One of the basic important principles in nutrition is to understand that when we eat a food, we ingest all of its components, not just a specific nutrient that food may contain.
I will try to explain this concept with a series of examples to make it simple and clear. Let’s take milk for instance. Milk has a high calcium content, but when we drink it, we are also getting the saturated fat, cholesterol, endotoxins, trans fats and naturally occurring growth hormones that come with it, and if it’s not organic, all the added hormones, antibiotics and what not…. all of which are harmful to health.
Now, let’s go to the plant kingdom and look at green vegetables like kale or broccoli. Both of them as well as having a high calcium content, also provide fibre and phytonutrients, which are necessary for good health. And it’s not necessary to eat two pounds of kale a day to obtain an adequate calcium intake. If we include in our daily diets other green vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, which also contain calcium, our needs for this particular mineral will be fulfilled.
If we can choose a source of calcium that brings along health promoting nutrients, why choose a source of calcium that comes with health damaging substances?
Now let’s take a look at the proteins. Animal foods like red meat are rich in proteins and iron, but like cow’s milk, they also have saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fats, growth hormones, endotoxins and if it’s not organic, all the added hormones, antibiotics etc…. which are harmful to health as well.
If we search in the plant kingdom for proteins though, we’ll find legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, soybeans etc…), which as well as being high in protein and iron, also provide calcium, fibre and phytonutrients, all of which are necessary and health promoting. If we add a Vitamin C rich source like tomatoes, peppers, brussel sprouts or broccoli, we’ll aid the plant non heme iron absorption capacity in our gut.
It’s not necessary to combine vegetable proteins to obtain a complete protein. All proteins from all vegetables that we eat contain all the essential amino acids that we need. In fact, the only organisms able to generate proteins are plants. Animals only have the capability to recycle the proteins taken from the vegetables (1).
Again, if we can to choose a source of proteins and iron that brings along health promoting nutrients, why choose a source of proteins and iron that come with health damaging substances?
As we have just seen, It’s more important the source of the nutrients, than the type of the nutrient itself.
Further examples are fruits for instance. It’s better to eat them whole, rather than to drinking its juice. Both are high in sugars but the whole fruit provides fibre and phytonutrients that the juice form will loose in the process, becoming almost like a sugary drink. The fibre and phytonutrients in the whole food will slow down the sugar absorption in the gut, avoiding blood sugar peaks. If you like juicing fruits, always add the bits back in the glass, as they contain very valuable components for our health. The same goes with all the grains (rice, pasta, bread…). Let’s take rice for instance. Whole grain rice has fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. The refined version though, has no fibre, nor phytonutrients, and even though some vitamin and minerals are added back in the manufacturing process, its nutritional value is way lower than the whole grain version.
How about fats and oils? Practically the same. Oils, like sunflower oil or olive oil, are refined products from seeds or fruits. They are practically liquid fat with very little nutrients on them, if any. Some of them like sunflower oil, contain to many omega 6 fatty acids, which even though are essential, in the quantities found in this oil have a pro-inflammatory effect in our bodies. Nuts, seeds and avocados on the other hand, being rich in fat, also provide lots of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, therefore they are a much better option than oils to add into our salads or any other dishes.
The main point of this article, is to make it clear that It’s not necessary to tax our bodies with harmful substances in order to meet our daily nutritional requirements. There are completely healthy alternatives that provide all the nutrients we need, in the required quantities. It’s also much healthier to choose whole foods, as they are particularly superior in nutrients to their refined versions.
Understanding these concepts and applying them on our daily diets will promote our health a great deal, and the more we put them into practice, the healthier we shall be.