Saturday, September 5, 2009

What’s Up With This Whole Foods Stuff Anyway?

Many people have questions about whole foods. I recognize that some of our participants are currently involved in the SLOW foods movement. However, for other members and followers of our project, this is all brand new and they are about to set sail on uncharted waters. It is important to me that, “The Big Fat Lie” serves as an educational resource. I believe that knowledge has the ability to empower people to make more conscious choices in their lives. It’s these choices made with awareness that can have a positive effect not only on the life of the individual, but the lives of their loved ones, friends, co-workers, and everyone they choose to share this information with. Inevitably, it’s a trickle down effect that can eventually impact the greater good of all. Who knew we had so much power to effect positive change?

So, what are whole foods and why are they preferable to the Standard American Diet? Note the acronym for the current state of America’s plate… SAD. Coincidence… I think not. One thing’s for certain when looking at the dietary habits of Americans. What we are doing isn’t working. Have you ever thought that it doesn’t make much sense that a country so fitness and diet obsessed would be so incredibly unhealthy and obese? It doesn’t compute. Facts are facts and when taking an honest view of the current reality, it is obvious to see that it is time for change. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting to get a different result. Collectively, we are going out of our minds the further we remove ourselves from the wisdom of our bodies and the natural balance of life. It’s time we burned the bridge and left the old way in the dust. We are not failures. The route to health that has been crammed down our throats by the diet industry, ‘Big Food’ corporations, and media has failed us. We have been duped and it is time that we end this foolish game in which our health is the pawn and take our power back. How do we do this? By adventuring off the beaten path and navigating a new route to wholeness through education and personal empowerment.

Whole foods are the simplest place to start, so this is where the journey begins. Organics definitely have merit, but for the sake of presenting this information in a manner that is approachable for everyone, we will save the in-depth organics discussion for a future topic. I also want those who are new to the world of whole foods to take this at a comfortable pace and not be hit over the head by everything all at once. It is a myth that you have to change everything in one fell swoop in order for it to have a beneficial influence. Take that mentality and throw it in the dust bin. Small changes lead to big results. In order to stay connected with the wisdom of your intuitive eater, mindfully check in with yourself as you integrate these changes. Set the pace at a rate that is comfortable for you personally. This should be a pleasurable experience… a journey of exploration. If you begin to feel any level of stress as you investigate the area of whole foods, consider it a red flag. This is a gentle process. You should not feel jarred or flustered. If you do, honor your feelings, pull back a bit, and recognize that in your excitement to push forward, you may have bit off more than you can chew. Take a smaller bite next time.

If you arrive in this emotional space, don’t beat yourself up over it. Check your put-downs at the door, please. You haven’t blown it. If this is new to you, it will take time to get acclimated to these fresh surroundings. When someone has struggled with food and body image issues, it is common to experience changes in eating experiences as unsettling. Often there is a fear that you will be tempted to revert back to your old ways of dieting and restriction. Give yourself some credit for all the growth you have done. You are stronger and wiser now. You know all too well that diets are no longer an option. You are also aware that in order to reach a place of health and vitality in your life that it is important to honor your body’s deeper needs. You don’t have to fear restriction as you implement whole foods. This is not about taking anything away. This is about adding something in that will enhance your life in numerous ways. When I think of the best way to describe the path of whole foods, I would say it is about experiencing the highest level of quality and pleasure with food. It is about loving yourself and your body so much that you want to provide yourself with the very best. Whether it’s a meal of roast chicken paired with a gorgeous green salad and baked potato with all the works or a luscious slice of red velvet cake with rich cream cheese frosting, only the best will do for you. Whole foods are very pleasure-oriented. It is not a path of denial. So take a nice deep cleansing breath and let all that tension and worry go. All of your favorites will remain on the table, so to speak. You will never have to sacrifice a single thing you love.

This experience is all about you. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to explore whole foods. This is not an all or nothing proposition. Even replacing one or two of your more heavily processed food items with whole food selections is a fantastic starting point. This is not a race, or a competition. This is about you finding the balance that serves you best in your life. The journey, though shared, will be highly individual.

