When Michael Pollan declared, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” in his 2009 book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, many were struck by both the obvious and revolutionary nature of the statement. Even before the book – and since then – real food, or whole food, has gained a resurgence of popularity on cooking shows, in restaurants, and on family dinner tables. Here, we share with you insight on what whole foods are, why you should increase your intake and how to do it.
Learn what’s real. Put simply, real food is unprocessed, whole food. “Eating a whole food is eating a food in its natural state. It’s the difference between eating an orange and drinking orange juice,” says Dana Wiedmeyer, a clinical registered dietician at Lake Norman Regional Medical Center in Mooresville.
Know why whole food matters. Wiedmeyer grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin where her family subsisted off their cows or food from their garden. Today, it is not lost on her that her family is very healthy.
“Whole foods are loaded with fibers, vitamins, and minerals, and they give you more energy because your body doesn’t have to work as hard to process all the stuff that’s in processed food. In fact, a lot of the nutrients are removed from the final product in processed foods,” she says.
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Understand why local whole food matters. One of the values of eating whole foods is improving your nutrition. By going local, buying food raised or grown within a reasonable distance of your home, you are further improving your nutrition.
“The longer a fruit or vegetable can stay on the vine, the longer it has to absorb nutrients from the soil,” explains Christy Shi, co-founder of Know Your Farms. The Davidson-based effort supports access to and education about local food through a food club, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) effort, workplace wellness programs, a summer day camp and farm tours. “If you are buying real food from the grocery store, you might be getting less nutritional value because it has to endure shipping and was probably picked before it was ripe. For most fruits and veggies, the nutritional value decreases the longer it has been off the vine.”
Use a food journal to help you get a realistic picture of what you are eating. Wiedmeyer has her patients keep a food journal so that they can really see how many processed foods they are eating. Next, she asks them to make some easy swaps in order to decrease the number of processed foods and increase the number of healthy, whole foods they are having.
“If you have a bagel in the morning, switch to a fruit, boiled egg and oatmeal,” she says.
Branch out. Wiedmeyer likes to challenge her patients to incorporate one new fruit or vegetable into their diet each week.
“There are so many great fruits and vegetables out there. Expand your comfort zone,” she says.
Shi agrees and often encourages people to go the route of a CSA effort when they are trying to improve and diversify their diet.
“With a CSA, you commit to getting a share of a harvest from a farmer or farmers for a certain number of weeks. The benefit of the CSA in terms of your diet is that you are not making a selection based on what you think will taste good. You start with thinking about what came out of the field, and you use resources to help you find what you will make. It is so incredibly easy to throw different vegetables into a Google search and find a litany of recipes,” says Shi.
Don’t give up because of cost. One of Shi’s farmers often says, “Pay the farmer or pay the pharmacist.” That said, if the monthly budget just doesn’t have the room for all fresh whole food, there is nothing wrong with going the frozen route or even the canned route with some modification.
“A lot of times, people say that fresh produce doesn’t make sense because it goes bad quickly. In that case, I encourage people to buy frozen vegetables because you can take out what you will use. Frozen vegetables are blanched and frozen right away so there aren’t any preservatives in them. I don’t have anything against canned vegetables as long as you rinse off the vegetables and fruit to get rid of the syrup and sodium,” says Wiedmeyer.
You can also keep your grocery bill affordable by buying produce that is in season, and visiting farmer’s markets in order to avoid mark-ups due to transportation and overhead.
Use the buddy system for support. Ask your friends for advice and recipes, and involve other people, especially children, in your food adventure. “People support what they create. We have kids at camp who put spinach in their brownies, and they eat it because they are invested in it,” says Shi.
At Davidson College, the “Food Club,” a student group, has taken this idea to a new level by launching a seven-week cooking course that students, staff, or faculty can take. The weekly class shows participants how to incorporate local, fresh food into their diet in an affordable, savory way.
“We have a cafeteria on campus, and we have a café. Seniors have kitchens, but a lot of them don’t know how to cook,” explains Kaitlin Roberts, one of the organizers.
Club members shop for food at The Bradford Store in Huntersville, which sells locally and organically grown farm vegetables, and at the Davidson Farmer’s Market. The benefits from the class aren’t just improved cooking skills. Participants come away with thinking differently about their food sources, and more creatively about ways to get more real food in their diet.
“So much of our culture is about instant gratification,” Roberts says. “Cooking creates more opportunity to appreciate what you are eating and not just see it as something you buy quickly, but to really think about ‘what is this, where did it come from, how was it raised, and who worked to put this food on my table.’ ”
Local sourcesEager to find local sources for your produce and meat? These sites will help you start your journey. (For farmers market start dates, check the websites or phone numbers listed.)
- Know Your Farms: A Davidson-based effort that supports access to and education about local food. www.knowyourfarms.com. - North Carolina Farm Fresh: a directory of pick-your-own farms, roadside farm markets, and farmers markets. www.ncfarmfresh.com.- The Bradford Store: Sells locally grown and organic produce. 15915 Davidson Concord Road, Huntersville. www.thebradfordstore.com. - Davidson Farmers Market: 128 Main St., Davidson. www.davidsonfarmersmarket.org. (Open year-round on Saturdays from 8 a.m.-noon.)- The Huntersville Farmers Market: 103 Maxwell St., Huntersville. www.huntersville.org when the market is in season.- Lincoln County Farmers Market, 225 W. Water St., Lincolnton. http://lincolnfreshfinds.blogspot.com.- Lincoln County Farmers Market at Denver, Rock Springs School, 3633 Hwy 16 North, Denver. http://lincolnfreshfinds.blogspot.com.- Mooresville Rotary Farmers Market, 150 S. Church St., Mooresville. 704-663-3892 On Facebook: The Mooresville Rotary Club.