Think Outside the Box: Processed vs. Whole Foods

Processed foods are everywhere — some are processed in order to slow spoilage and make for easy transportation, storage, and preparation. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Processed foods are everywhere — some are processed in order to slow spoilage and make for easy transportation, storage, and preparation. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A diet rich in whole foods focused on nutritional balance means primarily consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, quality whole grains, and lean meats, such as wild fish and organic, cage-free chicken. A whole foods diet is focused on consuming foods in their most natural state, with minimal processing and no added preservatives or chemicals. Let’s dive a little deeper into what defines a processed food versus a whole food.

What is a processed food?

Processed foods are everywhere — some are processed in order to slow spoilage and make for easy transportation, storage, and preparation. Snack chips, breakfast cereals, candy, sodas, processed meats, cake mixes, white bread, frozen dinners, and many other food items have been processed for our convenience. But, that convenience is costing us a lot in the way of healthy nutrients.

Disadvantages of processed foods

  • During processing, healthy nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are removed
  • Processed foods contain more additives and preservatives
  • Processed foods are more likely to contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Processed foods are often high in sodium and sugar
  • Processed foods may contain hidden allergens
  • High-calorie, low-fiber processed foods contribute to overeating and weight gain because you don’t feel full as quickly as compared to high-fiber whole foods
  • Gram for gram, processed foods cost more
Processed foods are often high in sodium and sugar. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Processed foods are often high in sugar. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Processed food components to avoid

  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Trans fats
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Food in a box, can, or package
  • Artificial colorings and flavorings
  • Food additives such as potassium bromate, propyl, and monosodium glutamate

What is a whole food?

By contrast, whole foods are minimally processed before being consumed. The food is in its natural state, with all its vitamins and nutrients. The health benefits are numerous when selecting whole grains, meats, fruits, vegetables, and non-homogenized dairy products instead of frozen pizza and meal-helpers.

Whole grains and beans are the staple food in healthy old people’s daily diet.

Whole grains are an important food in a healthy diet. (Image: FotoshopTofs via Pixabay/CC0 1.0 )

Benefits of whole foods

  • Rich in phytochemicals — plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties.
  • Contain more vitamins and minerals than processed foods. Although some processing enriches foods with vitamins and minerals, overall whole foods are more nutrient dense
  • Contain more fiber and beneficial fats
  • Nutrient dense foods are generally lower in calories
  • Whole grains offer several benefits
    • They slow down of the digestive process, allowing for the better absorption of nutrients
    • The fiber content helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down the conversion of starches into glucose
    • They allow healthful bacteria to keep disease-producing bacteria in check
    • They have strong anti-oxidant properties to help protect the body against free radicals
    • They contain phytoestrogens and phytochemicals that break down carcinogenic substances

Whole food components to eat

  • Omega-3 foods, such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, and eggs
  • Beans or legumes, including soy milk, soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas
  • Nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, and pecans
  • Seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and chia
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially:
    • Asparagus, broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts
    • Berries, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, rhubarb, and apples
  • Whole grains like barley, “old fashion” oats, quinoa, farro, amaranth, buckwheat, kasha, millet, and whole grain rye
  • Free-range whole chicken and grass-fed beef
Green leafy vegetables are one of the most beneficial foods for longevity. (Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Green leafy vegetables, such as kale, are one of the most beneficial whole foods. (Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Give your body the best foods possible, as often as possible

Overall, whole foods are the whole package — they keep your body healthy with nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants, and help regulate your supporting systems in the process. For the best places to find fresh, whole foods you should first look to your local farmers’ markets.

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