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Whole Foods: How to Improve Your Overall Health by Choosing the Right Foods

Whole food is a term referring to ailments that are not refined or processed at all or they are very little. The first time this term was used was in 1946 in The Farmer, which is a magazine edited by F. Newman Turner, a predecessor of organic farming. He was also a writer and through his magazine he established a society regarding whole foods: the Producer Consumer Whole Food Society Ltd. The organization started with Newman Turner as a president and Derek Randal as a vice-president and it was a significant step forward in healthy eating. They defined whole foods as being products from the orchard, field or garden that have reached maturity and their structure and development have not been altered in any artificial way. Moreover, these products are planted in a fertile soil that was nurtured with natural and organic waste. Though the primary purpose of this association was to connect suppliers and demanders of this type of food, it also helped in defining and popularizing it.

Whole vs Organic Foods

Many people confuse the terms “organic food” and “whole foods.” There is a significant difference between the two: the term “organic” refers to foods that do not include antibiotics, synthetic chemicals or growth hormones. In short, there is an absence of irradiation, bio-engineering, and pesticides. Meanwhile, “whole foods” describe foods that rely on whole ingredients, with preservatives, additives or other types of minimal processing. Whole foods include dairy products, whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits. However, whole foods are not necessarily organic, and organic foods are not necessarily whole.

Organic farming is not only a healthy way of living and eating, but also it is more ethical than other types of farming since it is based on a more humane treatment of animals and more respect for the land and the soil. Even so, there are no detailed studies to show that organic foods are nutritiously better in comparison with a healthy and balanced diet. An important fact refers to including dairy, vegetables, grains and fruits in any diet, regardless if they’re organic or not.[1]

Healthy eating seems to be a trend nowadays, especially with people turning more and more towards a lifestyle that tends to resemble that of our ancestor’s hundreds of years ago. Most of the recent studies show that it’s better to head to whole foods diets. This includes various changes to a regular diet:

  • Supplements should disappear and leave some space for natural sources of vitamins: beans, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Instead of heading out for a breakfast bar, a safer option is a breakfast that includes fresh berries and it’s great that there are lots of options.
  • Replacing the ice or slushie with a home-made smoothie with yogurt, a frozen banana and berries seem to be an excellent idea when changing a lifestyle.
  • Whole grains should also replace refined grains whenever this is possible, in bread, baked products or cookies.
  • The very popular chicken nuggets can find a substitute in a chicken breast without skin, cooked with healthy vegetables.
  • A baked potato with lots of spices and onions or sour cream can successfully take the place of a bag of chips. [2]

Many experts in health suggest that whole foods included in our diet have a consistent effect on health and preventing lots of diseases. This is because whole foods contain fibers, nutrients, and phytochemicals that usually disappear when foods are processed. The raised interest in this type of diet is reflected in the success the grocery chain Whole Food Market has had ever since 1980. It started out as a simple alternative to the usual offer found in the supply chains, and now it represents the most successful retailer of both natural and organic food. They have lots of stores opened both in the UK and in the US.

There are lots of reasons why people choose to switch to a whole foods diet, and some of the grounds are also backed up by nutrition experts:

  1. Lack of nutrients. There were many studies made by the American Department of Agriculture that show how many people do not get the necessary amount of vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium and potassium or fibers. At the same time, these are the nutrients that help our body fight some major health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer. By switching to a whole foods diet, a person can cover all the necessary vitamins and fibers each day, thus ensuring a proper functioning of the health system.
  2. No unhealthy additions to food. A diet based on whole foods provides no extra sugar, sodium or fats, and thus it cuts down on calories, helping with losing weight and keeping healthy. Keeping fast and processed foods at bay means only offering natural sugars and fats in a reasonable amount instead of overfeeding the body.
  3. Containing Phytochemicals. In the past decade, research has lead to the discovery of hundreds of components found in food named phytochemicals or phytonutrients. Some of these are lycopene, a great antioxidant, carotenoid (in tomatoes), anthocyanins (berries), pterostilbene (blueberries and some grape varieties). Of course, there are much more that scientists don’t know about, but a whole foods diet represents the best way to ensure the necessary phytonutrients for the body.
  4. Fibers. Most of the whole foods ailments are incredibly rich in fibers, whereas their counterparts, the processed, junk and fast foods are not. Fibers have an essential role in maintaining our health: it fights diabetes, heart diseases, controls the digestive tract movement and rushes the full sensation during a meal. It is better to get your fibers from whole foods than from supplements because in this way you get the entire range of fibers, both soluble and insoluble. Consuming fiber-rich foods is closely linked to controlling blood fats, blood sugar and ultimately in controlling gaining weight in adults.
  5. Good fats. There are two types of fats: good (Omega 3, monounsaturated fats) and bad (saturated fats and trans fats). While processed food and fast food only contains bad fats, fish and plants are sources rich in healthy fats that help the circulatory system and also fight lots of related diseases.
  6. Whole grains source. Though indeed whole grains have a close link to the fibers mentioned above, they are in fact more than fibers: they provide lots of minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals that have significant benefits either alone or all together. Their effects are better than the ones of a diet based exclusively on fibers, for instance. There are also recent studies that have shown whole grain foods lowered insulin and blood glucose after meals, and thus they help in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, this kind of foods prevents the accumulation of visceral adipose tissue, which is a type of fat usually found between organs and muscles in the abdomen. It is unhealthy, and a study developed by the Georgia Prevention Institute showed that a diet based on whole-grain foods reduced the production of this fat in teenagers.

