Everywhere you look these days, there is a lot of noise about whole foods and minimally processed foods. Whether you want to lose weight or improve your health, organic food and a whole foods diet can be part of your success. If you’re like most people, you might wonder: Exactly what are whole foods?
Defining Whole Foods
The easiest way to distinguish whole foods from processed foods is to look at how close they are to their natural state. For example, corn on the cob is a whole food. Corn flakes are not. Cut-and-washed berries are whole foods, but a berry-flavored fruit roll-up is not. The food you eat while it is still as natural as possible is the simplest definition of a whole food.
If you are still unsure whether something is a whole food, imagine the item when it was first grown or raised. Compare that to now: Does it still look the same? Whole foods are not only part of a plant-based diet. They can be added to any type of diet. There are many options based on plant-based eating. Expand your meals to include the obvious seeds, fruits, and vegetables as well as plenty of other whole food options.
Getting Started with Whole Foods
One of the best ways to reset your body is to eat mostly whole foods and limit junk food. Doing away with processed foods will help your body return to a more natural state. In turn, it can help put you on a healthier path.
If you are wary of changing your diet, consider starting with one meal a day:
- Add some berries to your oatmeal instead of sugar
- Eat some organic salad bowls throughout the week
- Cook some veggies to go with your dinner every evening
- Try something fruit-related with seeds as a topping for dessert
Seeds and grains can be a substitute for artificially sweetened items.1 These little changes can give you a good idea of how you can improve your diet with simple changes.
With all the fruit and vegetables, seeds, and fresh foods you eat on a whole foods diet, you’ll start to feel full faster and for longer. And there’s no need to worry that you won’t get all the nutrients your body requires, such as protein. Plant-based protein is easier than ever to find in almost every store.
Tips for Eating More Whole Foods
Eating healthier has a lot of benefits. It can also feel a little overwhelming when you think about changing up every meal. When you are trying to find the best whole food options, here are some tips:
- Skip the junk food aisle completely – you can make snacks from whole foods2
- Buy minimal animal products – protein exists in plenty of other sources
- Avoid anything labeled “diet”
- Buy as much organic food as you can – learn about the dirty dozen (the 12 foods associated with the highest amounts of pesticides that are best bought organically)
- Find animal products labeled zero growth hormones, free-range, grass-fed, or farm-raised
Creating Whole Foods Snacks
Whole food snacks can be made in your kitchen, and they can be very satisfying. For example, slice up some potatoes, then toss them with some avocado oil, sea salt, or your favorite seasoning. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees or broil on high to create a homemade potato chip.
While you should eat carbohydrates, such as potatoes, in moderation, these chips are a whole food, and you know all the ingredients. These chips are much better for you than most chips at the grocery store. You can also create whole food chips using carrots, beets, parsnips, or other veggies.
Shopping for Whole Foods at the Store
At the grocery store, you might have noticed all the flashy stuff is right down the middle of the store. These foods are within easy reach. You’ll want to head to the outside aisles of the store to find the best options. These items will fall within the whole foods group. Think beans, legumes, nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables.
Even with the best intentions, you might want to buy some “convenience” foods. If you do, opt for minimally processed foods.
These foods have simple ingredients you recognize. They also have few or no added chemicals, and won’t have added sugar.
While they may not be a true whole food, the less additives in a food item, the closer it is to its natural state.
Living the Whole Foods Life
Our society has led us to believe that healthy foods are hard to find, expensive and time-consuming. More and more people are turning to whole foods diets, and they are able to live more fulfilling lives. With a healthier lifestyle, you might feel more productive. You might even want to get out of the house more, or spend more time with your loved ones.
You will need to adjust your body and your mindset, as it is a different way of life. You’ll need to plan for snacks, meals, and desserts, but it can be done. Try to purchase only whole foods when you’re grocery shopping, so you won’t have unhealthy prepackaged food to tempt you at home. It can also be helpful to take a weeknight or Sunday afternoon to pre-cook some meals for the coming week.3
Taking the time to identify the whole foods in your store and your room will get you started on the right track. Most fruits and veggies can be prepared, and then frozen until you’re ready to eat them. So watch for sales on whole food items at your local store, and then stock up. It might take a little effort on your part to store them, but in the long run, your health is worth it. Remember the fewer ingredients, the closer it is to a whole food.
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1.Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2005; vol 105: p. 67.
2.Ashley Hawkins, national media relations coordinator, Whole Foods Market-Central, Austin, Texas.
3.Jacob, Aglaee. “A Sample Day for a Whole Food Diet.” Healthy Eating | SF Gate, 12 Dec. 2018