What are whole foods?
Whole foods are foods that are as close to the way nature designed them as possible. I also think of them as “real” foods. Carrots or potatoes just pulled from the soil and rinsed with clean water are whole foods. Tomatoes and squash and peppers freshly picked from the plants are whole foods. Whole foods, or “real” foods, are foods that our grandparents and great-grandparents would recognize and eat. These are the foods that people ate at every meal before diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity were common and expected diseases.
Whole foods are unprocessed or very minimally processed. This means they have not been peeled and cooked for us. No large corporation has decided to mash them, add fats and sugars and salt and artificial colors and flavorings to make them look and taste “better”. No research department has tried to improve them by removing their natural vitamins, minerals, fiber and flavor and then replacing them with chemical substitutes. Whole food has not been engineered and manufactured to be as irresistible and addictive as possible.
Most importantly, whole foods leave us nourished and satisfied long after a meal. Whole foods supply nature’s entire spectrum of nutrients that work together to keep us healthy. Unlike highly processed foods which just leave us wanting more, it is difficult to overeat whole foods.
Why are whole foods better for our health?
Until the last few hundred years, whole foods were the only foods available. There were no food factories, no scientists designing food in laboratories, no marketing teams deciding what the ultimate new flavor combination should be and no advertising campaigns trying to convince us that we should eat more and eat more often. No pharmaceutical companies were making artificial vitamins or extracting isolated vitamins from plants and trying to sell them to us as health aids. There were only whole, natural foods and they kept us healthy and well for hundreds of thousands of years.
We evolved on a diet of 100% whole foods so our bodies can only achieve maximum health by eating a diet based on whole foods. Modern processed foods contain only the individual nutrients put into them by the food manufacturers. Processed foods do no trigger the nutritional synergy within the body caused by whole foods. We absorb more of the nutrients present in whole foods and make better use of them after they are absorbed. This is why vitamin supplements are so much less effective than it seems they should be; without the full spectrum of nutrients, most of the vitamin supplement is excreted intact from the body.
Designing a healthy whole food diet for maximum health
Healthy whole food diets are based on whole natural foods, preferably grown the way nature intended. This means no chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides for plant crops. It means that meat and animal products such as dairy and eggs should be from animals raised on a natural diet: grass-fed beef and dairy, pastured chicken and eggs able to eat a wide range of greens, worms, insects and lizards. Grain-fed beef and “vegetarian feed only” chickens are not eating a natural diet and the animals will not be as healthy nor the meat, dairy and eggs as nutritious. These foods should make up the great majority of a healthy diet.
Try to eat as wide a variety of vegetables, fruits and animal products as possible to get the widest range of nutrients. It is alright to have a few standard fruits and vegetables that you really like daily but always try to work other choices into the diet whenever possible. The greater variety of flavors and textures also makes a whole food diet more sustainable over the long term(and we all would like to live as long as possible).
Eat as many different types of food as possible for the same reasons. Add a serving of fermented vegetables(sauerkraut and kimchi) and fermented dairy(yogurt, kefir and cheese) a few times each week for their unique nutrients and pro-biotic qualities. Eat leafy greens and tubers and hard and soft vegetables. Eat different kinds of nuts. Mushrooms belong in every healthy whole food diet at least occasionally. Use lots of different fresh and dried herbs. Seeds of all kinds are real nutritional powerhouses.
Don’t shy away from natural fats. Fats are very important for our health and many vitamins and other essential nutrients cannot be absorbed or used unless eaten with a little fat. Butter and lard, in moderation, are just fine as long as the animals were raised on a natural diet. Our bodies require cholesterol and make cholesterol as needed; cholesterol in the diet has very little effect on blood cholesterol levels.
Start out by eating the whole foods that you like the best. Then constantly try new foods to widen your flavor horizons and find new favorites. Everyone’s taste changes over time and specific fruits and vegetables will fall into and out of favor.
Stay away from highly processed and artificial foods
Read labels carefully and try to stay away from highly processed foods, especially white wheat flour, white rice and sugar. Try to never eat artificial flavorings, colorings, preservatives, added nitrates and nitrites, or chemical fat and sugar replacements. These are man-made imitation foods with almost no nutritional value and the potential to cause great harm to our health. Most of these processed foods are specifically designed to be hard to resist, easy to eat and cheap. They are the cause of the current epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many other “modern” chronic diseases. Processed and artificial foods are everywhere and the only way to avoid them is to make eating whole foods a lifetime habit.