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back to basics | whole foods

Welcome to 2023—and to a blog series I’m calling “Back to Basics.”

So this month, January 2023, we’ll be going back to two questions:

  • What are the basics of healthful eating?
  • What are the basics of health coaching?

This week, we’re kicking the series off talking about whole foods.

eat food. not too much. mostly plants.

In 2007, Michael Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I still believe this is perhaps the best (albeit not a short read) introduction to where our food comes from—and why we should care about that.

Pollan summarized his journey through “A Natural History of Four Meals” this way: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. An important caveat is that he means “Eat real food”—not the hyperprocessed stuff that fills most of our grocery stores and fast and casual dining establishments.

Over the past 8+ years as a health coach, I’ve had the chance to teach nutrition to a wide range of clients—ages 7 to 97—and I’ve adapted Pollan’s “food rules” as follows.

  • Eat when you are physically (not emotionally) hungry. Lots more on that in the months to come.
  • Focus on whole foods,
  • Cooked from scratch,
  • Eaten in moderation,
  • With mindfulness and gratitude.

whole foods

What Pollan calls (real) food is what I call whole, close-to-nature or close-to-the-source food: it’s food that is as close to how it’s found in nature, processed only to the point that it becomes digestible by the human body.

think of an apple

  • Pulled off a tree, it’s as close to nature as you can eat it—you’ll probably want to wash it first, but that sort of processing is minimal. This is a whole food.
  • If you peel the apple, you’re losing a lot of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the process—and it’s still fairly minimally processed.
  • When you cook the peeled apple and make applesauce, it enters an even more processed state.
  • Sweeten the applesauce, you’ve crossed the line into highly processed food.
  • And if you think about a green-apple flavored hard candy, well, it’s probably never even been in the same room as a real apple, so no—this is not a whole food by any stretch of the imagination!

consider oats

  • In their most whole form, oat groats are not digestible by the human GI tract—we have to remove the husk first. Then we can cook the groats, which look a little like elongated grains of rice, and eat them as a whole food.
  • If we cut up the groats (think: steel-cut oats), we’ve processed them a bit more.
  • When we roll them flat, they’re even more processed.
  • If we pulverize them into instant oatmeal and add sugar and all those artificial flavors, we’ve crossed into enemy territory—highly processed.

next up, edamame/soybeans

  • We can’t digest the pods they come in (and neither can our garbage disposals, BTW), but steamed and popped out of the pods, they’re as whole as we can eat them. I don’t recommend eating them raw unless you enjoy, ahem, gastric distress.
  • Cooked and made into tofu or soy milk, soybeans are a bit more processed but still fairly whole.
  • Made into soy protein isolate and added to protein powders or bars or made into fake meat, they provide way more protein (and come with a lot of other artificial ingredients) than the human body needs in most cases.

identifying whole foods

You probably get the idea already. And when I teach clients how to grocery shop, I give them the following questions to ask if they are still having trouble identifying whole foods:

  • How many ingredients are listed on the label? (Ideally, just one, and up to five is acceptable in most cases.)
  • Can you pronounce them all with no more than a high school diploma? (Because if you need an advanced chemistry degree, you’re definitely not getting a whole food.)
  • If you wanted to make the item at home (bread, cookies, salad dressing, etc.), could you buy the ingredient at the grocery store? (Most clerks will happily tell you where to find yeast or flour or oil; most of them would give you a really blank look if you asked for azodicarbonamide, especially if you can’t pronounce it.)

That’s it! You don’t need to be a food-label-reading ninja to buy the foods that are closest to nature. You just need to ask those three questions about any item you pick up in the grocery store!

it’s that simple?

Yup. It’s that simple. Start by eating more whole foods—and now you have the key to how to identify them.

Have you ever felt like getting healthy is incredibly complicated and time-consuming?

Like all the information out there about healthful food and lifestyle choices is

  1. Way too plentiful?
  2. All conflicting?

Sure, you’d be able to get healthy if you didn’t need all the time (which you don’t have) to do five different complicated protocols daily?

I consider a large part of my job as an employee wellness consultant/health coach simplifying your health journey. My goal is to make your journey simple and sustainable by:

  • Sifting through the tons of information out there so you don’t have to.
  • Simplifying your days by identifying how to invest your energy more effectively.
  • Supporting you in setting yourself up for success, whatever you are trying to achieve.

make the connection

This month, we’ll be taking a closer look at my other “food rules” and principles of my coaching practice. You can read the blog or listen to the podcast to get the same information. This is me trying to make information accessible to you whether you are a visual or aural learner!

And if you’re a kinesthetic learner, join me for my virtual monthly cooking classes and workshops! You have a variety of choices on how to participate: