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Often times in nutrition we hear the term “whole foods” mentioned. For many who are just starting to learn how to eat right and be healthy, whole foods nutrition is a term that is often said, but seldom explained or understood in great detail.

What are whole foods

Whole foods, are foods that are closest to their natural state, without being refined, processed or genetically altered. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, refined foods are nutritionally denatured since the refining process strips foods of vital nutrients in an attempt to make them taste sweeter and have a longer shelf life, processed foods include additives and preservatives (take a look at your Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and see if it’s just chicken, noodles, and broth in the listed ingredients) that cheapen the food and can cause numerous health problems, lastly there is the insidious genetically modified foods (or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)) which I have spoken of before.

The answer to these denatured food options, obviously, is whole foods. Whole foods always carry a bevy of nutrients and our body can process them better and take in more nutritional value from them because of their natural state. I will often tell people that carbs, calories, fat, etc. don’t matter; what matters the most is the quality of the food. When comparing raw milk to conventional milk, or whole-grain bread to white bread, there is simply no comparison! Raw milk and whole-grain breads (no, “whole grain white bread” doesn’t count) contain nutrients, minerals, and promote good health in ways that their processed and refined commercial counterparts can’t.

So what is it then that makes this fundamental difference between whole foods and refined foods? Let’s take a look at two common foods: bread and rice.

Health benefits

Paul Pitchford notes that we should consider the whole wheat grain before it is milled into flour – “wheat berries”. These whole-wheat seeds can comprise dozens of minerals and microminerals if grown in rich soil. They can also contain immuno-protective phytonutrients as well as vitamins and precious oils. In refining, as is done in the milling of wheat berries to obtain “white” flour used in common pastries, donuts, pastas, and breads, the majority of these nutrients are lost. In his book, Paul Pitchford continues on, saying that after wheat, rice is used more extensively in human nutrition than any other grain. Brown rice, like whole wheat, contains a plethora of nutrients, including magnesium, that are all but lost during milling into white rice.

What are these vital nutrients that are lost in this refining process? We can easily look at two paramount nutrients lost when whole-wheat bread is refined into white bread: magnesium and selenium. Natural health advocacy and health news site Crusader calls magnesium the magic mineral. It’s important to note that many people who regularly consume refined foods are deficient in magnesium. It’s estimated that 70% of people living in the US are magnesium deficient and sadly this is one of the most under-diagnosed deficiencies. In Healing With Whole Foods, Paul Pichford writes that the healing properties of magnesium-rich foods include:

They calm nerve function; harmonize various mental and emotional imbalances, including irritability, depression, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and PMS; relax functioning of the muscles, including the heart muscle; sooth erratic changes such as migraine, sudden infant death syndrome, cramps and spasms anywhere in the body (including eclampsia); create better flows in digestion to help relieve constipation; and overcome the fast-cycling blood sugar imbalances in alcoholism and diabetes.

Pages can be written on this one mineral, easily, and it is actively destroyed when wholesome whole-grain wheat breads are refined into a number of white-bread and white-flour foods.

Selenium is another magic mineral that is found in great quantities in whole-wheat bread. Studies over the past 20 years have shown that areas which have abundant selenium in the soil actually have lower cancer rates; likewise, selenium is known to cut certain cancer rates by 50%! Healing With Whole Foods expands on this key mineral:

  • Selenium deficiency can cause hypothyroidism or low thyroid. With a near epidemic of thyroid gland imbalance in the United States, especially among women, who have five times more thyroid disorders than men, it behooves everyone to make certain they are obtaining adequate selenium as well as all other minerals in their diets. It should be noted, however, that a single mineral does not work well in isolation; each mineral works best in association with all other minerals and trace minerals, the way they are found in unrefined whole foods.
  • Obesity and low thyroid are directly related. Selenium influences the transformation of thyroxin (T4) into triiodothyronine (T3), which makes possible the metabolism of nutrients. Thus, if selenium is deficient, sluggish metabolism results and weight gain is more likely.
  • Toxic heavy metals such as lead and mercury can be bound up with selenium, and thereby become harmless.
  • Viruses of many types, including HIV, are often deactivated when adequate selenium exists in the body.
  • Premature aging, heart disease, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis are frequently related to selenium deficiency.

