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What is whole food eating?

Whole food eating focuses on consuming foods as close to their natural state as possible. 

The more we learn about how food can affect our health, the better we understand the benefits of eating “whole” foods.

This article talks about whole foods, how they differ from processed foods, how you can benefit from whole foods, and more.

What are whole foods?

Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. They have undergone little to no processing and, for the most part, are "served" the way you would find them in nature.

It’s important to include as many whole foods as possible in your diet because they tend to be nutrient-dense and your body can easily digest them and use their nutrients for energy as efficiently as possible.

Whole foods have no unnecessary additives, preservatives, or chemicals. This means your body is getting everything it needs to fuel itself and feel its best without having to deal with anything ‘extra.’

Fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, beans, and lean meat are the most common examples of whole foods.

Quick tip: There is a difference between whole and organic foods. While whole foods refer to foods in their natural state, organic foods don’t contain any pesticides or chemicals.

Whole foods vs. processed foods

Processed foods are foods that have undergone any changes to their natural state.

When food is processed, fat, sugar, and salt are usually added and important nutrients, such as fiber, are usually removed.

Processed foods can also include preservatives, flavors, nutrients, and other food additives or substances. 

You may think that all foods labeled as 'organic' are healthy. But processed foods can fit under the label of 'organic.'

Types of processed foods

Foods can range from unprocessed or minimally processed to highly processed.

Minimally processed foods have been slightly altered mainly for preservation purposes, but the nutritional content generally remains unchanged.

Minimally processed foods can be frozen, vacuum-sealed, or refrigerated.

Processed foods with additional salt, sugar, or fat include some canned fruits and vegetables, some cheeses, and some types of bread. These foods usually are made from at least 2-3 ingredients and can be readily eaten without further preparation.

Processed foods also include food with added protein, like whey protein, food with fat or salt removed, and food with sugar removed or sweetened with artificial sweeteners, such as sugar-free food.

Highly processed foods go beyond incorporating salt, sweeteners, or fat and include artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives that promote shelf stability, preserve texture, and increase taste.

A bag of potato chips is a common example of highly processed food. The final product contains very little, if any, benefits of the whole food (potatoes) it is made from.

Highly processed foods also include sugary drinks, cookies, some crackers, breakfast cereals, frozen dinners, and lunch meats.

Is highly processed food unhealthy?

The additives and methods used to make highly processed foods taste good are generally considered unhealthy.

Highly processed food with an uneven ratio of calories to nutrients can lead to eating more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.

How to include whole and minimally processed foods in your diet

1. Buy fresh or frozen produce

The easiest way to include more whole foods in your diet is to buy fruits and vegetables from the produce section of your grocery store or farmer’s market.

You can also buy frozen fruits and veggies since they are considered equally as healthy as fresh.

2. Buy lean meats, whole grains, full-fat dairy, rice, and legumes

Whole foods also include whole grains, lean meats like chicken and fish, full-fat dairy, rice, and legumes.

When buying whole foods like canned beans, rice, or dairy, check the ingredient listing on the food label. If only one ingredient is listed on an item, or one ingredient plus 'water', then you know you are buying whole food. 

Pre-cut or pre-washed produce, nuts, and dried fruit are minimally processed foods and can fall under the umbrella of whole foods as long as there are no other ingredients listed on their label.

3. Avoid food and drinks that comes in a bottle, bag, or package.

Pre-packaged foods and canned or bottled drinks tend to be highly processed. They usually are high in calories but have almost no nutritional value. Bottled sports drinks and soda are particularly high in added sugar. 

With a busy lifestyle, you may feel like you don't have time to eat meals made with whole foods. But if you take the time to meal prep, you can have balanced meals with whole foods in them more often than not.

4. Read food labels

Food labels list the ingredients and additives that are included in the food. Generally speaking, if you see a long list of ingredients right from the start, that usually means the food is highly processed.

5. Choose whole-grain bread

The healthiest bread choices tend to be whole grain bread. The brands of bread that GOLO recommends don't contain many (if any) preservatives. 

Whole grain bread usually has whole grain as one of the first ingredients and hasn't had its fiber, vitamins, or minerals removed.

6. Be mindful of meat and dairy

Meat and dairy provide protein and healthy fats to your diet. But be sure to check the labels. Some meats may come pre-seasoned or marinated with ingredients that aren’t necessary. If you can, buy meat, fish, and poultry as is and season it at home.

The same goes for dairy. Read your labels and buy full fat dairy vs. reduced or non-fat dairy.

The health benefits of whole foods

Adding whole foods to your diet can positively impact your overall health.

Whole foods are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients. Foods in their natural state also tend to be lower in sugar. Whole foods like fruits and veggies tend to be high in fiber and water, which can help with digestion and weight management.

Whole foods also tend to be heart-healthy, high in healthy fats, contain beneficial antioxidants, and may help reduce the risk of disease.

Plus, whole foods can also be helpful when it comes to losing weight. Healthy, whole foods can make you feel more full, are nutrient-dense, and are generally low in calories.

 

Sources

This article was written by the GOLO team with facts supported by the following sources:

Harvard health

NHS.UK 

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