In a world of tricky, deceptive and, often times, downright fraudulent marketing it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell which foods are healthy and which are not. Very powerful companies are willing to spend massive amounts of money to find a way to market the cheapest items to you for the highest price. Hence, delivering the best product is not the goal; delivering the best perceived product is the goal. This is simple business. Arguments over the ethics of this practice are largely irrelevant as the power to know and choose better ultimately lies in each of our own two hands. The purpose of me telling you this is that, in your life, it is up to you to choose to care enough about your life to research what is good for you and what detracts from your health, and then to make the choice to act accordingly. Still, we are busy creatures. So, with misleading labels and advertisements and little free time to do the necessary research, what are we to eat?
Occam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is usually the best solution. What we can take from this is that the best way to avoid being tricked into poor nutritional choices, while also consuming the most readily assimilated sources of nutrients available, is by eating whole foods. Let me be specific here, if it did not grow on a plant and make it to your table without being processed into a product you are making a good choice. With vinegars and oils, if it is not cloudy then put it back on the shelf. It was rancid before it got on that shelf in the first place. No words are more important than “unprocessed” and “unfiltered”. If you choose to eat dairy products then whole means without processing of any kind(i.e. fat reduction, adding sugar, filtering, etc.). When it comes to meat products, again if you choose to consume them, all of them are technically whole food products but optimal choices are meats not treated with hormones or chemicals and are raised free of cages and brutality. The energy invested in the cultivation and slaughter of animals is imbued into the meat so it is integral that this be done as humanely as possible to minimize negative health consequences to the consumer. As for fish and seafood products there is much debate between farm fish and wild caught. While wild fish has undeniably better effects on the health of the consumer there is growing concern of over-fishing of wild fish. Farm fish are mostly considered to be much like factory beef which is unethical for its own set of reasons as well. Ultimately with seafood I recommend, if you choose to eat it, eating wild caught for your health but keeping aquatic eating to a minimum to stem the tide of over-fishing. Hopefully this provides a basic idea of what to look for, but let us investigate why whole foods are the winning choice for people who love, or want to build love for, their bodies.
Above all the primary rationale behind switching from processed to whole foods is for the micronutrient, vitamin and mineral, content and quality of the latter as compared to the former. Processed food products (they are products of foods, not foods themselves) there is always a great shortage of vitamins and minerals with special attention to magnesium which will be discussed separately as it warrants its own article. The milling of grains is one of the primary ways that modern societies denature and devalue their foods by removing vital portions of the grain that contain many extremely beneficial health vectors to the body. “Wait!” you say, “I take my multivitamin and my kids’ cereals now say that they are enhanced with vitamins and minerals! Problem solved; with science!” Again we come face-to-face with shrewd marketing targeted at perceived value. You see, there are fundamental differences between produced vitamins and those found buried in whole foods. Firstly, there is the essential fact that for thousands and thousands of years our digestive systems have been streamlined through evolution to maximize the absorption and utilization of macro and micronutrients that are derived from whole foods. Conversely, we have no efficient mechanism for assimilating the ultra-concentrated and ultra-processed nutrients found in supplements. Anyone who has taken a multivitamin has already seen this in action by the “radioactive” look to their urine shortly after supplementing. Notice that this never happens after a green and fruit smoothie despite it also being rich in nutrients leading to the conclusion that in the multivitamin there is little ability to use the nutrients while whole foods provide ready to use nutrition.
The latest fad is to presume that the real value of whole foods is found in their fiber content. While this is truly a important asset to the fitness team, it is not the primary value as discussed above. However, once again we will find many colorful eye-catching labels informing us on the fantastic amounts of fiber added to processed food products to enhance their health benefits. Also, once again, we find that these claims are designed to create better perceptions rather than better health. Just as between supplements and whole foods we find that the fibers added to these foods have been processed and altered so that they are tasteless and dissolve into liquid in a tidy fashion so that we might never have to actually care about ourselves, just pretend to. When a food is denatured, that is altered from its 100% natural state our bodies have trouble properly processing it. Simply put, when we cheat nature we only think we are winning, but really we are losing our health.
Aside from the myriad health benefits, which are far too numerous to all be discussed here, there are environmental ethics concerns with processing foods rather than consuming them in their whole state. I bring this up here because I find that, without fail, there is an intrinsic link between socially responsible, intelligent food choices and optimum health. That being said, it is important to realize that in order for companies to take massive amounts of ready to eat whole foods and turn them into snack cakes, freezer foods and the like requires enormous amounts of fuel, labor and electricity as well as unnecessarily contributing to pollution. In this case our laziness and gluttony serve to not only damage our bodies with poor nutrition but also wounds our living quarters in this sphere.
Ultimately, with all this put into scope it is easy to see that there are a great many logical reasons for pursuing whole foods over processed products, and truthfully we all know this in some corner of our mind, if not why. The question, however, is: equipped with what you know, will you care enough about your body, your happiness, your world and your life to find the discipline necessary to make the best choices? Challenge yourself, bit by bit, to make conscious decisions to improve your life, and you will improve the world that you live in.