The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating

The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating


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The bible of nutritional eating-now fully updated for the twenty- first-century kitchen

The average American's awareness of the relationship between diet and mental and physical well being has virtually exploded since The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia was first published in 1983. There has never been a greater selection of whole foods available at even a typical grocery store-but the choices can often be dizzying.

This new edition shows consumers how to select, prepare, store, and use more than 1,000 familiar and unusual foods to maintain optimum health and heal what ails them. Readers of Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser- as well as anyone concerned about the quality of the food they ingest- will make this the go-to resource on good nutrition.

This updated edition of The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia includes:

—More than two hundred new entries
—A new index featuring home remedies
—Line drawings illustrating unusual foods
—Resources for hard-to-find foods
—A fully cross-referenced format with sidebar recipes throughout

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143117438
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/27/2010
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 585,031
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Rebecca Wood has served as an educational consultant to the natural foods industry for fifteen years. She is co-founder and Director of the macrobiotic East-West Center in Boulder, Colorado, and the author of The Splendid Grain and Quinoa the Supergrain.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Health Benifits

Foods have multiple energetic properties, and discerning and using these properties to enhance well-being are an age-old activity. Hunter-gatherer peoples had extensive knowledge of local plant species and knew each one's edibility and medical value.

    This knowledge helped form Western herbology and traditional Asian medical systems. In the West, however, the seventeenth-century Cartesian view that matter is subject to mechanical laws squelched this wisdom. It has remained vital, however, in India and China. Written records of a food's medicinal applications for humans extend unbroken for more than four thousand years. Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine have the most sophisticated and time-proven pharmacopoeias in existence.

    Reclaiming this wisdom and weaving it in with contemporary knowledge of nutrition enables us—from a biochemical vantage—to select foods that encourage healthful metabolic processes. Here is an overview of how to determine a food's specific medicinal value. (Refer to the bibliography for sources of more detailed information concerning traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda.) If any of these models is too unscientific for you, consider it a poetic device and digest it a bit at a time. Or bypass it entirely. A year from now you might consider reconsidering it.

Whole Foods

Favoring whole, intact foods supports optimum health. Fragmented foods, even whole wheat flour as compared to the whole wheat berry itself, impart lessenergy. Eating integral foods that are capable of regenerating themselves supports our own regeneration. Nutritionally, there's no difference between the whole wheat flour in a bagel and a handful of wheat grain; energetically, there's a world of difference.

Fresh Foods

Fresh produce, in a word, enlivens. It offers more than canned, frozen, or past-their-prime fruits and vegetables can. Beans, most grains, seaweed, some spices, sweeteners, and seeds remain fresh for a year or more when properly stored. Due to their higher fat content, nuts—once shelled—quickly become stale. Unrefined vegetable oils are so fragile that to remain healthful, they demand special processing, handling, and storage.

    The same holds true for freshly cooked foods. They impart more energy the day they're prepared rather than the next day—or in the case of packaged foods, the next month or the next year.

Cooked Foods

Historically, people have mainly eaten cooked foods because they are easier to assimilate and therefore more nourishing and energizing. In addition, cooking offers a greater range of sensory pleasures. As delicious as a fresh peach or carrot is, think how limiting it would be if we could only eat it raw.

    When your diet contains many stale, denatured foods, raw foods have greater appeal. As you reduce your consumption of packaged, highly refined, leftover, and stale foods, the craving for raw foods decreases.

    People with strong digestion and abundant energy better assimilate salads and raw fruit. On the other hand, people suffering from low energy, congestion, allergies, or weak digestion better assimilate cooked foods.

    True, prolonged cooking at high temperatures destroys enzymes and water-soluble vitamins. But that's all. Moderate cooking does not destroy carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, or micronutrients. Most of our ills today are not from a deficiency of enzymes and water-soluble vitamins.

    Freshly cooked foods give energy. If you doubt this, try for one week to eat only microwaved, leftover, stale, frozen, or canned foods. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, you'll probably feel lousy.

