Whole Foods and Your Health: What are whole foods?

What are whole foods? Most people ask me that question once I tell them that my family and I are on a whole food diet. It’s a difficult definition to nail down,  but I have tried my best.
  • First, whole foods are minimally processed. It’s hard to not process your food at home. If you grind your own wheat to make flour, you just “processed” your wheat. If you have a juicer and you make your own apple juice with that juicer, you just “processed” your apple to get the juice. So processing in and of itself is not bad; processing is bad when  bad things are added or good things are taken away from the product being processed. If you buy white flour, it is a processed food. The wheat is ground then sifted to take away the bran and germ, leaving the endosperm. The flour is also bleached using benzoyl peroxide, a chemical that is on the National Institutes of Health Hazardous Substances Database as a potentially harmful ingredient. 45% of the nutrients are lost by sifting the flour. To replace the 35-40 nutrients that were taken out of the flour, it is enriched with vitamin B1, vitamin B2, niacin, and iron. Sometimes Vitamin D and calcium are added also. Do you see how something harmless and healthy can be processed to be something harmful and/or something not as nutritious?
  • A second definition of a whole food would be any food that occurs naturally. This is an easy one. Your natural foods are foods that you could grow in your backyard. That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat oranges because they don’t grow well in your backyard. Any food that any single person anywhere in the world could grow is a whole food. Think of the obvious things. What do you plant in your garden? Fruits and vegetables. What do farmers worldwide grow? Grains. What could you raise to give meat and milk? Cows, pigs, sheep, goats… the list goes on and on. What did your great-great grandparents have on their farm? They were practically self-sufficient, weren’t they? They would have bought sugar, salt, tea, coffee, and a few other items; but most of it they produced themselves. I’m not saying we need to do that now – most people have no time – but it’s a good way to think “whole foods.”
  • The third definition of a whole food is any food that has no artificial additives.  Think about fruit. Are fruits vibrant in color or dull? Are they full of flavor or tasteless? Are fruits sweet? Are fruits good for you? Fruit is good for you,  is generally sweet and flavorful, and usually is very colorful.Nutrigrain Bars are advertised as “more of the whole grains your body needs” and “made with real fruit.” What is the first ingredient in the filling? High Fructose Corn Syrup. What is the second and fourth? Corn Syrup and Sugar. What is the 9th ingredient on the list under “filling?”  Natural and artificial flavor. What about the seventeenth and eighteenth? Red #40 and Blue #1. We just agreed that fruit is attractive, tasty,  and sweet. So- why were these things added?   Compton’s Encyclopedia states: “Processors sometimes add sweeteners to food in the form of sugars or syrup as well as spices, flavoring, and colors. Such additives are used to supplement the nutritional value of the food, to prevent or slow chemical deterioration, to thicken or firm food, to aid in ripening, to make the food look more attractive…” Did the corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavor, and colors supplement the nutritional value? Did they prevent or slow chemical deterioration? Did they thicken or firm food? Did they aid in ripening? Did they make the food more attractive? To make this short (because I could go on a while): some of these ingredients were added to a food that was good and nutritious in and of itself to make it prettier and taste better. Now why the fruit needed that, I don’t know for sure. But I could guess.
While I am sure there are many other or more ways to define whole foods, these three cover most of it. Whole foods are just that: whole. Natural.  And, for the most part, healthy.
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