The idea of “healing foods” is as old as the practice of eating itself. From the ancient Ayurvedic texts, to old Greeks like Pliny, everybody’s been trying to use food as medicine. In its modern iteration, the notion of “healing foods” is much more about eating less processed nutrition than, say, drinking beet juice to cure your gout. These days, modern diets are undergoing a whole foods makeover, and never more than now do we need people like Allie McFee, a chef and healing foods expert and instructor.
“I think of healing foods really as whole foods,” she says. And for her, the notion of “whole” is holistic, from its impact on the environment and the amount of energy used to produce it.
“It doesn’t come from a factory or box. It’s locally grown without a lot of pesticides.” The locality is important not just for environmental reasons, but nutritional ones. She reminded me that, “As soon as it’s picked, it starts to oxidize, so if it’s coming from far away or it’s been sitting for a long time, or it’s been preserved in a can, you’re getting less nutrition in that.” Less gas to transport it and more nutrition in the food itself? What better reason is there to head to your local farmers’ market?
Does it really make that big of a difference though? It might. There’s still controversy over the general nutritional value of conventional versus small-farmed produce, but both European and American university studies have found higher levels of antioxidants in organically-grown produce (that would be the cancer-fighting stuff).
More importantly, the less oxidization and time spent in transport means overall better-tasting produce, which is really the best reason to hit up the farmers’ market, if you’ve got the means and the access.
For personal eating for herself and her fiance, she admits that keeping up a whole foods lifestyle takes a little more planning and prep than a freezer full of Lean Cuisines, but a good recipe and a slow cooker are your keys to success.
“The biggest thing is to plan ahead. I tell people to get excited and make a plan,” McFee advises. Pinterest lovers and library camp-outs, this is your cue to do what you do best. “I go to the Nora library all the time to get cookbooks with beautiful, vibrant photos, and I pick out things that I would like and my fiance would like, write down the ingredients and go to the store. I pick a day, usually Sunday, and take about three hours and cook a few different things.”
A good strategy to stay in budget is to pick a few recipes that might draw on the same base ingredient (cooked lentils, for example), make a big batch and use that to cut down the amount of ingredients you have to buy and make your prep go a little faster. “I make a bunch of muffins, and granola, and salad dressings that I make myself, and I prepare all this things for the week so that when I get home from work, I don’t have to make everything from scratch,” McFee says.
And while I wouldn’t advise eating more fruits and vegetables as any medical treatment, the switch to a vitamin and fiber-packed diet will definitely perk up anyone willing to put in the prep time. “Most people notice they just have more energy. They feel like they have this new energy that wasn’t there before. They’re eating these high concentrations of nutrients and vitamins, so your body’s like, ‘Thank you!’” And it’s more than just a little more pep in your step. Those extra nutrients might unlock something more powerful than just good skin and a sunny disposition.
“That energy might cause a chain reaction. They feel better so they might want to work out or go on a walk, or spend more time with family and friends, and it all comes down to what we’re fueling our bodies with,” McFee says. Whole food for thought, indeed.