Studying nutrition has taught me something valuable. Maintaining a healthy weight, ageing well and preventing disease is easy. It does not involve counting calories, deprivation, supplements or ready-made meals. In fact, a whole foods approach to eating means you can eat freely and for the most part, as and when you like.
What is a whole foods approach to eating?
A whole foods diet is simple. Create a lifestyle where you avoid all processed foods and focus on whole foods bought in the fresh produce aisle. Meals are cooked at home avoiding refined vegetable oils and high heat. Foods are prepared with love and diligence for optimal health.
Eating Clean — avoid processed foods
Processed foods offer no nutritional value and can leach nutrients from your body. A double-edged sword that leads to deficiencies, weight gain, systemic inflammation, and disease.
Processed foods are either chemically or mechanically processed. This increases the chemical load and/or loss of nutritional status. Our bodies work overtime to process and eliminate the toxins.
Processed foods are calorie-dense and nutritionally void
French fries offer no added value. In an apple, you get added value in the form of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Whole foods also add value with disease-fighting phytonutrients and antioxidants.
Common processed foods include:
- Breakfast cereals,
- Tinned vegetables
- Refined grains (white rice, white bread)
- Savoury snacks, such as crisps, sausage rolls, pies and pasties
- Meat products, such as bacon, sausage, ham, salami and paté
- “Convenience foods”, such as microwave meals or ready meals
- Cakes and biscuits
- Drinks, such as milk, soft drinks, fruit juices (excluding freshly pressed)
However, not all processed foods are bad. Nut butter, oats, and frozen vegetables and fruits are processed. But they still form part of a healthy whole foods diet. Choose less processed options. Steel-cut oats contain all the health benefits of oats aside from just fibre. Nut butter with no added sugars, salts or hydrogenated fats. Organic frozen veggies and fruits that aren’t doused in pesticides and herbicides.
NOTE ON ORGANIC: The debate around whether pesticides and herbicides affect human health ongoing. The tests done are to determine the effects of singular chemicals. There is no understanding of the effects of chemical accumulation in the body or for the possible effects of different chemicals interacting with each other. We have chemical exposure from food, household items, beauty products, clothes, and pollution.
Breaking down a whole foods approach
Categorizing wholes foods as follows in order of quantity consumed:
1 serving = 1/2 cup. Use your hands as a guide: 1 cup is the size of your clenched fist, while 1/2 cup is roughly one cupped hand.
Serving quantities will ultimately depend on your age, weight and activity level. However, generally, a whole foods plant-based diet is low calorie and high nutrients. One can generally eat as many vegetables you like. One can eat moderate amounts of legumes for satiety, energy and protein whereas nuts, seeds and grains are higher in calorie and should be more moderate to less. If you not sure how many servings you should eat a day, contact me and I will do a free assessment.
Servings are spread over the day for meals and snacks
- Vegetables: 3-4 cups veg. 1 cup leafy greens, 1 cup cruciferous and 1 cup other. Mix cooked and raw.
- Fruits 1 medium piece, 1 cup sliced, 1/4 cup dried
- Whole grains: 1 cup a per day or 1 – 2 slices whole-grain bread
- legumes and beans: 1/2 cup – 2 cups
- Nuts and seeds: 1/2 – 1 cup nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- 2-3l water
Benefits of a whole foods diet
Opting for whole foods, you are sustaining your body with the macro and micronutrients it needed for optimal function.
When you offer it all that it needs and some more, you start to feel it. Some of the benefits I have experienced in my own life, as well as others I have seen, are as follows:
- Weight Loss: processed foods are high in sugar or worse high fructose corn syrup. Choosing whole foods means less sugar and so fewer calories.
- More energy: whole foods provide all the nutrients required to support the production of ATP. ATP is the energy currency of life.
- Detoxifying: fruits, dark green vegetables, and herbs are great at aiding the liver and kidneys at clearing toxins. We are inundated with toxins from outside. Our bodies also produce waste products that need excretion.
- Improved skin and hair: Skin, hair, and nails are nourished within. Aa clean, varied diet offers all the beauty supporting nutrients for clearer skin, healthier hair and stronger nails.
- Improved blood glucose levels and balance: Eating clean and an active lifestyle can significantly reduce your chances of type 2 diabetes. Stable blood glucose provides other benefits.
- Disease prevention: varied whole foods diet provides phytonutrients and antioxidants that fight free radicals and oxidative stress.
- Improved mood and better sleep: Processed food contain a lot of chemicals that can wreak havoc with your hormones. Hormones affect your moods, sleep cycles, metabolism and other metabolic processes in your body.
- Improved digestion and gut health: increased natural foods have added fibre, enzymes, and good bacteria that collectively contribute to a happy, healthy and regular gut.
Whole-foods plant-based vs Meat-based whole foods diet
What is a healthy diet? Well surely that is in comparison to what you are eating now and so, will undoubtedly mean that healthy is subjective rather than clearly objective: if you eat hamburgers from MacD’s every day then comparatively a steak and 2 starches is comparatively healthier. But comparatively healthier to a steak and 2 starches is an edamame stir fry and brown rice.
When thinking about a whole foods plant-based lifestyle compared to a whole foods meat-based one can think the same. Eating a whole-foods meat-based diet is invariable healthier than eating a processed food diet.
But it doesn’t mean it is not able to become better. There is enough evidence out there to prove that the cons of meat and dairy far outweigh the pros. That a plant-based diet focused on veg, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes can offer not only daily requirements of macro and micronutrients but also offer the phytonutrients that are so vital to disease prevention and a thriving life.
The aim should not be to land on a plateau of diet but to always be reassessing and evaluating how one can improve the foods you eat. Our bodies are always changing and shifting with age, stressors, life stages, energy requirements and environments. Our diets should change and adapt to support. So if you are at the stage of eating meat with lots of veggies, that’s great. It’s a far better situation than most diets. But is it the best? Is it pro-disease or anti-disease? Pro-ageing or anti-ageing?
The best available diet that meets most peoples needs requires no calorie counting, is pro gut, pro disease prevention, pro-health and vitality, is a whole food plant-based diet with no processed foods and coupled with healthy lifestyle habits.
The 4 P’s to a successful whole foods lifestyle.
Plan out meals for the week or month.
Plan out shopping lists and stick to it.
Prepare meals and snacks.
Prepare for work and school.
Andy and I sit over a coffee and plan out meals for the week and what we need to get at the supermarket. We either cook meals together or take turns.
For outings, I usually have some sort of healthy snack with me such as some nuts and seeds or some fruit. If not, we opt for the healthiest option available. Eating out does not have to be permission to eat badly.
It’s about making small changes on a daily basis that leads to a big overall change in life.
For work, we love having leftovers from the night before. Leftovers are packed and ready in the fridge to take with us. Easy! This means we less likely to eat bad food at our lunch break and also save money. Eating healthy food we prepared ourselves makes us not only physically feel good but emotionally too.
Eating clean and opting for whole foods may seem daunting at first but stay committed. Stay focused on one day at a time. As you start to feel healthier, breaking addictions to processed foods, the decisions will become easier.
If you are concerned about finances when moving over to whole foods, here is a great guide on how to make some room in life for healthier options.