Almost everyone who comes to see me says they eat a healthy diet. “What’s a healthy diet?” I ask. The word “healthy” means a lot of different things to different people.
Some proudly tell me about their egg-white omelettes. Some brag about their daily juicing or fruit flavored yogurt. Some start their day with a bowl of high fiber cereal.
A couple of decades ago, after we had identified vitamins and minerals and how they support health, we started defining foods not by the whole but by the parts. The fortified foods movement took off gaining popularity. We still see food manufacturers stealthily marketing their calcium fortified juices and cereals, vitamin D fortified milk, and more. This has given us a false sense of security in my opinion. Shoppers mistakenly believe that by buying and serving these fortified foods to their families, nutrient needs have been met. They have not. Some people mistakenly believe if a little is good, a lot must be better leading them to take too much of a single nutrient.
While identifying and understanding what vitamins and minerals do for our health was a huge scientific discovery, we have since learned much more. Vitamins and minerals are the tip of a very large iceberg of food’s healthy components. We’ve since discovered phytonutrients. There are over 4000 that we know of and we’ve determined what about 800 of them do.
The key points of what we’ve learned so far:
Phytonutrients are naturally found in foods. Rather than taking supplements or relying on manufacturers to “fortify” the foods you eat, the best way to get your phytonutrients is by eating whole foods.
This is a new way for many people to look at food that I strongly encourage. Instead of looking at the parts, look at the whole. Focus on eating a whole foods diet, eating foods as close to their natural forms as possible. For example, instead of buying a carton of egg whites, buy a dozen eggs. The nutrients in the yolk are amazing!
Yes, egg whites are high in protein, containing all the essential amino acids. But the yolks also hold a lot of important nutritional value.
The egg yolk contains lutein, a phytonutrient important in eye health. It contains iodine important for healthy thyroid function. And, it contains choline, a nutrient key to brain health.
But wait! That’s not all. There’s more!
When you eat the entire egg you also get trytophan, selenium, B2, molbydeun, B12, phosphorus, B5, D, and zeaxanthin. In addition, if you buy your eggs from a local small farmer, the eggs will likely have higher vitamin D content just from living a natural chicken life: running around outdoors happily and eating bugs. Yes, bugs! Don’t be fooled into thinking that chickens should be vegetarian because of marketers advertising they feed their hens a vegetarian diet. Chickens love to eat bugs, grubs, and more–and that is good for us when we eat the eggs. If you see a carton of eggs that is labeled “vegetarian” that is most certainly proof that it was laid in an egg “factory” even if it also claims the chickens are “free range.”
Another food to think about is oatmeal. Lots of people like to eat instant oatmeal for breakfast or as a snack at the office believing they are making a fast, but healthy, choice. In order to shorten the cooking time, the oats have been pre-steamed. This reduces the nutrients in the food. Instant oatmeal is also loaded with sugar, or worse, to sweeten it.
Instead of the instant version, try cooking whole oat groats or steel cut oats. Oat groats are so warm and filling on a cold morning. Don’t think you have time to make real oatmeal? Follow this method for a fast and easy–and healthy–breakfast or snack.
First rinse well with water, then combine one part groats to four parts water. Add salt to your liking. (If I make four cups, I’ll add ¾ t of sea salt.) Bring to a boil on the stove. Boil for two minutes. Turn off the heat, cover and allow to sit overnight. The next morning, turn the heat back on. Add water only if needed. Cook for about 15 to 20 until tender and creamy. Top with real butter from grass fed cows and maple syrup or dried fruit. You can make a large batch to last several days. Just heat and eat each morning.
If you follow a paleo diet, oatmeal isn’t your go-to breakfast food, but you can whip up an awesome frittata (with those healthy yolks) in just minutes!
If you’re a yogurt fan, I challenge you to eat yogurt plain or with fresh fruits in season instead of the sugar laden stuff at the store. Some yogurts at the store contain over 30 grams of sugar per container. Yikes! Fresh fruit in season is as sweet as candy. You’ll be getting powerful phytonutrients when eating whole foods versus the processed stuff.
Of course breakfast isn’t the only time we want to be sure we are eating whole foods to maximize the nutrition, including those phytonutrients, that our family is getting.
Recently I went to a client’s house at her request. Her family’s health wasn’t what she knew it could be, but she was sure it couldn’t be a result of their diet, which she had deemed ‘healthy.’ She told me they didn’t eat processed foods. While I was at her home, she had me I challenged her to really look through her pantry. It was four shelves of packaged and highly processed foods such as bread, bagels, crackers, chips, and cereals. Once we talked about whole foods eating, she realized how much processed foods her family was eating.
When I open my pantry, I see a basket of onions, potatoes, and garlic. I see farmer’s market canned vegetables. I see whole grains like rice, oats, and quinoa.
“What about snacks?” you might ask. What family can get by without a few snacks. Well, we love our salty snacks as much as every other family.
Instead of salty chips from a bag, eat crispy nuts for a crunchy snack. Check out my crispy nut recipe. We have a spice shop here in northern Colorado that sells a spice called Pearl St. Rub. I swear it’s BBQ Lay’s seasoning! If you love that flavor, grab a bottle and sprinkle it on during the dehydrating process. You can use any seasoning you like and any nuts you like. We make crispy almonds, pecans, cashews, and pumpkin seeds. A handful of these tasty nuts provides a boost of nutrition and you won’t miss the bagged junk food.
I challenge you to open your pantry. What do you see?
If you see a lot of bags and boxes, consider how you might make a shift to a whole foods diet. Eat as close to nature as possible. Toss the Velveeta and eat real cheese. Eat whole eggs or oat groats for breakfast. And, spend most of your shopping budget and time in the produce and meat departments. Your body will thank you with increased energy and clearer thinking.
To your health!