Healthy whole foods, you might know that you’re supposed to eat them. But do you really know what they are?
We live in a society that eats so much processed and manufactured food, that there can be some genuine confusion about what qualifies as a “whole food. Even for the health conscious, the phrase gets tangled up with other terms. Whole foods might be “organic, locally grown, or pesticide-free”. But they aren’t necessarily. The definition of healthy whole foods is much simpler.
A whole food is food in its natural state, intact with all of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are in the food. Basically, it’s the healthy whole food, rather than the bits that remain after refinement and processing. It’s the difference between an apple and apple juice, or a baked potato and mashed potatoes.
While whole foods might be associated with the upscale grocery store of the same name, they are available to all of us anywhere in the country. Most dietitians feel that eating healthy whole foods has all sorts of benefits. Their nutrients may help to keep your immune system strong and protect you from disease.
If you’re trying to eat a healthier diet, relying on more whole foods is a great place to start.
Healthy whole foods
Many studies have found that a diet high in healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as:
- cardiovascular disease
- many types of cancer
- type 2 diabetes
Usually, the term whole foods is confined to vegetables, fruits, and grains. But any dietitian will agree that eating a skinless chicken breast is preferable to eating processed chicken nuggets.
One problem with processed food is that, during manufacture, many healthy nutrients are removed. For instance, when whole grains are refined, the bran and the coat of the grain are often removed,” says Kaiser. Some nutrients are lost, most significantly fiber. Then, during the enrichment process, nutrients may be artificially added back in. But even after enrichment, the final product is likely to be less nutritious than the whole grains you started with.
What about foods that have labels?
When you are shopping for healthy groceries, you will want to review two sources of information on a food’s package: the Nutrition Facts panel that lists the amount of various nutrients in the food, as well as the ingredients list. Because the ingredients list is just that – a list of ingredients – it takes close reading to figure out what it is really telling you. Here are some tips that can help you figure out if the ingredients list is indicating that a food is good for your heart health.
- The ingredients in a food product are listed by weight in decreasing order. This complete list of information is vital to anyone with food allergies. It is also very useful in determining nutrition information about a food product.
- If there are more preservatives than identifiable ingredients, a food may be highly processed and, therefore, likely not as healthy as a less processed food.
- If a product contains partially hydrogenated oil, this indicates it contains some trans-fat despite a label that may say “0 grams” of trans-fat. (Labeling regulations allow food companies to report “0 grams of trans fat” on a “Nutrition Facts” label when a food product contains 0.5 grams of trans-fat or less per serving.)
- If sugar or high-fructose corn syrup is listed before other more healthful ingredients, such as fruit, this may be a food that is high in calories from sugar and low in other nutrients. Other names for sugar include the following: corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey and maple syrup.