THE PROBLEM with whole foods is that you have to eat them before they do any good. Two days of tamari and tofu are enough to drive any normal person into the closet for Doritos and jalapeno bean dip.

Well, you don't have to eat tofu to enjoy the merits of whole foods cuisine. According to David and Nikki Goldbeck, authors of the new "American Wholefoods Cuisine," you don't have to eat anything you don't like. "Food is too much fun to make it painful," says David Goldbeck.

A wholefoods diet, according to Goldbeck, is drawn from a variety of foods that are left as close to their natural state as possible. In addition, those foods must be consistent with "historical experience." A diet that includes 125 pounds of table sugar yearly does not meet this criterion, Goldbeck maintains. Refining of foods is a new technology inconsistent with the 50,000-year-old human metabolism.

The Goldbecks aren't fanatics. While the book points out that the National Academy of Sciences "Diet, Nutrition and Cancer" study upholds the theory of wholefoods cuisine, the Goldbecks realize a diet means more than nutrition. "We feel it's very important to make the diet socially acceptable because eating it is a social event," David says. So they talk of couscous and calzone, tempura and enchiladas and pot pies in addition to tempeh and tofu and gado gado. They talk about food you'll eat and your kids will eat, in addition to what you might eat . . . someday . . . if your boss ordered it for you and you really like your job.

The Goldbecks' book doesn't attempt to convert meat eaters into vegetarians. David simply says that meat "crowds out" other foods and inhibits variety, and that a wholefoods diet--with or without meat--results in "health and satisfaction. The diet is very good for ourselves personally, very good for the environment and very good for the rest of the world."

But altruism doesn't get dinner on the table, so the Goldbecks have attempted to write a handbook that matches wholefoods to any life style. The book includes:

* A discussion of balancing proteins. "That's the part of a meatless diet that frightens people away," says Goldbeck. "We're just trying to put those fears to rest."

* A chart on "nutrient density"--an easy reference for those who want the most nutrition for their calories.

* Recipes for short-order cooking.

* A "food factory" chapter that describes basics such as making yogurt, growing sprouts, food preservation and convenience mixes.

* A guide to cooking high-protein foods in big batches that suggests ways to vary these foods through the week.

* Menu planning help, including suggestions for simple meals, family dinners and entertaining.

* A guide to eating out while maintaining the wholefoods approach.

* Pantry lists for both the enthusiastic cook and and the non-cook. The former is long, varied and includes fava beans, mango juice and poppy seeds. The latter is called the "minimal pantry" and includes accessible, uncomplicated foods.

Goldbeck attempts to dispel misconceptions about the wholefoods diet. "One of the problems with a meatless diet is that people don't know how to pull it off," says Goldbeck. People believe that it's complicated, fattening and expensive, and that it's time consuming, unmanageable and unhealthy.

To the contrary, he says, vegetarian foods--grains, nuts, legumes, produce etc.--are "self-sustaining foods" full of natural oils (consistent with historical experience, not refined) and fibers that satiate and gratify. Whole foods are "definitely much less caloric" than meat. While some ingredients might seem expensive (sesame oil, for example), Goldbeck points out that meat is the most expensive part of the American diet; if it is eliminated, the purchase of expensive condiments will not destroy the budget.

He repudiates the notion that a wholefoods diet is difficult to achieve. "It's not a question of how fancy you cook--it's just a question of style . . . it can be a grilled cheese sandwich or a cheese souffle'."

"Style" should determine the wholefoods philosophy. "Some people like to vary the food they already eat," says Goldbeck. They make macaroni and cheese with whole wheat pasta. "Other people want brand-new food." But anyone approaching the diet should consider his own idiosyncrasies before making any changes in eating habits.

"What is important is that you do the easy things first," advises Goldbeck. Some people find it easy to switch from white to whole wheat bread. "Some people can't make that change." Some find it easy to give up desserts. Some substitute wholefood ethnic specialties for meat-oriented meals three times a week; others clean out their cupboards and start over.

"You do what works for you," says Goldbeck, "there is no rule to it." The important thing is to "have a goal, have a direction."

"American Wholefoods Cuisine" includes its share of standard clunky recipes--"cottage cheese bean loaf" and "rice nut loaf" among them. And sometimes you just know that the baked desserts made with whole wheat flour, honey and oil would taste great if they were made with white flour, sugar and butter. But the principle remains, and the book makes the point, more often than not with appetizing recipes.

The Goldbecks do eat tofu. They freeze it, which makes it chewy, to create a salad "remarkably like chicken salad," and tofu a' la king. He says it with a straight face; he's sincere but not pushy.

"One of the easiest ways to learn to eat well," says Goldbeck, "is to pretend you're eating in a different country each day. A wholefoods diet doesn't have to be far out. It doesn't have to be threatening. It can be a part of everyday life." CHILI RELLENOS FOR A CROWD (4 to 6 servings) 12 fresh mild green chilies or four 4-ounce cans of whole green chilies 2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese (8 ounces) 3 eggs, separated 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons cornmeal Spicy Mexican tomato sauce or salsa

Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Broil fresh chili peppers under high heat until skin turns black all over. When cool enough to handle, peel, remove the tops and the seeds.

Stuff each pepper with 2 rounded tablespoons of shredded cheese and press close. Beat egg yolks with salt until creamy. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold egg yolks and cornmeal into whites, making a uniform mixture. Spread half the egg mixture in the prepared pan. Arrange stuffed chilies at even intervals over the egg and spread remaining batter on top. Bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees, or until puffed and brown. Serve hot with tomato sauce. BAKED SPINACH AND RICOTTA (4 to 6 servings) Butter Wheat germ 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups ricotta cheese 4 eggs, separated 1/2 cup chopped or shredded provolone cheese 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese Pepper Pinch nutmeg

Grease a 2-quart casserole or souffle' dish with butter and sprinkle with wheat germ (or whole wheat bread crumbs). Set aside.

Clean and trim spinach. Chop quite fine. Salt and let it stand 10 to 20 minutes while preparing remaining ingredients. Just before using, turn into a strainer and press out all the moisture until it is very dry (you should have about 3 cups).

Beat together ricotta, egg yolks, cheese and seasonings. Stir in spinach.

Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into spinach mixture. Turn into prepared dish and bake for 30 to 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Serve with tomato sauce, if desired. ORANGE--SECTION SALAD (4 servings) 6 cups torn greens (preferably romaine with a little escarole or some other dark "bitter" green) 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned Thin slices sweet spanish or red bermuda onion 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice 2 tablespoons wine vinegar 5 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon minced orange rind. Combine greens, oranges and onion in salad bowl. Combine remaining ingredients to create the dressing and toss with the salad just before serving. APPLE-OAT MUFFINS (Makes 12 muffins) Oil for muffin cups 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 3/4 cup oats 3 teaspoons baking powder 1 cup milk 2 eggs, lightly beaten 3 tablespoons oil 3 tablespoons molasses 1 cup grated apple

Oil muffin cups. Combine whole wheat flour, oats and baking powder. Make a well in center and add milk, egg, oil and molasses. Stir briefly. Add apple and stir to moisten ingredients. Spoon into prepared muffin cups and bake 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees.