“Real food is and has always been medicine.”
One of the six primary foundations to nutritional therapy is a properly prepared, nutrient-dense, whole food diet. This does not mean you need to shop exclusively at Whole Foods grocery stores. It refers to the type of food you select and how it’s prepared. Last month we covered hydration and I’ll post on the remaining foundations each month so you get a better idea about what drives nutritional therapy.
What exactly is a properly prepared, nutrient-dense whole food diet? That’s a mouthful I know, so let’s start with what ‘properly prepared’ means:
- Cooking only with high-quality nutritional fats, such as coconut oil, ghee, beef or lamb tallow/suet, duck or chicken fat, and lard. Quick sautés or stir-frying are best with avocado oil, butter, olive oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil. Learn more about fats and what to avoid in the post Upgrade Series: Fats.
- Use safe cookware. It’s recommended to use cast iron or stainless-steel pots and pans, ceramic coated cast iron or glass. Please steer clear of Teflon coated and aluminum pans.
- Use safe food storage, such as glass or stainless-steel containers and bottles. Ditch the plastic baggies, plastic wrap and aluminum foil, or atleast wrap food in parchment paper first. Beeswax wraps are another good option.
- Eat a few raw foods per day, such as organic honey, avocados, bell peppers, carrots, citrus fruit, fermented and cultured dairy and vegetables (to retain probiotic content).
- Most other foods, especially green vegetables and animal protein, are more bioavailable to us when cooked. Protein becomes more easily digested, iron and key minerals are more readily available, and lycopene along with beta-carotene and antioxidants (among others) are best utilized.
- A note on animal protein: do NOT overcook your protein. Overcooking animal products can create undesirable compounds.
‘Nutrient-dense’ is the nutrient load natural foods have. Organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, fish and meat are all nutrient dense and supply you with everything you need to thrive. The majority of refined, ultra-processed foods are not nutrient-dense, even when injected with vitamins and minerals. For one, those vitamins and minerals are synthetic and not processed the same as getting it from the source (i.e. whole food).
Second, not all food is created equal. Let’s compare white rice to wild rice. Both are rice, but they have very different nutritional profiles. If we compare them side-by-side (1 cup cooked) wild rice has less calories, less net carbs, more protein, more minerals, more vitamin A, more Omega 3s, and more amino acids than white rice. That makes wild rice a more nutrient-dense food and a better choice.
Let’s do another example using a baked chicken leg and thigh versus a coated and fried leg and thigh. The baked version has less calories, no refined carbohydrates, more protein, and more minerals making it a better choice.
When something is described as whole, it is essentially intact as nature intended. Think of an apple picked from a tree, a fresh chicken, a head of lettuce, an egg, sun-ripened strawberries, etc. These are examples of whole food. The goal here is eating food that is minimally processed from the time it’s harvested to the time it’s eaten by you. Simple right?
I wish it was simple. Between marketing refined foods as healthy and a constant supply of misinformation we have no idea what to eat anymore. We don’t know what real food tastes like and don’t know how to tap into what our intuitive bodies need. I guarantee it isn’t Ranch on your salad or soda for breakfast. Fear not though. Nutritional therapy is here to help.
Why real food matters
Imagine you have a puppy and instead of giving him a diet formulated for his species you feed him mac-n-cheese, hot wings and fast food chicken nuggets. He gets muffins, cupcakes and Fritos for snacks because he’s so damn cute and deserves treats. Instead of water, his bowl is full of Red Bull, Diet Coke or maybe even beer. What do you think this puppy would look like and act like in a few months? Would he be thriving? If you think this is a ridiculous example, you’re absolutely right. No one in their right mind would feed a dog like this! It would be considered animal abuse. But why are you any different? Don’t you deserve quality food that nourishes you and protects against disease? Shouldn’t your health be as revered as your dogs?
Real food is the only source for all the nutrients our bodies need to function properly. Sometimes supplements are necessary, but you can’t eat like crap and expect a few vitamins to produce miracles. It starts with food. It is and has always been the best medicine on earth. It protects, nourishes and heals us if we let it.
Nutritional tips to live by
As you begin weeding out refined foods, here are a few points to guide you:
- Consume whole foods as close to how they appear in nature as possible. And buy organic if feasible (especially the dirty dozen).
- Eat a colorful range of local, seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables.
- Choose grass-fed meats, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and wild caught seafood.
- Soak and sprout nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, when appropriate, to maximize the bioavailability of their nutrients.
So, what do you think? The phrase, properly prepared, nutrient-dense whole food diet doesn’t seem that daunting now does it? With some planning (which you absolutely can do!) you can make incredible food that isn’t covered in breading or Ranch dressing. I promise you it’s possible. And YOU deserve it. You deserve abundant health and the best chance of that is eating a whole food diet.
Listen, I truly get it. I am NOT a size 2 nutritional professional with 6-pack abs telling you what to do. As of this post, I’m 51 years old. I’m 20 pounds from where I’d like to be. I occasionally wake up with back stiffness in the morning and am in some sort of perimenopause purgatory. But I can tell you this: nothing has made me feel better than when I eat real food consistently. The back stiffness subsides, my mental clarity sharpens, I have more energy and I feel vibrant. How wonderful is that? No prescriptions, no supplements or miracle protein powders, just real, whole food. As it should be.
Be sure to check back each Tuesday for a brand new blog post. And while you’re on the site visit the Featured Recipe section for inspiring and nutritious recipes. Questions? Comments? Email me at email@example.com.