Whole Foods - What Are They and Why Should We Eat Them?
What are Whole Foods?
Before John Mackey and Renee Hardy built the most successful health food brand of modern times, and before Bezos created the largest online river of supplies, “whole foods” had a more natural meaning. Many have heard of the “whole foods diet” or the trademarked “The Whole 30”, but are you familiar with the philosophy and principal behind these diet trends?
As a trained nutritionist, I am highly averse to diet trends…because they are just that - trends. Generally, if someone is searching out a diet they have motivations to be healthier, to optimize performance or to lose weight. The words trend and diet imply a temporary and fleeting nature. If someone is looking to obtain wellness and fitness, they are probably looking for results that endure long term. This makes the very concept of diet and trend irrelevant and unhelpful in reaching goals.
While I don’t believe in dieting nor food trends, I am a huge fan of whole food nutrition. The concept behind whole foods is incredibly powerful on many levels. It is a food tradition of all humans and when embraced, has the power to heal broken food systems and broken bodies at the same time. What is the definition of a whole food?
Whole foods are foods that don’t require processing, they occur naturally, and offer a spectrum of nutritional value as a result of being whole.
The Evolutionary Argument for Whole Foods
Modernized food systems are shaped by a booming human population and money hungry corporations who are driven by large profit margins. Our food systems are stressed to produce enough food to feed the masses, reliant on limited water, arable land and nutrient-dense top soil. Big food business conglomerates are constantly figuring out how to squeeze the most money out of the food we grow and raise. A crucial piece to that puzzle is the processing of whole foods, rendering them, often times un-recognizable to the human body. This robs the derivative of nutritional value but becomes more cost efficient to create food in a lab. Another problem is the massive hidden environmental cost. The profit of large companies promotes mono-agriculture (growing large swaths of one crop-and thus robbing the earth of biodiversity). The other parts of the once “whole food” are either wasted or sent to another food project (can you say huge carbon footprint?) Corporations benefit from creating food products that are void of nutrients and I’d like to explain how our foods transform from having the ability to prevent illness-to causing illness.
We were originally born nomadic peoples, hunter gatherers dependent on the landscape and seasonality of foods. We learned how to harvest and forage wild roots, fruits, vegetables and to hunt for meat. Your geographical location facilitated exactly what foods you were eating, but they were often beneficial for the climate- seal fat in climates where warmth was crucial, fruits and veggies in areas where you need to replace vitamins and minerals lost through sweating. What all of these foods have in common were their “wholeness” in nature. Our bodies evolved to process these foods, and it wasn’t until relatively recently on the human history timeline that we learned to separate nutrients and create new food entities with a lab.
Imagine a human body that has evolved to a certain climate. One day that person purchases a product like Ka’chava, or a Doughnut, two completely different products, but equally as confusing for the body and its ability to process nutrients. Let’s talk about Doughnuts first. Doughnuts are made with highly processed wheat flours, mainly the endosperm which is the sugary part of the plant that helps the plant grow into a full-grown plant. Couple that with highly processed sugars and lab created flavorings and additives. Our body is now confused, because not only have we taken all of the nutrients out of the wheat, but we have added other ingredients that have been separated from their valuable nutrition as well. The wheat lost its vitamins, minerals and fiber. What we have created is something the body never would have come across in the wild, and therefore doesn’t have the resources to assimilate. Take sugar for instance, we never wandered into high fructose corn syrup or coconut sugar, we found the sugar inside of a package that had fiber, and other nutritional value. Sugar is very harmful when it is consumed in the concentrated form, affecting blood sugar negatively and ultimately causing diabetes and heart disease.
Okay, now to talk about Ka'chava and other health foods that claim to be healthy. I am not saying that Ka’chava is unhealthy, only that it is ridiculous to combine 80 plus ingredients in one serving and then market the nutritional benefits of each ingredient. This philosophy is trying to ram all of what you could possibly need to be healthy into one meal, which is highly ineffective for how our bodies evolved to function. For one, the foods we eat compete for absorption, so combining all of your day’s nutrients in one bite is not effective, much of it is excreted. Just because you put something in your mouth, does not mean it will be absorbed into your blood stream. For a more in-depth analysis of how this works, you can revisit biochemistry 101. In another argument, it makes little to no sense from a sustainability perspective to harvest hundreds of different plants from all over the world with different seasonality to cram into one bougie meal that most of the world cannot afford. This is disrespectful to the earth in my opinion. We all do our best, but it seems elitist to pick and choose your foods so carelessly.
Whole vs Processed
Another great example of how harmful processed foods can be is the rise in diabetes humans are experiencing. I will write a separate blog on how blood sugar works, but plain and simple, sugar is far less harmful when it is coupled with fiber, fat, protein, or all three. For instance, a whole orange is far better for your blood sugar than orange juice. The whole orange has a lot of fiber that slows down the absorption of the sugar to level out the blood sugar spike. This leads to more sustained use of sugar and less storage. When we have an excess of sugar it is stored as fat. When we eat honey straight it is a lot of sugar, but when we put it on a peanut butter and banana sandwich, it is absorbed more slowly. It is always mind boggling to me that we sent kids to school on sugary yogurt with sugary cereal and orange juice and then complain that they can’t focus and are unable to contain their own energy. This kind of eating leads to major spikes in blood sugars, and you guessed it- HUGE crashes. The lesson? Eat sugar in whole food form, fruit is not bad, fruit juice is a lot to handle.
So, what do we do? I know that time and money are always a factor to the manner in which we nourish our bodies and families, and I think we all do the best we can with the knowledge and resources we have. Here is what I can say. We should all try to read our labels, and choose the simplest whole food ingredients, and when possible, eat seasonally! Limit your ingredient lists, and always choose the most pronounceable and familiar ingredient lists.
I will only toot the Orchestra horn shortly, after all, it is a blog on our business website! Many of our protein users claim that our protein powder is the best tasting protein powder they have ever tried, and are amazed that they never get a stomach ache after they eat it. This is sad to me that people get used to having a sore tummy as if it is normal, but also not surprising. We have become disconnected from our bodies intuitively as a result of the available food products on the market. The fact that we have conditioned our bodies to undergo pain as if it is normal because that is just the natural way of protein supplements, is discouraging. Our protein powder doesn’t hurt the belly and it is no mistake or surprise to us. Our products were crafted for optimal absorption and to be gentle on the body’s systems. There are only four ingredients in our protein powder and all of them are whole foods, including the kiss of sweetness, which is powdered dates. Our protein was created by someone who is nutritionally trained, and understands the way our bodies evolved to absorb and assimilate nutrition. Our products are proprietary recipes formulated by a food scientist, a mother, an athlete and a small business owner- NOT Pepsi Co., Nabisco, General Mills etc. And lastly, our products were designed with the earth in mind, if we don’t design our food systems this way, we will run our future generations toward hunger and hardship like we have never seen before.
I hope this has been educational and also hopeful. If we all make our decisions daily to eat more whole foods than processed foods, we can make a great impact in both our personal health, and that health of the earth that sustains us.