Studies show that diets rich in whole and unrefined foods, like deeply colored vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds contain high concentrations of phenolics, fibers and many other phytochemicals that may be protective against chronic diseases. With a wave of healthy lifestyles sweeping the country, the terms “whole foods” deserve some explanation.
Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined or, processed and refined as little as possible before consumption. Whole foods typically do not contain added salt, sugar or fat. Fewer stages of processing mean that whole foods are fresher, contain more original nutrients and more fiber. Not to be confused with organics – foods produced without the use of pesticides or certain fertilizers – some whole foods are organic but they do not have to be. All fresh vegetables whether organic or not count as whole foods.
Let’s talk specifics. People who eat a fresh apple every day can reduce their risk of heart disease almost as much as those who take cholesterol lowering medications. Add that apple or any fresh fruit to a half hour of daily walking and you are making a significant improvement in your health. This is a simple example of adding a whole food – a relatively small change – that makes a big difference.
Look at cereal choices. Ninety-five percent of the cereal aisle shelf is filled with “sugar cereals”. The whole food choice will have fewer ingredients and more fiber. Take oats for example. The oats that lower cholesterol are not the flavored packages that have sugar, dried up pieces of berries and some finely milled oat dust. If the ingredients list anything other than oats or oat bran, it is not a whole food. Other whole grain cereals like raisin bran or shredded wheat are good whole food choices. Look for those with the least added ingredients and the most fiber.
On the dry bean aisle you will find two important whole foods, dry beans and brown rice. Dry beans or legumes play a significant role in maintaining gut and heart health. What nuts or seeds are on your shopping list? Look for raw almonds or walnuts in the produce section. The salted, roasted and BBQ flavored nuts are not whole foods because they have added ingredients and are more processed.
Fresh meats are less processed than cured meats. Technically, milk would need to be unpasteurized to be a whole food. However, the benefit of pasteurization is worth this processing step.
Eating healthy is as much about what we include as it is about what we avoid. Fatty meats like bacon and sausage or fried foods like french fries or chips are not foods we want to choose daily. But just as important are the foods that we do include daily. And that is where eating “fresh” more often can bring a healthy synergy that pays good benefits as we age..
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides education on diabetes, heart disease and weight loss and sponsors monthly classes and support groups on healthy lifestyle. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations featuring Tim Scallon and the celebrated Chef Manuel Marini. Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrates the joy of fresh food and healthy eating and can be seen
on cable in 46 cities and online at http://www.memorialhealth.org. On the website find healthy recipes, past cooking shows and sound nutrition information. Call 639-7585 for more information.