What is whole food? I guess this depends on who you ask, but I consider whole food to be food that is as close to their original form as possible, unprocessed food that doesn’t contain any added preservatives or additives. Some simple examples include fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
I encourage everyone to read food labels. A good nutrition practice is to ask: does the ingredient list include any chemical additives, preservatives, or words that I cannot pronounce? What has been added to this product to extend its shelf life or make it last longer? If you find that products contain artificial ingredients, then it’s probably not a whole food.
Whole foods are nutrient dense foods. Choosing nutrient dense foods means focusing on quality over quantity. These quality nutrients allow our bodies to create long-lasting energy and experience optimal health. Eating nutrient-dense, whole foods is like choosing premium fuel over regular fuel for your vehicle.
Some examples of nutrient dense foods are:
Colorful vegetables, like kale, spinach, beets and broccoli
Foods that contain complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables
Foods that contain protein, like beans and lentils
Foods that contain healthy fats like avocados, nuts and seeds
Have you visited your local farmer’s market? Did you know that local, organic and seasonal vegetables tend to be fresher and picked when ripe? This makes local produce more nutrient-dense than produce that has been transported from far away or grown out of season.
I remember growing up in a home where everything was homemade. Fast food was available, but not to the extent it is today. Fast food is available in every airport, gas station, and hospital for that matter! To be sure, we have become a society of the overfed and undernourished. Refined foodstuff is the norm at most dinner tables. Refining food is a process that separates the heartier, denser nutrient from food to extend its shelf life. Let’s take a look at whole wheat for example. Manufacturers remove the nutrient-rich bran and germ from the wheat kernel and leave the inner endosperm to make white flour. The same goes for sugar cane. The molasses is removed to make white sugar. This refining process removes many of the nutrients and destroys many of the enzymes found in whole foods. Sometimes products are fortified with nutrients to make up for this stripping process, but these vitamins and minerals are synthetic and are not as beneficial for our bodies as the original whole food. Processed foods include artificial flavors, colors, dyes and preservatives that aren’t nutritious and that can be hard for our bodies to break down. It is no mystery that a diet high in refined and processed foods has been linked to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions.
There is a big misconception in our society about nutrition. I see it all the time. People want to make sure that they are ‘nutritionally sound’, so what do they do? They invest in supplements. They take vitamins and minerals in the form of pills, and shakes, and powders, and liquids. Guess what? The companies that sell these supplements are lining their pockets in the name of “health” while people are flushing their money – quite literally – down the toilet. Supplements are not whole food. If you are eating a whole-food, plant-based diet, you do not need supplements. Nutritional studies have proven that the body benefits from the anti-disease, health-promoting factors of real, whole foods and not food supplements. There is a vast difference between eating the betacarotene from an actual carrot and swallowing an isolated betacarotene capsule. John McDougall, M.D. has said it best, “vitamins are organic compounds that cannot be synthesized by the human body and therefore must be eaten in order for us to remain healthy and prevent serious illnesses. Plants synthesize 11 of the 13 known vitamins. Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin, but a hormone manufactured by the body with the action of sunlight on the skin, and bacteria make the only non-plant-derived vitamin, which is B12. Plants are also the source for minerals, all of which originate in the ground and enter into living systems through the roots of plants. Plant parts (starches, vegetables, and fruits) are the proper packages for delivering these, and many more, essential nutrients to the body. A harmonious relationship between people and plants translates into good health.” Use your money to buy whole food and not supplements!