During the summer months, it can be tempting to buy pre-made dinners, eat out at restaurants, and snack on ice cream to avoid cooking in the heat! But summer is actually an optimal time to load up on whole food meals since so many fruits and vegetables are coming into season. The meals can even be cold soups or salads if you don’t want to turn on your oven. “Whole foods” is a term most people have heard of, but do you know what it means to follow a whole foods diet?
Whole foods are foods that have been minimally processed and for the most part are in their original form, whether cooked or raw. They tend to be perishable and do not contain preservatives, sweeteners, additives, artificial colorings, or require fortification with vitamins and minerals. Because they are minimally processed, they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, containing co-factors that assist in digestion and assimilation. They tend to be low in glycemic index, causing a slower rise in blood sugar. Whole foods usually have few added ingredients and include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, eggs, hard cheese, legumes, and meat or fish in their original form. Some whole foods require processing to eat (like bread), but try to pick these items made from sprouted whole grains with no added sugar or oils. I personally like the Ezekiel Bread brand, since sprouted grains are easier to digest and have less nutrient-blocking phytates in them.
Processed foods are generally in boxes or plastic bags, have a long shelf life, contain additives to improve taste and nutrients or extend shelf life, and often have ingredients listed that you can’t pronounce or recognize. Processed foods are also whole foods that have been refined such as white bread, white flour, white sugar, or white rice. Examples of processed foods are energy bars, white bread, crackers, boxes of cereal, processed American cheese, deli slices, hotdogs, pastries, and pre-made frozen or canned meals.
While processed foods are convenient and tasty, they are actually dangerous if eaten on a regular basis. Risks include:
-constipation and related colon problems (colon cancer, diverticulosis) (Lipski, 2012)
-irritation to gut lining leading to inflammation and autoimmune diseases (Lipski, 2012)
-linked to increased risk of Type I diabetes and insulin resistance (Mateljian, 2007)
-poor in nutrients, robbing the body of stored nutrients in order to digest and assimilate
-weaken immune system, increasing cancer risks (Shanahan, 2009)
-increases risk of dementia due to high sugar content in some foods (Shanahan, 2009)
Whole foods, on the other hand, have a host of benefits:
-slower blood sugar spikes due to fiber and no added sugar
-increased satiety due to fiber content, assisting in weight loss and normal cholesterol levels
-improved bowel health due to fiber which acts as a bowel cleanser and food for beneficial gut bacteria (may prevent colon CA, constipation, IBS, and diverticulosis) (Lipski, 2012)
-high in vitamins and minerals which have not been lost in processing
-nourish gut bacteria which form a large part of the immune system and weight management
-decrease heart disease, high blood pressure, and cholesterol (Mateljian, 2007)
-decrease cancer and diabetes risk (Mateljian, 2007)
Use this cheat sheet for your next grocery shopping trip and commit to making your meals and snacks based on whole foods for health and longevity!
Lipski, Elizabeth. (2012). Digestive Wellness: Strengthen the Immune System and
Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion. (4th Ed.) New York, NY: McGraw
Mateljan, George. (2007). The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the
Healthiest Way of Eating. Seattle, WA: George Mateljan Foundation.
Shanahan, C. & Shanahan, L. (2009). Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need
Traditional Food. Lawai, HI: Big Box Books.