preservatives and anti-caking agents contribute to crashes in vitality as does the consumption of refined sugar and the use of antibiotics and hormones in the production of meat.
In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon identifies why those indigenous people who consume a traditional diet have far fewer diseases than modern peoples. Non-westernized indigenous cultures eat seasonally and regionally with whole grains, beans and vegetables as the basis of their diets. They use animal products when needed for building strength and warmth, and they soak and sprout or ferment their grains. Adopting or returning to this type of whole food diet helps transform food for fuel into food as medicine. A whole food diet is supported by the following four pillars:
- eating seasonal & regional vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds as 90% of the diet
- considering one’s individual constitution with food choices
- using seasonal cooking techniques
- culturing foods
When I teach people to cook with whole foods, they are excited about this new reality in the kitchen. They soon discover that preparing your own whole food meals does not take as much time as traditional cooking. They also realize that the nutrients they’re consuming are deeply satisfying, and the flavors are amazing!
Before I get into cooking technique with my clients, we always first consider foundational aspects of a whole food diet:
- whole sea salts
- re-mineralized water
- unrefined oils
- a limited glycemic diet
Whole Sea Salts
Non-westernized indigenous cultures don’t consume refined salt. They use whole sea salts rich in trace minerals (electrolytes) which our bodies need. Refined salt is simply sodium-chloride, which acts like a toxin in many ways in the body and elevates blood pressure. Choose foods made with salts like whole sea salt, Celtic sea salt, Himalayan Pink sea salt, Real Salt brand (sold at Trader Joe’s), or Portuguese sea salt. Our bodies can use these salts for benefit to a degree not possible with refined salts.
Most people are dehydrated and don’t even know it. For the body to really uptake water for most efficient use, re-mineralize purified water with a pinch of whole sea salt, a squeeze of lemon, a teaspoon or so of raw apple cider vinegar, or an ounce of any real fruit juice. All these additions contain trace minerals. You basically want to create Gatorade without the sugar. If you think about it, water in nature always has trace minerals present for the body to use as it comes to us from wells, springs and streams.
Dehydration is the cause of so many health issues today, some doctors recommend “drink more water” for every disease. We should be getting half our ideal body weight in ounces per day. Hydrate with 16-32 ounces of water 4 times per day, other than when you eat so as to avoid diluting your stomach acids and enzymes (4 ounces or so of water with meals is fine). When you hydrate with large amounts of water, do it 30 minutes before meals, or about 2 hours after meals (e.g., hydrate, wait 30 minutes, eat, wait 2 hours, hydrate).
People who live long, healthy lives close to the earth use only unrefined (extra virgin) oils. Refined vegetable oils like canola, corn and soy oil are molecularly unstable and change with heat, forming long-chain trans-fatty acids. Using these refined vegetable oils whether cooking at home, eating out at restaurants and fast food joints, or eating packaged, processed foods (especially those made with hydrogenated oils) works in conjunction with saturated fats to clog the arteries. Only unrefined (extra virgin) and cold pressed oils benefit the body. Store them in airtight, opaque glass at 65 degrees F or less. When cooking with high heat, use ghee, coconut, peanut, grapeseed, palm, or palm kernel oils. When cooking with medium/low heat, use olive, sesame, almond, apricot kernel and avocado oils.
A Limited Glycemic Diet
Healthy representatives of non-westernized indigenous cultures don’t eat processed foods which spike the blood sugar such as products made with refined flour or refined sugar such as soda pop. High-glycemic foods eaten over a lifetime are now seen to be the culprits in not only insulin resistance and diabetes, but in high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, osteoporosis, candida, cancer, inflammation, and depressed immunity and thyroid function. Basically, 99% of the packaged products from grocery stores (including food from Trader Joe’s and health food stores) are made from refined foods. Be aware that many packaged foods labeled “organic” are still made from refined wheat. Even when the ingredient list says, “evaporated cane juice” and “sea salt,” these ingredients are still refined to the degree that they are not good for the body. Refining away minerals from cane sugar renders white sugar extremely high-glycemic.
Rather than refined sugar, when purchasing sweeteners choose grade B maple syrup, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, small amounts of raw honey, rapidura sugar (sucanat), and organic molasses. Stevia leaf extract, a natural, no-sugar, no-calorie sweetener, is great for low glycemic, sugar-free, and candida diets.
The Last Whole Food Word
Begin with these first simple steps: replace less healthy oils in your kitchen with unrefined, organic oils when they run out and keep buying the good stuff: oils last for a while, so they better be flavorful and healthy. Discard any standard table salt (it’s so cheap because, well, it’s so cheap) and switch immediately to pink Himalayan sea salt or another organic sea salt. You and your family are worth this affordable step in the right direction for naturally re-mineralizing your diet. The Natural Foods Co-op is one of several Central Coast markets to offer organic whole sea salts. Drink more re-mineralized water at the right times relative to digestive patterns. Be aware of how you feel before, during, and after eating and drinking. Pursue a low-glycemic diet.
Furthermore, if you can restrict your consumption of processed and restaurant foods down to 20% of the time and 80% of the time use fresh, seasonal, organic vegetables and fruits from Farmer’s markets or health food stores, whole grains soaked and simmered (or fermented!) at home like millet, amaranth, brown rice and quinoa, and whole beans and lentils, you are on the road to a gently cleansing and balancing whole food diet.
Courtney Coleman of CookWell has studied and practiced macrobiotics, solar nutrition and Ayurvedic cooking for the past 12 years. In 2006, she started teaching people in their own kitchens to CookWell and transition to a whole food diet and lifestyle. She teaches all over San Luis Obispo County how a whole food diet and lifestyle can prevent and reverse disease, increase energy, and bring the mind, body and spirit back to balance.