Thermal Properties of Foods

When consumed, foods have an overall cooling, neutral, or warming effect. This observation helped form Western herbalism and medicine from Greek times until the seventeenth century. It remains a critical tenet in traditional Chinese medicine as well as in Ayurvedic medicine.

    While all systems agree that garlic is heating and watermelon cooling, exceptions occur, arising from each one's scope. For example, in traditional Chinese medicine the overall effect of radishes is considered cooling. But in Ayurvedic medicine, radishes increase agni, or digestive fire, and are therefore considered warming. Both are correct within context. For consistency, I follow the traditional Chinese medical way of evaluating thermal properties.

    Here are seven rules of thumb that suggest a food's thermal properties:

1. Foods that take longer to grow, like cabbage and winter squash, are more
warming than foods that grow quickly, like lettuce and summer squash.

    2. A food is more cooling when eaten raw than when it is cooked.

    3. Chilled food is more cooling than warm or room-temperature food.

4. Blue, green, or purple foods are more cooling than similar foods that are red, orange, or yellow; thus a lime cools more than a lemon.

5. Cooking a food with more time, more oil or fat, less water, greater
pressure, or at higher temperatures makes that food more warming.

6. Foods cooked over gas or wood heat impart more warmth than foods cooked with electricity. A microwave-cooked food holds and conveys even less warmth than food cooked on an electric range.

7. Tropical and subtropical foods tend to be more cooling than foods grown in temperate zones.

Organic Foods

Favor organic foods whenever possible for their extra flavor and greater nutritional value and energy. Chemically grown foods take their toll on our kidneys and liver (the organs that filter chemicals) as well as the environment. We're barely three generations into ingesting artificial chemicals, and judging from the results, it's been a dangerous experiment.

    If your budget for organic foods does not cover all of your food purchases, then spend it first on the fattiest foods. Because toxins concentrate in fatty acids, avoid commercial-quality meat, dairy, oils, nuts, seeds, and grains—in that order.

Seasonal and Regional Produce

Seasonality is not an issue for shelf-stable whole grains and beans. Produce is a different matter. I grow watermelon, grapes, and zucchini in my garden, but not in January. I could buy these cooling foods fresh in winter, shipped in from a different region, but their thermal properties won't help me stay warm in zero temperatures. Besides, a long-distance zucchini has no flavor. It makes sense to eat zucchini in season when it tastes like zucchini.

    Prior to the advent of refrigerated trucking in the 1940s, people ate seasonal produce or what they had set by. Period. In cold weather, my grandmother's fresh vegetable options were a few cold-loving greens like broccoli and kale from the garden; parsley from the pot on her windowsill; and potatoes, onions, cabbages, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots, and squash from the root cellar. In addition to dried or preserved fruits, she had stored apples and pears.

    Eating seasonally doesn't mean that we must limit ourselves. But at the supermarket, favor hardier produce in cold weather. The best way of attuning to seasonal vegetables is to garden.

    Until very recently, people consumed only regional foods. Unlike us, most people knew the hands that grew and milled, tended and slaughtered, and cooked the food. Today, few of the foods we consume are regional unless they are homegrown or purchased at a farmers' market.

    Purchasing regional foods strengthens your local economy—besides offering superior flavor. From an energetic point of view, it also makes sense. Foods of your region help you to be in balance with and attuned to your specific environment.


In natural healing systems worldwide, people have discovered that a food's appearance often indicates its medicinal potential. Thus a beet's color correctly indicates that beets build blood. The milky sap of mature lettuce aptly infers that lettuce supports lactation. Beef and chicken liver support our liver function.


Similar to the doctrine of signature is that each plant part has a propensity to support the corollary body part. From the bottom up, here's a quick sketch.

