Submitted by Rebecca Crumb-Johnson, MA, RD, CDCES
Whole foods are foods that are as little processed or refined as possible and have no additives such as preservatives or artificial ingredients, such as food coloring, added to the food. For example a baked potato would be a whole food but instant mashed or boxed scalloped potatoes are not. Broiled white fish or perch would be considered whole foods versus a fish stick.
So why eat whole foods instead of processed foods? What are the benefits?
Whole foods are higher in nutrients, such as fiber, minerals and vitamins than processed foods and when they make up the majority of a diet, may lower rates of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Whole foods allow nutrients to act together like they were meant to. The reason so many processed foods, such as white flour, are fortified with vitamins is because so much has been taken out with processing and even when fortified do not offer the same nutrition as when it was a whole food.
Whole foods do not contain added sugar. Increased sugar intake is related to increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. Less sugar helps control blood sugars and lower bad fats in the blood.
Decreasing sugar is also better for teeth. The sugar and refined carbs in the Western diet can promote dental decay by feeding the plaque-causing bacteria that live in your mouth. The sugar and acid in regular soda is especially likely to cause decay.
Sugar cravings usually decrease when more whole foods are eaten than processed foods.
Eating a diet rich in nutritious, unprocessed foods may also help decrease inflammation, which may increase risk of heart disease and increase pain. Antioxidants are found more often in whole foods. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, which can damage your body’s cells. They are found in all real foods, especially plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and legumes.
Eating whole foods may help support the good bacteria that lives in your gut. Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, which also include fiber, feed the good bacteria which can improve digestive health. Try whole fermented foods such as green beans to add even more benefit.
Fiber provides many health benefits, including boosting digestive function and feelings of fullness. Foods like avocados, wild rice, legumes, nuts, flaxseeds, and berries are particularly high in fiber. Consuming fiber through whole foods is better than taking a supplement as it keeps you feeling fuller longer, and you also get the added nutrients from the food itself..
According to research, a high intake of processed and fast foods has been linked to overeating. Whole food doesn’t contain the sugars. salt and flavorings added to processed foods which can lead to eating more food than is needed.
Drawbacks to eating whole foods may be price and increased time in making food. Whole foods may cost more initially but less in the long run because they are more likely to keep you healthy. For instance, one study noted that people with diabetes spend 2-3 times more on medical supplies and other healthcare costs than those who do not have diabetes. In some cases whole food is cheaper, such as a bag of brown rice versus a boxed rice, however, the brown rice will take longer to cook.
Eating whole foods can even help the local economy. Purchasing produce, meat, and dairy from local farmers markets or farm stores supports the people who grow food in your community. Check out www.wifarmersmarket.org to find a farmer’s market location and times. Other sources to find local foods are https://chapters.westonaprice.org/ashlandwi/ and www.bayfieldfoods.org
Best of all, real food tastes delicious! Once your taste buds have adjusted to real food, processed food simply can’t compare.
Rebecca Crumb-Johnson is a registered dietitian at NorthLakes Community Clinic. She currently sees patients in-person in Ashland, Hayward and Iron River and virtually in Lakewood, Minong and Hurley. No referral is necessary. To schedule an appointment with her, please call 888-834-4551 or learn more at nlccwi.org.