Many people are intimidated by the idea of switching to an entirely new diet, and this makes the process harder. However, it’s not hard to slowly replace some foods with others, or sneak some healthier products in regular dishes. Eating healthy is a conscious choice, so a good advice is always to go for products with 100% whole grains. The white flour used everywhere has the alternative whole-wheat flour. For cooking, cutting to half the amount of sweetener or of sugar should also contribute to a healthier diet.

Fresh fruits are also good replacements for sugar-loaded desserts. There is no overdose in eating fruits and vegetables, so including them as often as possible in every meal is an excellent idea. Beans are a good source of fibers, phytochemicals, proteins and many other nutrients, so they can appear in a diet as often as possible. Needless to say, avoiding processed and convenience foods is essential since they are packed with extra sugar, salt, fat and other additives.  Beverages are also important when planning out a diet, so the best options are those without sugar: water, green tea, skim/soy milk or fresh juice.

There is a current trend that fights against processed foods and because of this processing has become an entirely negative element when it comes to food. However, processing appeared as a natural solution for the need to preserve food as much as possible. The inconvenient part is that by adding sugar, salt, oil or other preservatives, fiber and water from the foods disappears. Another reason for which manufacturers process food is to accentuate flavors and making them more concentrated. In this way, the product will be more appealing to customers, and the producer will increase their sales.

Processing does not necessarily have harmful side effects on food. This term also refers to the fact that people themselves process food at home when making applesauce, carrot juice, smoothies, pancakes or other types of meals. The difference is the fact that at home, people know what they are adding to the dishes, whereas when buying them, the producer could add lots of unhealthy things. Even so, home processed foods can sometimes be full of calories, for instance, smoothies and pancakes.

Minimally processed and cooked whole foods are available in the stores too. For example, vegetables, tomatoes, beans, frozen vegetables and fruits, milk or condiments such as vinegar, mustard or salsa.

A brief list of foods to avoid:

  • spaghetti in a jar
  • pizza sauces
  • potato chips
  • crackers
  • boxed cereals
  • boxed bread
  • snack bars
  • candy
  • soups ready to eat
  • frozen dinners
  • frozen desserts
  • yogurts
  • all sorts of condiments and prepared foods

Even slow food restaurants add oil, sugar, and salt to their dishes, so perhaps the best solution is to cook at home.

There are also other tips for including whole foods in your diet. One of them is to consume the plants or the foods as soon as possible after plucking or harvesting. The process of deterioration starts immediately, which is why it’s recommended to eat or cook them as soon as possible. You can get the most benefits within a day after plucking the vegetables or fruits. The nutrients keep their benefits also when frozen immediately after picking.

The Main problem: Where to Find Fresh Food?

One of the best places to find plants that have less than 24 hours since being plucked is the local farmer market or the farm stands. Grocery stores also offer whole foods, but they might not be as fresh as the ones brought by the farmers. Many times the products in the grocery stores come a long way before being sold there.

cooked-vegetables-dinner-whole-foods

One advantage of the whole foods is the fact that they fill us up quickly and travel easily. Whole foods snacks are a great idea for work or for traveling, and there are lots of options to choose from: carrots, grapes, apples, bananas, green pea pods and cold pre-cooked potatoes. Nuts and dried fruits are also good, except that they have more calories. Cold leftovers or cooked oatmeal are great for traveling too.morning-fruit-bowl-whole-foods

Variety is essential in any diet, and the whole foods one is no exception. For the morning nutritionists recommend cut-up fruits in a bowl or almond/soy milk combined with brown rice, quinoa or other whole grains. Lunch can include green salads with different beans and vegetables or a vegetable soup. Throughout the day, fruits make an excellent choice for energy-boosting snacks, while dinner may consist of baked potatoes, raw or cooked vegetables or natural sauces.

One exception to this runaway from processed food are the dairy products. Pasteurization is not something to be avoided, on the contrary, it preserves the milk, yogurt, and cheese for a longer time without affecting the nutrients inside, so they remain whole foods.

One of the advantages that determine more and more people to follow a whole foods diet is the fact that they want to lose weight. Whole foods are indeed an excellent way of supplementing physical exercise and offering the necessary nutrients while lowering the calories. This happens because they provide natural nutrients that the body assimilates easier and more naturally. However, not all whole foods offer few calories. People who do not know what exactly to eat and how to combine foods end up not losing any weight, even with a whole foods diet. For instance, avocado can contain up to 500 calories a fruit, and it’s not the only food with this amount of calories.

green-salad-raw-vegetables-lunch-whole-foodsWhole foods often offer a financial advantage too. It is convenient to buy whole natural foods, since for the same money you get more nutrition and healthier products. Even though they require more imagination and more time, you get more nutritional value for the same money you would waste on fast food.

One disadvantage that might make people think twice is the fact that, in the end, it might turn out to be more expensive than the regular fast food and junk food. Fresh food is more costly since it does not have a long shelf life and since sometimes it requires a long transportation and/or special storing conditions. [3]

Sources   [ + ]

1. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/landuse/crops/organic/
2. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-whole-foods-diet#1
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20373171

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