‘Whole foods’ is certainly a term that you must have come across some or the other time due to its extensive usage in the health circles today! But what are they? How are they better? Let’s Discuss!
In the food industry right now there are a lot of words being thrown around like GMO, organic, natural, fresh or local. But do all of these words really mean better for you?
Whole foods represent foods that retain their natural composition as well as contain no artificial additives or preservatives and have gone through little or no processing (i.e. cooking, grinding, or blending). Whole foods contain vitamins, minerals, water, fatty acids, amino acids, carbohydrates, fiber and much more.
While we do not yet fully understand how these nutrients interrelate with each other or how they are distributed inside our bodies, however, we are beginning to understand that they are codependent in their function. Our bodies have been in a tight relationship with whole foods for as long as we have been on this planet. We require the full spectrum nutrition for optimal functioning, which only whole foods can provide.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have ‘processed foods’. These are foods that are generally available in supermarkets in abundance. In very simple terms, processed foods have their natural composition altered in some way. Here, it is important to highlight that not all processing is harmful to the body.
For example, Some dried herbs (e.g. Mint, Red chili, Kasoori Methi, Garlic, Ginger etc) are high in antioxidants and beneficial to our health. Fermented foods (e.g. ghee, buttermilk etc) have shown to be highly beneficial for our gut as well as brain health and are being used in nutritional psychiatry. Sprouting grains increases their digestibility, improves amino acid profile, B vitamins, and sugar composition.
It is the foods that are heavily processed or have ultraprocessed elements added are usually what we have in mind when we speak about processed foods. Heavily processed foods can be extracted from whole foods (e.g. oils, sugars, MSG, food dyes, extracted proteins, other food stabilizing additives, etc) or artificial sources (e.g. artificial food dyes are a byproducts of burning coal tar). The most common form of food processing is adding artificial agents to preserve freshness and prevent spoiling. Another common example is the fortified atta available today in the stores, as discussed in our last post Liver Problems due to Packaged Wheat?
While eating whole foods will give you unspoiled fatty acids, extracted lipids can become very unstable and oxidize quickly during processing, which produces dangerous free radicals and degrades proteins and vitamins. Solid fats and added sugars are known to excite our taste buds, however, they provide nothing but empty calories (e.g. pizzas, conventional pastry and loaves of bread, cakes, candy, and other artificial and sugary drinks). When you hear “empty calorie,” ask yourself what are they empty of?
They are empty of a large number of beneficial nutrients we find in natural, whole foods.
A whole food would be considered, ideally, as a food with only one ingredient i.e. corn on the cob, apple, chicken or a cucumber. These foods will assist you in reducing your cholesterol, regulating your blood sugars and reducing the risk for diabetes while also assisting you in maintaining your weight among other nutritional benefits!
It is important to remember that individual nutrients are not our enemy, but the form in which they come from and thus, their excess, is!
Living in a modern world we can’t always avoid some heavily processed foods on our plates, however having whole foods as a staple is the surest way to regain not only our waistline but also our health. A healthy connection with food, where an apple is no longer defined by one of its many nutrients, but by its whole, multi-nutritional package, can have a balanced effect on our body’s overall well-being.
A simple tip to shop better at supermarkets:
Shop around the perimeter of the store!
That’s where all the whole foods are! Avoid the aisles as that is where the processed foods are located. Make a grocery list that takes you around the outside of the store — fruits and vegetables etc — and includes just 1-2 aisles per trip.