It cannot be denied that food processing is one of the better inventions of modern man. After all, cooking, fermenting, preserving, sun-drying, and canning foods greatly help prevent food spoilage. The innovations have helped extend the lifespan of perishable foods, which could come in handy during long voyages and whatnot.
While food processing can help improve taste and extend an item’s shelf-life, this usually involves preservatives and additives that aren’t very healthy. For one, nitrites in cured meats may increase your heart disease risk – and even cause cancer.
With the many hazards of food preservation, more and more people are considering healthier fares. The most notable of these is the whole foods diet.
What are Whole Foods?
When one thinks of the term “Whole Foods,” the alternative UK grocery usually comes to mind. While it does carry health foods, it is not the entire embodiment of the term.
Whole foods refer to sources that are natural, unprocessed, or unrefined. At the very least, they should be prepared in such a way that they remain close to their pure forms. These fares are usually devoid of starches, sugars, flavourings, or other artificial ingredients.
While the consumption of whole foods is considered by many as a nouveau craze, the use of the term can be traced back to 1946. In the issue of Farmer magazine, organic farmer F. Newman Turner defined these sources as produced without ‘subtraction, addition, or alteration.’ He also noted that these are:
- Cultivated from seeds without chemical dressing
- Grown in soil fertilized with animal and vegetable wastes and composts
- Not treated with sprays, insecticides, or chemical manures
Whole Foods List
So what are whole foods anyway? If you are thinking of changing your diet for the better, then you should stock your cupboard with the following sources:
1. Fruits and vegetables
As long as these are not canned or frozen with preservatives, all fruits and vegetables are counted as real foods. With that being said, minimally-processed items such as washed salad greens and sliced fruits still qualify.
In the case of juices, fortified drinks may be considered health foods (i.e. freshly-squeezed orange juice with vitamin C and calcium).
2. Meat, poultry, and seafood
Some of these products may be treated with hormones and antibiotics. More than just being chemical-free, organic and free-range farming promote animal welfare as well. That’s because these areas have much space to move around, giving the animals the freedom to follow their behaviours – and interact with others naturally.
3. Beans, nuts, legumes, and seeds
5. Milk and related products
Some believe that raw, unpasteurized milk is the only choice, although most kinds of milk are considered whole foods. Non-dairy options include coconut milk, cashew milk, or almond milk.
Why Eat Whole Foods?
Here are some reasons why you should get started with the whole food diet:
1. They’re healthy
Since they are devoid of disease-causing preservatives, natural foods prove to be the healthiest sources in the world. They are filled with nutrients that can help you live a better, longer life.
2. They’re environment-friendly
Citing Farmer Turner, organic foods are defined as sources fertilized by natural sources. They don’t use pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and chemicals that can be harmful to mother nature.
For example, petroleum-based substances can lead to large-scale pollution of nearby waterways. According to a Scientific American article, run-off from such fertilizers lead to algae blooms that make such bodies of water impassable. When they die, they settle at the bottom, siphoning the water’s oxygen in the process. These eventually become dead zones, causing a migration (if not the death) of a lake or river’s aquatic residents.
3. Non-organic farming = more health problems
As mentioned, conventional farming methods make use of pesticides that harm the earth. Unfortunately, the effects are not limited to the environment as they can harm you too.
When such chemicals reach the waters, aquatic animals such as fish eat them – and they end up diseased. When you eat them, you may end up sick too.
So how does organic food fit into the frame? Well, for one, they don’t use chemicals that may poison fish and other marine animals. In essence, consuming whole foods indirectly protects your health – and that of the others too!
4. More cost-effective in the long run
While buying whole foods online can be a wee bit expensive, they’re actually cheaper in the long run. They have many health benefits (to be discussed below), and as such could reduce your chances of being sick or frail. This equates to cheaper (if not zero) doctors’ fees, diagnostic exams, medications, and confinements to pay every year.
Whole Food Diet Benefits
Before the advent of food processing, food was eaten in their pure, natural forms. Although wars and primitive healthcare shortened the lifespan of our forefathers, those who were not involved in any of these led long, fruitful lives.
