This article is the second in a series of posts exploring the Essential Six Elements of Whole Health, the core of our health philosophy and the foundation for our work with our nutritional therapy clients. Learn more about the Essential Elements and find the rest of the series here.
While all six of the Essential Elements of Whole Health are just that- essential to whole health- it could be argued that the first Element, “Real Food Diet”, holds the most importance.
It’s an easy argument to make, given that the diet is an enormously important foundation of health and because, as we have said before, the food we eat actually becomes us. It builds our entire bodies- right down to the cells. Skin, hair, nails, blood, brain, organs, hormones…all of it was once food. So, the old saying is true- we literally are what we eat. If it weren’t for the nutrients that we get from food, we would cease to exist.
However, in our practice, slightly more than half of our clients are people who were already eating a real food/traditional food, GAPS or Paleo style diet before coming to see us.
Despite their healthful diet, they still experienced nagging health issues. Even though some symptoms may have cleared, they were still unable to achieve health by diet alone and there was an imbalance in one or several of the other Essential Elements- Physical Body, Non-Toxic Lifestyle, Movement & Nature, Thoughts & Emotions or Connections- that made it impossible to fully experience a symptom free life.
The Essential Six Elements model was developed in direct response to this pattern, as we’ve seen it repeat in client after client, and as a result we feel that each of the Essential Elements are equally important to achieving and maintaining health and that one simply can’t be placed above another. So while a real food diet is extremely important, it’s just one piece of the puzzle, or as we like to say, “Real food is only part of the story…”
So what exactly do we mean when we talk about a real food diet?
We define the Real Food Diet Element as follows: “Eating a properly prepared, nutrient-dense diet consisting of real, traditional foods, appropriate for your body & health status”
So let’s break this down a bit:
Properly prepared means that the food is prepared in ways that maximize nutrients and minimize harmful anti-nutrients found in the food. For example, soaking and drying nuts & seeds before eating them or sprouting and/or souring grains for bread are both traditional methods of preparation that neutralize phytic acid. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient found in these foods that inhibits nutrient absorption and steals minerals from the body.
Nutrient-dense foods are simply those that have a large amount of nutrients in relation to their serving size or caloric value. For example, an ounce of grass-fed beef is more nutrient-dense than an empty calorie food like a soda, because the amount of nutrients present in the beef far outweighs any nutrient that would be in an empty calorie food.
The term “empty calories”, of course, refers to foods that have high caloric count, but little or no nutrition (and very often have harmful substances like modified sweeteners, preservatives and artificial colors or flavors) Grass-fed beef liver is even more nutrient-dense than the ground beef, because ounce for ounce, it has more nutrients for the same size serving, or calories of the ground beef.
Real food is food that is whole- eaten close to the form in which it is found in nature. It’s unprocessed, unrefined, unpolluted, grown without harmful chemicals and is something our great-grandmother would recognize as FOOD.
Traditional foods are those foods that have been eaten by cultures around the world for generations. Even though the specific foods may change from one culture to the next, there are certain principles that are universally the same. Traditional foods are usually nutrient-dense and properly prepared.
Eating foods that are appropriate for your body and health status are of paramount importance. Just because something qualifies as “real food”, “traditional food” or might be considered healthful, does not mean that it is appropriate for YOU at this time.
For example, you may have a damaged gut lining and therefore need to avoid grains, sugars and starches, (as part of the GAPS diet protocol) until healing has occurred. Even after healing the gut, some people find they do better without grains, even properly prepared grains, in their diet. Or perhaps you don’t tolerate dairy products, even the most pristine raw milk from happy, healthy grass-fed cows. So, even though that is a perfect example of a healthful, traditional and real food, it’s not appropriate for your body.
What types of foods are “real” or “traditional”?
Pastured meat and poultry
Eggs from pastured animals
Dairy from grass-fed animals (raw/unprocessed)
Healthy fats & unrefined oils
Organic, local vegetables & fruit
Properly prepared grains, legumes, nuts & seeds
Fresh herbs, spices and unrefined sea salt
Natural, unrefined sweeteners
Cultured foods- naturally fermented foods & beverages
One thing that we help our clients with is making the transition to real food diet. While it can seem daunting at first, actually the principles are quite simple. And the payoff is huge- better health, more energy and a positive impact on the planet.
It’s true- there can be obstacles at times- like eating out, attending dinner parties or traveling, and we cover tips for navigating these issues on this blog and we will continue to provide helpful hints in future posts. One of the best things you can do is just get started- choose something “better than” what you are choosing now like opting for butter instead of margarine, or butter from grass-fed cows if you currently buy butter from cows in confinement. Sprouted bread is a step up from commercial bread products and traditional sourdough bread is a step above sprouted.
Every day you have the choice to walk towards health or walk away from it, with each and every bite you take, and your choices build on each other. Before you know it, you will have conquered Essential Element One- A Real Food Diet.
Read the next installment in this series, Essential Element Two, beginning HERE