Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why eat whole foods?

The other day my sister and I were sitting around munching on some almonds. As usual, I was on my soapbox expounding the amazing health benefits of nuts. My sister kept me going by asking me a few questions about foods and health. At the end of the conversation, I turned to her and said, “actually, the easiest thing to do is to just eat whole foods….if you focus on eating whole foods with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits—then you’re eating healthfully”. She turned to me and said, “why whole foods?” Ahh, what a great question…..again I can climb on top of my soapbox! Here we go…

It’s simple: When you eat a “whole” food (a food in its natural state--unprocessed), it contains all of its original vitamins, phyto-nutrients, and fiber.

Processed foods, on the other hand, have been refined—in other words—many important elements are missing! If that weren’t bad enough—most of the time things that are not so good for us have been added! Let’s look at a couple of examples…

Grains: In their whole state, grains contain a great deal of fiber. Processed grains such as white flour have the bran and germ removed—this is where the fiber and nutrients are located. Sadly, the story gets worse. Eating refined carbohydrates such as white flour leads to fluctuations in insulin and blood glucose levels. In a nutshell: This is not good. Refined carbohydrates are known as “high glycemic index” foods. You can read more about how the body metabolizes foods with a high glycemic index here:

Additives: Many processed foods contain additives such as oils and sweeteners. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. Oils and sweeteners are fattening. We have an obesity epidemic in this country—do we really need to be adding fats and sugars to our foods?? Obesity is related to a plethora of health problems. Enough said. Well, just one more thing….high fructose corn syrup (an extremely common additive) deserves a special mention. Studies at Princeton have shown it is even more fattening than other sugars:

Well, I think I’m ready to get off this soapbox for a while :). Here is a website I would love to share with everyone. It is a non-profit organization titled “The World’s Healthiest Foods”. It’s a great site—filled with recipes, tips, and a wealth of information about whole foods!

Nancy Silva, ND
Faculty, School of Health Sciences


Earon S. Davis, JD, MPH, LCMT said...

Nancy, I was reading some evolutionary psychologists who said that humans are genetically programmed to crave sugar, fat and salt because we evolved in areas where gorging on these foods were rare opportunities and helped us survive. Is that why we have trouble staying away from the processed foods, which add in lots of these ingredients?

And isn't it more than a bit sadistic to be selling foods that get people to eat more than they need by lacing our processed foods with sugar, fat and salt, knowing that it just isn't healthy for us?

Nancy said...

Hi Earon, thanks for raising this point. I love this topic! It’s true—we (modern humans) are at odds with our Paleolithic genome :). We do covet high calorie foods, because for most of human history--these were hard to come by. “Gorging” on high calorie foods allows our bodies to store energy as fat for future use (when food is scarce). These days (in the U.S.), we live in the land of abundance—and our genes and our palates have not caught up! Here is an excerpt and link to an excellent article on this topic:

"Until 500 generations ago, all humans consumed only wild and unprocessed food foraged and hunted from their environment. These circumstances provided a diet high in lean protein, polyunsaturated fats (especially omega-3), monounsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial phytochemicals. Historical and anthropological studies show huntergatherers generally to be healthy, fit, and largely free of the degenerative cardiovascular diseases common in modern societies."

As far as sadism and the food industry—yes—I think their actions are sinister. Not only do we crave these foods—they have an addictive quality as well. Here is an excerpt and link to an interesting article on the addictive qualities of junk food:

“Kenny, a scientist at Scripps Research's Florida campus, said that the study, which took nearly three years to complete, confirms the "addictive" properties of junk food.”
“These findings confirm what we and many others have suspected," Kenny said, "that overconsumption of highly pleasurable food triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuitries, driving the development of compulsive eating. Common mechanisms may therefore underlie obesity and drug addiction."

Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness said...

Hi Nancy - I am a big believer in eating close to the earth and have been a vegetarian since the 1990's and vegan for the last several years. However over the last 4 years or so while completing my PhD I must say I am guilty of eating one too many Amy's Organic frozen dinners! However now that I am finished I am rediscovering my love for cooking and baking. Here is a recent creation:

Vegan Black Bean Brownies:
• 2 scoops soy protein powder (optional)
• 2 medium bananas
• 15 oz organic canned black beans
• 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa for baking
• 1/4 cup granular Splenda
• 1/2 tbsp cinnamon, ground
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1/4 cup oat bran (or regular oats)
• 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 8x8" pan and set aside (or use muffin tins and paper). Drain and rinse the beans to remove excess salt. Combine all ingredients, except oats, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scrapping sides as needed. Stir in the oats and pour batter into the pan. Bake approx 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing. If you find these brownies are too soft or too fudgy, add another 1/4 cup oats or flour.
Note: I added the soy protein so I could use these as balanced between meal snacks or post-recovery workout snacks. It is optional.

Nutrition Facts – based on 9 servings using the soy protein powder. The number in parentheses is without the protein powder and you will see the only difference is in the calories and protein, both of which are slightly lower
Serving: 1 brownie
Calories: 124 (100)
Fat: 1 g
Carbohydrates: 22 g (21 g)
Fiber: 2 g
Protein: 9 g (4 g)

And the taste? They turned out really good with a nice chocolate flavor and consistency. I couldn’t even tell that there were beans in them. Next time I think I will omit the cinnamon as it was a bit overpowering. This was fun! I am glad I am able to get back into life!

Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness said...

Hi Jen,

Wow. This looks like a very interesting and nutritious approach to brownies! You have peaked my curiosity--I will have to try this soon :). Thanks for sharing!


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