The definition of a whole food is a food in its most natural state. These are foods without labels and usually without packaging. An apple is easily recognized but as soon as it is purchased as apple sauce we need to start considering other ingredients and the processing to give it a shelf life.
Whole foods are more easily recognized by the digestive system. We have evolved and adapted to food over time. A whole grain, for example, has three components, the bran, the germ and the endosperm. When complete, a whole grain provides protein, fat, vitamin E, B vitamins, fiber and starch as nourishment. The complexity of the whole grain aids in proper digestion and is more satiating than a refined grain.
A diet that contains mostly whole foods can easily help us control our weight or lose weight depending on our intake. Whole foods are more nutrient dense and therefore fulfill our hunger with less food.
The main reason for food processing and refining is to extend the shelf life of the product. The nutritional value is secondary or even further down the priority list. Processing removes or separates components of whole food so they do not go rancid and can last longer on the supermarket shelf.
In the whole grain example the germ, which contains the healthy oils, protein and B vitamins, is removed. The bran is also separated discarding the healthy fiber leaving behind the starchy endosperm. This product is incomplete and harder to digest. Too much starch is eventually stored as fat. We overeat trying to satiate our vitamin and mineral needs. These nutrient deficient foods result in our own vitamin and mineral deficiencies, conditions and eventually disease.
The result of refining is a reduction in taste. Let’s be honest, fat tastes good! When the perishable fats are removed they are replaced by sugar and many sugar derivatives. Sugar can be disguised as cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, corn sweeteners, fructose, glucose, honey, maple syrup, malt, molasses, rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, date sugar, xylitol, mannitol, sucrose, dextrose and the list goes on.
Sugar contributes to obesity and diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes. It is shocking how many more children are developing this disease, a disease that was once called Adult Onset Diabetes. Whole foods also contain sugar but come packaged with other nutrients and fiber to aid in slower digestion and proper assimilation of the sugars.
There are over 2600 food additives used in food processing and more being developed as you read this article. These additives are used to stabilize, preserve, colour, fortify and flavour foods. Food additives are developed and manufactured by industry to extend shelf life, fortify foods with missing nutrients and to make foods easier to prepare.
Add these chemicals to the list of things not recognized by the digestive system. The long-term effects of food additives are not known. Do they accumulate in the body? What is a safe dose when we know there are over 2600 of them? These unanswered questions are more reason to choose whole foods.
There are more food choices than ever before. Each new product adds confusion to making healthy choices. Reading labels, contemplating serving sizes and pronouncing the names of food additives takes away from the pleasure of food. Whole foods are simple, recognizable, nourishing and should be what fills your grocery cart. With the help of a good cookbook and a little preparation you can improve your health with a simple shift to whole foods.