The Proven Health Benefits of Whole Foods Diets
Debate as to which diet is the healthiest diet of all has been raging for decades. Fads come and go on almost daily basis, compounded by the vast quantities of conflicting information online.
Consequently, it’s little wonder many (if not most) people have no idea which diets work and which are best avoided.
But something that’s become clear over the years is that one major diet and lifestyle has more proven health benefits than any other:
The whole foods diet.
We recently shared a post with a few insights into exactly why so many experts recommend eating more whole foods. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the scientifically proven benefits of following a whole foods diet.
Not to mention, emphasizing just how easy (and enjoyable) it can be to bring more whole foods into your diet, putting convenience food firmly on the back burner.
What Is a Whole-Foods Diet?
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no formal definition of what a whole foods diet actually is. Some will tell you adopting a whole foods lifestyle means eating nothing but whole foods, while others will argue simply making a conscious effort to cut down on convenience food also qualifies.
There’s technically more truth to the latter, as anything you can do to increase your consumption of whole foods and cut down on processed foods is probably a good thing. It’s the same with plant-based lifestyles - you don’t have to eliminate all animal products entirely from your diet, in order to benefit from eating more plants and reducing your consumption of meat.
Hence, it’s better to look at the fundamental principles of whole foods diets, rather than attempting to come up with an outright definition:
- A diet that concentrates on the consumption of whole foods
- Processed foods and convenience foods are avoided where possible
- Meals and ingredients that contain refined products are also avoided
- Recipes focus on the inclusion of whole foods and plant-based ingredients
- Convenience foods are purchased more conscientiously and mindfully
Again, a whole foods diet does not necessarily have to mean eating nothing but whole foods. Just as you can go primarily plant-based without going fully vegetarian or vegan, you can also eat a more predominantly whole foods diet while still enjoying the occasional indulgence.
The Proven Health Benefits of Eating More Whole Foods
But it’s not until you experience the feel-good factor of whole foods eating that you realise it really is a one-way transition. Particularly when you bring the proven health benefits of whole foods into the mix, verified in a long list of studies and scientific reviews over the years.
Losing Weight is Easier with a Whole Foods Diet
The obesity crisis in the western world is raging, with almost 70% of all adults in America being considered overweight or obese. Fad diets or quick fixes never work, but making the decision to switch to a healthier whole foods lifestyle in general can make it easier to lose weight and stay slim.
This is due to two things - the first of which being the elevated nutrient content of whole foods. More vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre help the metabolism do its thing, ultimately reducing the risk of weight gain and making it easier to lose weight.
In addition, eating more whole foods inherently means eating less junk food and convenience food. As the latter is known to be a major contributor to the global obesity crisis, swapping it out for more whole foods cannot fail to make a positive difference.
Whole Foods Can Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
A recent study that took into account the diets and long-term health of more than 200,000 people found that whole food diets were directly associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Specifically, it was found that those who followed predominantly plant-based diets with plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes and nuts were much less likely to develop heart disease than those eating more meat and processed foods.
However, the study also confirmed that not all plant-based diets are healthy. Elevated consumption of refined grains, fruit juices and sugary drinks led to a moderate risk of heart disease, even among those who followed predominantly or exclusively plant-based lifestyles.
Cancer Risk Can Be Reduced with Whole Foods
Other studies have found that the risk of certain types of cancer can be reduced by following a whole foods diet, or by making a conscious decision to eat more whole foods. A review which considered the cases of around 69,000 people found that those who consumed predominantly vegetarian diets rich in whole foods were considerably less likely to develop gastrointestinal cancer.
Similarly, colorectal cancer risk was found to be reduced in those who followed primarily plant-based diets compared to those who consumed meat and dairy products. Interestingly, the highest protection against colorectal cancer was noted among those who followed pescatarian diets - vegetarians who eat fish and seafood.
A Possible Reduction in Alzheimer’s Disease Risk
There is also evidence to suggest that eating more whole foods (and adopting a healthier lifestyle in general) can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, or slow the pace of the condition after its onset.
Cognitive decline in general is something that has been linked with dietary habits by a number of studies over the years, suggesting dietary choices and lifestyles have a direct impact on our risk of cognitive decline as we age. Specifically, one major review of nine studies found that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia by as much as 20%.
It’s Also Good for the Planet
Of course, the benefits of whole foods are by no means limited exclusively to personal health and wellbeing. It’s also an established and proven fact that plant-based living is exponentially more environmentally friendly than a lifestyle that includes the consumption of meat and animal products.
Incredibly, it’s estimated that a widespread shift to plant-based living and away from the conventional ‘western’ diet could lead to a 50% reduction in water use and a massive 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Each and every person making the effort to reduce their consumption of animal products is therefore supporting perhaps the single most important cause the human race has ever known.
As an added bonus, whole foods exclude the kind of processing and refinement that can also take a toll on the environment. The closer the foods you eat are to their natural form the moment they are harvested, the better for all involved!
What to Eat on a Whole Foods Diet
Once again, adopting a predominantly whole foods diet does not mean you have to live exclusively on bowls of beans. Instead, it’s simply a case of bringing as many whole foods as possible into your recipes and giving convenience food a wide berth where possible.
The list of whole foods you can start adding to your own shopping list is practically endless, including but not limited to the following:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- All types of whole grains
- Healthy and unrefined fats
- Nuts and seeds
- All kinds of legumes
- Plant-based proteins
- Organic herbs and spices
- Responsibly sourced tea and coffee
- Whole grain flour
From another perspective, it could be just as easy to focus on the kinds of things not to include in your shopping list. While the occasional treat isn’t going to do most people any harm, proactively minimising consumption of each of the following comes highly recommended:
- Most types of fast food and junk food
- Convenience foods with masses of added sugar
- Refined grains and cereals
- Some types of artificial sweeteners
- All processed animal products without exception
Rounding things off on one important note - don’t fall into the trap of assuming that all plant-based (i.e. vegan) convenience foods are better than their meat-based alternatives. There’s a huge market for plant-based convenience foods right now, populated by products which in many instances are way worse than similar products containing meat.
Just because something is 100% does not mean it isn’t loaded with salt, sugar and a terrifyingly long list of artificial additives.
Whether you eat animal products or not, adding more whole foods to your diet is as simple as making more conscientious shopping decisions. It won’t cost you any more, yet the feel-good factor that comes with doing your health (and the planet) a world of good really is priceless!