Eating at Home with Whole Foods
By Gordon Wicks, NASM CPT, Chef
What is a whole food? What makes a product ‘all natural’ or ‘organic’? Why are these food stuffs so much better and healthful than the average consumer brand product? In this essay I will briefly discuss the how and why our food is changing, and what are our most healthful options available to us.
It is easier to start with explaining how and why foods are processed, refined and altered.
Quite simply foods are processed to make them easier to cook, digest and to store. The roots of processing begin with the very farmers and fishermen. Grains needed to be harvested and stored for the long winters in Europe and Asia. They needed to be dried or par cooked to retard fungus and bacteria growth and oxidation that cause food rot. Meats needed the same treatment along with slating and brine techniques that developed over time. In fact we still enjoy the ingenious of these methods today with such products as Virginia ham, Smoked Salmon, Gravlax, Sticky Rice and Cereals. Some methods actually call for the acceleration of bacteria growth, called fermentation, to create Sourdough and Alcohol.
Even the varieties of teas we find today are a result of the necessity to preserve the leaves of this exotic plant. Black tea, so popular in Europe, came from China and Japan, wheregreen tea leaves were and still are, exposed to heat to ‘blacken’ and dry them out so they may be transported across the land and sea to reach the Western countries. By removing moisture, the leaves, degradation through mold and fungus was delayed, even for years.
In fact, Archeologists have discovered stores of spelt and kamut in Egypt that were dried for the very same reasons, from nearly 5,000 B.C. that, for all intents and purposes, are still good enough to consume.
As the Culinary Arts in Europe and Asia developed over several thousand years, so did the methods in which a chef could extract or process key elements of a basic food ingredient to enhance a particular flavor or texture to create wonderful delights for Kings and peasant folk alike. There are three basic elements to food; Carbohydrates (known as starches and sugars), Proteins (complete amino acid chains) and fats (oils). By separating and isolating these elements, chefs could create new texture and flavors that appealed directly to the various surfaces of the palate, namely; sweet, sour, salty and savory. Royalty and townsfolk were delighted at the experience of enjoying sweet pastries, soft breads, aromatic oils and delicate meats. In moderation these products where savored and revered, but the staples of ones diet was based on the basic grains and vegetables ones environment could sustain.
Now shooting forward in time to the early 1950’s in North America a new kind of food development was created. Just recovering from a World War and the economy and population growth on the rise, America needed to feed its population and indulge in its fancies that could now be afforded through its rapidly standardized society. Canned and dehydrated foods, made popular by the Army to feed its troops over seas during the War, offered a new way for producers to reach a continental market. The packaging of such goods gave longer shelf lives to the products and allowed them to be shipped far and wide. By removing the hull and bran from grains, they became softer and yet did not suffer the ravages of time like its whole state. Extrapolating sugars form beets and Cain created a cheap and inexpensive way to sweeten products and heating extracted oils to specific temperatures alleviated the unappealing odor of them becoming rancid through the time consuming process needed to acquire enough to bottle, ship and sell. These and other advancements helped to feed millions and offer Brand names with consistency no matter where one was.
We can honestly say these were excellent advancements in food production, and we have benefited greatly from them. Unfortunately, every coin has two sides. We have inadvertently created a double edge sword that, in the long run, has created obesity, disease, mental retardation and thousands of other medical and cultural side affects that are too numerous to mention here. Every single one of us has been touched by this effect. Our bodies are dependent upon the sources of energy we put in them, and though we are designed to be extremely resilient, it is on the basis that our basic nutrition through out our lifetime is descent is enhancing and complete.
Over the past fifty years, we have discovered that whole foods, or foods that are as unadulterated as possible, contain nutrients that aid and assist the body in digesting and assimilating the basic nutrients and elements that we need from the foods we ingest. Complementary, at the same time we have made incredible and unforeseen advancements in production, packaging and delivery of foods. As the age of modern transportation and information has dawned and expanded, we can now acquire fresher, domestically and internationally grown goods, almost anywhere in the U.S. In stating this, we have the opportunity to balance our intake of the refined products we have been raised to love, with the more healthful alternatives we can appreciate.
“Not All Foods Are Created Equally”
The Corporate mass production of food has one bottom line, to fulfill a need with maximum profit. In the past, it has not been the large company’s idea to produce a product that is necessarily healthful, only that it is successful in sales. This is reflected in the enormous budget allotted for marketing and advertising verses the remotely small investment made in insuring nutritional value and safety of food. This in its self is a cooperate product of its environment. As the populous becomes more and more aware of the necessity of nutrition of food, they push governments to set standards and regulations and private organizations to oversee production. Just as computers are telecommunications are now imperative to communicate and survive in the modern age, so is the understanding of nutrition and thoughtful purchasing of food items.
So what does all this mean? What are the choices we need to make to eat healthfully and still maintain a sound budget? Don’t get me wrong, turning your entire household into a completely holistic center of health may be a large leap, and possibly expensive at that. What is proposed is that we look at where changes and adjustments can be made to make all the difference in the world.
“Where Do We Go From Here?”