In light of the modern technological advancements, eating whole foods may just be the icing to your life’s cake. After all, these food sources come with this bevy of health benefits:
1. Whole foods are good sources of vitamins and minerals
Even in this modern-day and age, most people still suffer from nutritional deficiencies. According to the NHS, British women in their 20s are deficient in potassium, zinc, and calcium. Other age groups, on the other hand, were not able to meet the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for iron, selenium, and potassium. As for men, deficiencies in selenium, magnesium, and Vitamin A were noted.
In the long run, the lack of the above-mentioned nutrients can lead to the following problems:
- Potassium: muscle aches, cramps & stiffness, fatigue, weakness, numbness, tingling, palpitations, breathing problems, digestive issues, and mood problems
- Zinc: diarrhoea, hair loss, eye/skin lesions, impotence, and other sexual issues
- Calcium: brittle bones, teeth problems, cataracts, and some brain issues
- Iron: fatigue, weakness, pallor, headaches, dizziness, chest pain, breathing difficulties, increased heart rate, brittle nails, and a swollen tongue
- Selenium: hair loss, mental fog, immune problems, muscle weakness, and infertility
Fortunately, a whole foods diet can help you easily meet the RDA for the said nutrients. Rather than take supplements, whole sources are better sources of:
- Potassium: bananas, cantaloupes, honeydew, grapefruits, apricots, cucumbers
- Zinc: whole grains, milk, legumes, seeds, nuts
- Calcium: milk, kale, turnips, spinach, collard greens, soybeans
- Iron: beans, lentils, spinach, whole grains
- Selenium: whole grains, milk, garlic, grain-fed meats
2. Health foods are chock full of fibre
Eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, peas, and legumes can help you meet the RDA for fibre, which is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Apart from improving your bowel movement, wholefood fibre can also help you achieve the following:
a) Better gut health
Since dietary fibre can help reduce constipation, it may help reduce the instances of haemorrhoids and diverticular disease. According to research, it may help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer as well.
b) Lower cholesterol levels
High cholesterol and triglyceride levels can lead to plaque build-up in the arteries. This could trigger a heart attack or a stroke, 2 of the leading causes of death in the UK. Good thing there are fibre-rich whole foods that help lower these ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. They can also help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure – activities that help maintain good heart health.
c) Lower blood sugar levels
Soluble fibre delays sugar absorption, which could lead to lower blood sugar levels. This is important for diabetics, as unmanaged blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, and kidney failure.
As a preventive measure, high-fibre foods may also help those who are likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Risk factors include age, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive weight/obesity, and race.
d) A healthier weight
If you have a hard time keeping your weight down, then you should swap your usual fares for organic whole foods. They’re lower in calories in comparison to their processed counterparts. More importantly, fibre-rich whole foods can keep you satiated for a longer time. As such, it can help minimize your cravings for fatty and unhealthy foods.
f) A longer life!
As mentioned, fibre can help lower one’s risk of heart attack, diabetes, and colorectal cancer. As these are the UK’s (and most of the world’s) more prevalent lifestyle diseases, whole food consumption may just be the key to living a longer, healthier life.
3. Natural foods contain ‘good’ fats
Whole foods are rich in good fats, namely monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Examples include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which confer protective effects on the heart. They can help lower your blood pressure, as well as your cholesterol levels. As such, a real food diet rich in flax seeds, salmon, and mackerel may help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in the long run.
4. Whole grains are rich in phytonutrients
What’s great about whole foods is that they don’t seem to run out of beneficial nutrients. Apart from vitamins, minerals, and fibre, real foods are also rich in phytonutrients. These substances naturally occur in plants, protecting them from harmful bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms. They’re not only good in defending the host plant, as they can work wonders on your health as well:
These phytonutrients are responsible for giving certain fruits and vegetables their characteristic yellow, orange, and red colours. They function as antioxidants, which are substances that can neutralize free radicals. These unstable molecules, if left unopposed in the body, can bring about premature ageing and some diseases.
Good whole food sources of carotenoids include squash, grapefruit, oranges, carrots, and apricots.
This group of phytonutrients is famous for its many health benefits. Examples include:
- Quercetin – It may help reduce your risk of developing cancer or coronary disease. Sources include apples, onions, berries, and kale.
