Food. The term is almost synonymous with life itself. As written in the book The Whole Foods Diet [The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longevity], “we devote more time procuring food and eating them than we do any other life-sustaining activity except breathing and sleeping.” I tend to agree.
The ultimate goal in transitioning toward a whole food diet is to choose cooking methods that retain the nutritional value of food. The closer foods are to their native states – prepared with minimal fat, sugar, salting, and processing – the greater the long-term health benefits. And while it can be a challenge to incorporate whole foods into your everyday diet and completely avoid processed foods, learning how to cut them down can be a great place to start. It’s also important to take the time you need to make the transition, sustainably, in the way that works best for you.
What are Whole Foods, Plant-Based?
The variety of nutrient-rich, health promoting plant foods is endless. Simply put, whole foods, plant-based, are whole unrefined plants. Fruits, grains, berries, leaves, roots, legumes, flowers, nuts and seeds, are examples of whole foods. Roots are the parts of plants that grow below the ground, producing vegetables such as yam, sweet potato, colorful beets and carrots, turnip, radish, garlic, onion, shallots, ginger, arrowroot, turmeric, fennel, and cassava (the root from which tapioca is made). Leaves include lettuces, kale, spinach, collards, swiss chard, cabbage, and so on. Fruits include the parts of plants that contain seeds, such as tomatoes, apples, mangos, oranges, peppers, cucumbers, and pumpkins. Grains are the seeds themselves: quinoa, oats, barley, corn, wheat, and the like. Legumes (or pulses) are different types of beans: soy, lima, pinto, fava, kidney, black, chickpea, and even peanuts. Flowers are broccoli, cauliflower, dandelions, and so on.
Nuts and other seeds: walnuts, almond, cashews, hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed, and more, contain a wide range of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Consider all-natural nut (or fruit) butters. Unlike jellies, butter, and margarine, nut butters contain healthful fats that benefit heart health.
Legumes, or Pulses
Generally speaking, legumes are an affordable low-fat, low calorie source of high quality protein that contributes to good nutrition and health. As you begin to move the pendulum in the other direction and slowly move away from animal protein, you will find that these highly “satiating” foods are worth embracing as part of a healthy and sustainable diet. Most legumes also contain significant amounts of fiber and resistant starch found only in plant foods. Fiber, and resistant starch, helps to regulate bowels and remove the toxins in our bodies. Almost all varieties of legumes provide iron, zinc and B vitamins, among many other nutrients.
So what exactly are legumes, and how do we cook with them? As stated by Pulse Canada, think tiny powerhouses that are an important part of vegetarian and vegan diets. This group of foods comprises of soybeans, peanuts, fresh peas, and fresh beans. Pulses are dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils. Beans boast important assets: For one thing, they’re easily stored and almost never go bad. Because they are dried, their shelf life is more or less unlimited. Second, there’s a lot you can do with beans. To cook them, is in some ways the simplest part of this discussion. Beans are always cooked in liquid, and that liquid is usually water. Most beans double or even triple their bulk during cooking; that is, 1 cup of dried beans yields at least 2 cups of cooked beans.
It’s worth knowing how to cook fresh fruit butters. Fruit butters are sweet, creamy, delicious! The best part about making your own home made using “real food,” is you’ll know exactly what’s in them. Consider a mango butter for example, made with just four ingredients: ripe mangos, freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly squeezed lime juice, and maple syrup. The taste of this recipe alone will increase your feelings of happiness.
Our palates crave the unique balance of sweet and tart that really good fruits provide, and we can play with that when we make our whole juices, smoothies, and other recipes. Fruits are a more healthful way to satisfy a sweet tooth without the negative effects that can result from eating processed, refined sugars. The fruit family offers a wealth of options: ruby red cherries, silky sweet peaches, crisp apples and pears, exotic mangos, jackfruit, soursop, and thirst quenching melons, just to name a few. Choose organic where possible, especially for those fruits where you eat the skin.
Sweet, creamy, delicious, whole foods!
- 10 pears, peeled, cored and diced
- 1 cup water
- 3 tablespoons #maplesyrup
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook and cover over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 – 60 minutes, until all liquid has evaporated. The mixture should be thick.
Remove the pot from the heat and cool, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Pulse until smooth.
MANGO BUTTER In a food processor, blend together 2 large ripe mangos, peeled and pitted. Pour the puree into a medium-size saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 1 hour, stirring frequently, until the mixture is very thick and darkens slightly in colour. Let cool. Transfer to and airtight container and refrigerate. Makes 1 ½ cups.
APPLE BUTTER Add 10 medium apples peeled, cored and roughly chopped to a medium-size pot. Add 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground allspice and ¼ cup maple syrup to the pot. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours, until the apples have become thick and all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and cool uncovered for 20 minutes. Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until smooth. If there is too much liquid, return to low heat and cook for an additional 15 – 30 minutes.
Enjoy as you would other spreads or jam, on toast, bagels or as filling for desserts.
Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week.
Recipes adapted from The China Study Cookbook by LeAnne Campbell.