When it comes to our diets and nutrition, the amount of information on which foods to eat, how much, and the endless parade of diet options has given us almost too much information on what is and isn’t a good food choice.
Yet, while we all seem fairly aware at this point that spinach is likely a healthier food choice than potato chips, a new area of focus that has emerged in recent years has more to do with the quality of the food rather than which food to pick.
Is Fresh Always Best?
OK, so you’ve chosen to eat spinach over potato chips, but is it still good for you if it’s canned, frozen, fresh or processed? This question is a tricky one to answer and we will shine some light on this issue and specifically how to make good choices when it comes to our food.
A whole food is simply food that has not been changed in any way from its natural state. This might refer to vegetables that are grown without any modification and would be the same as if you had picked them from the ground itself.
This can also refer to grains or even meat in the sense that while these foods may have been prepared by being put into a package or cut and packaged, nothing has been done that alters the food such as chemicals or preservatives added or other processes. The ideal whole food would be something homegrown, picked and eaten, preferably grown without pesticides!
While the first step of frozen vegetables, blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and halt the action of food degrading enzymes, causes some water soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leach out, the following snap freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient rich state.
On the other hand, fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh food aisles around the country typically are picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals.
Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritional value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen in the sunshine. In addition, during the long haul from farm to fork, fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to lots of heat and light, which degrade some nutrients, especially delicate vitamins like C and the B vitamin thiamine.
Is Refining Making it Better?
By contrast, a refined food is food that has had some aspect of it removed or altered. This is not to be confused necessarily with processed foods. A processed food by contrast is food that has been essentially prepared for some purpose but had nothing taken away, for example fresh orange juice that was prepared from fresh oranges and cheese. Processed foods are usually also high in added salt, sugar, fats and lots of artificial ingredients.
A Refined food has had a process undertaken that created a fundamental change, such as the difference that occurs when rice is converted from brown to white.
One of the key qualities when considering refined foods, is that generally speaking refined does not refer to better or improved but is often a refining process that is removing key nutrients. For example, white rice that was made from whole grain initially undergoes a process that removes a great deal of the fiber content, thus it is not as nutritionally dense or healthy as brown rice, as an example. Refining food takes away nutrients that are later in the processing stage added back as an artificial ingredient.
So, What Should We Eat?
Not all refined foods are bad, as dried fruits are processed as they’ve had water removed but are not necessarily bad for you. Just the same, plain popcorn is refined because the heat changes its structure, but it isn’t necessarily unhealthy.
But, without doubt, most processed and refined foods are NOT good for our bodies. They’ve been altered to a degree where they’re no longer recognizable as food or nutrition by our cells.
They might taste great and give us instant gratification, but the long term damage will inevitably occur.
In the supermarket aim for products that are placed around the perimeter of the shop. Avoid all the aisles in the middle, that’s where the processed foods typically are.
Better Health is Achievable for Anyone
Try to purchase as many organic whole foods as possible, even replacing just a few will improve your health immensely. Or if you have a garden, plant a few easy to grow vegetables, like tomato or silver beet. If you don’t have much room or perhaps just a balcony, growing herbs in pots is a great way to add some high quality nutrients and flavour to your dishes.
Taking small steps is better than standing still.