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What is a Whole Food?

Reprinted with permission from Feeding the Whole Family (third edition) by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008)

To determine whether a food is whole or not one must be awake when making food choices.   Before we put a bite in our mouths, before we heat it up, before we even decide to toss it in our grocery cart, there needs to be a moment, a second, when we consider where the food came from.  What was its life like before it came to be on this grocery store shelf?  Foods that are in boxes can be pretty mysterious.  For simple whole foods, foods that don't need a list of ingredients, imagining what their journey was like is easier. I have found that the best way to determine whether a food is whole or not is to ask these questions:

Can I imagine it growing?
It is easy to picture a wheat field or an apple on a tree.  Tough to picture a field of marshmallows.  I know of no steams where one can scoop up a bucket of diet soda, no trees where one can pick froot loops.

How many ingredients does it have?
A whole food has only one ingredient - itself.  No label of ingredients is necessary on simple foods like apples, salmon and wild rice.

What's been done to the food since it was harvested?
The less, the better.  Many foods we eat no longer resemble anything found in nature.  Stripped, refined, bleached, injected, hydrogenated, chemically treated, irradiated, and gassed; modern foods have literally had the life taken out of them.  Read the list of ingredients on the labels; if you can't pronounce it or can't imagine it growing, don't eat it.  If it is not something that you could possibly make in your kitchen or grow in a garden, be wary.

Are all of the original edible parts still present?  
Juice is only a part of a fruit.  Oil is only part of the olive.  When you eat a lot of partial foods, your body in its natural wisdom will crave the parts it didn't get.


31 Comments:

Shannon
I understand this whole list until I get to the last bit. It may be true that my body does crave, for example, the stomach contents of the chicken or the peel of the avocado or the scales of the fish, but I'm not too excited about eating those. And yet, animals don't part their foods out the way we do, so I see the point. But if I go with the definition that a part of a food isn't as healthy and leaves my body craving, that's going to seriously limit my diet. While I appreciate that when my dogs eat their eggs whole they get the calcium boost from the shell that nature intended, I prefer my eggs without a crunch. And while I am fine eating the peel of the apple, the plum and the carrot, the peel of the banana, the pineapple and the orange are less attractive. I'm so picky, I don't eat the skin, fat, gristle, or giblets of birds and I am even less likely to eat the eyes, stomach contents, or feet, no matter how unwhole it might seem to just eat the muscles. Where do we draw the line on what we consider edible? We eat orange peels if they're candied. Many cultures eat the heads and eyes of animals. If you are going to say that parting out a food makes it not a whole food, then Americans eat very few whole foods, including cheese, cream, eggs, chicken breasts, fish fillets, rendered duck fat, broth, and so on.
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