Holistic Nutrition

vegetablesI like to think of “holistic” as inclusive of not only the well-known trilogy of body, mind and spirit, but also of the “whole” picture of a health and wellness topic, in this case nutrition. Very often nutritional articles will discuss one component of nutrition but will leave out facts which would help the reader connect the necessary dots toward a fuller understanding of the many factors that contribute to healthy eating.

One such example is the attention that has been given to calorie counting at the expense of true nutrition. While cutting calories can lead  to better nutrition by eliminating unhealthful (and calorie-laden) foods, the focus is usually on “calories in/calories burned” for anticipated weight loss rather than the nutritive or fat-producing value of those calories. We now know that not all calories are created equally – many processed foods cause fat deposition due to the surge of insulin and lack of natural fiber.

Calorie counting led to the current crisis of a “low fat” mentality erroneously touted as healthful several years ago and still ingrained in the minds of many. Low fat foods came at a cost: Increased sugar was added to foods and necessary, “healthy” fats were eliminated along with some unhealthy fats. Today we recognize the importance of foods high in healthy fats for both nutritional content and satiety value. Added sugar and processed carbohydrates actually made us fatter by stimulating fat-depositing insulin as well as appetite-stimulating hormones!

Another example of incomplete nutritional information is the focus on the proposed new food labels. The concern here is to display in bold letters just how many calories per serving the food contains, noting that serving sizes will also be more prominent. The only other change will be that the addition of sugar will be listed. These are pretty lame changes for a country that is seriously overweight and undernourished in the land of plenty!

Perhaps a more thoughtful and useful approach would be to have labels more prominently display all of the ingredients, including which ingredients are genetically modified. Going a step further, labels might also include “warnings” similar to those found on cigarette packages to alert us to the dangers of GMOs, trans fats, hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, sodium, preservatives, etc.

Another pitfall to avoid: Don’t be fooled by labels on the front of products that scream “No Gluten”, “Wheat and Soy Free!” or even “Organic” since organic, while preferable to non-organic since it confers a non-GMO product, can also be a highly processed, unhealthy product. The front labels are designed by marketers to confound us, leading us to believe that something which is nutrient lacking is actually “healthy.”

Personally, I favor Michael Pollan’s advice in Food Rules: Don’t eat anything with more than 5 ingredients and don’t eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. An even better “rule” might be to avoid most everything that comes with a label, opting instead for real, whole foods!

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