If you think eating healthy is boring and bland, you’ve not learned the incredible, palate-pleasing wonders of a whole-foods diet. But what are whole foods? Pure and unprocessed, whole foods include luscious fruit, nutritious and vibrantly-hued vegetables, hearty and wholesome legumes, snackable seeds and more.
‘Whole’ does not mean you can’t cook these vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and grains, or chop them, puree them, or combine them with other foods.
Rather, whole foods means you buy (or grow and harvest) the items whole, without chemical preservatives, colours, and other additives.
In your own home, you can cut, peel, or otherwise process them during preparation or cooking, as you wish. But they remain pure, whole, and natural — and if possible, grown organically. We also recommend you avoid making homemade versions of junk foods, like potato chips, if you want the benefits of eating a whole foods diet.
Amy had always been one of those people who could eat whatever she wanted and still stay fit — until she hit her 30s. After gaining some weight and seeing her skin starting to breakout, she visited her doctor where it was revealed that she had borderline high cholesterol. She then consulted a nutritionist, who suggested she start eating whole foods. After just a couple of months of focusing on fresh and healthy veggies and fruit, Amy started to feel (and look) like her fit self again.
WHAT ARE WHOLE FOODS?
As the name implies, whole foods are unprocessed or minimally processed foods which are as close to their natural, whole state as possible. The best whole foods for health include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes such as beans and lentils
- Unrefined whole grains like brown rice (preferably gluten-free)
- Herbs like cilantroor basil
- Spices like ginger, turmeric, and garlic
Eating a whole-food diet is sometimes referred to as “clean eating” because you avoid processed foods and focus on healthy, nutritious whole foods. Processed and refined foods contain preservatives, artificial colours, and other chemicals that may be toxic.
Eating whole foods means you avoid unwanted additives and get the full suite of antioxidants, digestive enzymes, and other nutrients in the food.
HOW WHOLE FOODS IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH
Clean eating offers many health benefits. Here are some of the ways whole foods can improve your wellbeing:
Enhance Overall Nutrition
When you eat a variety of whole foods, you give your body the nutrients it requires to function at its highest level.
In addition to vitamins, minerals, protein, digestive enzymes, and fibre, whole foods can contain phytochemicals, including antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols, anthocyanins, terpenes, tannins, lignans and fatty acids.
While a whole food diet can provide everything necessary to be healthy and strong, you may still have a few nutritional gaps. Where your diet falls short, consider using high-quality, organic dietary supplements.
Promote Gut Health
Many whole foods contain compounds called prebiotics that nourish good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the colon. This leads to a healthier gut, which is connected with healthy skin and mental wellness.
Whole foods can include fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchee, which provide natural probiotics.
Another way whole foods benefit the gut has to do with what they don’t contain. If you eat a lot of heavily-processed foods — the opposite of a whole food diet — it negatively affects the microbiome, even promoting diet-driven diseases.
Vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts, on the other hand, are all natural and do not contain harsh toxic chemicals.
Support Your Immune System
As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” When it comes to staying healthy, food really is the best medicine. All your cells require nourishment to function well, including the cells in your immune system. Adequate nutrition, the kind provided by whole foods, fuels the immune response — and that keeps your whole body healthy.
Eating a wide variety of food also supports healthy immune function, and taking a multivitamin and other key nutritional supplement will further ensure a well-rounded intake of nutrients.
Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight
It’s no secret that a diet heavy on fast food and processed snacks can lead to weight gain. So it’s probably not surprising that people who follow a plant-based, whole food diet tend to be leaner than those who don’t. Eating healthy whole foods — especially if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet — is an excellent tool for weight loss.
Changing your diet in this way may not only help you lose weight but also improve your quality of life. Following a vegetarian diet may be useful for preventing and managing weight-related conditions, including type 2 diabetes.
Promote a Healthier Environment
When you eat an organic, plant-based, whole food diet, you are on your way to a sustainable lifestyle.
Buying organic foods supports less use of chemical pesticides and toxic chemicals on the land. Organic growers use practices that are gentle on the earth. Obviously, fewer chemicals on your food, in the air, and in the environment is also better for everyone’s health!
In addition to organic options, you can choose locally grown whole food and eat produce according to the seasons. When you buy food that is grown close to home rather than flown in from far away, you reduce your carbon footprint.
BEST WHOLE FOODS TO EAT
Which whole food offers the most health benefits? Below are the best whole foods to load up on.
When eating a diet focused on whole foods, make vegetables your foundation. Here are some popular options:
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and lettuce
- Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
- Peppers including bell peppers, cayenne, jalapeno, and poblano
- Zucchini, Calabacitas (Mexican gray), pumpkin
- Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, burdock, beetroot, and parsnips
Fruit is another important component of a whole food diet. Some good choices include:
- Berries such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and acai and goji berries.
- Citrus fruit including oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes
Gluten-Free Whole Grains
Whole grains are those that haven’t been stripped, separated, or otherwise processed. Some good examples are:
- Brown or wild rice
- Unrefined, unbleached flour made from any of the above grains
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds pack a big nutritional punch in a tiny package, and they make great healthy snacks when you’re craving something crunchy. The best choices include:
- Nuts like walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and cashews
- Seeds like pepitas, flax seeds, hempseed, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds.
Legumes are an excellent source of plant-based protein, and they contain many different micro- and macronutrients. But try not to eat too many legumes, as your health will be better with more fruit and vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Some good examples of legumes include:
- chickpeas, black beans, lima beans, and white beans
- Lentils (including green, red, yellow, and black)
- Peas (including snap, green, split, and snow)
If you’re looking for greater health, a stronger immune system, or even losing weight, eating more whole foods will make a difference. Try introducing more salads into your diet. Eat more raw foods. Juice or make fresh fruit smoothies.
And make it fun! When you go grocery shopping, turn it into an exploration of the produce department like you are discovering a new country or going on a new adventure. See if there are fruit or vegetables you’ve never tried and buy at least one each visit. Go home and find recipes to try. Or better yet, search the recipes beforehand, so you make sure you have all the ingredients on hand. Your body will thank you!
POINTS TO REMEMBER
Whole foods are those in their natural form, minimally processed and without preservatives, added sugars, and other additives.
Eating more whole foods helps the environment by reducing the production of those chemical preservatives, colours, and artificial flavours that otherwise get added.
Organic whole foods are even better for your health and the environment. You can also grow your own.
Whole foods, especially plant-based ones, are nutritious and boost gut health and the immune system. Whole foods may also protect the heart and allow you to maintain a healthy weight.
When you head to the grocery store to shop for whole foods, be sure to fill your cart with plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes. Where you feel your diet falls short, use organic supplements to fill in the gaps.
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