Context Matters: What We’re Learning About Food

By Linda Fisher Thornton

New research is turning conventional wisdom about healthy eating inside out. This new research radically changes the way we think about nutrition and wellness and will completely change “best practices” in food-related industries. Here is a sneak preview:

WHOLE FOODS (WITH THE FAT) TEND TO HAVE MORE FIBER AND A LOWER GLYCEMIC INDEX 

“Fat and fiber tend to lower the GI of a food. As a general rule, the more cooked or processed a food, the higher the GI; however, this is not always true.”

Glycemic Index and Diabetes, American Diabetes Association

The reason it’s called “whole milk” has less to do with its fat content, than the fact that it’s comparatively unadulterated.

Roberto Ferdman, The whole truth about “whole milk”, The Washington Post

FOOD COMBINATIONS, LEVEL OF PROCESSING AND BRAIN RESPONSE ARE ALL IMPORTANT 

“Processed foods have an altered food matrix, which impacts their bioavailability.”

Hiip.com, What is the Food Matrix?

“Foods high in fat and carbohydrate are, calorie for calorie, valued more than foods containing only fat or carbohydrate and that this effect is associated with greater recruitment of central reward circuits.”

Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward, Cell Metabolism

INDIVIDUAL NUTRIENTS DON’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY

“The food matrix may exhibit a different relation with health indicators compared to single nutrients studied in isolation.”

Thorning et al., “Whole dairy matrix or single nutrients in assessment of health effects: current evidence and knowledge gaps,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Applying the “food matrix” concept we learn that we can’t accurately assess nutritional impact based on breaking down individual nutrients in isolation from the whole. We have to consider what we added and what we left out. In other words, context matters. 

We need to see the whole picture to understand human wellness. Whole foods from nature have complex nutritional combinations and protections built into them that vanish when you strip out the fiber and fat. As Aristotle recognized ages ago (and we’re just now rediscovering) “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Questions For Discussion

  1. How are we already contributing to health and well-being through our food choices?
  2. Where should we adjust our practices to reflect what researchers are learning about the complex food matrix?
  3. What should we stop doing or change to support the long-term health and wellness of our constituents?

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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