How many times have you heard someone say, “Fresh fruits and vegetables are just too expensive! I can’t afford to eat like that!” I have heard that statement several times over the past few days, and in fact, I used to feel that way myself. After I had spent my food dollars on the slab of meat that I thought was the necessary center of every dinner, I hated to spend any extra on vegetables. We ate frozen vegetables or potatoes with most dinners, and garden vegetables when they were available to us. I just felt I couldn’t justify the extra expenditure on fruits and vegetables.
My diet has changed a lot since those days, and we buy fruits and vegetables first. Occasionally, we buy meat. I can tell you exactly how much we have spent on meat in the last two months. $15.00. That made a wonderful steak dinner that we shared with our parents. We have also been given a spiral cut ham, which made about 10 meals (ham is wonderful flavoring), and a two pounds of lamb given to us by my parents. Our basic diet has consisted of fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains.
While whole foods can include meat, most people using this phrase are talking about including more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains in their diet. We also are talking about eliminating highly processed foods from our diet. Why is this so important?
Reason #1: Vitamins in context. Our body is built to use vitamins and minerals in combinations that are best found in foods. According to the ADA, vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E and selenium have been found very beneficial and necessary to human health when found in food, but do not seem to be absorbed from supplements. This may have to do the other nutrients contained in the same foods. Scientists have long put magnesium in calcium supplements to aid absorption, but whole foods include many trace elements that may aid our health even more in the long run.
Reason #2: Fiber. One of the main results of processing grains is the removal of fiber. Fiber is necessary to the human body for cleansing reasons, as well as to promote a feeling of fullness as we eat. Fiber also changes the way sugar is converted in the blood stream, allowing blood sugar to stay more controlled.
Reason #3: Less sodium and sugar. According to the Mayo Clinic, processed foods contribute over 75 percent of the sodium to the average American diet. If you are a careful label reader, you will understand why, as varieties of sodium show up on the label of nearly everything processed: sweet or salty. This is because salt, besides being a flavor enhancer, is a preservative. To give processed foods longer shelf life, more sodium is added. In addition, sugar and high fructose corn syrup are key ingredients in many processed foods, because our bodies have an innate craving for sugar. Sugar is a “selling” ingredient.
10 Easy Ways to incorporate more whole foods into your diet:
1. If you cut it, they will eat. Make a sliced fruit and vegetable plate to put on the table with your meal. Include some old standbys, like carrots and apples, and some new ones to try, like golden bell peppers or jicama. Make sure everyone “chooses a vegetable,” just one, to eat with their meal. If the plate is not empty by the end of the meal, leave it on the table for nibbles and snacks. My teenager recently commented that jicama is like chips — easy to eat too much of– except healthier.
2. Invite your kids to pick a new fruit or vegetable to try when you visit the produce section together. At a recent grocery store trip, we spotted blood oranges, pomelos, and honey tangerines. We bought one of each (they were quite expensive), and had a family taste test at our next meal.
3. Serve fruit with breakfast. This is a great time of year to eat a grapefruit every day, but breakfast is a great time for berry smoothies, bananas, or applesauce as well.
4. Make a pot of vegetable soup to serve as a “first course” with dinner. If everyone is hungry when they sit down, the soup will go down quickly while you wait for the rest of the meal. Remember, just half a cup of vegetable soup is a whole serving of vegetables.
5. Buy whole wheat pastry flour. Use at least half whole wheat pastry flour next time you make cookies or cake — most likely, no one will even notice.
6. Use regular whole wheat flour when making pie crust, pasta, or yeast breads. I always use at least half whole wheat flour in baking, and sometimes all whole wheat, depending on the recipe. Sometimes it makes the dough a little more difficult to handle (pasta especially), but the nutty flavor of the whole wheat is a wonderful addition to almost every recipe.
7. Try different beans and grains. There are a wide variety to choose from. We eat polenta (stone ground corn) for breakfast with maple syrup, or fried with spaghetti sauce for dinner. Quinoa makes a wonderful, grassy-flavored casserole. Barley, oats and rye each have their own individual flavors. We recently tried Madagascar pink rice for another unusual treat. Beans also come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Each one has its own distinctive flavor. Experiment to find your favorite.
8. Serve a new whole food alongside an old favorite. Don’t try too many new things at once. A palate overwhelmed by change cannot enjoy it. Savor the new while using the old.
9. Throw out the can opener. On this website, as well as many others, you can find recipes to make your own cream sauces and soups so that you can avoid the preservatives, sodium and sugars of canned foods, as well as the BPA in the lining of the cans.
10. Use honey instead of sugar. Honey can be used instead of white sugar in many recipes — usually you need only half as much honey as you would sugar, and reduce the liquid a little. This substitution requires a little more experimentation, but once you become accustomed to the flavor of honey, you will never go back to just plain sugar.
Soon you will find that everyone in your family is enjoying these whole foods together, and reaping the health benefits.
Happy Healthy Eating!