Expat Life

Secret to wellness and weight control, Part 2

By Rob Gray

In Part 1 of The secret to wellness and weight control, I presented the concept that the human body evolved to eat the foods that grew around them and came to recognize these “whole foods” as human foods and assimilate and effectively use them.

Rob Gray
Rob Gray

I also suggested a more heuristic definition of a whole food as 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.

I concluded that 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, I want to start by making it clear that eating whole foods is not some sort of fad diet (unless the fad has been around since the beginning of human history). In fact, it is not a diet at all, but a lifestyle choice (along with other lifestyle choices you plant-foodsmake about sleep, exercise, stress, etc.) that can help you become the most effective person you can be.

There are no special recommended foods or “superfoods”, pills or elixirs, only the rich diversity of whole foods. Of course you want to make sure you drink enough to stay hydrated. It should also be noted that before you read on, especially if you have serious health conditions or are on medication that you should consult with your medical practitioner before making significant changes to your diet.

With that in mind, let’s get more specific about what qualifies as a whole food and what is a “fractured food.” The good news is that, for the most part, you can readily recognize the ingredients in whole foods in their harvested state. fractured foods are basically everything else.

What not to eat? Some general guidance.

1.  Most people get their excess calories from fractured foods in the form of refined grains and/or soy combined with one or more of refined sugar and its substitutes, extracted oil and salt. The obvious culprits include breads, cereals, pasta, pizza, sweets and desserts, chips and other snacks, etc.

2.  Many people also struggle with excess calories from fractured foods that include fractured milk products that are often combined with refined sugar and its substitutes or salt.

3.  Anything else that is fried or contains added chemicals (flavors, coloring agents, textures, fragrances, binders, stabilizers, preservatives, etc.) or salt.

Awhile back I remember saying to someone, “If you could remove the refined grains and fractured milk products from your diet…” and he quickly finished my sentence, “There wouldn’t be anything to eat!” And he has a point.

Supermarkets these days have filled most of their shelves with these very items. But, if you roll back the calendar a few decades, almost none of the items you see on the shelves today existed back then. (You wonder how they survived.) Then, just for fun, go online and look at pictures of the general population from the 1940s or 1950s and compare them to what you see today. Bottom line, avoid refined grains, fractured milk products, refined sugar and its substitutes, extracted oil (including anything fried), and anything with added chemicals or salt. It will do a body good.

Stew

What to eat? Some meal planning ideas

1. Eat meals in which you can recognize the ingredients (fruits, vegetables, legumes, roots, bulbs and tubers, squash, nuts and seeds, milk, eggs and meat) on your plate. Variety and diversity help the body get everything it needs. (A deeper look at which whole foods are best for your body will be addressed in a future part of this series.)

2. Start your morning off eating fresh fruit and replace fractured snacks/desserts with fresh fruit and whole food snacks/desserts. (My kids liked celery with almond butter or just some plain melon.)

3. Eat a large fresh salad every day with a variety of greens and fresh vegetables (steamed ones can also be included), and (optionally) nuts, seeds, untreated meat, egg or whole milk product.

4. Eat a bowl of soup or stew every day with lots of fresh vegetables, roots and tubers, and (optionally) untreated meat, egg or whole milk product.

5. Be creative (at least occasionally) and make other whole food meals. For example, lasagna using vegetables like zucchini, mushrooms, golden beets and eggplant to replace the noodles.

6. Replace your calories from refined grains (breads, cereals, rice, etc.) with a variety of winter squashes and roots and tubers that could include potato, sweet potato, yam, taro, malanga, cassava (yuca), arrowroot (achira), beets, carrots, etc. For example, replace your spaghetti noodles with spaghetti squash.

For those who want to eat cereal, (hot or cold) make sure it is a whole grain like oatmeal or a whole food variety of granola.

For those who want bread in their diet, realize that most products that claim to be “whole grain” are not. You would be lucky if the products were actually more than 50% whole grain, (which is why they are still so addictive to so many people). There are some truly whole grain or sprouted grain breads, but these breads often contain other ingredients (like oil and chemicals) that are not whole foods, so they are not recommended. There are, however, many recipes on-line (using nut, seed and/or root flours) for grain free breads.

