By Rob Gray
The secret to wellness and weight control can be said in just two words that you already know. It is what and how humans have eaten for their entire history save for the last 100 years or so. Like all other animals, the human body evolved to eat the foods that grew around them and came to recognize these foods as human foods and assimilate and effectively use them. These foods are commonly referred to as “Whole Foods.”
When looking around on-line, most of the definitions I found for “Whole Foods” were similar to the WebMD definition, “foods that are as close to their natural form as possible.” And most of us probably know what this means in the cases of bananas, carrots, beans, etc. But what happens when we eat prepared or packaged foods that contain a mix of many kinds of ingredients. Are they whole? To answer this question, I’m going to suggest a more heuristic definition of a “Whole Food.”
Whole Food – A food that nature intends for humans to eat and the body recognizes as food. If your body cannot regulate your intake of it, then, for you, it is not food and should not be consumed.
Over the past 100 years or so, unprecedented changes in diet began in North America and Europe and have more recently spread to most of the rest of the world. With the help of modern technology, food producers (often large global companies) seeking repeat customers (and what business doesn’t want repeat customers) have heavily invested in producing and marketing what are sometimes referred to as “Fractured Foods,” made from refined parts of “Whole Foods” mixed with non-food additives (flavors, coloring agents, textures, fragrances, etc.) in newly created combinations of macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) that don’t exist in nature. There are also thousands of other non-food additives used to make the product more convenient to eat or extend its shelf life (binders, stabilizers, preservatives, etc.) so that they are conveniently available when you get the urge. The producers readily admit that these products are designed to cause “cravings” in people. One might go as far as to say that they are addictive.
Regardless of what you call it, people often find themselves thinking and fantasizing about these newly created foods and sometimes come to believe that their bodies actually “need” them. The truth of the matter is that these “Fractured Foods” are circumventing the body’s natural ability to recognize and regulate its food intake, getting us to consume more in one sitting (bet you can’t eat just one) and more frequently (I carry these around in my purse). And, in spite of the fact that many people who eat these foods suffer a variety of gastrointestinal conditions, (heartburn and acid reflux, pelvic pain, cramps, bloating, and a variety of challenges with elimination), as well as serious chronic diseases, (that can severely impact one’s lifestyle or even take one’s life), they find it almost impossible to avoid them. On the other hand, the body recognizes and properly regulates the intake of “Whole Foods” and therefore, when properly combined, “Whole Foods” will not contribute to gastrointestinal conditions or chronic disease.
Let’s look at two of the most commonly used ingredients in “Fractured Foods” (refined sugar and extracted oil) and the additive salt that all circumvent the body’s natural food regulation.”
Anthropologists tell us that over its history the human race faced extinction (probably multiple times) from starvation. The genetics that survived that experience likely influences how our body reacts when presented with highly concentrated, easily digestible sugars, (it is no accident that the most forward taste buds in our mouth look for the sweet taste), and highly concentrated sources of fat, (historically humans prized fatty organ meat). The body madly wants to consume as much of it as is physically possible, especially when both refined sugar and concentrated fat are combined together. (Happy days are here again!) The problem is that the human adaptation that kept our species alive, (We don’t need these calories presently, but who knows about the future?), developed at a time when excess calories were a rare circumstance. Our bodies would store these calories for the inevitable (and much more common) period when food was scarce. So no, we are not designed as camels with extra storage humps.
Today, the easy availability of “Fractured Foods” has, in some ways, outsmarted our genetics. With the help of modern technology, refined sugar (and all of its substitutes) and many oils are incredibly cheap, enabling companies to make billions marketing and selling cheap candies, beverages, sweet snacks, cereals, etc., turning a historically rare circumstance of excess consumption into a potential all-you-can-eat-party every time we take a bite of “Fractured Foods.”
For salt, the story is very much the same. Our bodies need to maintain the correct ratio in the blood of sodium and potassium. Potassium is found in most fruits and vegetables and is widely available. Sodium, however, is less plentiful (mostly found in meats, green vegetables and a few fruits) which explains why we have taste buds in our mouth looking for the salty taste. Since in human history excess sodium would have been unlikely, our bodies did not evolve to regulate the consumption of added salt. (Pass the salt, please!) Therefore, when salt is used as an additive, especially when mixed with oil as in fries, chips and other salty snacks, etc., we are again exposed to over-consuming calories and in addition to the negative health consequences of consuming too much sodium.
You may be asking yourself about now, how could simply switching to a diet of “Whole Foods” possibly lead to wellness and weight control? My answer to you is simple: No other species that eats sufficient calories from the foods as nature intended becomes chronically sick or carries excess weight. Why would humans? A diet of “Whole Foods” (what the human body has evolved to eat) can be properly regulated and digested, the calories and nutrients effectively used, and the waste products easily and successfully eliminated to provide both wellness and a healthy weight.
In Part 2 of this topic, I will list some examples of “Whole Foods” and “Fractured Foods,” discuss the selection and consumption of “Whole Foods,” and suggest a simple Do-It-Yourself-Test to demonstrate how to know if you are eating a food that your body can or cannot regulate. Future columns on “Whole Foods” could include:
–Ultimate “Whole Foods” – sustainably grown, high quality, fresh, ripe, delicious and nutritious.
–Finding foods that are right for your body and eliminating foods due to: allergy, immune response, intolerance, digestive issues, bloat, elimination issues, brain fog, or fatigue.
–Food combining best practices
–Reasons we eat other than hunger.
Please let me know your opinions and interests in the comments.
Rob Gray runs the Gran Roca Project, (www.granroca.net), a sustainable commercial permaculture farm on a landmark property in the Yunguilla Valley, southwest of Cuenca. High quality tree fruits, berries, and a large variety of both native and heirloom vegetables and herbs are produced with animals also integrated into the mix.