Nutrition is one of the most vital constituents in achieving, maintaining, and/or restoring health and wellness, but what the heck are whole foods? We hear a lot about whole foods, natural foods, organic foods – the list goes on. Are they all the same?
The key philosophy behind the “whole food concept” is foods provide much more than just macro and micro nutrients along with vitamins and minerals. Whole foods contain the building blocks of life as well as thousands of elements that interact in very complex ways to support health and wellness. These elements go by many names: phytochemicals, nutraceuticals, phytomins, bioactive components, functional foods, and so on. New information comes out almost daily about these elements as well as new food components that have positive health benefits.
Whole foods are often confused with “organic foods” or “natural foods” but these loosely used titles are not necessarily whole foods. They do share some commonalities such as staying away from chemically assisted agricultural techniques, using minimal processing and heat, and they may have a shorter shelf life than let’s say Spam has.
WHOLE FOODS ARE . . .
Unprocessed, unrefined, and/or refined as little as possible before being consumed.
They can be eaten without any modifications or additives.
Unpolished nuts, seeds, grains, legumes (beans, soybeans, peas, lentils), fruits, vegetables, and animal products, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs and non-homogenized dairy products.
Cooked whole foods resemble what it looked liked when freshly harvested.
Examples of Whole Foods
Example: Macaroni and Cheese
Whole food: Homemade with real cheddar cheese and brown rice noodles
Conventionally processed: Kraft® Macaroni & Cheese
“Naturally” processed: Annie’s Homegrown® Classic Mac & Cheese
Example: Virgin Olive Oils
Whole food: Virgin olive oils are obtained by the mechanical or physical method of pressing the olives to release the oil and do not undergo any other processing outside of washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering. Under these conditions the virgin olive oil has not been altered in any way.
In Conclusion – A Quick Lesson in Labels
A whole foods diet is best defined as a “made from scratch” diet but packaging may not reflect if it is processed or not. This is where label reading comes into play.
For example, “Flash Frozen” green beans with no other processing or additives would be a whole food. When a food item label says it is “all natural” are we guaranteed it is a whole food? No. This label type has very few rules and current regulations in place from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have not developed a definition for the use of the term “natural” or its derivatives.
The only guarantee of natural comes from your organic garden.