• Roots Vegetable roots correlate to our roots---our intestines, kidneys, and regenerative organs. Roots are the most mineral-dense plant part and the most strengthening. Consider the types of roots to further determine their potential. Of a radish, turnip, and carrot, the carrot penetrates the earth more deeply and is, energetically, more strengthening to the kidneys than the others.

• Tubers Growing below ground as the thickened, fleshy parts of underground stems, tubers lack the mineral density of true roots. Potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, and sweet potatoes are tubers. Traditional medical systems recommend tubers for people wishing to gain weight, as is suggested by a tuber's amorphous, undifferentiated mass. Other vegetables have a distinct top, bottom, and, often, core. A tuber's energy is more grounding than a stalk or flower.

• Stalks and Stems The stalk of a vegetable transports. Vegetable stalks are good for moving our energy and may perk up someone whose energy is stuck or who has a limited view. Vegetables with pronounced stalks include asparagus, bok choy, cardoon, celery, Chinese cabbage, and fennel.

• Leaves Chlorophyll is to a plant what blood is to an animal. Since leaves are richest in chlorophyll, eating leafy greens supports blood formation and liver function. In addition, leaves also breathe by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, and so eating leafy greens supports our lungs. Greens with greater surface area, like a sprig of parsley, offer more lung and liver support than narrow leaves, like a scallion blade.

• Flowers Our eyes are drawn to faces and flowers. It's where the essence is more clearly seen. Eating broccoli flowers and cauliflower brings energy up to the head. Eating actual blossoms revivifies the spirit. It's amazing how intense the energy packed in even a tiny blossom is.

• Seeds A seed, like an egg, is the self-contained embryonic plant, which holds the future. Seeds act upon our regenerative organs. Seeds contain more precious and protective fatty acids than other plant parts. Grains, the most biologically advanced plants, are both the seed and the fruit in one.

• Fruit Most fruits are the ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant, which contain the seed. Lush and juicy fruits engender softness and a sense of ease, or relaxation. A diet with excessive fruit, however, can make one too soft, unfocused, or ungrounded.


Structural in view, Western nutrition takes things apart and looks at the pieces, literally. Years ago, we learned that carrots are good for the eyes because they're high in vitamin A. Next, we learned of the pre-vitamin A factors, carotenoids. Now carotenoids have been further subdivided into alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. We can anticipate that as scientists continually reduce nutrients to smaller parts, termed phytochemicals, the supplement industry will have an unending supply of newly discovered micronutrients to address specific health problems. It's a valuable contribution, but not the whole picture.

    This mechanistic view, resulting from Cartesian philosophy, treats symptoms rather than causes. It is not preventive medicine.


Many Eastern healing modalities are based on a yin-yang system that promotes health and harmony through balance. The original system, used for millennia, remains the most widely accepted and is used in this book. The newer hybrid yin- yang systems, including the macrobiotic model, deviate from the original.

    Yin refers to the relatively more passive processes that are more like water in substance. Our body's fluids and tissues (hormones, blood, lymph, flesh, bones, and so on) are yin. Conversely, yang processes are relatively more active and tend to be more fiery and energetic. Our energy, mental and spiritual processes, and driving life spark are yang.

    The yin-yang system is useful for describing foods' medical action. For instance, according to its thermal nature, a yin food tends to cool us down, a yang food to warm us. Imagine eating watermelon on a frizzling-hot summer afternoon. The melon's cooling fluid (yin) helps balance out the hot (yang) weather. If you're suffering from the common cold, cooking with fresh ginger helps resolve it. Ginger's hot, ascending, dispersing yang qualities help dry up the yin (watery mucus deposits) and drive out the invading pathogens.

    A balance of yin and yang promotes health and harmony. Use this system to understand imbalances within your body and then choose appropriate foods or herbs to support your overall health.


