Lei Lei Top Banner

Food & Nutrition

Why Eat Whole Foods

Give the body more nutrients and protect against disease through a natural, whole food approach to eating

By Annemarie Colbin Ph.D.

For many years I have taught that it is a good idea to consume whole foods for our health and well-being. Whole foods are those that nature provides, with all their edible parts.

Eating whole foods insures consumption of the maximum amount of original natural nutrients, in the right proportions. Whole foods of vegetable origin include:

  • fresh vegetables and fruits
  • whole grains (millet, brown rice, oats, rye, whole wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, cornmeal)
  • beans and legumes (lentils, chick peas, kidney beans, etc)
  • nuts
  • seeds

Whole foods of animal origin include:

  • eggs
  • small whole fish
  • seafood (shrimp, lobster, soft shell crabs)
  • small fowl

Under this model, when consuming larger animals (pork, beef, venison) the idea is to use as many parts as possible (muscle, kidney, heart, etc) including the bones to make stock, to maximize nutrient intake.

Conversely, fragmented foods would be all foods missing original parts. These include the following:

  • refined complex carbohydrates, such as white flour and white rice (missing fiber and nutrients found in bran and germ)
  • the bran and germ of grains (missing carbohydrates)
  • sweeteners (crystallized sugars, syrups, concentrates – all missing water, some missing most nutrients)
  • refined and deodorized oils and fats (missing both their trace elements and the rest of the plant or animal)

Additionally, fragmented foods that have generally been considered healthful, such as juices and tofu, are all missing fiber, and bran and wheat germ are both missing starch. Even vitamin supplements are missing macro-nutrients and whatever micro-nutrients they do not contain.

A healthful regime would include at least 70 percent to 80 percent whole foods. How could anyone doubt the wisdom of this concept? If human beings are part of the earth, denizens of the ecosystem, we are programmed to survive on what the earth provides. When we consume foods missing some of their original ingredients, wouldn¹t our bodies know that? Wouldn¹t they respond in some unexpected manner to this deficiency? For a long time, society ignored this question, even though studies conclusively showed various fragmented foods contributed to disease e.g., polished rice caused beri-beri and plain cornmeal brought on pellagra, both B-vitamin deficiencies.

But recently, some studies show more clearly how the body can distinguish between whole and fragmented foods, between whole foods and nutrients taken in the form of supplements, and how whole foods have better health benefits than the individual nutrients.

For example, whole foods are more likely to protect against disease than their individual nutrients. One of the major benefits of eating whole grains is they slow down the digestive process, thereby allowing better absorption of the nutrients. Their fiber content also regulates blood sugar by slowing down the conversion of starches into glucose. Whole grains make favorable changes in the intestines, allowing healthful bacteria to keep disease-producing bacteria in check, and they have strong antioxidant properties to help protect the body against free radicals, as well as phyto-estrogens and phytochemicals that break down carcinogenic substances.

Most interestingly, grains have a more concentrated amount of these phytochemicals than fruits and vegetables. Apparently, we don’t need much: a half cup of brown rice, a bowl of oatmeal, or a few slices of wholegrain bread may be quite sufficient.

Here is a reminder of some whole grains in addition to those just mentioned:

  • whole grain rye
  • barley
  • quinoa
  • amaranth
  • whole wheat
  • buckwheat
  • kasha
  • millet
  • whole corn or (non-degermed) cornmeal

Foods that are not whole grain include:

  • regular pastadry
  • breakfast cereals
  • most breads (look for wheat in the ingredient list, and you’ll know it contains white flour)
  • white rice
  • degermed cornmeal

Other phytonutrients that have long been in the news are the carotenoids such as beta carotene, which are in fact precursors to Vitamin A. However, their benefits are felt best when they are part of whole foods such as yams, carrots and winter squash. According to Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., the incidence of macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes blindness, is considerably lower in persons who regularly consume these vegetables than in those who do not. Supplements of beta carotene, on the other hand, do not seem to offer such protection.

Insuring our nutritional health is therefore quite simple. We can do so daily by consuming one or two servings of whole grains, a serving of beans and/or animal protein, plenty of vegetables of many different colors, and fruit and nuts as snacks.

About T Annemarie Colbin, PH.D.
Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., is an award-winning leader in the field of natural health, and is the founder and CEO of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City, the oldest natural foods cooking school in the U.S. (since 1977), and the only one licensed by the New York State Education Department and accredited to offer a career Chef’s Training Program in natural foods cooking. Dr. Colbin has been an adjunct professor of nutrition at Empire State College in New City, N.Y., and at Touro College, as well as a once-yearly visiting lecturer at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She has led workshops all over the country in such well-known institutions as the Omega Institute, The New York Open Center and Kripalu Yoga Center, and presented talks in the Integrative Health Symposium in 2009, as well as in several earlier ones.

Dr. Colbin authored four books including two cookbooks, The Book of Whole Meals and The Natural Gourmet. Her book Food and Healing on the relationship between food and health, has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Czech, Polish, Bulgarian and Chinese, and her latest book Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones: A Holistic Approach, was published by New Harbinger Publications in February 2009.

Recipe 1:
Here is a great recipe, rich in carotene, tasty and easy to boot.

Makes 3-4 servings 
½ lb carrots, sliced thin on the diagonal
1 cup water or stock 
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or organic butter 
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

  1. Place the carrots and water or stock in a small pot, and steam carrots, covered, until tender, or about 20-25 minutes. Remove cover, and cook a little longer to evaporate the liquid, or pour it off if there is too much.
  2. Push the carrots to the side, add the olive oil or butter to the pot, and saute the steamed carrots until fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Just before serving, toss with the finely chopped parsley.

Recipe 2:

Mixed Green Salad with Walnut Oil Dressing
Makes about 4 servings.
4 cups mixed spring greens, or mesclun
1 tablespoons lime juice
& 1 tablespoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
1 Belgian endive, sliced crosswise into ½ inch pieces

  1. Place the greens in a large salad bowl.
  2. Mix the lime juice, oils, and salt, shake or whip well. Toss with the salad and serve.
  3. Sprinkle the Belgian endive slices evenly over each serving.