Category: Whole Foods

Whole Foods: What are They and Why Should We Eat Them?

whole foods

There has been some confusion about what constitutes a whole food. Some think of a food store chain, others of organic foods, and others just think “healthy.” Few dispute that whole food are good for you, but it is important to know what exactly they are, as not to be misled by marketing or labeling.

First, let’s consider what a whole food is not. A whole food is not necessarily organic, and organic foods are not necessarily whole foods. USDA Certified Organic foods have met tight regulations, including that they may not be grown using pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or sewer sludge. These are good, but you can have an organic potato chip, but a potato chip is not always a whole food.

A whole food is also not necessarily a “health food,” though they are healthy. They may include faddish things like alfalfa sprouts, but other “health foods” like tofu, acai berry tea, or hummus aren’t necessarily considered whole foods either.

A whole food, very simply, is a food that is as close as possible to its original state. An apple is a whole food. A peanut is a whole food. Whole foods are those that are not processed, have no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, and have had no nutrients added or deliberately taken away. Processed foods, then, are the exact opposite of whole foods.

It is important to note that there is some disagreement as to what can be called a whole food. Some people would say that only raw fruits, seeds, nuts, and vegetables that haven’t been cut up or had anything done to them should count as whole foods. Others would go as far as to say that if you bake an apple pie, the apples would still be considered whole foods (as long as you started with raw apples).  I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, because there are certain foods that just can’t be eaten by human beings without at least peeling them, such as avocados and bananas, and others that must be cooked to be safe or edible, such as squash.

Others, such as apples, don’t need to be peeled, but we don’t eat the whole fruit because we throw away the core. As humans, we do not always get the full benefit of the nutrients in many foods without cooking them, because the cellulose in many vegetables prevents our digestive system from effectively absorbing the vitamins and minerals in such foods.

What almost everyone agrees on is no matter where you fall on your definition of whole foods, these unprocessed, unpreserved, unrefined foods are much better for you than boxed, processed foods. Foods have their greatest compliment of nutrients when they are on the plant or, in the case of meat, on the animal. As soon as a food is harvested, nutrients are lost. The longer foods sit around, the more nutrients they lose.

They lose them faster when they are cut up or cooked. However, processing of foods tends to strip even more nutrients out of foods than does a simple steaming or baking. In the case of refined grains, they are stripped of their fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and end up with the nutritional value of sugar. They are so denuded that, by law, the manufacturers are required to add some nutrients back in (labeled “enriching”) when they use these grains to make cereals and breads.

The problem with all this processing and the advantage of whole foods are that the closer a food is to its original source, the more it contains all the nutrients we need to live healthy diets. Which nutrients in plants do we need? There is a huge list, but the fact is that even if we were to list them all out, we would likely be missing some chemical or compound that we need to be optimally healthy. This is because we simply don’t know or understand all the nutrients we need to survive. Many plants contain nearly all of these essential nutrients, with the possible exception of the B-complex vitamins.


processed foods

some processed foods you’d want to avoid

Processed foods do not, and can not because science doesn’t know how to make the perfect processed food. It has been shown that people who eat primarily processed foods are not as healthy as those who eat primarily whole foods. Higher overall cholesterol is one consequence. Processed foods do not typically contain adequate fiber, vitamins, minerals, while they contain too much fat, sugar, and salt. They depend on these, as well as artificial flavors and colors, to be palatable.

It is important to remember that whole foods are not exotic, rare, or necessarily expensive. There is no need to go to health food stores or special organic markets. For the most part, to buy whole foods simply means to shop the edges of your supermarket. Start with the produce section, then move on to the meats, the unprocessed cheeses (cheese isn’t technically a whole food, but buying cheddar, mozzarella, and other block cheese is better) and then on to other dairy products. If possible, avoid the cereal aisle, snack aisle, and if you buy grain products, remember to get whole grains instead of those made with refined flour.

It is exciting to start trying whole foods. You may discover flavors you never knew existed, try new recipes, and in the process, you’ll be improving your health and well-being.

Healthy Eating: Understanding your Tastebuds

eating healthy

Eating healthy is often a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. Particularly when on the road or in a hurry, we don’t always have the ability to make informed decisions. However what we can do is make a conscious effort to take back control of our diet and not just be governed simply by our taste buds, but really think about our choices and consider what is in the food we eat and how it affects us.

There is a saying amongst chefs: “You can add but you can’t take away”. In other words, once you’ve over-seasoned or over-cooked something, there is no bringing it back. This is a credo that is not adhered to by the vast majority of restaurateurs, who naturally assume that if some is good, surely more is better. They smother foods with added ingredients like cheese, butter, and mayonnaise (aka calories and fat), and many times these additions are not disclosed on the menu.

Even worse is the inevitability that vegan customers will be unaware of what’s to come until they are presented with an inedible dairy-covered entrée. There is nothing wrong about being inquisitive when it comes to what you order. You’d want to know everything about a car before buying it, right? What we put in our bodies should be given just as much attention, if not more.

Even worse is the inevitability that vegan customers will be unaware of what’s to come until they are presented with an inedible dairy-covered entrée. There is nothing wrong about being inquisitive when it comes to what you order. You’d want to know everything about a car before buying it, right? What we put in our bodies should be given just as much attention, if not more.

The biggest threats to healthy eating are the two ingredients that our taste buds desire most: sugar and salt. It’s no big secret that you’ll find more than your daily recommended sodium intake per day in any number of entrees at fast food and chain restaurants. In fact, in some cases, the sodium content is more than double the daily recommended allowance and that’s only for one meal! Just remember that when in doubt grilled always beats fried and contrary to popular belief you don’t always have to get fries with that.

Canned soups are also notorious for being high in sodium. For instance, at first glance Progresso’s Traditional Chicken Noodle Soup contains 690mg of sodium, but when reading the label more closely you’ll see that this is only the amount of salt in one serving and the can actually contain two full servings. The healthier option would be their Reduced Sodium Chicken Noodle, with a sodium content of 470mg per serving. Although still relatively high in sodium, it is the “lesser of two evils.”

When reading labels high fructose corn syrup is another ingredient to be avoided as much as possible. Found in everything from cookies and juice to bread, cereal, and much more, high fructose corn syrup is a highly processed relatively inexpensive sweetener used in place of regular sugar and unfortunately, it is found everywhere. Princeton researchers have found HFCS to cause significantly higher obesity rates than standard table sugar.


In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as

a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the

U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the

definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the Americans are

considered obese, the CDC reported.


If such a large percentage of the population is obese and poor eating habits are all too common, clearly we cannot simply “do as we see” and follow the path set out before us. Eating healthy requires a proactive mentality where informed decisions are made based upon specific dietary needs and not on what everyone else is doing. Simply thinking about the foods we eat, reading labels, and being aware of the benefits and/or detriments of our foods is the most significant step towards a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Here’s how experts recommend you make eating healthy easier