You Can’t Beat Whole Foods

The medical community is finally realizing it’s not just dietary fat contributing to high cholesterol levels. It’s more likely the added sugars and the “sugar” of highly processed and refined foods. New recommendations no longer advise us to control the amount of dietary cholesterol we eat. Now there is more focus on consuming whole foods in their natural state, or changed as little as possible.

Your body is designed to eat a whole food and process and refine it into the tools it needs to sustain life. It is not designed to digest food that is already highly processed. These changed foods are not familiar or comfortable for our bodies to deal with.

The body can’t understand the “language” or the “codes” of these highly processed foods because nutrients are missing or its chemistry has been altered. The nutrients and other properties in our foods act as the ‘codes’ to assist the body in absorbing the food. This is similar to programming html (the ‘code’ or language it understands) into a computer, but without using html the message can’t be deciphered. Another analogy would be the electronic handshake of your cell phone to the system in your car. If the handshake isn’t recognized, your phone won’t be in sync with your car.

We need to eat whole, unchanged foods so the messages to our bodies are recognized and dealt with in the manner the body is familiar and comfortable with –  the way nature designed it. Many nutrients in highly changed foods are missing, and those that may remain may become too potent or less effective without the synergistic effects of those missing nutrients. In addition the chemistry of the food may change and become harmful (like trans fats and high fructose corn syrup).

The body “reads” any highly processed food the same as simple table sugar. They are both one and the same; both were processed from whole food sources. They can have drastic effects on insulin response. And they can elicit the same chemical changes to stimulate the brain’s reward pathways as drugs and alcohol do.

When we eat any highly refined food (like table sugar or flour), we put our body in DISTRESS as it tries to deal with a food it is not familiar with. The problem is, we subject our bodies too frequently to this stress. We eat these poor quality foods at most meals and snacks. Continued stress is not an ideal condition for the body. Chronic stress creates hormonal disruption (insulin spikes are just one example), digestive problems (gas, bloating, etc.), immune stress (overworks the liver and other organs, and creates damage that eventually contributes to systemic inflammation).

If the body is under constant stress from eating highly refined foods many negative reactions result, including a signal to the adrenal glands to secrete the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol has a necessary role, helping us fight or run from danger – it stimulates our blood vessels to constrict, and increases blood pressure and heart rate. This ongoing response can eventually damage arteries and other blood vessels, creating inflammation when the immune system tries to repair the damage. Increasing your blood cholesterol levels is one of the many responses involved in the repair process.

Cholesterol is necessary for good health; it is basically what our bodies are constructed of. It lines the walls of every cell, to name just one important role. Cholesterol is sent into the bloodstream as part of the inflammatory response – to help repair the damage and make new cells. So in many cases, trying to reduce high cholesterol levels is like shooting the messenger. We aren’t getting to the root of the problem. Cholesterol in the blood didn’t cause the “damage”. It’s more likely attributed to eating high “sugar” (those highly processed, refined foods).

More often, we should choose the foods that are changed very little. Usually, they won’t have an ingredient label. Eat more fresh fruit, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, whole grains (not flour), seafood and unprocessed meats (limit deli meats and wieners, etc.), legumes, natural nuts, unprocessed dairy foods (i.e. avoid the processed cheeses or fruit-filled yogurts which are high in sugar). Cooking is fine, as long as you don’t burn or overcook the food.

Refined sugars, flour, and table salt are the most widespread processed foods in our diet and should be omitted or greatly reduced. They are added to almost every packaged or canned food. And there are many foods we eat today that we mistakenly think are “healthy.” Mixed messages from marketers and even the experts have us misled and confused about which foods actually are highly processed: Stevia, juices, rice cakes, breads, pastas and other baked items made with flour (yes, even the whole grain varieties) – these are all highly refined foods. Incidentally, our “bread” should ideally be whole grain kernels or “berries” cooked on the stove, exactly as you would cook rice. These kernels retain all their nutrients, instead of losing them when they are crushed to make flour. Nutrients play a vital role as part of the “code” or “message” of the food, guiding the body to digest it properly and with minimal stress.

There are many more foods that do not resemble the way they occurred in nature, yet we mistakenly think they are good for us. They create havoc in your digestive system, even though you are not aware of it at the time. But over time, this ‘silent’ stress will eventually rob you of your good health.

Before you put any food into your mouth, ask yourself if you could have eaten that food if you were living off the land, without any technology (except perhaps a heat source for cooking). If you can say “yes” . . . bon appetite!

Eve Lees is a Certified Nutrition Coach, a Health Speaker and a Health Writer for several publications including INSPIRED Senior Living.