“We all eat, and it would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly” says designer and author Anna Thomas. And it’s so true – food is a basic essential of life. But there’s so much food available (to most of us) alongside so many opinions on what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ that deciding what to eat has become complex and confusing.
And our food choices are complex, influenced by a multitude of factors including where you live, social status, culture, economics, family, friends, social media, government policy and the food industry. Then there’s our internal influences, our genetic profile that still wants to hang to certain nutrients like fat, sugar and salt for those days of scarcity, days that never come to those who live in a world of plenty.
Historically, food choices had one main influence for most people – availability. Getting enough to survive. Discovering what was actually in food to ensure health and survival started in the 1700’s with the connection between scurvy and lack of fresh produce, and although vitamin C wasn’t ‘discovered’ until the 20th century, the interest in exploring the make up of food expanded.
Ancient wisdom had always known the connection between food and health – Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, famously said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”. Discovering elements and molecules, how they bond together, their effect on the body took off and still influence science today. We learnt about protein, fat and carbohydrate as well as minerals and vitamins. And more recently the importance of phytonutrients. It is fascinating stuff.
But with these discoveries using a scientific, reductionist approach (breaking things down to their smallest part) brings with it different challenges. Like deeming one nutrient more important than another which is what we see today with the carb vs fat argument. Or the focus on protein over any other nutrient. Importance means value and then judgement – what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, something science just can’t seem to agree on and food manufacturers love.
Because there’s a lot of money caught up in all this. The food, diet and health sectors are huge. More and more food is available, which should be a good thing, but we are getting bigger and sicker (which must mean the diet and health sectors are not helping!). Ultra-processed foods, mainly made in factories, make up over 50% of people’s daily diet. Processed products are marketed as ‘low fat’ or ‘high protein’ and the fear of carbs seems to be everywhere, even though most people don’t really know what a carb is!
And this is the real problem – the overwhelming amount of conflicting information leads to confusion. Some people switch from one fad to another, others make no change and continue to eat nutrient poor highly processed food that is sold as ‘healthy’. If only there was another way…..
Fortunately, there is! And it’s really simple. Just eat real, whole food as close to the original product as possible. Of course, for me, that means whole plant food, ideally fresh, seasonal and locally grown.
But what about the protein I hear you cry? Whole plant foods contain plenty of proteins to keep the body healthy, as long as you eat a variety of food sources during the day. And the worry about carbs? Well, carbohydrates – soluble and insoluble fibre found in all plants – is actually key to gut health, imperative for our overall health. Its refined foods that remove the fibre and allow for rapid release of sugar into the blood stream that’s the issue. Eating food in its natural form delivers a natural balance of nutrients – just as nature intended!
Real, whole food contains so much more than manufactured or processed foods. For in whole plants you will find an array of vitamins and phytonutrients, tiny molecules essential for metabolic processes and keeping inflammatory free radicals under control. These are just as important as the bigger macronutrients but are delicate and easily lost once food is processed. And as they help reduce inflammation, the basis of all chronic health problems, they are increasingly important in our modern lives.
So next time you are choosing what to eat, take a moment to ask yourself “is this real?”. If not, how close to the real thing is it? Are you eating an orange, with all the fibre and nutrients, or orange juice with none of the fibre and all of the sugar? Is your orange juice freshly squeezed straight from an orange, retaining most of the vitamin C and phytonutrients or pasteurised for longevity (heat kills these delicate nutrients)? Or is made from concentrate, it’s natural balance of nutrients all gone.
Looking at food from the whole perspective challenges the current way of thinking about food. In reality, it’s just eating in a way that’s natural to use but lost over the last 60 years or so. Once you ‘get’ it, it’s not hard at all, just super tasty and a wonderful, vibrant way to eat.
If you’re curious to know more, then I have a free short course on the website that introduces you to eating whole plant foods for health. And if you’re really interested, or know you need to make some big changes but need some help to do so, then my next Eat Well Live Well Online course starts on Monday 21st September – check out the details here.
When it comes to eating great food that leads to great health, Anna Thomas really is right – we do all need to eat and it really is a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly. When you eat whole plant food you grab every opportunity to eat amazingly well!
My book Eat Well LIve Well with The Sensitive Foodie is another great way to explore the benefits of eating whole foods along with lots of easy recipes to try at home. To find out more or to buy your copy click here.