So… what are whole foods? Inquiring minds want to know. Whole foods are unadulterated by man. They are foods found in their natural state, devoid of processing or refining. Whole foods are:

Meats – Beef, buffalo, lamb, veal, venison, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, protein alternatives such as, tofu
Dairy – Whole milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream, cream cheese, kefir, alternative milks such as, soy, almond, hazelnut, rice milk
Eggs – Whole, including yolks
Grains – Whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, spelt, amaranth, oats, millet, sprouted grain products, pure durum semolina
Nuts and Seeds – Including natural nut butters
Beans and Legumes
Fruits and Veggies – Including 100% fruit and vegetable juices
Oils and Fats – Extra-virgin olive oil, 100% pure canola oil, peanut oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, extra-virgin coconut oil, butter, olives
Sugars – Honey, agave nectar, cane juice, succunat, turbinado, demerara, brown rice syrup, pure maple syrup, raw brown sugar
Spices and Condiments – Those made with whole ingredients

At this point, some of you who are just starting to explore whole foods may be thinking, “This is all well and good, but I have a jam-packed life. I don’t always have time to cook from scratch. Are there any convenient options?” The answer is yes.

There are a category of prepared foods that fall under the whole foods umbrella. Any processed foods you are currently eating have a whole foods alternative available. From, cereals, pizzas, and sausages; to cakes, cookies, frozen entrees, chips, and other snacks; there is plenty variety available to you. A whole foods lifestyle doesn’t limit you in any way. Convenience does not need to be compromised. This is not about restriction or exclusion and that includes pre-made foods which make the busy days of your life easier.

What categorizes a prepared food as a whole foods option? This is an area where you will have to become a savvy label reader if you do your shopping in a conventional grocery store. Investigating the label has nothing to do with gathering information about portion size, calorie count, or any of that other dribble. As an intuitive eater, you do not need to be concerned with such information. Your body has its own built-in form of portion control. It’s called fullness. The information you want to look for is the ingredients. What’s in your food? It’s a worthwhile question to ask and you have the ability to find the answers, so why not use this to your advantage? A good clue that a food does not fall into the whole foods category is if the ingredients list reads like a science experiment. If you cannot recognize the ingredients, that’s a sure tip-off. If chemicals are listed that are difficult to pronounce, that’s another clue that the product in your hands has been adulterated. The list of ingredients should not be a mile long. If the information on the label reads more like a novella than nutritional information… buyer beware. Products like these are highly processed and will do little to nourish your body. They may be tasty and tickle the tongue. They are designed that way. You may enjoy eating these foods and choose to have them as staples in your pantry. These are your choices to make. I’m simply guiding you along so you can make an informed choice. Own your decisions. That is an important part of your path. Remember, this information is being provided solely for your knowledge. It is up to you to choose how you approach what is being shared here. Do be aware however, that highly processed foods are more akin to play foods than they are a meal of true sustenance.

This is where it can get tricky shopping in a conventional grocery store because the ‘Big Food’ corporations are sneaky and they use a lot of appealing buzz words to make you think a food is nutritionally sound, when it is not. Simply because a product boasts, “Made with Natural Ingredients” does not mean it is healthy. Notice this claim states nothing about how much of the product contains ‘natural’ ingredients. For this claim to be true even a meager 1% natural contents would constitute a factual statement. Let’s also remember that even plutonium is natural, so the word ‘natural’ is not necessarily synonymous with being healthy. The ‘Big Food” corporations may be crafty, but you are going to be craftier. They won’t be able to pull the wool over your eyes.

A big catch phrase to look out for is on the face of many cereal boxes lining the shelves of supermarkets. It is also commonly seen on bread products… “Made with whole grains”, or, “Contains whole wheat”. Again, there is no stipulation regarding the amount of whole grain used. This is a common way that sugary breakfast cereals are marketed to mothers as a ‘healthy’ option for their children. Read the ingredients. If you see the word ‘enriched’ anywhere on the label, it is not a whole grain product and contains refined white flour which has been stripped of its nutrients. This is why they have to enrich the product in the first place; to add the vitamins and minerals back in. A cereal or bread that is a true whole grain product will not bear the word ‘enriched’ anywhere on its label, will have over 2 grams of dietary fiber, (preferably 4 grams or more for cereals), and will state clearly, ‘100% whole wheat’, or ‘whole grain’, in its ingredient list panel.

