What is a whole food?
A whole food is a food that can be found in nature and is unchanged from its natural state with all vitamins, minerals and nutrients still intact. It is the difference between a tomato and tomato sauce or fresh fruit and fruit juice. Whole foods include unprocessed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, fish, lean meats, eggs and fresh milk. A processed food is a food item that has been changed in any way from its natural state. As stated in the last blog article titled What is Processed Food, “Processed foods are those that undergo various heating and treating systems. Some examples include milling grains into flour, extracting oils from vegetables and seeds (olive oil, sesame oil, corn oil, etc.), and refining sugar from sugar cane or beets.” Changing foods from its natural state can affect its original nutrients.
Minimally processed foods include whole foods that have been frozen, canned, cooked, juiced or dried to aid in preservation and a longer shelf life. Since eating a completely raw, whole food diet can be quite difficult, it is important to include as many whole foods in your daily diet as possible. It is also important to know that not all of the nutrients will be lost when a food is minimally processed. So, by purchasing frozen fruits for a smoothie or heating vegetables in a stir fry or casserole, you are still getting many of the available nutrients from these foods which are better than not eating them at all.
What are the benefits of consuming whole foods?
By consuming a diet rich in whole foods, not only are you avoiding the unnatural additives in processed foods but you are also consuming more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. Tara Gidus, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association told WebMD “One of the biggest advantages of eating whole foods is that you’re getting the natural synergy of all of these nutrients together, trying to extract a single nutrient and take it by itself may not work.” Explaining why taking vitamins and minerals in supplement form may not be as beneficial as consuming the vitamin or mineral in its natural state. Consuming a diet high in whole foods has also been shown to have many short term benefits including improved blood sugar levels, better digestion, higher energy, and enhance immune systems along with long term benefits including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and many types of cancer along with contributing to a longer lifespan.
Easy Ways to Eat More Whole Foods
- Swap instant oatmeal for steel cut oats. Make a big batch on the weekend and reheat for a week’s worth of breakfast.
- Ditch the chicken nuggets and grill a whole chicken breast.
- Reach for fresh over canned. Canned items have preservatives and sugar added to them. Eat an apple instead of sweetened applesauce or a fresh slice of pineapple instead of canned.
- Ditch the processed nutrition bars and reach for nuts as a healthy mid-day snack.
- Switch to whole grain bread and pasta.