Each Player on Its Own Can Do Little
No matter how well you eat, you may worry about your diet. You may doubt you are getting enough of certain nutrients. Iron, zinc,
calcium, protein, omega-3 fatty acids…concern about these may hinder enjoyment of your food. Or maybe you are reluctant to begin a plant-based diet, because you are not sure if some critical nutrient is lacking.
We do not benefit from dissecting our foods into proteins, fats, carbs, calcium, iron, individual vitamins, and other components. The modern practice of taking food apart and worrying about each piece separately has led to bizarre eating patterns.
You may fret about lacking protein, or eating too many “carbs,” or not having enough “good fats.” So instead of eating whole foods, you then choose protein powder, neatly wrapped food bars, or bottles of oil. These foods narrowly focus on one or a few nutrients, leaving out most of the goodness of the entire plant.
Think of these manufactured foods as similar to a demolished building. You can live in an intact house, but won’t find shelter in a pile of bricks. Similarly, you won’t find the nutrients you need in degraded food that has been disassembled into isolated pieces.
Whole foods, which include vegetables, fruits, beans, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices, each contain thousands of nutrients. Some of the nutritional components are identified, and you can read these on food labels or in textbooks.
Researchers are still a long ways from understanding phytochemicals, which are health-boosting, nutritionally active compounds found only in plant foods. Studies indicate there may be up to 100,000 different kinds of phytochemicals. Since scientists are far from identifying all of these substances and understanding their role in the body, an attempt to focus on a few nutrients as “ideal” can be no more than guesswork.
Only a part of the ability of whole plant foods to protect and nourish you comes from familiar vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Phytochemicals play a vital role in encouraging detoxification, keeping hormones at ideal levels, reducing inflammation, and many other life-enhancing tasks.
Whole foods perfectly balance each nutrient against the others so that all can function as a superstar team. Selecting one nutrient, such as protein or calcium, and consuming it to excess, destabilizes the ability of all nutrients to work together as nature has planned.
The bottom line is that, when you eat a wide variety of whole foods, you don’t need to worry about getting either enough or too much
of isolated nutrients. You eat spinach and apples, black beans and baked potatoes, whole grain pasta and brown rice, and parsley and ginger – all dense with thousands of nutrients. You don’t eat just “protein” and “fiber,” no matter what popular myths tell you.
The whole is far more valuable than the sum of its parts. Your body wants to maintain certain ratios, or proportions, between different kinds of nutrients. Too much of a good thing can tip this fine balance into illness and malfunctioning. Whole plant foods naturally package the exact amount of nutrients that your body thrives on.
Supplements and fortified manufactured foods often concentrate one nutrient at the expense of others, leading to unbalanced nutritional ratios. Vital nutrients sometimes can’t do their job because they are blocked by hordes of overabundant molecules of some other substance.
Think of this as a team dominated by one pushy player crowding his teammates off the field. This is not a formula for winning games, or for maximizing health either.
Supplements, food bars, and protein powders can also create a false sense of security, enticing you to eat empty calorie processed foods instead of eating foods you truly need. Unless you have a diagnosed medical problem with doctor’s orders for a specific vitamin or mineral, a well-balanced diet of whole plant foods requires only vitamin B12 and possibly vitamin D supplementation.
So what combination of whole foods will give you optimal nutrition? The Perfect Formula Diet, built on more than 1,000 scientific studies, shows that you will lose excess weight and get the nutrients you need with a diet based on four whole foods pillars. By volume, your food will be:
• One quarter vegetables
• One quarter fruits
• One quarter legumes and/or potatoes
• One quarter whole grains.
To these bountiful choices, add an occasional handful of nuts and needs, flavorful herbs and spices, and two tablespoons a day of ground flax seed. Eat when you are moderately hungry and stop when you are full. And remember, have fun cooking and eating. But don’t dissect your food.
Intrigued? Now you can use our Whole Foods Blog Finder to target informative, fun postings on plant-based nutrition. Quick information at no cost!
Blog posting by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet, a nutrition book built on sustainable food choices. Enjoy six kinds of whole foods for permanent, hunger-free weight loss and health.