What Are Whole Foods?


display of whole grains sitting on tableWhole foods is a term thrown around a lot lately when we talk about healthy eating, but I’d imagine people may have asked the question, “what are whole foods?” When does something cross the line from being whole to processed?  To me, whole foods are as close to the state that food is found in nature, with nothing taken away and very little (or nothing) added.  However, this is still vague.

Do I have to eat a plain carrot, or is it still a whole food after I’ve sauteed it in oil, garlic, dill, and a pinch of salt?  What about carrot juice?  Nothing is added, but something is taken away.  Carrot cake?  Just kidding.  Does a 100% whole wheat pita made with flour, salt and yeast qualify, or must it be a plain whole grain like wheat berries to fit the bill?

Although there may not be a clear definition of whole foods, most people would still agree that simplifying our food might be a smart goal.  Going back to foods with less added and less taken away makes sense.  Here are a few suggestions to trade out:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables instead of dried fruit or juices
  • try more intact grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley, amaranth, bulgar) and starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, winter squash, peas) instead of flour based starches like baked goods
  • buy plain yogurt and add fruit versus pre-sweetened yogurts with added sugars or artificial sweeteners
  • try mixing up a basic oil and vinegar versus commercial salad dressings with lengthy ingredient lists
  • consider more hot cereals (oats, amaranth, barley flakes, brown rice cereal) over cold cereals which can have lots of added ingredients
  • buy plain (ideally free-range & grass fed) meats or use more legumes instead of pre-cooked, pre-seasoned meats like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, deli meats, etc..
  • switch to plain hard cheeses instead of pre-wrapped slices such as American cheese

What foods are you currently eating that feel overly processed to you?  What substitutes can you think of as a more whole-foods version of that food?

3 responses to “What Are Whole Foods?”

  1. I would say my breakfasts right now are very processed. I’ve tried some other unprocessed options, but they don’t feel very satisfying at this point. To what extent I wonder, is the substances in my breakfast creating an extra allure to keep eating them, even though they are not the most healthful choice?

    I do have to say, that I have moved away from frozen dinners and sandwich meat with preservatives in them.

    Small changes can go a long way!

  2. Angela says:

    This is excellent information and great advice. My only comment is that corn is a grain and not a starchy vegetable. (and one of the most gmo corrupted grains)

  3. Robyn says:

    Agreed on both, Angela. I guess I’m used to lumping the corn in with the other veggies since so many people think of corn as a vegetable and don’t often consider is a starch, but it’s true it’s a grain. I’ve been very excited to find organic corn in our local grocery store since we haven’t had it at our home for so long because I assume all the rest is GMO. I love growing heirloom varieties at my home to also have a GMO free source of corn, so I’m with you on avoiding those as much as possible.

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