- Hesperidin – Found in citrus fruits, this nutrient has an anti-inflammatory effect. As such, regular consumption of said sources may help minimize your risk of developing chronic diseases.
- Catechin – This nutrient, which is found in blackberries, apples, pears, and raspberries, is known to have some anti-cancer effects on the body.
This phytonutrient gives tomatoes, pink grapefruits, and watermelons their vibrant red/pink colours. This antioxidant may help reduce your risks of developing heart disease and some cancers. On the other hand, it may help provide natural UV protection as well.
d) Lutein and Zeaxanthin
This phytonutrient is vital for eye health. Consuming sources such as kale, spinach, and collards may help protect your eyes from cataracts or age-related macular degeneration.
A component found in grapes, resveratrol may help prolong your lifespan by reducing your risk of heart disease and cancer.
g) Ellagic Acid
Found in strawberries, pomegranates, and raspberries, ellagic acid exerts some anti-cancer effects on the body.
As the name suggests, these phytonutrients mimic oestrogen effects on the body. Found in soy, sesame seeds, and flax seeds, it may help reduce bone loss and endometrial cancer risk in women.
Like ellagic acid, glucosinolates are known to have some anti-cancer benefits on the body. Sources include cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
5. Whole foods help promote dental health
Processed foods are rich in sugar and carbohydrates that promote dental cavities and caries. Going for wholefoods will not only reduce these problems, but they may help protect your pearly whites as well.
According to the Colgate Oral Care Centre, the following whole foods are more than beneficial for oral health:
a) Leafy greens
Kale and spinach are rich in calcium, a mineral that is vital for the teeth enamel. They are also teeming with folic acid, a vitamin that can help improve gum health.
This crunchy, fibre-rich vegetable promotes saliva production, an enzyme that helps clean the teeth of food particles and bacteria. It’s also rich in Vitamin A, which is important for the tooth enamel and the gums.
Celery’s stringy nature helps remove food particles and bacteria from the teeth. It also contains Vitamins A and C, both of which are necessary for teeth and gum health.
Like the carrot, apples can heighten saliva production for a cleaner mouth. As a bonus, it can also improve blood circulation in the gums.
This healthy snack is rich in calcium and protein, all the while containing low amounts of cavity-causing sugars.
What are the Best Whole Foods to Eat?
All whole foods are good for your health. As mentioned, they are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, good fats, and phytonutrients, among many other beneficial substances. But if you are looking to make the most out of every meal, then you should include these in the list when you buy organic whole foods online:
1. Fruits (and their nutrients)
- Bananas – potassium, B vitamins
- Blueberries – antioxidants
- Strawberries – fibre, vitamin C, manganese
- Apples – fibre, vitamin C, and other antioxidants
- Avocados – fibre, good fats, potassium, vitamin C
- Oranges – vitamin C, fibre
2. Vegetables (and their nutrients)
- Bell peppers – vitamin C, antioxidants
- Broccoli – vitamins C and K, protein
- Carrots – vitamin K, fibre, carotenoids
- Kale – vitamins C and K, fibre
- Tomatoes – vitamin C, potassium, lycopene
3. Fish and seafood (and their nutrients)
- Salmon & sardines – omega fatty acids
- Shrimp – selenium, vitamin B12
4. Nuts, seeds, and legumes (and their nutrients)
- Almonds – vitamin E, magnesium, fibre, antioxidants
- Chia seeds – fibre, manganese, calcium, magnesium
- Macadamia nuts – fibre, manganese, thiamine
5. Whole grains (and their nutrients)
- Brown rice – fibre, vitamin B1, magnesium
- Quinoa – iron, copper, thiamine, vitamin B6
- Oats – iron, selenium, manganese, phosphorous, copper
- Kidney beans – fibre, protein, iron, magnesium, vitamin B6
- Lentils – fibre, iron, vitamin B6, magnesium
What Not to Eat
While many food items claim to be all-natural, you should always check the label. If you want to stay true with your whole foods plant-based diet, then you need to avoid consuming any of the following:
1. Refined carbohydrates
Generally speaking, anything made with white flour is not classified as a type of wholefood. That’s because the process of grinding grains to make flour removes their resistant starch. This is also the reason why you get high blood sugar levels whenever you eat products made with white flour.
