The way we engage with food has changed in profound ways in the last few hundred years.
Before the Industrial Revolution, most people grew their own vegetables, kept livestock, hunted, and processed food by hand using small tools. If you wanted bread, you harvested the grain, ground it up, and used it to make homemade bread. If you wanted butter, you milked the cow, separated the cream from the milk, and churned the cream into butter. Now if you want food, you simply go to the drive-through or press a button, and it’s delivered to your doorstep.
While I’m absolutely thrilled I don’t have to churn my own butter, food that is cheap, fast, and easy typically isn’t high quality.
Thanks to industrial processing, many ingredients unknown to our ancestors, such as refined grains and sugars, vegetable oils, trans fat, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and food additives, now dominate packaged and prepared foods. Unfortunately, most of these ingredients make food hyperpalatable while being completely devoid of nutrients.
Whole vs. Processed Foods
To distinguish nutrient-dense foods from ones that aren’t, Western culture tends to separate food into two categories: whole foods and processed foods. Whole foods are foods that can be found in nature, such as apples, eggs, and potatoes. They have been processed or refined as little as possible and are free from additives and other substances. As a result, they are more nutrient-dense
and contain vitamins and minerals in the exact ratios nature intended.
While most of the food you consume goes through some sort of processing to get it from farm to store, when I talk about “processed foods,” I mean foods that are not in their original form. They are typically made from ingredients that are highly refined and devoid of nutrients, and have additives like artificial colors and flavors.
In general, foods that are heavily processed look nothing like the food they came from. Examples include chicken nuggets, breakfast cereals, and baked goods.
Your Body Without Nutrients
So what happens when your diet is centered on foods that are processed and devoid of nutrients? Your body stops functioning optimally. You are much more likely to experience things like nutrient deficiencies, blood sugar dysregulation, gut flora disruption, digestive distress, and inflammation.
For some people, this means sleep problems, hormonal imbalances, and weight gain. For others, it means fatigue, brain fog, and joint pain. For you it could be any mix of various symptoms. By eating more whole foods and fewer processed foods, you are treating the root cause of those symptoms with proper nutrients. This is why many people find the health problems they experience on a day-to-day basis completely resolved when they make the shift to eating more whole foods.
But Aren’t Calories What Really Matter?
Western culture is obsessed with the idea that calories—that is, the amount of energy in the food you eat—are all that matter for weight loss and health. The basic idea is this: the more energy you eat, the more weight you gain.
People who believe this argue that health is about eating a specific amount of calories every day. If you consume fewer calories than your body needs, you’ll lose weight, and if you consume more, you’ll gain weight. This is why people are obsessed with eating less. They think that if they consume less, they’ll weigh less.
Unfortunately, this is an oversimplified formula. Yes, the amount of energy you take in can play a part in your health. But not as much as you might think. This is because your health plays a role in how well your body processes energy, and your overall satiety. The more healthful a food is, the more it will contribute to a well-functioning, healthful body.
The Calorie Myth
Consider a candy bar. A normal-size candy bar has 230 calories. For the same number of calories, you could have an avocado. You could also have a banana with almond butter or a leafy green salad with olive oil as dressing.
Let’s say I eat a pop tart, candy bar, some chips, and fast food hamburger and fries in a day. My friend, however, eats a smoothie, some eggs and avocado, a salad, and homemade chili for dinner with a cookie. We eat exactly the same amount of calories. But because the food that my friend eats contains a variety of macronutrients and micronutrients, she will feel a lot more energetic than me, and undoubtedly be healthier, too.
Her body will be less inflamed, she’ll have better insulin sensitivity, and her liver and digestive organs will be able to properly detoxify hormones, keeping her hormones balanced and healthy.
Quality matters. The more nourishing your diet is, the better your body is able to process the food you eat.
The better you enrich your diet with vitamins, minerals, plants, and nutrient-dense animal products, the more you will heal. When you eat well, you provide your body with the nutrients it needs to repair damage and become strong and vibrant. If you predominantly eat nutritionally empty foods, your body simply won’t have the building blocks it needs to operate well. All the systems in your body will be at risk of malfunctioning.
This could result in conditions such as fatigue, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, mental health disorders, acne, autoimmune diseases, joint pain, gut distress, and metabolic dysfunction, which affects how your body burns energy.
Eating Nutrient-Dense Foods
Eat nutrient-dense foods will set you up for success for the rest of your life. For long-term health, here are some basic guidelines for eating:
- Consume mostly nutrient-dense foods.
- Consume enough calories. When you cut calories, you also cut nutrients.
- Consume produce grown in nutrient-rich soil with the least exposure to chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
- Support local, sustainable farms when possible.
- Purchase animal products from grass-fed, pastured, or wild-caught sources when possible.
- Regularly consume fermented foods that cultivate a healthy gut.
- Eat foods in specific macronutrient ratios that work best for your body.
- Avoid eating in a stressed, distracted state.
- Reject the diet mentality that categorizes food as “good” or “bad,” which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame with food.
- Read my book Coconuts and Kettlebells
- How to Know if a Low or High Carb Diet is Right for Your Body
- 3 Simple Gut Healing Strategies That Will Revolutionize Your Health
- 5 Easy Dietary Changes That Will Drastically Improve Your Health
- Why You Don’t Need to Stop Eating At Night
- Your Health and Happiness is Not a Destination
- Why I Encourage All Women To Be Bigger