The Ins and Outs of Cooking with Whole Foods

The Ins and Outs of Cooking with Whole Foods

We live in a day and age where processed foods dominate both high and low income countries1. People are overeating, but their cells are starving for nutrients. We are eating an abundance of chemicals and empty calories that leave us hungry for more. It is now proven that processed foods cause inflammation in the gut and disrupt the gut microbiota1 and contribute to many other chronic diseases. Chemicals also get stored in fat cells2.

Whole plant-based foods, on the other hand, decrease inflammation3, chronic disease, and help with weight reduction4. The fiber in whole foods helps to feed probiotics5 and increase beneficial microorganisms in the gut6. Whole foods include fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Those who would benefit from eating a whole food diet would be those wishing to prevent chronic disease, those currently with a chronic disease, and those that want a healthy gut, more energy and many other health benefits!

Although, it may be obvious that whole foods are better than processed foods, there are some tricks to make whole foods even healthier!

Fruits and Veggies (cooked or raw?)

For starters, many fruits and veggies and other whole foods are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Check out the dirty dozen and clean fifteen FV list on the EWG website (https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/). The dirty dozen FV are the most highly sprayed with pesticides. You would want to buy these organic or pesticide-free. You can also save money by buying some FV frozen in bulk. A two-year study was done that found no nutrient content difference between fresh and frozen veggies7. You can also save money by buying from local farmers, and what’s in season.

Many veggies retain most of their nutrients raw or lightly steamed. However, the lycopene in tomatoes (which helps prevent cancer) is more assimilable when cooked and with a healthy oil8. If you are going to cook other vegetables, steaming is the best way to preserve the most nutrients, and second to that is lightly stir-frying8. Stir-frying on high heat, boiling, and roasting diminish the nutrient content more greatly8.  However, the boiling point of water is 212 degrees vs roasting at 425 degrees! The water from steamed or boiled veggies has lots of nutrients; so do not throw it away8. Lastly, steaming crucifers can help to diminish goitrogens, which may cause harm to those with thyroid issues (you wouldn’t want to drink the water!). You can also steam other veggies that contain lectins or oxalates, to diminish the anti-nutrients9.

Cooking with Fats

Extra virgin olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fat8. It is great for salad dressings, and to help absorb more nutrients from veggies. A study found that more nutrients are absorbed from a salad with a fat dressing, rather than a nonfat dressing8. However, DO NOT USE OLIVE OIL WHEN COOKING ON HIGH HEAT. Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoking point. The common rule is that the more refined the oil, the higher the smoking point8. You can add olive oil to food after it has been cooked8. You also want to store extra virgin olive oil in a dark/amber bottle in a dark and cool cabinet to retain nutrients8.

Healthy oils that are good for cooking on high heat are: avocado oil, extra virgin coconut oil, ghee, and sunflower oil made for high heat (it’s been refined for cooking).  Please note that coconut oil and ghee are saturated fats.

Lower Anti-Nutrients in Beans, Whole Grains, Nuts and Seeds

Due to glyphosate being sprayed on so many crops now, I try to buy organic beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds from the bulk bin. Aside from avoiding pesticides, herbicides, and GMO foods, I also avoid hybridized wheat; I stick to ancient wheat (spelt, kamut, emmerson, einkorn, and farro) and other whole grains and gluten-free grains. It is best to soak your raw beans, grains, nuts and seeds in water overnight to break down the anti-nutrients such as lectins, oxalates and phytate9. They do need to be 100% raw and unpasteurized in order to “germinate”. Place the amount you want in a glass bowl, uncovered with enough purified water so that there is a couple inches on top to give room for growth. The next day you can cook your beans and grains how you normally do. You can cover the nuts and seeds and place them in the refrigerator. They should last 3-5 days. If you change the water a couple times, they could last longer! You can also get sprouted and/or sourdough whole grain bread.

Struggles with Eating a Whole Food Diet

The cons to eating whole foods are that for most meals, you will need to prepare everything from scratch. Although, raw fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds are readily available fast food! The other con is that if you want to buy packaged foods that contain organic and healthier ingredients to save time, it can get pretty pricy. Just make sure to set aside a couple days a week to prep meals! Cooking can truly be a healing meditation. Try to set aside this time, knowing you are going to save more time and money in the long run by preventing major chronic health conditions.

8 simple tips for eating whole foods on a daily bases:

  1. Buy the dirty dozen FV organic or pesticide-free.
  2. Cook your tomatoes with a healthy oil for better lycopene absorption.
  3. Eat fresh or steamed veggies (or lightly stir-fry).
  4. Steam the veggies that contain more lectins, oxalates, and goitrogens.
  5. Add extra-virgin olive oil to your salads for healthy fats and to absorb the nutrients better in the veggies (store your olive oil in a dark cool place).
  6. Use oils made for high heat cooking, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee, or sunflower oil made for high heat.
  7. Get in the habit of soaking raw whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds right before you go to bed (overnight).
  8. Set aside a couple days a week to meal prep!

Good luck!

References:

1. Zinöcker MK, Lindseth IA. The Western Diet-Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):365. Published 2018 Mar 17. doi:10.3390/nu10030365

2. Pesticides found to accumulate in fat tissue. PHYS.ORG. Published March 2, 2018. Accessed June 24, 2021. 

https://phys.org/news/2018-03-pesticides-accumulate-fat-tissue.html

3. New Review Highlights Benefits of Plant-Based Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Published September 12, 2019. Accessed June 6, 2021.

4. Huang RY, Huang CC, Hu FB, Chavarro JE. Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Gen Intern Med. 2016;31(1):109-116. doi:10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7

5. Wilson AS, Koller KR, Ramaboli MC, et al. Diet and the Human Gut Microbiome: An International Review. Dig Dis Sci. 2020;65(3):723-740. doi:10.1007/s10620-020-06112-w

6. Sakkas H, Bozidis P, Touzios C, et al. Nutritional Status and the Influence of the Vegan Diet on the Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Medicina (Kaunas). 2020;56(2):88. Published 2020 Feb 22. doi:10.3390/medicina56020088

7.  Li L, Pegg RB, Eitenmiller RR, Chun J, Kerrihard A. Selected nutrient analyses of fresh, fresh-stored, and frozen fruits and vegetables. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. 2017;59: 8-17. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889157517300418. Accessed June 24, 2021.

8. Ross, K. Lecture presented: Preserving Nutrients. Presented as part of Master’s in Clinical Nutrition program at SCNM. Viewed June 27, 2021; Canvas Online.

9. Petroski W, Minich DM. Is There Such a Thing as “Anti-Nutrients”? A Narrative Review of Perceived Problematic Plant Compounds. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):2929. Published 2020 Sep 24. doi:10.3390/nu12102929

Image is free for use under Creative Commons License Law. Image by Dean Drobot from Shutterstock (https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/photo-pretty-caucasian-woman-holding-cooking-1399381838)

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