In Ecuador, roots such as yuca (cassava) and achira (arrowroot) are plentiful and can easily be made into breads like pan de yuca and other baked goods. Also, whole corn from the cob and corn tortillas (made only from ground whole corn and water) are whole foods.

What about calories?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when making dietary changes is to insure you are eating sufficient calories. I cannot count the people I have talked with that told me they tried eating healthier (removing the “bad stuff”), but gave up because they felt like they were starving. As it turned out, they were. They simply needed to eat more calories (adding more of the “good stuff”) from their new diet. Over time, the body will adjust to a diet of whole foods (which are significantly more nutrient dense) and the body will feel satiated (satisfied) consuming fewer calories over time. Like all other animals in nature you will no longer have to monitor or count calories, just eat a variety of diverse whole foods to supply your body with the nutrients it needs. Simple, right? It usually takes a month or two, but people report feeling better and lighter with more energy and clarity.

Salad
Chef-made custom salad. I use this picture when I eat out.

Eating out

In today’s world, getting a meal of whole foods at a restaurant can be a challenge and is practically impossible at a fast food chain as it is cheap fractured foods that drive sales. But I have learned that if you can get a list of the whole foods a restaurant has in its kitchen, chefs are usually happy to make a plate of them for you. And, (as in the case of gluten free diets) if more people demanded meals made from whole foods, markets and restaurants would change their menus and products to meet the changing demand.

Interestingly, in Ecuador, there are many mercados and some traditional restaurants that serve meals of mostly whole foods (if you avoid the rice). Meals often contain meat, vegetables, potato or camote or yuca, etc., whole kernel corn and/or beans, and some colorful salad. If you are vegetarian, you could just skip the meat and double up on the rest.

Your taste buds

It is not unusual for condiments like sauces, dressings and other preparations (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, soy sauce, etc.) are added to foods that make the body unable to regulate their intake. To get the benefit of eating whole foods, condiments should be avoided. But many people complain that if they eliminate these condiments, their food lacks sufficient taste or tastes bland. This is where a little patience comes in. Your taste buds are sensitive to what you eat. If you consume highly flavored, salty condiments from fractured foods, your taste buds will be attuned and expect more of the same. However, your body replaces its taste buds every couple of weeks. So, if you stop eating these condiments (especially the salty ones), your new taste buds will be attuned to your new dietary regimen. And I think you would be amazed at how many new and different, subtle tastes will tickle your palate.
 
Cheating

I actually don’t like this word, but it is the common vernacular for eating off of one’s set of chosen foods. Proponents of cheat days or cheat meals say that it helps people (mostly) stay on the diet. The down side is that the foods we choose to cheat on are usually highly addictive and begin to take over the diet. One thing to make sure of is that you are eating enough calories from whole foods. When feeling full from eating whole foods, one is much less likely to cheat. As this is not always easy (especially say when traveling), you mostly end up eating the most addictive kind of fractured foods. If you find that your cheating comprises more than say five to 10 percent of your total calories for the week, then they have become chosen foods.

Why do we eat?

This is a whole topic unto itself and I will devote a separate post to exploring it. From a purely physiological point of view, we eat to live, to obtain the energy (calories), nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.), and fiber we need to pursue our interests, passions and everything else we do in our daily lives. If you are living to eat, you are eating for other reasons, for example, to alter your mood, calm your stress, gain comfort, get stimulation, numb out, be entertained, recall or relive a memory, etc. Eating in this way is a form of treating the symptom (likely some form of unhappiness and you want to feel better) and not tackling or dealing with the real source or cause of the problem (stress, loneliness, relationships, feelings of self-worth, etc.) And almost without exception, the chosen foods are fractured and highly addictive. Like alcohol, drinking to get through the day enables you to avoid making the real changes that could rid you of the underlying challenge and lead you to wellness.

This, of course, does not mean that you can’t dine in pleasurable social situations and eat festive foods. Simply know to avoid eating and using addictive foods as drugs.

So there you have it in a nutshell. But one final piece is needed so that you can experiment and discover for yourself whether you are eating a whole food” or fractured food, and that is the final piece of Part 2 of the “Secret to wellness and weight control.”

