Studying nutrition has taught me something valuable. Maintaining a healthy weight, aging 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.
- increased, varied vegetable intake
- increase fruit intake
- choose whole grains
- use more legumes and beans
- include nuts and seeds
- cook food from scratch as often as possible
- drink plenty of good quality clean water
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.
The science shows that food is information, and it gives instructions. It can upgrade or downgrade your biological software with every bite. – Mark Hyman, MD
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 fiber, 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)
- Savory 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 fiber. 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:
- Whole grains
- legumes and beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices
- Animal products are either omitted or consumed as a condiment
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 fiber, enzymes, and good bacteria that collectively contribute to a happy, healthy and regular gut.
Vegan vs Meat based whole foods diet
I myself am vegan and as much as I believe in the cause and want to promote it I have to be rational as a nutritionist. It’s not viable for everyone. My focus is on health and wellness. When a person feels physically well, that they are then in a position to make better choices for themselves and others.
Doing whole foods as a vegan is great. It means you are very likely to be getting all the nutrients you need to thrive. Opt for organic, fresh produce where possible and avoid too many of the vegan alternatives. They are tasty but are also processed and full chemical additives.
Eating meat and eating clean does not have to be antagonist concepts. it means making plant-based foods the focus of your diet and adding meat products as condiments. That means smaller portions than what we are traditionally used to. Also only eat them on occasion. Meat products are nutrient dense which means we don’t need to eat them at every meal or even every day. If you feel that cutting out meat is just not for you, how about meeting the animals, planet and your health halfway by having meat Mondays and Thursdays for example.
Eating clean also means buying meat that is certified free range, hormone free, antibiotic free and as local as possible. Avoid red meat. White meats are healthier and more heart friendly.
As for my vegetarian friends, dairy has been proven to be high allergens and linked to systemic inflammation. Dairy consumption should be limited to all natural, sugar-free yogurt that has been naturally fermented to break down the lactose. As for cheese, there are many alternatives available. Choose certified free-range eggs from chickens that are fed natural diets as well as hormone and antibiotic free.
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 is not permission to eat badly.
It’s about making small changes on a daily basis that lead 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.