Whole Foods: What Does that Really Mean?

Photo: Whole Foods

     “ Whole foods” is a term that gets bandied about a lot these days.  I use it frequently myself and my wife pointed out to me recently that a lot of folks may not really understand what it means.  To compound the issue, food manufacturers are infamous for latching on to healthy sounding concepts or buzzwords and using them for their own end.

     Fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, brown rice, fish, game, nuts, dairy products and true whole grains are all examples of "whole foods" if they are served close to the state they were grown or raised.  Apples are whole foods; apple juice is not, nor is anything sweetened with fruit juice.  Yogurt is a great food, but load it up with sugars and you have a processed food.  A baked potato is pretty minimally processed; french fries and potato chips are quite the opposite.  Sorry to say, this is still true even if they are found in the health food section and come in brown paper packages.  

     Grains present an interesting situation.  There are very few true whole grains available in the market today.  A lot of folks know to avoid white flour products because the outer layer of the grain has been removed, along with the fiber and a lot of the nutrients.  What is not so often talked about is that even when we use whole grains, pulverizing them into finely ground flour destroys the integrity of the water soluble fiber.  Now instead of having a food that would be digested slowly, we have one that is absorbed almost instantly as sugar.

     Honey Nut Cheerios is a great example of an extremely processed, ie: not whole food, product that markets itself as being healthy.  Yes, it might be "sweetened with honey" but even there lies deception.  The first is that while there may be some honey, it is also sweetened with sugar and other sweeteners.  The second is the fact that honey is really no better for you than any other sugar.

     The other nutritional deception cereals like Cheerios perpetuate is toting the health benefits of oats and then pulverizing them so thoroughly that they bear no resemblance whatsoever to the whole food they came from.  Oats are very nutritious, and are a whole food, if you eat them minimally processed like rolled or steel cut oats, or if you are really brave, as groats.

     When I'm in the mood for cold cereal, I quickly make my own by pouring a bowl of old fashioned rolled oats and adding some cashews or chopped nuts.  Throw in some sliced fresh fruit and you have a tasty and satisfying meal that has all its fiber and nutrients intact.  Sunflower seeds and wheat germ are a couple more options to add  variety.  

     Eating whole foods doesn't have to be complicated or totally alien to what you are used to, but you do need to be willing to familiarize yourself with what whole foods really are and find ways to make them the mainstay of your diet.  You also have to be willing to spend a little more time chewing.  That, of course, is a good thing.  The extra time chewing signals the brain that you are satisfied.   Also, because whole foods are low in calories in relation to their bulk and are absorbed more slowly because their fiber is intact, you don't get a spike in your blood sugar level that leads to a crash and more hunger which is what occurs when you eat most processed foods.



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