Prove it for yourself: Do try this at home

Step 1: When you are hungry, boil two or more pounds of small white or red potatoes. They could be fingerlings or most any small variety. (If you don’t like potatoes, pick another starchy vegetable.) Make sure you cook at least twiceBoiled-Potatoes as much as you think you can eat.

Once boiled, put about half of the potatoes plain in a bowl, (keeping the other half hot in the pot), and proceed to eat the ones in the bowl until you are satiated (satisfied) and no longer want any more. Please notice that your body is regulating your intake of potatoes.

Step 2: Now take the remaining potatoes and put them in a second bowl, but this time add some of your favorite oil (olive, etc.), some chopped up green onions, and some salt to taste.

Boiled-Potatoes2Now try eating the second bowl of potatoes. Notice how much you are eating even after you didn’t want any more from the first bowl. Is it magic? Have you suddenly grown another stomach? Why is this so? The answer is because the body is unable to regulate the fractured food (oil) and condiment (salt) in the second bowl. However delicious it tastes, your body cannot regulate it, and therefore, for your body, it is not food.

This kind of test can be repeated with many whole foods that are then combined with fractured foods or chemicals in step 2. Thus, you, yourself have a tool to help you see how your body reacts to the foods you eat and then determine what dietary changes you want to make to better facilitate wellness and weight control. You can also use the tool to help other family members.

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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.

 

  • Diane

    Good information – Again, very well written.

  • Darrell Dullnig

    Ah! At last, someone who really understands what eating whole foods means, and is not shy about saying it. Thanks, Rob.

  • Frank Penny

    A shill for vegans.

    • StillWatching

      Must be some sort of evil conspiracy, right John?

  • Stephen

    Actually if he’s a shill for anything it’s healthy eating.

  • Thank you for your comments. In this post, I try to respect a broad range of diet choices (be they omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, gf, gf/cf, etc.) as our farm Gran Roca produces a wide range of foods. We are now producing mostly fruits, vegetables and herbs, but are also raising, on pasture, cattle and sheep for meat. We will soon start to pasture chickens which we hope will give people the option of eating considerably better tasting and healthier fare than the antibiotic happy, putrid smelling chicken houses.

    In my experience over the years, the biggest food challenges have been Milk, (an animal product) and Grains (often the center of vegetarian/vegan diets.)

    I think you’ll see when Part 3 of this series is published that I believe that each individual should be able to determine for him/herself what they put in their body. I am hoping that the structure and tools I write about can help people independently verify for themselves what foods lead to wellness and weight control and what foods don’t.

  • Cheryl Pomeroy

    Thought provoking article.
    Why do modern humans crave salt, fat, sugar, and breads? Was there some evolutionary advantage? I believe other animals have similar cravings. Any research on why?
    Salt, for example, has been a precious commodity for many thousands of years (6000 BC, Egypt), so it’s not just a modern phenomena.

    • Hi Cheryl, and thanks for your inquiry. The article focused mostly on the dramatic changes in food consumption (both the types of food and their availability) over the last hundred to two-hundred years. This point should, however, address your question as the refined sugars, starches, and fats (oils and trans fats) you are referring to were either not available or in very limited supply until the technology to refine them was developed.

      So, for the eons of human history, the body actually evolved to get its calories from “Whole Foods.” And the body learned to regulate its intake. Given periods of human starvation, we would evolve (taste buds and other adaptations) to help us get the most calories from the sweetest fruit, the most calorie dense starches, and the most calorie dense fats (fatty organ meats were highly prized). That was the evolutionary advantage you are asking about.

      However, today, with highly available and cheap refined sugars, starches, and fats, the whole evolution thing has backfired. We are actually maladapted to eat these refined foods and it shows in our level of health and our waistline.

      One could paint a similar picture of salt. As you mention, it was a precious commodity for centuries. The body needs sodium (which used to be a challenge to get) to balance the potassium in the body which is more readily available in many foods. As salt has become highly available and cheap and is now found in virtually every processed food, the evolutionary adaptation (again taste buds) were developed because of the difficulty in finding it. In today’s world the opposite is true and so we eat many more calories simply because the food is salted. Again, evolution backfired.

      Hope this helps!