Choose Whole Foods First, from Grains to Fruits
Sharon Palmer, R.D.
Eat more whole, minimally processed foods. That's the advice you'll get from most nutrition experts today. That's because these foods -- which are in their most natural form -- are usually rich in all of the "good" stuff (fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) and low in all of the "bad" stuff (saturated fat, trans fats, sodium and added sugars).
For example, when you refine a grain, as is done with white flour, you strip off its nutrient-rich outer coating; and when you create highly processed snack foods like chips or cookies, they often contain added salt, sugar and fats.
Defining Whole Foods
Choosing whole foods is simple; you select foods that come as close to the earth as possible, including animal products like fish, eggs and fresh milk; whole fruits, like apples, bananas and oranges; vegetables, such as lettuce leaves, broccoli and onions; whole grain kernels like oats, barley, and wheat berries; nuts and seeds like walnuts and sunflower seeds; and legumes, such as lentils and beans.
It's easy to spot whole foods, such as potatoes and lettuce, in the supermarket produce aisle, but it can be more difficult to determine minimally processed foods found in the inner supermarket rows, which house breads, crackers, snacks, canned goods and frozen foods.
Natural Health Benefits
If you made just one change in your diet for better health, you'd probably get the biggest bang for your buck by transitioning to a diet based on whole foods.
"Highly processed foods such as refined carbohydrates have a lower nutrient profile, and they are lower in fiber (which makes you feel fuller). This is important, especially if you're trying to lose weight," says
Not All 'Processed' Foods Are Bad
The most wholesome diet you can imagine would feature foods prepared from scratch without the addition of large amounts of salt, sugar, and fat. But most of us don't have the time -- or desire -- to do this every day, and these foods may not be available to your region year round.
Consider that food processing follows a spectrum, ranging from minimally processed to heavily processed. For instance, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are minimally processed foods, while candy and frosted donuts are heavily processed.
Food companies preserve fresh fruits and vegetables by drying, canning, or freezing so that we can enjoy them year round, thus contributing important nutrients to our diets. Food companies also use traditional processing techniques to create whole grain flour out of grains, and to turn milk into yogurt or cottage cheese.
Processing techniques, such as pasteurizing milk, also helps keep your food supply safe. You should include such nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods in your diet; just read labels to ensure that they are low in added ingredients, such as salt and sugar.
Better Prepared Choices
There are times when it's convenient to reach for moderately processed foods such as frozen dinners or canned soups. How can you make the best choice? The only way you can really tell is to flip over the package and read the ingredients list.
Is the product made from real food ingredients found in nature, such as grains, legumes and vegetables? Or are there multi-syllabic ingredients, such as sodium benzoate or food dyes that you might never find in your cupboards? Let the ingredients list be your guide to choosing wholesome prepared foods.
Take a look at these minimally processed foods that you should include in your diet:
1. Animal products
Fresh milk, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, eggs, fresh or frozen fish, poultry or meat (with no added ingredients)
Whole grains in their natural form (whole kernels) or made into 100 percent whole grain flour, such as oats, wheat, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, brown rice
Dried beans, lentils, peas and minimally processed soy foods (edamame, tempeh, tofu, soy milk) in their natural form, including cooked or canned (no added salt)
Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame, sunflower, flax, and hemp; butters made out of nuts and seeds (with no added ingredients)
Whole fresh, canned, frozen, and dried (no added sugar) fruits such as berries, citrus, pears, grapes, melons, peaches, cherries, bananas, mango and plums
Whole fresh, canned, frozen, and dried (no added salt) vegetables such as greens, lettuce, cucumber, squash, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and broccoli
Coffee; green, black, white or oolong tea; and herbal tea (no added sugar)
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