Whole Foods:  Some nuts and bolts 

Last time we reviewed some concepts around whole foods and what nutrition is.  I find in my naturopathic practice a lot of education is needed around what a healthy diet is and what makes up a healthy meal plan.  As I noted there is often confusion around what kinds of foods contribute to weight gain and there is a lot of mis-information and mis-understanding about how fat, carbohydrates and proteins work in the body.  For example, many people believe that a low fat diet will help them loose weight, but often it’s the overconsumption of carbohydrates, not fats, that are contributing most to weight gain.  

Nutrition is what we consume that nourish us - food!  Whole foods are foods that are prepared as close to their natural state as possible.  Boiled or baked potato, steamed vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts and seed and unprocessed meats are all part of a whole foods diet.  Foods with preservatives, or flavouring/colouring additives wouldn’t be considered a whole food.  Most pre packed foods or highly processed foods like chocolate bars would also not be considered a whole food.  Butter and olive oil, but not margarine, would be considered whole foods.  

The human body utilizes food for fuel, function, repair, and structure.  Our bodies are literally structurally made from food, and use food as fuel and repair for wear and tear.  When we consume food and we consider the fuel aspect we are talking about the calorie content. We take in fuel (calories) like we fill up the car with gas. When you consume more calories than you burn through physical activity, you gain weight, which is stored as fat.  This is why people consider a low fat diet to be good for weight loss;  fat has the most caloric punch per gram (weight).  Nutrients are divided into two broad categories, macronutrients and micronutrients, with an emerging third category, phytonutrients being more and more recognized.  

Macronutrients are what provide our fuel, or calories and they are ALL essential to health:
• Carbohydrates: Provides less calories than fat and the same amount as protein
• Starch, sugar, and fibre are carbohydrates but fibre does not provide fuel/calories
• Protein: Provides same amount of calories as carbohydrates
• Fat and oil: Provides the most fuel by weight

Just like it’s pretty easy to get gas, macronutrients are easy to come by - pop, chips, and meat sticks will get you all the macronutrients you need and then some!  But they provide almost no micronutrients, which are essential to life, and especially to health.

Micronutrients provide vitamins, metals/minerals and phytonutrients. These organic and inorganic compounds must be taken into the body through food and water. We require a diverse intake of food from healthy soil to provide all the micronutrients to be vibrant and healthy.  We need to consume adequate macronutrients, (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and our food needs to be rich the micronutrients including vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Foods contain varying amounts of these nutrients: 

  • Grains: contain mainly carbohydrates and protein 
  • Meats: contain mainly protein and fat. 
  • Legumes: contain mainly protein and carbohydrate. 
  • Vegetables: contain mainly carbohydrates; some are rich in starch, other are very rich 
  • in fibre. Fibre rich vegetables contain very little calories as fibre is not used as fuel. 
  • Fruits: contain mainly carbohydrates in the form of sugars.
  • Dairy: contains protein, fat and carbohydrate (the fuller fat content means less carbohydrates). 

I hope this starts to help evaluate what kinds of nutrients you’re getting when you look at various foods.