The new year is marked by resolutions, often about healthier lifestyles. A new series backed by Fonterra looks at the nutritional and lifestyle benefits of dairy – and at some of the old views now being slowly discarded. Today: Whole foods.

Ray McVinnie agrees with the move towards whole foods - as long as it doesn't get hi-jacked by what he calls "popular nutrition".

"I absolutely refuse to engage with popular nutrition," he says. "I have just finished listening to some woman on the radio telling us what to eat - it was nonsense, and popular nutrition has all sorts of people telling us all sorts of things about what to eat."

McVinnie, professional chef, food stylist, food writer and consultant, is commenting on a worldwide shift to whole foods - foods as close to their natural state as possible. They typically include fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, wholegrain pasta, milk and eggs - but the list doesn't end there.

The term "whole foods" can mean different things to different people but generally has been taken to mean nutrition labels that don't contain long lists of unrecognisable chemicals and additives and which have a short list of readily identifiable ingredients. It's about incorporating healthful foods rather than restricting what goes into the body.


Milk, for example, although pasteurised and homogenised for quality reasons, contains just milk.

In the US, about US$45 billion ($64b) is spent on organic or healthy food every year and growth is predicted at a compounded annual rate of 16 per cent through 2020. Globally, the market for organic, functional, non-allergenic and better-for-you foods will reach US$1 trillion this year, according to in August.

The McVinnie food philosophy is heavily influenced by the need for cooking to replace the global wave of convenience foods and by the American food writer and activist Michael Pollan.

"It's so simple," says McVinnie. "Cooking means you use better food and you have far more control over what you eat. It also brings a lot of the things to the table - manners, eye contact, social skills, the art of conversation and confidence."

Pollan wrote an article for the New York Times in 2009, which has clearly reverberated with McVinnie. It talks about the loss of the art of home cooking and the corresponding impact on the nation's health.

"That piece referred to a Harvard University study of 2003, which showed that the rise of obesity corresponds exactly to the trend away from home cooking in the US," says McVinnie.

The article, Out of the kitchen, Onto the couch said: "Mass production has driven down the cost of many foods, not only in terms of price but also in the amount of time required to obtain them. The French fry did not become the most popular "vegetable" in America until industry relieved us of the considerable effort needed to prepare French fries ourselves.

Pollan went on to say mass production of food like fried chicken wings, cakes, exotically flavoured chips or cheesy puffs of refined flour, had turned such hard-to-make-at-home items into the sort of "everyday fare you can pick up at the gas station on a whim and for less than a dollar.


"The fact we no longer have to plan or even wait to enjoy these items, as we would if we were making them ourselves, makes us that much more likely to indulge impulsively."

So, as food is easier and cheaper to get (as opposed to cooking), the amount of calories we consume goes up.

Pollan shows, says McVinnie, that cooking transcends gender, class and economic situations: "Rich women who don't do home cooking are generally less healthy than poor women who do."

"I don't eat processed food," says McVinnie. "I eat all foods and I eat real food; I eat it all." In other words, no fad diets and no exclusion of certain food groups because "popular nutrition' tells us it's bad.

The perfect "diet" isn't really a diet and is really easy, he says.

• Eat real food - quality food, not something manufactured into something edible
• Eat a wide variety of foods - to take care of nutrition needs, mostly (but not exclusively) plants
• Eat in moderation
• Exercise - "I walk for an hour a day, I'm 78kg"
• Stop worrying - "That last one is really important. The world is full of people beating themselves up over what they are eating."

If it all sounds like something your grandmother might have said, McVinnie agrees: "People have been working out over centuries what is good and what is bad. If you eat good stuff, you generally stay healthy; you eat badly - you get sick and die.

"I don't think we should try to turn the clock back but I think the old Maori way is right - walk into the future while looking back."