What’s in Your Food?

Whole foods emphasize what’s in your food, not what isn’t
By Linda Kopec, ND, MHNE, CNC

I picked up my son from school recently to have lunch with him. We went to the park with our sack lunches. As I watched him pull out his carrot sticks and orange slices, I asked him if anyone in the lunch room had a lunch like him with fruits and vegetables. He said his best friend sometimes had celery in his lunch sack but no one else did. I asked him about his other friend, and he said he did not eat lunch because of his medication. Medication for ADD and ADHD can sometimes interfere in the appetite of a growing child, so the very nutrients that fuel the brain and body may be lacking in medicated children.

As a holistic nutritionist, I’ve had the good fortune of working with parents eager to change their children’s nutrition in order to see changes in their mental and emotional well-being. And often they are rewarded for their efforts. Medication may seem like the answer for ADHD, but all too often there is an underlying nutritional deficiency or food sensitivity that compromises a child’s focus and attention.

With our national health crisis, the growing cost of health insurance, and the increase in obesity, diabetes, cancers, attention deficit disorder, and autoimmune conditions (to name a few) there isn’t a better time to get our health and wellness on track.

It starts with nutrition

The most profound way to invest in our health is diet and exercise. In my work with individuals of all ages and all conditions, I have seen significant changes in the quality of a person’s health when they make some basic nutritional changes. These changes can seem overwhelming or elusive to most people at first. In a culture promoting sugar-free, fat-free, or even gluten-free (a major recent trend), most people are failing to make sound and fundamental nutri­tional changes.

The importance of fats

Take fat for instance: Good healthy fats are necessary for the health of your brain, muscles and joints, and digestive system. They are also important to fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K which are fundamental to the immune system. A fat-free diet is counterpro­ductive for good health and a healthy weight.


Sugar-free foods are often replacing a refined sugar with an artificial sweetener or sugar substitute. Often these ingredients have harmful implications for our health such as contributing to a sluggish liver or interfering in appetite control centers. Ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup are now linked to obesity for these very reasons.


Though the trend of becoming gluten-free may create some positive change in a person’s digestive and mental health, when a person is gluten sensitive there are other nutri­tional deficiencies and digestive issues that should be attended to. If those issues are not addressed, gluten-free can be only a more expensive refined carbohydrate on top of a poor diet.

Whole foods

Much of the media drives us away from simple whole foods such as fruits and vegetables and into the arms of processed foods. And though some processed foods give the appearance of being better for us, they may simply offer a different version of a bad food.

At the same time, processed and refined foods at a health food store may not be the answer either. Often these foods have just as much sugar or inflammatory oils as their unhealthy counterparts. Moderation of health store processed food is important for your health—and your pocketbook.

More and more there needs to be a shift in our thinking —we need to increase our intake of unadulterated whole foods. This does not neces­sarily mean we have to give up on the convenience of packaged food, but we have to consider our own health and the health of our children by adding the carrot or celery sticks, adding the sliced apple or orange, and keeping the cookies—whether they are fat-free, sugar-free, or gluten-free—away.


Laura Kopec, ND, MHNE, CNC, is a holistic nutritionist and the author of Let’s Get Real About Eating. You can visit her online at kopecnaturals.com.


Want a recipe that your whole family will enjoy? Try the Trail Guide Nut and Seed Bars from Whole-Grain Mornings (Ten Speed Press) by Megan Gordon.

Trail Guide Nut and Seed Bars


1 tablespoon butter, for greasing the pan

3/4 cup brown rice syrup or honey

3 tablespoons maple syrup

3/4 cup safflower or canola oil

3/4 cup almond butter

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 cups rolled oats

3/4 cup raw pepitas

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

1 cup sliced raw almonds

1/2 cup raw cashews, chopped

1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup raw sesame seeds

3/4 cup wheat bran or oat bran

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. Mix the brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and oil in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a low simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat, add the almond butter and vanilla, and whisk to combine. Set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients. In a very large bowl, mix together the oats, pepitas, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, pecans, sesame seeds, bran, dried cranberries, apricots, salt, and cinnamon. Pour the warm syrup mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well; I use my hands at this point to make sure everything is fully incorporated. Press the mixture into the prepared pan using the back of a rubber spatula. Bake the bars until the edges are just turning golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes (the bars will still feel a bit soft at this point). Let cool completely in the pan before slicing, about two hours. Once cool, cut into squares. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap for on-the-go snacking or store, covered, at room temperature for four to five days. Source: Whole-Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon