The health of our nation is at stake. Occurrences of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and depression are at an all time high. We are walking around feeling unwell, then reaching for harmful drugs to mask our ailments. We need to focus on the root cause of the majority of modern diseases: our food system.
What we consume has a direct correlation to our happiness, energy, mood and basic body functions. The consumption of nutrient-poor processed foods and pesticide-loaded products is breaking down our capacity to fight off disease. The scary reality is that even people who are trying to eat healthy are so bombarded by misleading marketing messages that they no longer know what to eat. Americans are too focused on measuring their consumption of macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) and are missing the bigger picture.
We should be focused on eating foods rich in micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes), which are nearly non-existent in processed foods. That slice of “whole-grain” bread with turkey deli meat that you’re contemplating having for a “healthy” lunch isn’t as healthy as you think. Both products are processed. Because our modern diets are so lacking in nutrients we are in a constant battle with food cravings. Our bodies are starving for nutrition, which causes us to reach for that bag of chips and quick fix energy bar, i.e., glorified candy bar.
At the Natural Gourmet Institute (where I’m currently a chef in training), they don’t believe in calorie-counting, diet trends or quick fixes in a pill. They believe that eating a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet is the solution to our country’s health problems, and that food is meant to be enjoyed. At NGI we aren’t learning how to steam fat-free broccoli and broil lean chicken. We are learning how to sauté, braze, stew, pan-fry, roast and bake beautiful food full of flavor and healthy fats. Food that leaves you satisfied and energized.
I’m loving the food philosophy at NGI and am learning an unbelievable amount about our daunting food system. The good news is that eating well doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are the Natural Gourmet’s 10 criteria for selecting high-quality foods:
- Whole – The edible parts are all intact and the food is consumed in the way nature intended.
- Fresh – Not out of a box. Not frozen. Not canned. No barcode. The fresher the ingredients the more vitality, nutrition and flavor. Heat, pressure and oxygen break down the nutrients in food.
- Organic – Free of synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, growth stimulants and toxic substances.
- Local – The farther a product travels the more the nutrients degrade which leads to rotting. Therefore foods are often stripped of nutrients or picked unripe to prepare for long journeys.
- Seasonal – There’s a reason why our planet gives us refreshing, cooling fruits in the summer and hearty root vegetables in the winter. Our bodies need different nutrients at different times of year.
- In Harmony with Tradition – The food pyramid suggests that we should all eat the same, but our DNA determines which foods we digest best. Modern diseases do not exist in traditional cultures. Let’s eat more of what our ancestors ate.
- Real – Margarine, fake sweeteners, trans fats, soy protein isolate, etc. are not food. They’re products synthesized in a lab.
- Unprocessed – If man made it, eat with caution. Processed foods are treated at high heat, manipulated with chemicals, stripped of nutrients and loaded with preservatives and additives like dyes and flavors, i.e., even organic cookies are processed.
- Non-irradiated – We bombard food with ionizing radiation to kill bacteria and prevent food-borne illness. But we shouldn’t be consuming food that was produced in dirty, unethical processing plants. Irradiation kills off not only the bad but also the good and is high in free radicals. Free radicals destroy healthy cells in our bodies.
- Non-GMO/GE – We are just beginning to see the ugly consequences of consuming genetically modified and genetically engineered food. We’re creating plants that can withstand high levels of pesticides and we’re depleting our soil. Messing with nature is never a good thing.
I realize we all live busy lives and it’s not realistic to follow these 10 criteria every time we eat. If a friend invites you over for dinner, do not state your 10 food requirements. Or if you’re traveling, make sure to enjoy indulging in local treats. It’s certainly always better to dine in the company of good friends than to eat in isolation because you’re too afraid of consuming a bite of irradiated steak or a non-organic Brussels sprout.
But let’s wake up, and cook up! Healthy food when prepared with love tastes amazing, feels amazing and is amazing. Remember: The sum is greater than the parts. Once you go whole, you’ll never go back!