Chinese medicine assumes that we maintain optimum health through a balanced diet and lifestyle. A diet of wholesome, easy-to-assimilate foods promotes digestion, and whatever promotes digestion supports the health of the entire organism. Health concerns (imbalances) are adjusted with diet and lifestyle modifications. If a problem persists, intervention is accelerated, starting with the least invasive such as herbal medicines and progressing, as necessary, up to more invasive treatments like acupuncture.

    The use of foods and herbs as medicine is based upon a science of functional relationships, which, using the principles of yin and yang, considers the thermal properties of a food and the Five Elements. Yin foods, for example, are cooling; their flavor is salty, bitter, or sour; they build blood and fluids; and their energy descends in the body. Conversely, yang foods are warming; their flavors are sweet or pungent; they increase overall energy; and their energy ascends.

    Five Elements takes its name from the elements. Each is associated with a season, color, flavor, direction, organ/meridian system, and numerous other attributes.

ELEMENT wood fire earth metal water
SEASON spring summer Indian summer fall winter
COLOR green/blue red yellow white black/dark
FLAVOR sour bitter sweet pungent/spicy salty
DIRECTION rising floating centering descending sinking
ORGAN SYSTEM liver/ heart/small stomach lungs/colon kidneys/ Gallbladder intestine spleen-pancreas bladder
ENVIRONMENTAL wind heat damp/moist dry/astringent cold

    Using this outline, a food that is green and sour tasting, like sorrel, acts upon the liver. Watercress, also green, acts upon the liver; its pungent flavor gives it lung/colon action; and as a water plant it influences the kidneys. Coffee's black color indicates kidney action; its rising energy implicates liver; and its bitter/sweet taste involves the heart/small intestine and stomach/spleen-pancreas. People who drink more coffee than is good for them often develop symptoms associated with dysfunction of these organs.

Environmental Influences

The environmental influence of each element offers yet another important way to determine a food's potential healing property. Each of the Five Elements has an environmental influence. Cold and heat are the respective environmental influences for the water and fire elements and are described in thermal properties (see page xxi). The remaining influences are damp, dry, and wind.

    In nature, mix too much water with earth and you'll have a sticky environment. Excessive moisture challenges the spleen-pancreas (earth element) and so living in a humid environment may exacerbate digestive imbalance. Also, eating too many sweets (the earth element flavor) often creates a too-damp, sticky digestive system that is the perfect environment for an overgrowth of fungi, bacteria, and candida-type yeast infections. To support balance, minimize the use of foods that promote dampness such as dairy products, eggs, meat, pineapple, salt, soy products, and sweeteners. Also, use bitter tasting and/or aromatic foods that dry dampness, including amaranth, aduki beans, asparagus, bitter melon, celery, lettuce, garlic, turmeric, turnips, and vinegar.

    Living in a dry climate, or when the body tends to be dry, challenges the lungs/colon (metal element). When our homes are overly dry, we can create equilibrium with a humidifier or an abundance of houseplants. With diet we can support balance by minimizing the use of drying foods and increasing the use of moistening foods (see above).

    Wind is associated with the liver. While a spring breeze is conducive to energy movement, a strong wind often agitates a person with a stressed liver and heightens irritability. Such people do well to avoid being in a strong wind, to use sour-tasting foods, and to avoid foods that stress the liver. One way a liver imbalance may manifest itself is as too much wind—belching or intestinal gas.


As with Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurvedic medicine was developed by a culture using a plant-based diet of whole, fresh, seasonal, and regional foods. Its purpose was to promote health and to prevent disease. An interesting difference between Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine arises from the fact that India is predominately a subtropical region and China is predominately a temperate region. Because of this dramatic climactic difference, Ayurvedic cuisine uses more sweat-inducing spices and is overall a more cooling and cleansing diet.

    The Five Elements in Ayurveda correspond closely to the old European system of the humors. They are earth, water, fire, air, and ether. People are a combination of these elements and can be described as one of three doshas, or types, which are vata, pitta, and kapha. Each person is a combination of these three doshas. A person's constitutional dosha as well as his or her current condition is considered in formulating a treatment. Foods described as tridoshic are balancing to all conditions. A more detailed discussion of Ayurveda and which foods support which body types can be found in the appendix on page 394.

