By Cynthia DeWitte
Flavorful foods that satisfy hunger are an important component of food selection, but eating is about more than satisfying taste or about quieting hunger. Along with these things, it is important to make sure what we put into our bodies promotes good health. Eating well can satisfy our taste buds, our hunger and our nutritional needs. Our bodies need a variety of nutrients to maintain proper functioning. It is important that we understand what those needs are and how to meet them. At first this can take a lot of thought, but eventually as you increase your knowledge and as you use that knowledge to make healthy choices, it becomes habit and food selections will automatically move towards foods and beverages that enhance health, rather than breaking it down.
Overall the principle is to focus on real foods in a state as close to nature as possible. A whole food is something that includes all the edible components of the original food. A real food is something that is not manufactured, but is either found whole in nature or is directly derived from a whole food. There are many things added to our foods these days that are not found in nature, but are a mixture of chemicals used to add interest or flavor to foods. This is often done to make stripped down foods palatable, since much of the flavor is lost when the food is stripped of its most flavorful properties. Most food dyes are not naturally occurring, but are invented chemical concoctions made up in a laboratory. This is true of many things that are in processed foods and sometimes even in foods that are touted as healthy such as some yogurts and whole grain cereals.
When people talk about whole foods, they are often talking about whole grains. According to Whole Grains Council, this is the definition of a whole grain.
“Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”
A whole grain flour is not missing anything. When the grain goes into the mill, the entire grain comes out as flour. It is not the same shape as before, but it hasn’t lost any of its parts. In other words, it’s all there. On the other hand, white flour has part of the grain and many of the nutrients removed. It does not include all of the components and nutrients of the whole grain and therefore a whole grain source should be chosen rather than the stripped down version. Avoid processed grains and look instead for the words “whole grain,” or “whole wheat.” Wheat flour only means that the flour came from wheat. It does not indicate that it is a whole grain. The same is true of the term “multi-grain.” The bran has been removed from white flour. The bran encases the endosperm and the germ. The endosperm is starchy and quickly turns to sugar when eaten without the bran. The bran interferes with breaking the starch down into sugar, which is important to the proper digestion of the grain, as it helps balance blood sugar levels. There are significant advantages to eating whole grains rather than stripped grains.
From Harvard School of Public Health:
“Whole grains don’t contain a magical nutrient that fights disease and improves health. It’s the entire package—elements intact and working together—that’s important.
The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber helps move waste through the digestive tract. Fiber may also kindle the body’s natural anticoagulants and so help prevent the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes. The collection of antioxidants prevents LDL cholesterol from reacting with oxygen. Some experts think this reaction is a key early step in the development of cholesterol-clogged arteries. Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) found in whole grains may protect against some cancers. So might essential minerals, such as magnesium, selenium, copper, and manganese. These minerals may also help reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes. And then there are the hundreds of substances that haven’t yet been identified, some or many of which may play as-yet-undiscovered roles in health.”
Grains are not the only foods that can be stripped of nutrients. Most fruits and vegetables are designed to be eaten with the skin on. Just like with grains, fruits and vegetables can have vital components removed and no longer be whole when the outer shells are removed. In the case of vegetables and fruits, the outer shell is the skin or the peel. Most, but not all skins should be eaten. The skins of citrus fruits are not generally eaten, but they are edible and can be added to various foods or water as a flavoring. If you peel an orange, it is still a whole food, but if you peel an apple it is not, because the apple is designed to be eaten together with the peel, whereas, the orange peel is there to protect the orange and keep it fresh, but is not meant to be eaten along with the fruit inside. Most people peel their potatoes and even carrots, but this strips fiber and nutrients that work together in the digestion process. There is no need to remove the skins from most fruits or vegetables, even in baking. If the skin should be removed, it will be obvious, as with oranges, the paper on an onion or a tomatillo, and melon rinds.
There are some vegetables that are considered a whole food even when certain components are separated. Some root vegetables like radishes and beets consist of a root and greens. The greens of radishes and beets can also be eaten, but are normally not eaten at the same time as the root. They are good in salads or smoothies and beet greens are also very good eaten cooked. When eating a beet root or the beet greens, they are still considered a whole food when eaten separately due to the root and the greens each being whole by themselves.
A real food is something that is found in nature. Margarine is not a real food. There is no margarine found in nature and it does not come directly from a food found in nature, like olive oil or butter does. It is a chemical concoction made to taste like a food. We call it food, as people eat it all the time and consider it to be a food, but it is manmade and therefore should not considered to be a real food. In the case of oils, they are extracted directly from the whole food. This is similar to a juice that is extracted from a fruit. It is not a whole fruit, but it is extracted directly from a whole fruit with nothing added and is therefore a real food.
Not all real foods are whole foods. Most real foods that are not also whole foods should be consumed in moderation. Examples are fruit juices, which can cause a sugar spike in the system or oils that are usually meant to be used with other foods to enhance flavor or for cooking and baking.
Many foods with the fiber removed are processed into foods and snacks lacking flavor, since there isn’t much left of them. To counter this, fats, sugars, salt and artificial ingredients are added to make them palatable and interesting. The food not only has the fiber and nutrients removed, but it has added ingredients that are unhealthy and can cause weight gain and various health problems. If the fiber is missing, it takes a lot more of the food to satisfy hunger, but it has more calories due to the added fat and/or sugar, which is one reason weight gain occurs. A diet based on this kind of food is likely to cause nutritional deficiencies along with the excess weight. Basically what we end up with is a starving person who is overweight and cannot figure out what is going wrong.
Even organic foods are often unhealthy, nutrient stripped foods. Just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Organic white flour is still flour stripped of nutrients. It is still going straight to sugar in your system and it still doesn’t have the nutrients that were stripped from the grain, so it doesn’t have anything worth eating left in it, even if it’s unbleached. Unbleached only means that it wasn’t subjected to chemical bleaching. When a food is stripped of everything, but the starch, it is also stripped of most of its nutrients and fiber. The fiber is necessary for properly processing the starch, so the starch is not digested slowly as the body works to remove the components into usable parts for bodily processes. This has a completely different impact on the body than eating the whole food would have whether it is organic or not. When choosing foods, seek first to find whole, real foods and choose organic when you can.
- Whole Grains Council http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/definition-of-whole-grains
- Harvard School of Public Health http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/health-gains-from-whole-grains/
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