THE PILLARS OF THE WHOLE FOODS DIET
* Fruits and vegetables are the base of a whole foods diet. When you build your plate aim for at least half of the plate to be covered by colorful, non-starchy vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, etc. Whole fruits may be eaten as dessert, snacks, salad or toppings.
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense foods. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. They help balance levels of chronic inflammation in the body, which is associated with multiple chronic health conditions.
Why eat a colorful array of fruits and vegetables? Different colors come from different antioxidants and nutrients. The more colorful your plate, the wider the spectrum of nutrients.
The most nutritious fruits and vegetables are those grown organically and locally and those that are in season since they won’t have traveled long distances, picked raw, or sat in storage for extended periods of time (some vitamins are very sensitive to heat and light and degrade over time). Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables that do not contain additives such as sweetened water, preservatives, or food coloring, also retain their nutritional value.
* Whole grains and starchy vegetables are sources of complex carbohydrates such as fiber! Fiber is very important for regulating sugar balance, bowel health, and cholesterol. Whole grains are also rich in vitamins, iron, protein, and fats. When you build your plate, aim for one-quarter of the plate to be covered by whole grains and/or starchy vegetables.
Examples of whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, whole corn, whole wheat, wild rice, quinoa, and amaranth.
Examples of starchy vegetables are corn, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, and pumpkin.
Combine starchy vegetables with plenty of protein and fat. This will slow digestion and minimize the spike in blood sugar from the starches. For example, pair a baked sweet potato with grass fed butter, olive oil, or avocado. Then top with pumpkin seeds and unsweetened plain whole milk yogurt or non-dairy alternatives such as almond/coconut/cashew yogurts.
* Protein is essential for a myriad of body functions including immunity (antibodies are made from proteins components), hormonal function (digestive enzymes and insulin are proteins), and structural support among others (collagen is a protein). Protein also plays a key role in satiety and blood sugar regulation.
Low protein consumption may lead to fatigue, mood swings, difficulty building muscle, and hormonal dysregulation.
Animal sources of protein include beef, pork, lamb, buffalo, wild game, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods. Choose quantity over quality when it comes to animal products. Wild caught, pasture raised, and grass-fed products are healthier. Eating them as a side instead of making them the main event will cut down on costs.
Avoid industrially farmed animal products because they may contain hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics. Additionally, industrially raised animals are fed grains (usually GMO corn and soy sprayed with large amounts of pesticides) which change the fat composition of the animal, making it more inflammatory. Animal welfare may also be considered when making these choices.
Contrary to popular belief, plants also contain large amounts of protein and a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be appropriate at any stage of life. Plant protein is found in nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Because plants are typically low in saturated fat and contain fiber and antioxidants (in addition to protein), aim to eat multiple vegetarian meals a week.
* Fats are often a vilified food group. However, fats are essential to our health. Fat helps us absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Fat makes up the membrane in all the cells in our body (including our brain cells). Fats are also needed to synthesize certain vitamins and hormones in the body.
Whole and minimally processed food sources of fat include nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans), seeds (pumpkin, chia, flax, hemp, sunflower), avocado and avocado oil, olives and extra virgin olive oil, cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, halibut, cod), pasture raised meats, and unsweetened fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir, cheese).
What fats should we avoid? The oils to avoid are heavily processed vegetable oils (corn, soybean, safflower, canola) due to their pro-inflammatory nature. These vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats which are sensitive to heat and become rancid (oxidized) at high temperatures. Rancid vegetable oils (typically found in packaged foods) are associated with atherosclerosis and inflammatory joint disease.
The other type of fat to avoid are trans fats. When unsaturated fats are hydrogenated to make them more shelf-stable (so they can be used in packaged foods) the structure of the fat changes from what is called the cis configuration to the trans configuration. There is no amount of trans fat that is safe for human consumption; it is associated with chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Be on the lookout for “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils” listed in the ingredients list. This is your telltale sign for the presence of trans fats.
TRANSLATE THIS ADVICE INTO YOUR DAILY LIFE
The author Michael Pollan wrote: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Optimal health is promoted by eating real food (not processed, manufactured, food-like substances), in adequate quantities to support our energetic needs, and with a predominance of plants.
How do we do this?
- Top breakfast muesli or oats with fresh fruit like kiwi, cantaloupe, or apples (or warmed up frozen fruit such as blueberries) and seeds (pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds, flax seeds).
- Have a daily smoothie that includes vegetables, fruits, greens, and healthy fats.
- Add a colorful side salad to lunch and dinner.
- Steam or roast a variety of vegetables a couple of times a week so you have a stash in your fridge ready to go with any meal.
- Choose quality over quantity when it comes to animal products. Use animal products as a “side” and select wild caught, pasture raised, grass-fed animal products. For example, choose pasture raised chicken breast over chicken nuggets.
- Eat a variety of whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice over refined white rice.
- Choose whole grain fermented bread over refined white, bleached bread.
- Snack on nuts, apple slices with almond butter, or veggies with a dip like hummus.
- Try a simple home-made cookie recipe made with whole food ingredients.
- Eat beans and legumes in soups, bowls, salads, or dips.
TRY THESE WHOLE FOOD RECIPES AT HOME THIS WEEK!
- Apple pie smoothie
- Roasted veggies, chickpeas, and quinoa bowl
- Roasted carrots with lentils and tahini
- Cauliflower, kale, and lentil soup
NUTRITION FUN FOR THE KIDDOS
- Coloring activity. Kids can color and hang this lentil picture on the wall to help motivate them to try new foods!
- Involve your child in cooking the lentil soup!
- Ask them for help removing small rocks and other seeds or plant parts from the lentils. Then, ask them to rinse lentils in a colander under cool running water.
- Joking around: “What is a penguin’s favorite salad ingredient? Iceberg lettuce!!”