If you can crave it, you can have it – this has become the motto of our modern-day food shopping culture.
We no longer have to wait in anticipation for summer to enjoy berries, grapes, and peaches; or long for winter’s harvest to make some rich and flavourful pumpkin soup – imports, artificial farming environments, and preservation methods make it possible for us to have access to produce all year round.
And if we crave cake or dessert, all it takes is a quick trip to the local supermarket to satisfy our taste buds – no home flour milling and baking required.
Technological advancements have placed a larger selection of foods at our fingertips than at any other time in history. More variety, lower prices – sounds like a win-win situation, right?
But, let’s take a moment to consider why following nature’s rhythms, and why making the effort to purchase whole, seasonal, and local foods instead is worth it.
What are whole foods?
The word “whole” implies complete, intact, not lacking anything. In terms of food, this means that the closer to its natural state a food product is, the more “whole” or complete that food is.
For example, brown rice is a whole food; white rice is a processed food. When we refine foods (such as making white flour from whole wheat kernels), or modify them by adding chemical additives, preservatives, flavourants, and colourants, we are no longer consuming foods in their natural state.
This also includes genetic modification (GMO crops) and the use of artificial pesticides and herbicides.
Excessive processing and refining strips food of essential vitamins and minerals and alters the nutrient structure, which ends up doing more harm than good to our bodies.
Take commercial apple juice, for example. In its natural state, an apple contains vitamins, minerals, and natural sugars to provide the body with immunity, energy, and ensure good digestion.
The fibre slows down the absorption of naturally occurring sugars in the apple, which keeps insulin levels consistent and prevents a “sugar crash”. Fibre also acts as a signal to let your body know that you are full, which prevents you from consuming too many apples in one sitting.
Now, take that same apple (plus another three) and create one cup of pasteurised apple juice. The juicing process removes all fibre, the heat from pasteurisation destroys nutrients (and flavours), and you end up with a highly concentrated, “dead” food that spikes blood sugar levels.
As you can see, what nature cleverly designed as a complete and nutritious snack, can turn into a recipe for illness when altered. (There is a case for freshly home juiced fruit and vegetable juices that retain their nutritional value, but that is another article).
The same principle applies to many household staples such as margarines and cooking oils, processed dairy products, and snacks such as potato crisps, chocolates and candies.
Why the emphasis on local and seasonal?
You might be thinking: “Whole foods – got it but why seasonal and local? Surely imported stone milled flour from Italy and fresh grapes from Spain are ju st as good (or better) than the South African versions?
Not necessarily. In recent years the trend toward shopping local and seasonal has gained ground for numerous reasons, including environmental, economic, and health-related.
From an environmental perspective, buying local produce from your farmer’s market is much more environmentally friendly than buying products that are flown in from halfway across the globe. It also gives you a chance to uplift your local community and keep money within the local economy.
Additionally, buying local means your food is always fresh – not chemically treated or kept in cooled storage for several weeks.
Less time from farm to plate means improved nutrient density and flavour.
Why? When food is picked in an unripe state (as is the case with long-distance shipping), the produce has not had the chance to ripen naturally on the vine and develop its full flavour and nutrient profile.
This leads to a substandard food product in terms of both nutritional value and taste. Additionally, these unripe foods are often artificially ripened using chemicals that are potentially hazardous to human health.
Lastly, from a health perspective, locally sourced, seasonal foods contain all the right nutrients needed for optimal health in that region and season.
That is why you will see an abundance of light, sweet, refreshing produce such as berries, cucumbers, and peaches in shops in summer, and vitamin C loaded foods such as oranges and grapefruit in winter.
Shopping seasonally and locally is also much kinder on your pocket, because abundance of supply means lower prices.
Making a start
Lasting change is the result of one small decision at a time, so why not start with one change this week? As a general rule, try to purchase and prepare your foods to keep them as close to their natural state as possible.
Start checking product labels for unnatural ingredients and country of origin, and purchase organic, in season and locally produced foods whenever possible. Buy fresh produce instead of canned, bottled or processed versions.
Take the time to explore your local farmers markets and health food stores. In this way, you will ensure that your food is as nutritious as possible, and provides all the fuel and building blocks that your body needs to grow, maintain bodily functions, rebuild, and heal.
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