One of the most important goals of this site, and optimal health in general, is to encourage everyone to shift to a diet of whole foods. It is important to truly understand what whole foods are and how to find those whole foods. Many foods in the grocery store are just the opposite, processed to the point that they have little, if any, nutritional value left. Everyone can find benefit from whole foods.
When a person is ready to make changes in the diet it is important to know what foods are most beneficial to optimal health. The body desires a mix of fruits, vegetables and protein. These are the ingredients that fuel our systems. These foods provide the vitamins, minerals, fat (yes, fat is necessary), amino acids (building blocks of protein) and the appropriate types of carbohydrates for our bodies. There are a few key things to keep in mind when considering nutrition.
Remember to eat enough raw fruits and vegetables.
Understand that when we expose virtually any type of food to high heat, we risk damaging that food and destroying some of its nutritional value. Higher intakes of raw vegetables may help improve blood pressure and weight loss [Source: Douglass]. Increased intake of raw vegetables can increase the metabolism. Raw vegetables provide a large amount of fiber in their natural state. Raw veggies also provide many vitamins and other nutritional factors that may get lost or destroyed during the cooking process [Source: Klopping-Ketelaars, D'evoli, Schroeder]. A raw vegetable basically contains all of the nutrients, enzymes, cofactors and mineral components it needs to grow. When we eat these vegetables raw, we add all of these nutrients in their original forms to our body, catalyzing our own energy production. This does not mean that you should avoid cooked vegetables. Cooking may cause some loss of nutrients, but in some veggies it also may allow for the remaining nutrients to be absorbed more easily [Source: Kahlon]. One example of this is the higher absorption of lycopene from cooked tomatoes. Vegetables are critical for the diet, and raw veggies supply nutrients that are needed for optimal nutrition. Vegetables are typically the hardest part of the diet to improve.
Raw fruits will typically be superior in nutrition in comparison to canned or frozen fruit. This does not mean that frozen fruit is bad; it just may not have quite the nutritional content as fruit eaten raw. Frozen fruit can be a great addition to smoothies, and it is an important way to get certain nutrients when fruits are not in season. Canned or packaged fruits will commonly have added sugar which offsets the nutritional value. Canned foods also run the risk of containing extra chemicals such as bisphenol A, a potential carcinogen. Raw fruits are usually very easy to add to the diet because of the variety of great flavors found in fruit.
Cook, but don’t overcook, your protein.
Take into consideration that cooking, frying or grilling will affect the nutrients in chicken, beef, fish and other protein. The longer the protein is cooked, the less available the nutrients will be. We cook meat to prevent infection, and the risk of infection is higher when the protein source comes from unhealthy animals. That is why it is so important to pick meats and other proteins from animals fed in ways consistent with good health, such as grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. Healthy animals do not have to be cooked until all of the nutrients are gone. Meat that is cooked until it is well done may lose some of the B vitamins and the available iron and can be harder to digest in general.
What is not whole food?
Unfortunately, most of what is available in our supermarkets is not whole food. Whole food typically does not come in a package. Foods that sit on shelves for months at a time are not whole foods. Apples, oranges and carrots spoil if they are not eaten just as nature planned. Preservatives that allow foods to have long shelf life are not consistent with good health as seen by the example of partially hydrogenated oils. This also applies to such foods as breads, pastas and most cereals.
The ranges of nutrients needed by the body are basically encompassed in fruits, vegetables and protein. The additional food that is advertised and available to us is all extra. Whole foods come to us as a unique contract from nature. The healthier the environments in which we grow our food and raise our animals, the greater our benefits will be. To truly understand the power of food relating to your health, focus your diet on whole foods.