Or, You keep using that term…I do not think that term means what you think it means….
First of all, if you got that reference, you just made Colleen very happy, so thank you.
Secondly, so many people either use this term with pride or shy away from it in embarrassment / annoyance / fear, that we figured it was time to write about it.
Thirdly, we’re talking about the FOOD, not the store that borrowed the term – just to be clear.
So everybody and their dog is talking about whole foods these days. What’s the scoop, what does that really mean, what are the fears, and what are the facts?
In super simple terms, a whole food is a food that hasn’t been processed, manufactured, or modified. So oranges are a whole food; a carton of OJ isn’t. Potatoes are a whole food; a box of prepared potatoes (just add water!) are not.
This does not make processed foods the Devil Incarnate. In fact, in today’s society, it’s good to be able to digest whatever life hands you, so you can have a polite slice of cake at a birthday party, or pizza and beer after helping a friend move, without needing to experience massive digestive distress or feeling like a Bad Person.
The thing about whole foods is that they’re designed by ever-so-clever-Mother-Nature to be good for us. When you start taking out bits and pieces of a food, they’re not absorbed or utilized in the same way.
Which is a bla-bla way of saying: whole foods are good for you in ways you might not even know. Yes, we know that whole grains are good for us and have more fibre, vitamins, and antioxidants. White sugar, not so much. But there’s more. Take salt, for instance.
Iodized table salt has been dug up from the ground, bleached, processed (which removes most of the trace minerals), had things added to stop it from caking, and had iodine added. But iodine is colourful (you ever have that slathered on a cut when you were a kid? – that liquid was so yellow it was red and looked even more terrifying than the scrape itself!). So they add sugar (dextrose usually) to stop the salt from looking yellow. On the other hand, a good, non-refined sea salt replenishes your electrolytes, gives you 82 (seriously!) super-important trace minerals, can help your digestion, and of course (in TCM world) tonifies your kidneys. And in day-to-day terms? Try a taste test. A lot of people find that they use less sea salt (or Himalayan rock salt or etc) than iodized salt, because it tastes better.
Even foods you might think are already whole are less so than their TCM counterparts. Take chicken, for instance. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are pretty popular (and pricey), and touted as a healthy alternative. In Chinese Medicine, though, like feeds like. That means that if you want good skin…? You cook chicken with the skin on. After all, it’s got collagen, and collagen makes your skin spring back like a baby’s bottom. Plus by leaving the skin on, the chicken stays nice and moist, which means you don’t have to pour on a bunch of sauce to compensate for the dryness. And you know that nice thick gel in the bottom of the roasting pan or top of cooled soup? More collagen. If you add a spoonful of vinegar while you simmer the bones into soup (thanks, Gran, for the tip), it pulls out lots of easily absorbed calcium. And as you bake or simmer bone-in chicken, the cartilage gets slowly dissolved – giving you cartilage-building proteins and amino acids, making your joints really happy. And the fat? Time magazine has their next cover online already, declaring that they’re ending the war on fat – apparently, it’s not the Boogeyman we were told.
Speaking of fat not being evil, many prominent doctors, scientists, and nutritionists are now getting behind things like butter (real fat that your body known how to absorb and can utilize) over margarine (which gets hydrogenated, which can be scary, because it involves taking delicate oil and exposing it to high heat, high pressure, hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst). Butter? You can easily make it at home if you have the whole food of cream plus a food processor or blender. (Seriously – check out some basic info here: http://grannysvitalvittles.com/how-to-make-butter-at-home/). The same goes for fat-free yogurt,salad dressing, etc. Fat lets flavour spread over more taste buds – it literally makes things tastier. When they take the fat out of food, they have to add things in to make up for the missing flavour. That’s often sugar – or high fructose corn syrup – which boosts fat-storing hormones and can contribute to diabetes, fatty liver, and weight gain.
Even veggies get a raw deal (ha, get it?). Those baby carrots in the store? Easy to use and snack on, but regardless of whether or not you believe the chain letter about chemicals and baby carrots, they’ve been bounced around a ton, and the cells have been bashed open. Bashed or cut veggie cells activate enzymes that destroy the nutrients. By the time your mini carrots get to your house, they’ve lost a lot of what makes them awesome – including a lot of the taste. Pre-shredded coleslaw mix? Same thing. You get to feel like you’re being super-healthy, but you’re not getting the same flavour or nutrient bang for your buck – and you’re paying more for the convenience.
Does this mean that you have to renovate your entire cooking process? Nah. Becoming a militant whole-foodist can add a lot of time to your cooking routine and result in you irritating your friends by looking down your nose at them. But the more you can figure out easy ways to bring in whole foods, the better. It can even save you cash (price out bone-in vs boneless skinless chicken just for fun).
Where do you play with this? Anywhere that feels good. Buy a whole cabbage and some carrots and run them through your food processor for quick coleslaw. Swap out your skim milk and 0 fat yogurt for something with some flavour, er, fat. Swap out your margarine for butter, your table salt for non-iodized sea salt. Buy fresh lemons to up your vitamin C intake by splashing it in water or on food. On days where you’re not in a rush to eat, cook meats bone-in (it takes longer for the baking time, but the prep is usually nice and fast). Cook more brown rice than you need and then reheat it the next few days in a pan with fresh herbs, spices, and/or sautéed veggies. Use quinoa instead of rice for a 12-15 minute protein and carb fix. And for the love of all things holy, leave your egg yolks in – 1 has enough fat-soluble vitamin D for your whole day, clever placed inside of fat so your body can absorb it better.
And for the things you can’t / won’t / don’t have time to swap out? Don’t panic. Stress is worse for you than iodized salt by a long run. Honest.