    Vata, a combination of air and ether elements, embodies the very essence of life energy and is considered dry, light, cold, clear, hard, subtle, and mobile. It relates most directly to the nervous system but also rules respiration, movement, will, and sense acuity. Foods that reduce an excessively vata condition are nurturing, soft, soothing, and warm and have a sweet flavor.

    Pitta, the fire element, governs internal heat, digestion, hormones, circulation, thirst, courage, and intelligence. Foods that reduce excess fire are drying, soothing, and cooling. They have a bitter, astringent, or sweet flavor.

    Kapha, the water and earth element, is cold, wet, heavy, and slow; it builds the body and fosters peacefulness and patience. Foods that reduce excess kapha are drying, warm, and cleansing, with spicy, bitter, and astringent flavors.

    Looking at coffee again, but from an Ayurvedic vantage, it overstimulates the already overly mental vata type and is too exciting for the already excitable pitta person. For the lethargic kapha person, however, a cup of coffee can provide a useful start-up energy.


The core tenet of macrobiotics is a modified yin-yang theory. Macrobiotics, a term coined in Japan in the 1930s, was popularized in the United States by Michio and Aveline Kushi. At its best, it's a plant-based diet of whole, seasonal, regional, and organic foods. Through their literature and wholesale and retail businesses, the proponents of macrobiotics helped define and implement the budding natural foods industry in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, the macrobiotic movement is primarily responsible for introducing or reintroducing to our cuisine such quality foods as whole grains, seaweed, and many unpasteurized, fermented foods.

    My criticism of macrobiotics is that its dualistic yin-yang answer for every food and phenomenon renders it simplistic and, in its worst applications, counterproductive to a healthy balance. Traditional, time-tested healing systems draw from a vastly more comprehensive base.


I hope my description of these healing systems helps you decipher a food's medicinal properties. But don't fill your head with too many food facts and figures. Rather, fill your belly with good food. Then notice how it makes you feel.

    As you attune yourself to a food's potential, watch your relationship to that food deepen. In any relationship, the more deeply we know the other—be it a neighbor, the cat, or an apple—the more that relationship offers. We don't expect depth from a stranger. Anonymous foods provide calories, but they lack succor. Let your everyday food choices help ameliorate specific health problems and support optimum health.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Paul Pitchfordvii
Health Benefitsxix
How to Implement a Nourishing Dietxxxi
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia1
Glossary of Terms380
Appendix I: Storage386
Appendix II: Nutritional Sources390
Appendix III: Ayurvedic Food Guidelines394
Appendix IV: Mail-Order Resources399
Selected Bibliography405

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The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Resource for Healthy Eating 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
LML-Wilson-Doggie-Stars More than 1 year ago
Perfect, easy reference and take-along book to keep in your shopping cart whenever you go to the market. I keep mine in the bag where I keep my food shopping to-do list. It has attracted a fair amount of attention from other shoppers because I take it into the market/store with me and consult it when I am choosing ingredients. The front cover is well-designed to catch attention, with its title "Whole Foods Encyclopedia" and the background colored photo of fresh vegetables. It has introduced me to new produce and simple, delicious ways to prepare produce which was previously "exotic" to me. Highly recommended for every person who wants a broader choice of produce and new ways of preparing them for everyday meals.
gratefulyoga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ever wonder how to cook all those exotic grains in the bulk food bins at Whole Foods? Want to know how to pick a healthy cooking oil? Looking to change the way you eat, but don't know how? This book offers all the information you need to expand you diet in new, healthy, and delicious directions. It does not prescribe any particular regimen, but the well-written, informative entries will help you make better choices about what you buy, how you prepare it, and how it may affect your body. Foods are analyzed both in terms of Western science and Chinese/folk medicinal properties. Recommended for the conscious eater.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago