We all do it – buy a burrito or a bag of perogies to stash in the freezer for a busy day. Something we can quickly pop in the microwave or oven when we’re too tired or pressed for time to prepare a home-cooked meal.
Unfortunately this seems to happen all too often. A Senate report on the rise of obesity states that ultra-processed foods like instant noodles, prepackaged pizzas, confections and soft drinks account for as much as 62 per cent of the Canadian diet.
The Senate wants to curb this trend by emphasizing the health benefits of whole foods and discouraging the consumption of highly-processed foods, which are “consistently described as being calorie-rich, nutrient-poor and high in salt, sugar and/or fat,” in the next version of Canada’s food guide.
In the meantime, we asked St. Albert-based holistic nutritionist and personal trainer Sophie Gray to share the benefits of adhering to a whole foods diet, as well as tips and tricks to leaving that emergency pizza in the freezer, where it belongs.
The 80-20 rule
Gray recommends that 80 per cent of your diet be based on whole, natural foods. For those of us who aren’t certified nutritionists, she defines these as foods that are “close to the earth,” “don’t have ingredient lists” and “still have their nutrients intact.”
This includes fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes, meats and dairy.
“We’re so accustomed to eating processed and packaged food that have 101 ingredients that we’re confused about whole foods, whereas whole foods are the real deal,” says Gray.
Gray herself adheres to a whole foods diet. She finds it gives her more energy and helps her to better manage her mood.
“When we’re depleted in nutrients, which we’re not getting from processed foods, a lot of issues like depression, anxiety and inability to handle stress come up,” she says. “Our body isn’t well equipped with the nutrients it needs to thrive and be our happiest, healthiest self.”
Time for meal prep
Making healthy meals doesn’t have to be the difficult, daunting task so many of us make it out to be. Have freshly-prepared meals at your fingertips by following these simple tricks, says Gray:
• Kick-start your day with a nutrient-packed smoothie. Add spinach, avocado and chia seeds to a mix of your favourite fruits for a healthy dose of iron, fat and fibre.
• Cut up and divide fruit into mason jars for a quick grab-and-go snack whether you’re on the way to the gym, between meetings, or driving your kid to soccer.
• Batch cook staples such as rice or quinoa for the week and make intentional leftovers.
“Preparation is the key to succeeding with this lifestyle,” says Gray.
“We’re so prone for looking for quick fixes for everything and being able to cut time,” she adds. “I totally get that, and you can do that with this lifestyle, but I think it’s also understanding that to take care of your health, you have to do what’s necessary.”
Your diet is only as bland as you are
Many people think that whole food diets consist of “rabbit food.” They couldn’t be more wrong, says Gray.
Eating whole foods doesn’t mean limiting your palette; it’s all about choosing healthy alternatives to your favourite meals. “I eat sweet potato fries and chocolate and burgers every week,” she says.
If you’re a pasta lover try switching to rice pasta. If you love a good burger, buy your own ground beef (preferably locally and ethically sourced to avoid hormones) and spice the patties yourself.
“It’s so important to know what you’re putting into your food, so whenever you can, make it yourself. That will make a world of difference, because you’ll be in control of what you’re eating,” says Gray.
Peanut Butter Oats
1/2 cup oats
1 tablespoon peanut butter, plus more for topping
2 Tbsp. raisins
2 Tbsp. coconut yogurt
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup chopped nuts, for topping
Mix first six ingredients in a bowl and leave to soak overnight. Top with chopped nuts
and more nut butter in the morning.
Baked Sweet Potato
1 c. broccoli
1 large sweet potato
1 tsp. coconut oil
1 Tbsp. hummus
1/2 can red kidney beans
1 handful fresh coriander
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees c. Pierce the sweet potato before rubbing with
olive oil and a small sprinkle of salt. Bake on a tray for 30-35 minutes or until soft.
Meanwhile, chop up the broccoli, sprinkle with garlic powder and steam for 10-15
minutes until cooked. Once the sweet potato is ready, stuff with generous amounts of
hummus and red kidney beans. Top with fresh coriander and serve broccoli alongside.
Perfect for a low maintenance lunch!
PUMPKIN TOP BROWNIES
FOR THE BASE:
100g dark vegan chocolate
2 tablespoons cacao
3 tablespoons almond butter
3/4 cup coconut sugar
Natural vanilla extract
2 Flax Eggs (2 tablespoons of ground flax, mixed with 6 tablespoons of water)
4 tablespoons boiling water
Pinch of salt
FOR THE TOP:
1 cup mashed pumpkin (steamed and sieved until water is removed)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup corn flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180 degrees c. Line a 9×9 baking tray with baking parchment and put aside. Fill a pan with water and bring to a boil. Break dark chocolate into shallow bowl and place over pan. Once melted, remove bowl from heat and stir in coconut sugar, almond butter. Mix well before adding all additional ingredients. If batter is too solid, add 2-4 tablespoons boiling water until brownie batter consistency is achieved. Pour batter into the prepared tin and set aside.
FOR THE TOP:
Once pumpkin is steamed through, mash in a large bowl and drain out the water. Mix together all ingredients well and make sure there are no lumps. Mixture may be quite thin, but don’t be put off. Pour pumpkin mix over the chocolate base layer and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and leave to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. Don’t be put off if the batter does not feel set after 25 minutes; it will harden when it cools. Cut into 9 squares and devour. Lasts in the fridge for up to 3 days.