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Our food philosophy series | Focus on whole and minimally-processed foods

Principle #2 of our eight-part food philosophy

Person holding a box full of fresh produce

Last month, I introduced you to Medcan’s food philosophy, a set of eight principles that reflect scientific findings from nutrition, health and environmental research on optimal food choices. Our position on healthy eating is one that promotes health and well-being, reduces the risk of diet-related chronic disease and considers the environment.

As such, the first principle that guides the food served at Medcan– during the Annual Health Assessment, in corporate boardrooms and on the newly launched Nourish by Medcan takeaway menu – is that we leverage the elements of the well-researched, plant-based Mediterranean diet. In case you missed our newsletter last month, here’ s an overview of the Mediterranean-style diet, and what it means for our menu items.

Focus on whole and minimally-processed foods

The second tenet that guides recipe creation, menu development and healthy eating messaging at Medcan is the use of predominantly whole and minimally-processed foods.  Whole foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, oats, quinoa, lentils, nuts and seeds, are in their natural state, or have been minimally altered.

When you eat whole foods you’re getting all of the fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. That’s important since nutrients and phytochemicals in whole foods act synergistically to exert their health benefits.

When whole grains are refined, milled, scraped and processed into flakes, puffs or white flour, the fibre-rich bran and nutrient-rich germ layers are removed. Lost along with them is 25 per cent of the grain’s protein content and at least 17 nutrients.

Whole foods, unlike heavily processed ones, don’t contain refined sugars, added sodium or unhealthy trans fats.

Plenty of studies have shown that a diet that emphasizes whole, nutrient-rich foods is tied to a lower risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

Minimally-processed foods deliver nutrition, too

Minimally processed foods – pre-washed salad greens, frozen berries and canned tomatoes, for example – are convenient ways to add nutritious ingredients to meals and snacks, especially when fresh produce is out of season.

What’s more, processing by flash freezing or canning immediately after harvest locks in nutrients when they are at their peak.

5 ways to eat more whole foods

The following tips can help you increase your intake of nutrient-rich whole and minimally processed foods and, in the process, gradually remove highly processed ones from your diet.

Plan in advance.  Make a meal plan for the week to avoid the temptation of highly processed prepared foods. Take snacks with you to prevent hitting the vending machine or coffee shop.

Stock your fridge, freezer and pantry with staples that are easy to turn into a quick meal (e.g., canned tuna and salmon, canned or frozen beans and lentils, eggs, cottage cheese, frozen edamame, frozen vegetables).

Batch cook. Reserve time on the weekend to cook foods that can replace some highly-processed foods you may be relying on. Granola, soup, pasta sauce, muffins, cookies and energy bars are good examples.

Roast a fresh turkey breast or grill chicken for salads and sandwiches. Or, prepare a lasagna and freeze it for later use.

Read ingredient lists. When buying packaged foods, as often as possible choose ones with ingredients that you’d find in your own pantry. Ingredients such as palm oil shortening, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, modified milk ingredients, caramel colour and artificial flavours, for example, aren’t found in a recipe book.

Paying attention to ingredient lists will make you keenly aware that ultra-processed foods really aren’t foods at all.

Snack wisely. Instead of granola bars, refined crackers, and pretzels, snack on fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, yogurt, popcorn or raw vegetables served with guacamole or hummus.

Just ditch it. Stop buying sugar-sweetened and diet soft drinks altogether. That includes pop, iced tea, lemonade, energy drinks and fruit drinks.

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