Although most grains are categorized as real food, some products such as white rice should be avoided.
2. Prepared, ready-to-eat food
This is the type of food that you usually see in your neighbourhood grocery store. Fares such as deli meat and canned pasta sauce are usually prepared with ingredients and preservatives. While these help extend their shelf lives, they are not as healthy as their natural equivalents.
3. Processed food
This type of food is made with artificial ingredients such as flavourings, preservatives, or colourants. They include candies, baked goods, and frozen meals.
4. Sugary food
Most sweet treats are made with sugar and other artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal, and Sweet N’ Low. In place of any of these, make use of natural honey, which is the best sweetener you could use for your whole foods recipes.
Tips on Following a Whole Food Diet
Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is not that hard to do. However, it could be a little tricky discerning which is which, especially if it’s your first time. Here are some tips that can help you follow this healthy eating plan to the tee:
- Add fruits and vegetables to your every meal.
- Beans, seeds, and nuts make for healthy, on-the-go snacks.
- Always go for whole grains.
- Use wheat flour instead of white flour for any of the whole food recipes below.
- Drink water, fresh fruit juice, or organic milk.
Recipes with Whole Foods
Contrary to popular beliefs, a real food diet can be just as appetizing. Here are some whole foods diet recipes that are surprisingly tasty:
1. Fennel, pomegranate, and broad bean salad
Watercress, broad beans, fennel, dill, parsley, mint, and pumpkin seeds are the vegetarian stars of this appetizer. It has a quick, 20-minute prep time, not to mention a high fibre yield (9 grams).
2. Kale and apple soup with walnuts
This has all the healthiest whole foods on the planet! Made with onion, carrots, apples, and kale, it is a vegetarian meal that you can complete in 15 minutes.
3. Veggies with pepper and walnut dip
Looking for a healthy yet filling snack made with wholefoods? Then make your own dip with the use of chickpeas, lemon juice, pepper, garlic, and tahini. Add walnuts and serve with veggie sticks.
4. Roasted sea bass and vegetables
This protein-rich recipe is not healthy, it’s gluten-free as well. Ingredients include red-skinned potatoes, red pepper, rosemary sprig, sea bass fillets, pitted olives, lemon, and basil leaves. The total preparation and cooking time only takes 40 minutes.
5. Healthy Turkey meatballs
Turkey is a healthy and lean source of protein. It’s also delicious, so your kids will surely enjoy this recipe. As for you, you’ll have an easy time making this recipe of minced turkey breast, garlic, porridge oats, and garlic. As for the sauce, all you need to mix are onions, carrots, celeries, garlic, fennel, parsley, and broccoli.
6. Berry omelette
If you want a sweet yet protein-filled meal, then this is perfect for you. Make your omelette with a free-range egg, cinnamon, cottage cheese, and almond milk. Top with berries for a healthy, antioxidant-rich feast.
7. Cinnamon crepe with banana and raspberries
You can still satisfy your sweet tooth even if you are on a whole foods diet. All you need to do is use gluten-free brown bread flour instead of the usual white. Top with bananas and raspberries and you will surely enjoy your nutritious and delicious dessert.
8. Heart helper smoothie
Protect your heart in a tasty way with this vibrant smoothie. Just blitz your water with raw beet roots, apples, blueberries, and a tablespoon of ginger. Not only is this vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free, it has zero fat as well!
Whole foods are food sources that are natural, unprocessed, or unrefined. At the very least, they should remain close to their pure forms. Examples include fruits, vegetables, free-range/organic meats, poultry or seafood, grains, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, milk, and some dairy products.
Foods to avoid include refined carbohydrates, processed, sugary, and ready-to-eat foods.
Contrary to popular beliefs, a real food diet is a more cost-effective choice in the long run. It’s also environment-friendly, as it does not make use of pesticides or chemicals that may harm mother nature.
A whole-food, plant-based diet is also very healthy as it is teeming with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fibre, and good fats. All of these contribute to better health – and a longer life.