In order for a prepared food to be considered a whole foods option, it needs to be made with all whole food ingredients. Here is a list of ingredients you want to be on the lookout for when selecting whole foods. If the label lists any of these ingredients, it is a highly-processed, not whole foods item:

- Artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Trans fats, also labeled as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
- Damaged fats in the form of fractionated fats
- MSG, also listed as hydrolyzed protein

Checking the ingredients label can be time consuming especially as you are learning the ropes. With practice, it gets easier as you learn what your go-to brands are. This allows shopping to be carried out with greater ease. Fortunately, more and more whole food prepared products are making their way to our grocery store shelves. The consumer has the power to determine the selection we are offered. The public has been making their voice heard loud and clear. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired from being force fed foods that are making us ill. Our dollar is our vote and every vote counts. Corporations have begun to respond to the demand and it is becoming quite common to see the development of whole food alternatives to a company’s standard offerings. Some good examples of this are Quaker ‘Simple Harvest’ oatmeal and granola bars, Pillsbury’s new ‘Simply’ line of cookie dough, Haagen Dazs ‘Five’ ice cream which contains only five whole ingredients, and Orowheat who have removed the high-fructose corn syrup from many of their whole grain products, replacing the maligned sweetener with honey as a more wholesome substitute. Our options are expanding and that is a positive step in the right direction.

For those who do not want to be bothered with routinely reading labels, a store like Whole Foods is a great resource. At Whole Foods, the name says it all and you can shop with confidence. Other stores that carry an abundance of whole foods are Wild Oats, Trader Joe's, and Hannaford stores, (an east coast chain that is climbing the ranks and is on Whole Food’s tail). Even major grocery chains like Safeway are beginning to jump on the bandwagon with the successful launch of their ‘O Organics’ line of products. I would say in respect to whole foods buyer awareness and shopping ease, this is where the certified organic label comes in handy. By law, certified organic products are not allowed to contain any artificial ingredients, hormones, antibiotics, high-fructose corn syrup, or trans fats. It really simplifies the entire process.

Throughout this month and as an ongoing project, we will gather information about where we are currently, and where we hope to go in terms of our food choices. Radical action is not being called for. Rather, I am encouraging you to seek information about what it means to live a whole foods lifestyle and to discern where you are presently in terms of the quality of the food that you feed yourself. Go through your kitchen. Peek at some of the labels on the food items in your pantry and fridge. Does the food you consistently feed yourself and your family contain a great deal of artificial ingredients? How many products in your home contain trans fats? What about high-fructose corn syrup?

In the bigger picture, these two ingredients are of primary concern in terms of the effect they have on our health and well being. There is a great deal of both medical and scientific support surrounding the idea that the induction of high-fructose corn syrup as the primary sweetener in our food supply has escalated obesity and Type II diabetes rates exponentially. Additionally, the combination of high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats are wreaking havoc on our hearts; promoting metabolic syndrome which is a potent precursor to cardiovascular disease. A wonderful first step into the world of whole foods is to explore alternatives for some of the processed foods you currently consume that contain these two ingredients. It can have a major impact on your health. For those who struggle with overeating or binging, you will find that as you lessen your intake of high-fructose corn syrup, these imbalanced drives to eat will correspondingly lessen. High-fructose corn syrup dramatically increases appetite and the urge to consume sugar. Reducing its frequency on your plate will support your body in coming into its natural balance, while aiding you in releasing compulsive eating behaviors.

Some in their enthusiasm of opening a new chapter in their journey will attempt a complete overhaul of the contents of their kitchen. That is not the goal here. If this is fresh territory for you, diving in headfirst could prove ultimately triggering. Ease into these changes. You may be shocked to discover that the vast majority of foods you have been consuming are highly processed. Remember to notice, not judge. You are simply getting a clear view of the quality of your current food choices. In order to move forward and create change, you have to know where you are starting from.

