Nutrition advice can seem confusing, but in reality, it can usually be boiled down to one simple piece of advice: Enjoy a variety of whole foods for better health.
What are “whole foods?”
Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural form as possible, with minimal processing and refinement. Foods created by mother nature contain countless nutritional benefits, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Foods created by humans in a laboratory (processed foods) contain only a few of those nutrients, and usually a great deal more of unhealthy additives, such as sodium, trans fat, preservatives, and added sugar.
Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods
The below list shows some examples of whole foods vs. processed foods. The best, whole food choices are in the left-hand column. The more processed the food, the fewer nutrients and greater number of unhealthy added ingredients it contains.
|Whole Food||Processed Food||Highly Processed Food|
|Apple||Apple juice||Apple-flavored fruit chew|
|Baked potato||Instant mashed potato||French fries, potato chips|
|Brown rice||White rice||Rice-a-Roni|
|Chicken breast||Chicken deli meat||Chicken nuggets|
|Corn||Corn flakes, tortilla chips||Soda (contains high fructose corn syrup)|
|Edamame (soybeans)||Soy protein powder||Energy bar, margarine (partially hydrogenated soybean oil)|
|Nuts||Roasted, salted nuts||Nutter Butter cookie|
|Oatmeal||Instant oatmeal||Chewy oatmeal bar|
|Whole grain pasta||Regular (refined) pasta||Ramen noodles|
|Whole wheat flour||White flour||Donut, cupcake|
Finding Whole Foods
Check the list of ingredients: In general, healthier food products contain a short list of ingredients that sound like food (and not like chemicals). Healthy ingredients to look for include: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and skim milk. Ingredients to watch out for include: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and enriched flour. Keep in mind that some of the healthiest food items do not contain nutrition labels at all, like fruits and vegetables!
Find a farmer’s market: Visit your local farmers market for some of the best-tasting whole foods on the planet. Visit http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/ for market times and locations.
Enjoying Whole Foods
If you are accustomed to eating highly processed foods, it may take a little while for you to learn to appreciate the taste of whole foods. Your taste-buds are likely used to intensely sweet or salty flavors, rather than the subtle complexities of whole foods. Hang in there! The average life-span of a taste-bud is 3 weeks. You can train your taste-buds to appreciate whole foods. Here are some tips to help you out:
- Spice it up! Spices can add flavor and nutrition to food. Cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cardamom, mace or nutmeg bring out the sweetness in whole foods. Black pepper, garlic, curry, cumin, basil, ginger, and onion can replace salt and bring out savory flavors.
- Try new cooking methods: Cooking whole foods (like fruits and vegetables) can bring out their natural sweetness. Experiment with multiple cooking methods and recipes before deciding that you dislike a food. Try foods grilled, poached, steamed, roasted, baked, or sauteed. Some examples include:
- Grilled peaches, apples or pears sprinkled with cinnamon
- Steamed green beans drizzled with olive oil and toasted almonds
- Eggplant and zucchini stewed in tomato sauce or pesto
- Roasted corn on the cob
- Mixed Asian vegetables sauteed with garlic and ginger
- Keep it convenient: Eating whole foods doesn’t have to be time-consuming or inconvenient. Try some of these time-saving whole foods and cooking techniques:
- Pre-chopped vegetables for stir-fry
- Whole fruit and nuts: easy grab-and-go snacks that require no prep-work
- Quick-cooking oatmeal or instant (par-boiled) brown rice
- Whole-grain bread for sandwiches or toast
- Bagged salad kits
- Fish filets and chicken breast cook in minutes on a George Foreman grill
- Cook a large batch of soup, stew or chili and enjoy all week long
How do you find and enjoy whole foods?
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