Brown Rice, rediscovered

Aside from wheat, rice one of the most extensively used foods in human nutrition. Like whole wheat, brown rice contains a plethora of nutrients, and most all of these are lost when it is refined into white rice. Healing With Whole Foods has a lot to say about this nutrient-rich food:

An essential topic for understanding the healing value of whole-grain brown rice is blood sugar levels. It has been known for some time in East Asian medicine that brown rice consumption has a positive effect on blood sugar and therefore, on diabetes. However, this information has yet to be generally acknowledged in the West. In fact, an opposing view has been more prevalent – rice and grains, especially wheat, have been perceived as contributors to blood sugar imbalances, and rightly so, as the grains in question have been the refined variety, which are empty foods lacking in adequate minerals and other cofactors for regulating blood sugar.

Recent studies, however, are enlightening us to the value of unrefined brown rice. One such study find that the coating on brown rice, the rice bran, has rather remarkable effects on lowering high blood sugar levels. This healing value of rice and its bran comes as good news in a country where, according to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetes is an epidemic largely linked to the more fundamental epidemic of obesity.

In addition to reducing blood-sugar levels, rice bran is thought to be one of the most nutrient dense substances ever studied. It embodies over 70 antioxidants that can protect against cellular damage and preserve youthfulness.

Rice bran contains a hefty number of beneficial nutrients, antioxidants, and health promoting factors in addition to this; all of which is lots when the rice bran is stripped away to make white rice.

Paul Pitchford writes in his book:

I estimate, based on statistics for people purchasing unrefined foods and quality animal products free of hormones or antibiotics , that more than 75% of the American population has lived almost exclusively, for the greater part of their lives, on poor-quality meats, eggs, and dairy products; oxidized, refined, and/or hydrogenated oils and fats; and completely denatured, “white” wheat-flour products. Many have eaten far too few fruits, vegetables, and legumes. In addition to excessive calcium in the soft tissue, other excesses relating to modern diet and lifestyle include residues from chemicals, heavy metals, drugs, intoxicants, and non-foods. (The reduction of these residues occurs naturally with high quality nutrition and exercise; nevertheless, the process can be expedited (see chapter 7 of Healing With Whole Foods for more information about this)) These folks are invariably over-fed on calories but unknowingly starving for minerals (including magnesium), vitamins, essential fatty acids, enzymes, antioxidants, and especially, real food with true life force.

He concludes by saying that the minerals in whole wheat, the blood sugar controlling effects of brown rice, and the plethora of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other special features of whole rice and its bran, represent the merest sampling of the benefits available in whole foods – that we fail to receive in refined, highly processed foods. Whenever we eat refined food, whether it be white-flour foods, denatured rice and other cereals, or refined oils and sugars, we limit the opportunity to bolster our immune system, keep our blood sugar and emotions balanced, protect against degenerative diseases, maintain a trim and fit body, and in general, keep our integrated experience of life harmonious.

Quality and Politics

As I often say, it’s the quality of the food that matters the most. So, how do you find these whole-food products? Well, as a rule of thumb, buying organic is always a good start; organic foods are free of GMO, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. However, just because something is labeled as organic, does not automatically mean it is healthy. It’s important to read the ingredients that are in the foods you purchase and understand what is a wholesome food, and what is really just refined junk. Buying wholesome foods is not as easy as just reading on the label “refined”, “whole”, “processed”, or “GMO”, however. When purchasing products, look for high quality oils (see my article on oils), and purchase only grain products that say specifically “whole wheat” or “whole grain”.

Paul Pitchford writes another consideration: reduced fat foods cause people to eat substantially more food to make up for the missing fat. In fact, it is not uncommon for today’s restaurants to serve portions up to five times larger than government recommendations. our desire to overeat can stem from eating foods that are refined and therefore missing ingredients; these deficient foods can foster addiction as we are instinctively drive to overconsume them in our endeavor to obtain the missing nutrients that are never there.

Nowadays with (unlabelled) cloned meats being snuck onto grocer’s shelves, it is essential to know where your food comes from and what was involved in the processing of these foods. It is very easy to mistakenly consume cloned and GMO foods bought from typical supermarkets. Paul Pitchford suggests that one way to avoid genetically engineered foods (and heal the planet) is to eat locally produced, organically grown, whole foods (so, buy from local farmers markets or simply take a look at where it says the food product was produced or farmed); likewise, eat organic animal products and wild fish, not genetically engineered fish from farms.

The bottom line, is always to know what you take into your body, to buy locally grown organic foods whenever possible, stay away from GMO foods, buy the food products with the least amount of ingredients (minimally processed), and eat how nature intended: wholesome, whole-food products. The inclusion of these foods can bring forth a profound effect on both our health and general well-being.

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