So, we’re not talking about the store (though, it is a personal favorite of mine for their selection of organics, sustainable products and focus on overall wellness).
Rather, let’s start with what are whole foods? The easiest way to remember is that these are the foods that look like they do in nature - vegetables, fruits, unprocessed meats, unrefined whole grains, nuts and seeds. Eating whole foods gives you a clean and balanced diet, and the opportunity to get the maximum nutritional value from these foods. Rather than using supplements (noting that for some people these are necessary for optimal health), nearly everything the body needs to function is found in natural, whole foods. With whole foods, the body is also under less stress from inflammation or insulin resistance, often associated with eating a lot of overly processed foods such as soda, chips, pasta, baked sweet goods, and packaged snacks and sauces.
Shopping tips for whole foods:
In the produce section, look for fruits and vegetables in the rainbow of colors – tomatoes, carrots, oranges, bananas, leafy greens (kale, collard greens, red leaf lettuce, spinach), blueberries, purple cauliflower (a surprising nutty flavor!) and more! The more colorful the food, the more natural vitamins and minerals you’re getting, and these are essential for all body functions. If you can buy organic, you will be eliminating harmful pesticide residues that linger on surfaces, but any added vegetables and fruits in your diet gives you the same health benefits. Note that produce typically lasts up to 6 days in your refrigerator.
Protein sources are a huge component of eating whole foods. Many people enjoy animal or plant-based protein sources (or both). With proteins, quality is going to outweigh quantity, so when you are able, purchase proteins which support sustainable practices and/or animal welfare. Key terms to look for in meats: grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic (which will be free of antibiotics and added hormones). For fish, go with wild-caught. For chicken and eggs, free-range and NAE (no anti-biotics ever) will give you the highest quality product, and I notice a marked flavor improvement. If you’re eating plant-based, look for organic beans and tofu, and in-shell nuts and seeds as your go-to protein sources.
For grains, look at brown or wild rice, quinoa, whole oats, kasha and millet. The key with eating grains is that all the beneficial fiber, protein and nutrients are found in the entire ‘seed’ of the grain. Through refining and milling into flours, the germ and bran sections are removed, leaving only the endosperm which is the carbohydrate-concentrated part of the grain. Refined grains used for most breads + pastas only give you the carb load, and not the nutritional power punch of a whole grain.
Preparation tips with whole foods:
When preparing your whole foods, you’ll want to use minimal cooking. And to be honest, you won’t need much to enjoy the delicious natural flavors of these foods! Sautéing, steaming or baking are the cleanest ways to cook vegetables and proteins. With a simple cold-pressed organic extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), sea salt and cracked black pepper, you have an easy base to let your foods’ flavors shine. Follow the recommended preparations for grains.
When you’re comfortable with the base, now you can get creative with spices and seasonings to give your foods added flavor depth (if you so desire). Fresh crushed garlic, diced onion, chopped fresh seasonal herbs and freshly squeezed citrus juice will all enhance the natural flavors of your foods. Recognizing that time may be a concern, organic dried herbs and seasonings such as granulated garlic powder, onion powder, lemon zest, Italian seasoning blend, Garam Masala blend, Greek spice blend are great ways to incorporate flavor and save on preparation time.
Delicious whole food combos:
1. Sauté an egg with a little extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), season with salt, pepper and parsley, and serve over mixed spring greens or red leaf lettuce with an apple cider vinaigrette. Pair with a freshly sliced pear or bananas and blueberries for a delicious breakfast!
2. Chicken breast sautéed ingin EVOO with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Serve with freshly prepared brown rice and spinach sauteed in EVOO with a dash of salt and pepper, and fresh crushed garlic and lemon juice (remember to remove the seeds from the lemon). This makes a nice lunch or light dinner.
3. Entrée salad for lunch with mixed spring greens, chickpeas roasted with paprika seasoning, pumpkin seeds, shaved fennel and orange segments. Dress with a fresh rosemary and orange vinaigrette with EVOO and champagne vinegar.
4. Roasted purple cauliflower florets seasoned with EVOO, salt and pepper. Serve with freshly prepared kasha and large leaf kale sprinkled with fresh grapefruit or lemon juice (as a bonus, the kale will wilt from the heat of the kasha and cauliflower).