A lot of people of people these days are advocating a Whole Foods Diet. Quite frankly, I hate that they refer to it as a "diet". Research shows that those who embarked on just one intentional weight loss diet, are nearly two to three times more likely to become overweight, compared to their non-dieting counterpart (Pietilaineet al, 2011). This article is not about diets, but my quick side point here is to never “go on a diet”. If you can't make the change part of your lifestyle and implement it for the long haul then be more realistic with your nutrition goals until that “diet” is actually attainable as a lifestyle habit. So let’s talk whole foods lifestyle.
What are Whole Foods?
Many popular nutritionists today recommend reverting our eating habits to the way people ate a hundred years ago. Foods that are fresh, unprocessed, and as close to their natural form as possible is what “whole foods” are described as by most health professionals.
Examples of whole foods versus the “unreal” stuff:
Whole grains (like whole wheat) instead of enriched/refined grains.
Fruits and vegetables instead of artificially flavored fruit snacks and processed vegetable straws.
Skinless chicken breast cooked with fresh ingredients rather than breaded chicken nuggets processed with added fats, artificial flavorings, and chemical preservatives.
Baked sweet potatoes instead of synthetic cheese-coated chips.
Fresh berries on top of steel cut oatmeal rather than that berry-something inside of a pop tart.
A blueberry smoothie instead of that blue-colored “blueberry” slurpee.
The list above are some extreme differences between whole foods and the unhealthy stuff, but even food products claimed “healthy” like a high-protein whole grain breakfast bar can contain many more preservatives and additives than you’d think. Health experts believe that our society has increasingly turned to more convenient and “synthetic” foods to fuel our body. Yes these unhealthy synthetic foods give us energy (really all calories do…), however, we often fail to recognize the negative effects they bring with them. Eating whole foods is a proven way to improve health and prevent many chronic diseases.
Whole foods – such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts – retain their fiber as well as the whole portfolio of benefits including phytochemicals, vitamins, and nutrients. Processing a food often removes everything about the food that is healthy.
Although it seems fast food chains are booming more than ever, the idea of whole foods is catching on with consumers as well. Maybe you’ve noticed a Whole Foods Market spring up in your neighborhood recently? Whole Foods was started in 1980 with a mission to provide a more natural alternative to the decaying food supply quality that many people brought to attention in the 80’s. Whole Foods is now the world’s leading retailer of natural, organic foods. There are currently 462 Whole Foods stores in operation around the globe today bringing in over 15 billion in revenue each year. Clearly, people are becoming increasingly interested and influenced by whole foods- and rightfully so.
There are many benefits to swapping unnatural, processed foods with whole foods- here just a few of the reasons why I recommend taking a closer look into filling your shopping cart with more whole foods:
Nutrient Density. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released national survey results that reveal almost a third of us get too little vitamin C; almost half get too little Vitamin A; and MORE than half of us get too little magnesium. Let’s not forget that a lack in any one vitamin and mineral can cause detrimental side effects that lead to altered performance- both mentally and physically. Perhaps the worst part of the results showed that over 90% of Americans get too little fiber and potassium. The likelihood of obtaining chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer are increased with a lack of stated nutrients. Whole foods are typically much more nutrient dense. Eat a colorful diet filled with natural fruits and vegetables to alleviate the possibility of nutrient shortages.
Fiber. As mentioned above, the American diet lacks fiber. Most bread on the shelves of grocery stores contains processed and enriched flour. What does that mean? Removing the fibrous outer layer of bran and whole wheat makes the bread not only higher glycemic, but also much unhealthier due to the reduced amount of fiber. It isn’t just bread that food manufactures process- there are hundreds of thousands of products on the center shelves of the grocery store that are processed in such a way to reduce the fiber with the goal of improving the taste and texture. Fiber plays a critical role in digestion and gut health. Fiber helps to make us feel full longer and helps to fight heart disease and diabetes by reduce the glycemic impact of certain foods. Although there are many fiber supplements out there, the best way to get fiber is through the real thing- whole foods. Most plant foods have both types of fiber (soluble and insoluble).
Healthy fats. Many whole foods are rich sources of the “good” fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. ALA Omega-3 is found in chia seeds, flaxseeds, and unaltered oils. Watch out for the refined oils- particularly “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” oil. These are keywords for “Trans Fat” (the artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising fats). Fresh fish is a great source of Omegas (which our body cannot synthesize on its own). When our diet is made up of mostly whole foods, it’s near impossible to have too much of the “unhealthy” fats.
Phytochemicals. Biologically active plant-food components called “phytochemicals” is a developing area of study for many scientists. The catch is that phytochemicals (often referred to as phytonutrients) can only be found in plants. Vitamins might be able to help with a lack of nutrient density, however when it comes to the many benefits of phytochemicals you need to consume the real stuff. Phytochemicals contain antioxidants and powerful components that help our body perform processes at the cellular level.
Less calories and added fats. A ripe fruit is much healthier than a synthetic flavored fruit drink or product. Sugar, sodium, and fat are often added to products to improve the taste and make it taste similar to a fresh ripe fruit, however, dodge the added calories and junk and stick with natural stuff to avoid ingredients that your body struggles to digest and metabolize.
So what can we do to see the many benefits of whole foods in your life?
Choose products with 100% whole grains whenever possible.
Swap white flour with whole-wheat flour. Also, use stevia instead of synthetic sweeteners when you can.
Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Try to include them in almost every meal.
Include beans and legumes in your meals more often. They are a great source of plant protein, fiber, phytochemicals, and other nutrients.
Dodge the processed junk. They're often loaded with added fat, sugar, salt, and additives.
And what about what you are drinking? Avoid artificially flavored beverages and stick with options such as water, mineral water, fresh fruit juice, and skim, soy, or almond milk.
Here are links to more information about whole foods: