Whole foods – we all know they are the key to keep us healthy and fit. But do you really know what they are and why they are so trendy?
Sometimes whole foods are mistaken for organic foods. They are two different things, even if they are both good for health.
Whole foods refer to whatever is consumed in its natural state. They are foods that are not processed or refined, or are processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. They are not necessarily organic. Organic foods do not contain any artificial sweeteners, artificial additives, pesticides, food dyes or preservatives. They are grown naturally, ideally in the countryside. Yet, such foods remain “organic” even if they are cooked or processed.
The term “whole foods” is usually attributed to fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But there are other types of food that can be included in this category: unprocessed meat, poultry and fish, as well as non-homogenized milk. In any case, all of them must be natural or “fresh”. For example, fresh fruits are whole foods when they are consumed as they are, in their natural state. If they are canned or dried, they are still good for health, but not as good as the fresh ones. This is because some of their nutrients are lost. In other words, they are no longer “whole” in terms of nutrients, so they cannot be called whole foods.
The benefits come from the fact that, when we eat whole foods, we eat them intact, along with all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they contain. Many studies have shown that the consumption of healthy whole foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains reduces the risk of developing diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, many types of cancer and diabetes.
Why are whole foods healthy?
First, they have a high content of fiber, vitamins and minerals. They contain phytochemicals - components met only in plants. Although hundreds of phytochemicals have been identified, many are still unknown. They are beneficial in different ways. For instance, some are antioxidants, which protect cells against external attacks. Examples of such antioxidants are flavonoids (Vitamin P and citrin), carotenoids, lycopene and selenium. It is known that, when administered in our diet, they have many beneficial effects. Yet, studies proved that basically the same substances did not have the same effects when they were synthetically obtained.
We should be aware that refining and processing food removes most of the healthy nutrients. For example, during the process of refining cereals, their shell and germ are removed. Some nutrients are lost, especially fiber. Later, during the enrichment process, nutrients are artificially added. But even after enrichment, the final product will definitely be poorer in nutrition as compared to whole grains. This is the unique thing about whole food: it is a natural combination and interaction of all these different phytochemicals and proteins, which cannot be reproduced artificially.
The loss of nutrients during the food refining process is not the only disadvantage of processed food. Adding a number of artificial sweeteners or additives may also be a problem. Many people know that refined and processed foods contain many preservatives and additives. Surprisingly, nutrition specialists agree that the most dangerous food additives are not the preservatives. The real enemies are the common ingredients we use every time we cook, such as salt, sugar and saturated fats. Any of these ingredients becomes even more dangerous when it is consumed excessively. Salt, for example, can lead to heart or kidney diseases, and it is bad for those who suffer from rheumatism. Refined food usually contains a lot of sugar and fat. This causes weight gain. Consumption of whole foods helps maintain a normal body weight or aids in weight loss. Natural fibers contained in fruits, vegetables and cereals help to achieve rapid satiety without eating a lot of calories.
However, it is difficult to eliminate all processed foods from our diet. Sometimes we eat in a hurry, so we eat whatever comes close at hand. Sometimes we just love the taste of a juicy steak, and we forget about healthy habits or calories. Sometimes we might even find it stressful to change our eating routine, and to start paying attention to each ingredient we consume. The goal is to decrease the consumption of refined foods and to increase the consumption of whole foods. This is not difficult. A balanced and relaxed diet is the key, and this can be achieved by consuming a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Not only is simple, but it is the safest method by which we can get all the nutrients we need.
Copyright ©2011. Published with permission. J. A. Young is a freelance writer and is not affiliated with avivahealth.com.