Nutrients work together synergistically. Just as it is more effective to play basketball with a whole team rather than one player, nutrients work more efficiently when they are matched up with teammates. A good example is the nutrient calcium. If you take a pill that is 100% calcium and nothing else, that's okay. But if the food also has the right amount of other important nutrients like magnesium and vitamin C, the calcium will perform at a higher level and your body will absorb more of the nutrient.
Foods naturally grow with a team of nutrients. The main nutritional components of every food are:
- Vitamins (like Vitamin C, Vitamin D)
- Minerals (like calcium, iron)
Foods found in nature have some of each of these components in varying amounts. Fats help certain vitamins, like vitamin A, E, and K, to be better absorbed. The fiber helps keep the other nutrients flowing through all the tubes in your body. The carbohydrate in the food can provide your muscles fuel they can use. The different types of nutrients help each other out, creating an unbeatable team.
Whole foods are nutrient dense. In other words, whole foods have a whole bunch of good players formed into a team. To figure out whether a food is a whole food or not, you just have to ask yourself if it was manufactured in a factory or grown in a field. Or better yet, read the label. If it's a whole food, you should be able to recognize every ingredient as something that grows in nature.
Without a doubt, the best foods for supporting an active human body are whole foods. The best whole foods include:
- brown rice
- whole wheat
- sweet potatoes
- collard greens
- bok choy
Cynthia Lair is a blogger, author (with Scott Murdoch, PhD, RD) of Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players and Parents (available on her website and from which this article has been adapted) and the newly revised 3rd edition of Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children and Parents. She is also the host of Cookus Interuptus, a web-based organic cooking show.