Natural Foods Education – Jennette Turner

dinner with jennette

What is Natural Food?

Copyright 2004 by Jennette Turner 

As Americans are becoming more aware about health and diet, we are seeing a change in the way food is advertised. Words like 'natural', 'wholesome' and 'healthy' are used to market foods to increasingly health-conscious consumers. But these are nonspecific terms, and can be misleading. A healthy diet is built upon a foundation of 'whole' and 'natural' foods – and so establishing standards for what these words mean is crucial.

Whole foods are those that are all or mostly intact. For example, whole wheat is a whole food. When wheat is refined, its bran and germ are removed to make white flour. All of a grain’s fiber is in the bran. All of its nutrients (like vitamin E, B vitamins, and minerals) are in the germ. So refined grain is stripped of all fiber and nutrients, leaving the eater lacking in both.

Other grains (especially rice), oils, sweeteners, even dairy foods are all commonly refined. We don’t usually think of skim milk as refined food, but it is – the fat that naturally occurs in milk has been removed. It is no longer whole. Whole foods provide us with the nutrients we need for health, in balanced proportion to one another. Skim milk is higher in calcium than whole milk, but in order to be usable by the body, calcium requires fat. Eating a diet high in refined foods of all kinds can result in nutritional imbalances and deficiencies.

Natural, and real foods are ones that aren’t refined or industrially processed. 'Food' is not manufactured, created in a laboratory, or patented. It’s obvious that Twinkies aren’t a natural food, but many people are fooled by 'health food' products claiming to be so.

One easy way to tell if a food is really natural is to ask yourself 'could this be made in someone’s kitchen?', or pause to consider the difference between the ingredients listed on a label, and the processes that go into creating that food, which aren’t listed on the label. For example, the labels of many protein bars and powders list 'soybeans', or 'soy protein' as ingredients. This may sound natural, but these ingredients are highly processed in factories: a slurry of soybeans undergoes several chemical 'washings' where the fiber is removed, then it is processed further and separated with more chemical washings. After that it’s dried at high temperatures and goes through a high pressure process for extrusion. Not something you could create at home. And by no stretch of the imagination 'natural'.

During each step of processing, a food loses nutrients. For example, oats contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals. But after they have been processed at high temperatures and pressures with highly refined oils and sweeteners, then extruded to make little shapes and puffs and flakes, most of those nutrients are destroyed. Old fashioned oatmeal, in contrast, still has them all.

When artificial colors, flavorings and preservatives are added to a food, it becomes even less natural. These synthetic chemicals do not belong in the food chain. Food manufacturers profit from their ability to cheaply enhance the appeal and shelf-lives of their processed foods, but our health suffers from these additives.

Real, natural food is time tested. Your great grandmother would recognize it as food. What would she think of tubes of artificially flavored and colored squeezable yogurt? What about brightly colored cereal O’s? Carol Simontacci, in her book The Crazymakers calls products like these 'food toys', and it is interesting to note that the more our culture turns food into entertainment, the less nourishing it becomes. This is especially evident in foods marketed to children.

Our taste buds provide us with important information. We can generally rely on them to tell us about the quality of our foods. Highly processed foods don’t inherently taste good and are heavily sweetened and artificially flavored to make up for it. This can alter the way our taste buds respond to foods, and it can take a little while to recondition them as we move toward more wholesome foods. Luckily, the more natural foods we eat, the sooner our taste buds wake up!

Cooking with whole foods is not hard. It does take more time than opening a box, but not much more. People are often surprised at how fast and easy cooking can be. And it’s worth the effort - you’ll know that you really are getting healthy food- not just a marketing slogan!

Old Fashioned Oatmeal (serves 2-3)
1 c. thick rolled oats
3 c. water
pinch of salt
optional tasty additions:
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
small handful of raisins, craisins or chopped dates
berries, banana slices or other fresh fruit
small handful of chopped pecans, walnuts or other nuts
1. Put the oats and water in a pot. Let it sit on the stove overnight.
2. In the morning, add the salt and any tasty additions to the pot of oats and water.
3. Turn the heat on and cook around 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with a little butter and honey or maple syrup.
This is a wonderful breakfast item, especially when paired with free-range eggs or breakfast sausage from the Wedge!

Jennette turner is a Natural Foods Educator in Minneapolis. She Teaches public and private classes, and offers individual nutrition consultations. Jennette launced Dinner with Jennette (, to make it easier for people to incorporate natural foods into their diets. she can be reached at / 612-374-6039

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Copyright © 2000-2014 Jennette Turner, All Rights Reserved. | Minneapolis, St. Paul, Twin Cities, Minnesota.