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Thursday, June 15, 2017 12:04 am

Eat simple, eat whole

Making sense of nutrition

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So you’re nearing 50 or 60, perhaps 70, and you notice your metabolism has slowed down. Your immune response isn’t as efficient as it used to be. You have interesting, new, digestive troubles and you feel overwhelmed by the prescriptive “health foods” at the supermarket and conflicting diet advice from your vegan daughter and paleo son. It may be time to simplify. It may be time to shift your diet towards whole foods.

This doesn’t have to mean driving to St. Louis to shop at the chain market endearingly nicknamed “Whole Paycheck.” Whole foods can be found at your local bountiful farmers market and on the perimeter of any supermarket. They’re simply unprocessed, unrefined, unpulverized and unreconstituted food that you might eat as a hunter-gatherer. Potatoes, broccoli, strawberries, hormone-free beef, wild salmon, walnuts, chickpeas, you get the picture. Foods without labels. As Michael Pollan says, “Real food doesn’t have a long ingredient list, isn’t advertised on TV, and it doesn’t contain stuff like maltodextrin or sodium tripolyphosphate. Real food is things that your great-grandmother (or someone’s great-grandmother) would recognize.”

But why the step backward? We’ve evolved so far as to be able to isolate nutrients and inject convenience foods with vitamins. It feels good to righteously select cereals labeled “whole grains” and vitamin water in psychedelic colors. We are assured our choices are good ones by these attractive labels, and they’re cheap.

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However, when we purchase foods in their original shape and form, we’re actually getting more nutritional bang for our buck.

As we age, our metabolism slows, meaning we need less food overall. Eating whole foods ensures what you’re eating is nutrient-dense. The naturally occurring fiber in whole foods helps with the absorption and metabolism of these nutrients. You’ll increase your intake of disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants. Purchasing locally grown produce ensures that your food has traveled a short distance and thus is at the peak of nutrition and flavor. You’ll support a healthy weight by decreasing sugar and flours (which have the same effect on blood sugar) and support digestion by freeing your body of the work of metabolizing all the chemicals and preservatives in processed foods. You’ll decrease inflammation too.

This all may sound easier said than done. I, for one, am often frustrated with nutrition advice than does not come with practical tips to change longstanding patterns. You can’t expect to gracefully change eating (and shopping) habits that are ingrained in your lifestyle without building in some support. So…

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  1. Get clear on your “why.” Making dietary changes is challenging and requires some resolve. Do you want to lower your cancer risk so you’ll be around to see your grandchildren graduate from college? Are you trying to shed weight so you can have more energy to devote to a cause close to your heart?

  2. Tell your friends and family about the changes you’re trying to make and your reasons and ask them to join you – or at least not to derail your plans.

  3. If you find that you’re more successful with structure, try the Whole 30 eating plan. Though restrictive, there are communities of support and instructive books and websites everywhere. This plan advises quitting dairy, legumes and grains in addition to processed foods, and can be quite a challenge, but may serve as an effective nutritional reset if you’re deep in the trenches of processed food.

  4. Find whole foods that you like and incorporate them into your diet on a regular basis. Don’t force yourself to eat kale and drink your coffee black if it makes you gag. Focus on adding in a variety of whole foods, and gradually they’ll crowd out the chemicals and sugar.

  5. Try to eat slowly and notice how different food choices make your body feel. When you repeatedly connect the lethargy and discomfort that follows a sugar binge with the food choice, it will become gradually easier to choose something else next time. Mind-body exercise such as yoga or meditation will be helpful if you have difficulty sensing your body’s response to food or can’t slow down enough to make conscious choices.  

Ann Farrar is a holistic nutrition coach, trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and New York University. For more tips on making sustainable lifestyle change, visit worklifefamhow.com.

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