Nutrition is not a vacuum. Just as we are more than a combination of hair and eyes and feelings and job titles, a nut is more than a fat source and some fiber. An apple has calories and anthocyanins, this is true, but it is also made up of a sort of magic that nutrition scientists are yet to understand. Over and over again researchers confirm that there is more benefit to eating whole foods than what can be explained by their constituent parts. Eating whole foods in their original form provides a unique benefit that factories simply can’t duplicate. No matter how good their marketing team is.
Food synergy: Looking at whole foods rather that individual nutrients or relying on processed foods
A few examples of marketing tricks to distract us from just eating real food:
- Processed cold cereals that are “now high in protein”
- Anything made from “enriched white flour” which adds back less than 1/4 of the original nutritional value
- Fiber bars with added supplemental fiber like chicory root that doesn’t actually have the same effects as dietary fiber
- Low carb snacks or diet drinks that are either full of extra fat to make up for being low in sugar or brimming with chemical artificial sweeteners that aren’t inert in biological affects
I’ve work with gastric bypass patients several years after their surgery. It concerns me when we review their meal plan and it continues to consist of protein bars and processed energy shakes. Right after surgery, shakes and bars can be a very simple way to ensure portion control and manage a queasy stomach. Using these highly processed items indefinitely, however, is depriving them of much needed whole food healing powers. Over use of supplements also doesn’t help us learn how to cook or encourage us to find whole food snack options. There is a reason Irma S. Rombauer wrote The Joy of Cooking instead of the less-sought after The Joy of Tearing Open a Cliff Bar– learning how to cook with whole foods is also vital energy for our soul.
I have also counseled athletes and Crossfit goers who seek weight loss and muscle gain. A Crossfit enthusiast is no fool- they are typically educated, knowledgeable about nutrition, and a badass in their own right. It isn’t easy to haul 100 plus pounds straight over head ad infinitum or, more likely, ad exhaustion. A boost in protein using a whey or soy shake after a workout is fine fodder for the muscle-seeking Crossfit dynamo due to their increased protein needs. But I was shocked to discover just how many people are reliant on multiple supplements while still lacking basic cooking skills. What I am not flabbergasted to learn is that supplement overuse seldom helps to shed that nagging layer of fat that hangs on for dear life despite intense workouts and calorie deprivation. What is missing is the little bit of synergistic magic from whole foods.
Nutrition science is still in its infancy. When modern medicine was a toddler in the 18th century, the pseudo-scientific idea of phrenology was all the rage. By now we understand that the shape of our noggins has little to do with our intellectual abilities. This is to say, we can’t always believe everything we hear about nutrition in the news right now. We are still making discoveries and unlearning “facts” that didn’t quite pan out. For example, the Dietary Guidelines now recognizes dietary cholesterol as a more minor offender than previously thought. Oops.
But as far as I’m concerned, one thing we know for certain is the synergy of food provides a certain power processed food could never contain. It is easier on our blood sugar, fights inflammation, protects our brains from free radical damage, keeps our blood vessels flexible and healthy, and is overall useful in decreasing chronic disease risk. By eating foods in their unadulterated form, by snacking on the banana and ounce of nuts over a peanut butter flavored food product, you’ll also be consuming less preservatives, chemicals, and toxins. Our bodies will certainly better respond to our pleas for vitality.
After all, synergy is life.
Ideas to increase whole-foods in our diets:
1.Make your own granola bars
2. Choose a whole grain, oatmeal, or barley hot cereal instead of a processed cold cereal
3. Increase the nutrient density of any salad, soup, or cereal by adding fresh seeds, nuts, bran or wheat germ, or fresh berries
4. Choose to snack on hummus and fresh fruit or veggies over ranch dip and crackers
5. Learn to cook basic and easy meals from scratch
6, Look at ingredient labels- almond butter can be just almonds and sea salt or it can include hydrogenated oils. Choose foods with fewer ingredients- always
7. Toss fresh cut peppers, cucumbers, or a handful of spinach to ready-made meals to add nutrient density
8. Snack on fruit and Greek yogurt instead of Skinny Cows
9. Cook one ancient grain in bulk every week and include 3/4 cup with meals
10. Make smoothies with fresh greens and frozen fruit