Be whole again

Whole food diet leads to healthier, happier life

By Jessica Arsenault Rivenburg

WarrenA whole food diet is perhaps the easiest and most beneficial diet anyone can adopt.

Rather than focus on low fat, reducing carbohydrates or restricting calorie intake, a whole food diet simply focuses on consuming whole, unadulterated, unprocessed foods to optimize overall health.

For years, research has been showing the benefits of a primarily plant-based diet that reduces or eliminates highly processed foods. More and more researchers are recognizing that a healthy diet, along with exercise, adequate sleep and other good habits, can prevent and treat numerous ailments such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic heartburn, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, among other things.

“The entire reason I went back to school to pursue an advanced degree was because of my passion and belief in the body’s innate ability to heal itself if given the proper care and guidance,” said Justin Warren of Standup Nutrition, LLC in New York Mills. “Health can be defined as the absence of disease, but I would also include that it’s the body’s ability to effectively maintain a high level of performance, consistently. A whole food diet is one piece to that puzzle.”

A whole food diet, sometimes referred to as a plant-based diet, is based on eating as people did 100 years ago, before food became mass-produced and highly processed. It is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains, and things made at home from scratch. And while it focuses on plant-based foods, fresh meat and dairy can easily be incorporated as well, Warren said.

“Eating a whole food diet does not mean that you must become vegan,” he clarified. “Lean meats and dairy can also be included in your diet. It’s easy to start and adhere to a whole food diet. All one must do is reduce the consumption of processed foods. Overall, what I have found to be true in my nutrition practice is making small and consistent changes in a positive direction will lead to a healthy lifestyle with a strong immune system that is ready to fight off all disease.”

“Eating a whole food diet does not mean that you must become vegan. Lean meats and dairy can also be included in your diet. It’s easy to start and adhere to a whole food diet.”

Warren suggests a few simple steps to be successful at following a whole food diet:

— Shop the perimeter of the store. Most grocery stores keep their produce, meat and dairy on the outer walls of the store, while the inner aisles are filled with the cans, boxes and packages of processed foods, Warren said.

Long labels telling

— Read the label. As a general rule, a short ingredient list means the food is less processed, and therefore is a healthier option. An ingredient list full of hard-to-pronounce names is another undesirable sign as it often means the food has been more highly processed.

— Opt for fresh, grass-fed meats. Deli meats, canned meats and frozen meats have usually undergone a good deal of processing and contain salt and chemicals to help preserve them. But fresh, 100 percent grass-fed meats, especially when locally sourced, is of better quality and contain higher levels of healthy fats, Warren said.

— Local is better. Warren recommends looking for local and seasonal foods. Such foods have traveled a shorter distance and are thus fresher and often have a higher nutrient content. And purchasing locally grown foods helps support local growers, which is an added bonus.

— Plan ahead. The two biggest hurdles to successfully carrying out a whole food diet are time and money, Warren said. But with some planning, both can be overcome. Planning out a week of meals and making a shopping list can help.

As produce and fresh meats can get pricey, keeping an eye on sales and buying in bulk are good ways to reduce cost. Warren suggests canning or freezing foods at home to make sure they don’t spoil before they are eaten.

— Practice the 80-20 rule. Warren reminded people not to be too strict, as that is often a recipe for disaster. Denying any and all indulgence can lead to boredom and frustration with any diet and cause people to abandon it altogether.

Instead, make 80 percent of your diet adhere strictly to the whole food diet, and allow for 20 percent of wiggle room.

“Don’t become so strict in your diet that you aren’t enjoying the foods that you and your family are eating,” Warren said. “If you are eating a high-quality, whole food diet for most of the time, then it’s OK to allow yourself a break.”