Pick a couple of items with high-fructose corn syrup or trans fats. Open yourself to explore whole foods alternatives for these products. Remember the pleasure principle. It is important that you enjoy these new foods. You’re trying them on for size. There is no commitment to stick with something you don’t find satisfying. It has to feel good to you on every level. That’s what counts most. This is why I say to take it slow and focus on just a couple of items at a time if this is new for you. It may take awhile to find whole food options that you enjoy equally, or even more, than your usual choices. Keep what you love and ditch the rest. You are building a life practice of honoring health and your need for pleasure fits into that equation. It is additionally vital to note that your personal optimal balance of whole foods to processed foods will develop over time. This is not something you will have dialed-in by the end of this month. You will likely continue to explore this terrain for a number of months. Some of you will still be integrating whole foods when this project wraps two years from now. Stay true to your path and yourself. Explore these new foods on your own timeline. You may find that you really like the new foods you discover and are inspired to add more whole foods into your life. If so, go with the flow of what feels right to you. As long as you are enjoying the process, you are moving in harmony with your path.

There is also the option of purchasing whole food ingredients and making your own version of your favorite meals home-cooked with love. This is a bit more ambitious, but you simply can’t beat a home-cooked meal prepared with whole ingredients in terms of quality, and in my opinion, taste. It can be fun to experiment with new recipes for old favorites. Whether you decide to prepare meals yourself or purchase a higher quality of ready-made foods is entirely up to you. It’s nice to know that there are options and flexibility within this process.

Think of this as an educational experience. You are learning about the quality of your current food selections and discovering there are other options available to you that can be not only tasty, but supportive of your whole being. Our monthly focuses will also serve as a beacon lighting the way through this process with simple exercises that will help you integrate whole foods in a fun and meaningful way.

I encourage you to check out one of the films or books from the list I have compiled below. I think it can be very helpful to see a movie or read a book that can act as a catalyst for inspiration on your journey. It can facilitate connection with the intention of this project. Aligning yourself with purpose is a crucial component of success. The films and books I have listed are very informative and will provide a solid foundation for this path.

The following are wonderful documentaries on this topic which can shed light on the value of whole foods. I encourage you to check out one of these films for both knowledge and inspiration:

- Food, Inc.: Currently playing at select theaters all throughout America and Canada. European showings are forthcoming. To get information about when this movie will be coming to your area, check out the side bar links provided here at, “The Big Fat Lie” site and visit ‘Hungry for Change’ for a list of dates and venues. This is a very important film that I am encouraging everyone to see.

- Fresh: This is a new movie that is launching made by, Ana Sofia Joannes that is already receiving wide acclaim. While “Food, Inc.” inspired, “Fresh” is being touted as the movie that will call you to action. I have included the link in our side bar so you can check dates for when this film will be coming to an area near you.

- King Corn: A documentary about the American government’s involvement in the subsidizing of corn crops and how it is impacting our nation’s farmers and the health of our citizens. There is also a very revealing segment where the filmmakers obtain the recipe for high-fructose corn syrup from a corporation and whip up a batch in their kitchen. You won’t believe what goes into this stuff. Very eye-opening, indeed! (Currently available on DVD)

- The Real Dirt on Farmer John: The fascinating true story of one farmer who ditched the conventional farm practices of the family farm that was passed down to him and boldly stepped into the world of CSA’s (community supported agriculture) and growing food the way it used to be done back in the good ol’ days. This radical departure for the mid-west farmer initially raised as many eyebrows in his small town as his bohemian lifestyle did. His personal story is very colorful and deep. This film is well worth watching. (Currently available on DVD)

- Supersize Me: The cult classic documentary of one man’s experiment to consume nothing but McDonalds for 30 days straight and what he learned along the way. This film puts America’s current condition under a microscope. (Currently available on DVD)

For those who have an affinity for books, here are some fantastic selections to choose from:

- “Food, Inc.: A Participant’s Guide”, By, Karl Weber

- “In Defense of Food”, By, Michael Polan

- “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, By, Michael Polan

- “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, By, Barbara Kingsolver

- “Food, Inc.: From Mendel to Monsanto”, By, Peter Pringle

- “Fast Food Nation”, By, Eric Schlosser

- “Eating in the Dark”, By, Kathleen Hart

- “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health”, By, Marion Nestle
… Dr. Marion Nestle is a highly-esteemed professional in the field of education and nutrition. She has made numerous contributions for the sake of public benefit. If you are interested in a very clear balanced view, Marion Nestle has a phenomenal wealth of information to share.

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