The Whole Foods Diet: What it is, Why it Works
Nutrition is one of those remarkable scientific fields where the further we advance, the more we realise we had the answers all along. More specifically, extensive research continues to show how the best diet of all diets for human beings is the simplest diet of all.
The kind of diet the human race has been surviving and thriving on for centuries, when whole foods were essentially the only foods in existence.
It’s easy to forget that processed food is a comparatively new concept, gradually going mainstream in the decades that followed the Second World War. Prior to this, there was almost no such thing as processed food in the context we know it today.
Convenience food came to be a 20th and 21st century phenomenon for a long list of reasons, though has never been considered particularly ‘healthy’. Nevertheless, if it’s a case of choosing between something fast, convenient and seemingly inexpensive over the more laborious option of cooking things from scratch, that’s what the masses will do.
Or at least, that’s the way it’s been until relatively recently - the whole foods renaissance is well and truly under way worldwide.
What Does it Mean to Eat a Whole Foods Diet?
The easiest way to think of a whole foods diet is as a diet that excludes anything (or as much as possible) that has been heavily processed beyond its original form.
A few examples of whole foods alternatives to conventional meal options could be as follows:
- Opting for all-natural bran flakes over heavily processed and sugar loaded breakfast cereals.
- Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables instead of relying on vitamin supplements
- Making your own breaded chicken instead of buying heavily processed frozen nuggets
- Avoiding preservative-laden ready meals and cooking your own meals from scratch
The list goes on, as pretty much anything that aims for the exclusion of processed food in favour of healthier dietary choices qualifies. Or to put it another way, it’s as simple as thinking about the kinds of convenience foods and staples that didn’t exist 100 years ago, and excluding as many from your diet as possible.
As far as the health experts are concerned, eating more whole foods holds the key to a better state of health and wellbeing for the vast majority of people. For all the fad diets and eating trends that come and go, nothing is more effective than a diet rich in unprocessed cereals, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, pulses and so on.
In their unprocessed form, these are the kinds of foods that contain masses of essential dietary fibre, along with most of the essential vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemicals needed to maintain good health.
While it’s not to say that all convenience food across the board is bad for you, the vast majority of processed foods have significantly lower nutritional value than their whole foods counterparts. Across the board, the best way to enjoy and benefit from whole foods is exactly as nature intended - in their whole form.
Why the Recent Whole Foods Renaissance?
The enormous surge in the popularity of whole foods diets over the past few years is attributed primarily to three main factors:
- Extensive scientific evidence suggesting those who eat more whole foods generally enjoy a better quality of life and live longer
- Widespread public knowledge regarding the benefits of whole foods and a collective desire to make positive lifestyle choices
- Easier access to a wide variety of whole foods online and from conventional stores at increasingly affordable prices
It’s not as if the world is rapidly turning its back on convenience foods, or shunning anything considered unhealthy. You only have to look at the size of the global fast food sector to see that the whole thing is thriving like never before.
But when you consider the potential benefits of switching to a diet that consists of more whole foods, it’s hard to deny the appeal of doing so. More importantly, to experience the benefits of a whole foods eating regime first-hand is to completely transform the way you look at convenience food for life.
Just a few of the scientific arguments in favour of eating more whole foods:
- Phytonutrients. The identification of phytonutrients (aka phytochemicals) in plants is something that has only really occurred over the past decade. Phytonutrients are the compounds responsible for giving fruits, vegetables and plants in general their characteristic colours, and scientists now believe that the key to a healthy diet lies in consuming a wide various of fruits and vegetables in as many different colours as possible.
- Nutrient intake. Some studies suggest that anything up to 90% of people are not consuming enough dietary fibre or potassium. This, despite the fact that many of the simplest and most affordable whole foods available are absolutely packed with nutrients like these, making it easy to ensure you get your recommended daily intake.
- Beneficial fats. One of the biggest risks associated with convenience foods is the way in which they tend to be loaded with dangerously unhealthy fats. By contrast, the vast majority of whole foods either contain heart-healthy fats or the kinds of compounds that have been shown to actively lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Digestive health. Likewise, most whole foods in a completely unprocessed form are naturally rich in dietary fibre. Fibre plays a role of immense importance in the human digestive system, keeping things moving and maintaining metabolic efficiency. Quite the opposite of convenience foods, which are notorious for ‘clogging up’ the digestive track.
- Weight management. In addition to the above, whole foods that are naturally rich in fibre make you feel fuller and more satisfied for longer. This is due to the way dietary fibre expands after being consumed, meaning you don’t need to eat nearly as much to achieve the same satisfaction - great for maintaining a healthy weight.
- Added extras. Along with being refined and processed, convenience foods often contain a whole world of added extras that are best avoided where possible. Synthetic preservatives, elevated sodium levels, artificial flavourings and ridiculous quantities of sugar - all known for making their way into the mix. If you could actually see first-hand what goes into the average ready meal, you’d probably skip them entirely!
- Whole grains. Furthermore, the consumption of whole grains has been associated with an extensive list of health benefits. Absolutely packed with vitamins, minerals and beneficial phytochemical compounds, the whole grains that often form the basis of many whole foods recipes are simply fantastic for health and wellbeing.
If all of the above wasn’t enough, research has also shown that a diet rich in whole grains can significantly reduce a person’s risk of developing type two diabetes. Whole grains are also fantastic for bringing cholesterol levels under control, while at the same time helping blood sugar levels remain balanced after eating meals.
Last but not least, evidence also suggests that statistically speaking, those who eat a diet that consists primarily or exclusively of whole foods are more likely to have a healthy BMI and bodyweight than those who consume convenience foods regularly.
How to Eat More Whole Foods
As for the small matter of getting more whole foods into your diet, it’s not quite as painful a process as it might sound. Contrary to popular belief, eating plenty of whole foods doesn’t mean radically altering your shopping habits and eating nothing but bowl after bowl of brown rice.
It’s simply a case of getting a little more creative and conscientious with your culinary habits, making minor modifications as follows:
- Always choose products that are made with 100% whole grains where possible, over those that contain predominantly refined grains.
- When baking, switch as much of the conventional flour as you can get away with for a healthier whole-wheat alternative.
- Reduce the amount of sugar you put into your sweet and savoury dishes, perhaps opting for honey where possible as a natural alternative.
- Keep a readily available supply of your favourite fruits and vegetables on-hand at all times, to reduce the temptation to snack unhealthily.
- Get into the habit of starting your day with a super-healthy smoothie, packed with a ton of fresh fruits, vegetables and superfoods.
- Pack plenty of beans and pulses into the meals you make, which are fantastic sources of plant protein, fibre, phytochemicals, and other nutrients.
- If using animal products, cook with whole cuts of the highest quality organic meats, avoiding anything pre-processed where possible.
Last up, don’t be too hard on yourself when and where your good intentions take a backseat to pure convenience. Indulging in something that clearly isn’t good for you from time to time isn’t the end of the world, just as long as it doesn’t become a habit!