Remember in the beginning of this piece how we mentioned that refined foods where a delicacy in the ages of old? That the staples of the people still resided in that which we could grow in our environment? This is the root of understanding how to change your eating habits. Refined flours, sugars, and meats can be found anywhere in the world. In fact most anywhere in the world provides exports to where you are, though local producers, small farmers and purveyors offer fresh, delicious and usually very reasonably priced goods in your home town. Fresh is best. Also, small farms and independent farmers are competing in a market dominated by global brands that dominate the market. That means that they have to produce a higher quality product for much cheaper, or at least, a competitive price to their competition. Though global markets offer a certain variety and discounted sales promotions, local market purchasing offers the freshest and most well cared for produce with the added bonus of returning the money you spend to the community in which you live. The more we spend in our community directly affects the ability for our community to produce locally grown or raised high quality produce.
As far as re creating your favorite meals out of a cook book or from your favorite restaurants, refined products have their place, but so do wholesome ingredients. Highly refined sticky rice goes perfectly with sushi or a Pad Thai, but a grilled chicken breast or salmon filet is equally complimented with brown rice cooked in with a stock (flavored water). A white flour French baguette or Italian loaf goes perfectly with Extra Virgin olive oil or a fine cheese, yet whole wheat or multi grain sliced bread is an excellent compliment to a hearty lunch sandwich.
Whole granulated sugar or honey or maple syrup are excellent examples of replacements in any recipe that calls for refined white sugar. These natural sweeteners are more easily digested by the body and in moderate quantities are not converted solely to insulin (instant energy in the blood stream), that give extreme highs and lows of energy greatly affect the metabolism.
These are only a few examples of discerning what kind of foods is appropriate for certain cuisine. This list could go on and on with out exhaustion, so let us perceive this from another angle.
“Identifying Whole Foods in the Marketplace”
Let’s break down food stuffs into basic categories that are easily identified in the marketplace:
Meats- optimally, meats, including livestock, poultry and seafood, should be purchased from local butchers, farmers and purveyors that solicit free range, natural feed and raised without excessive antibiotics animals. Wild catch seafood or regulated, organic fish farmed fish are also the best sources of seafood.
Dairy- Dairy cows are constantly pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to ensure production. Organic dairy farms and natural dairy co-ops offer an alternative to chemical laden milk and dairy products by strictly guided regulations from third party observers. All natural cheeses and yogurts do not contain the preservatives and additives that standard products use to ensure shelf life and color consistency.
Grains/ Starches- Whole grains and fresh root vegetables offer a phenomenal variety of flavors and textures. Most grains are prepared in the same way, by re constituting withsimmeringwater or stocks. Rice or pasta can be easily substituted with wild rice, millet, quinoa or cous cous with no additional effort in preparation.
Vegetables- Greens and fruits are the most susceptible to chemical use in production and have the largest concentration of harmful additives per portion. Since greens grow close to the ground and need a warm, moist environment, they are heavily doused with herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Farms also run the risk of waste run off from neighboring cattle and poultry farms, where the E coli and Salmonella bacteria grow in abundance. The recent outbreak of bacteria laden greens from corporate farms exposes this very real threat.
Small, local farmers survive on the quality and availability of their products. Organic certification also ensures third party oversight with strict regulations that are nationally accepted. One of the best ways to ensure quality and quantity of your vegetables is to grow your own! Seeds are cheap, a garden is a fun project that can involve the entire family and it does not take very much space to create a garden that will provide an abundance of the most fresh, high quality vegetables you will find. The closer to the source, the higher the phyto nutrients contained in the vegetables are maintained.
“Enhanced for Quality”
There are so many types of processing that it seems confusing as to what it all really means and what is simply unnecessary. Here is a simple explanation of some of the more common processes seen on the shelves of your local grocery store.
Enriched- Nutrients that are lost from the original product due to processing is reintroduced from another source. Example: Enriched White flour (enriched with riboflavin and B vitamins that existed in the Bran of the whole grain).
Fortified- Fortification is a process where nutrients are added, usually without the necessary properties to properly absorb, from other sources and is not usually found in the natural product. Example: Vitamin D in whole milk.
Bleached/ white- Starches that have been processed with chlorine or other chemicals to extract simple carbohydrate molecules from their complex natural make up. White flour is bleached to accelerate the process that naturally occurs in aged grains. White sugar is cain or beet juice that is dried and crystallized, and then the simple carbohydrate is separated from other elements, such as molasses.
Hydrolyzed/ hydrogenated- Processes that involve heating a fat (such as Canola oil) deodorize or solidify the product. In doing so, the chemical process creates Trans fatty acids or saturated fats.
Don't be confused by labels, marketing or gimmicks. Eat Real, Eat Simple.
To keep it simple, stay to the outer rim of the grocery store, buying natural, whole ingredients, and cooking from scratch. Prepare your meals' ingredients in bulk ahead of time when possible to save time. Shop more frequently & buy less, saving more. I am here to assist you in any way I can to acclimate you to a healing, whole foods & sustainable kitchen. -Chef & Trainer Gordon Wicks
Develop your nutritional and culinary skills, through one on one food planning and implementation with veteran chef and fitness coach, Gordon Wicks.
Strike the balance between great tasting meals and reaching your full potential with your training, whether it be for weight loss and body composition, athletic and fitness competition, or just a life well lived!