You may hear the terms whole foods or processed foods thrown around and be unsure of what exactly they are and why whole foods are beneficial. Whole foods are closer to their natural states than more processed foods. Think closer to the farm than the factory; a whole tomato versus ketchup, raw hazelnuts versus nutella, or pork loin versus bologna.
Let’s examine four reasons why whole foods are beneficial:
More fiber and water:
Fiber and water work well in combination because one type of fiber, soluble fiber, soaks up water like a sponge and slows down the digestion of a meal, which helps balance blood sugar levels, delay feelings of hunger, and increase satiety. Most vegetables, fruits, and beans are wonderful whole food sources of fiber and water, and are easy to incorporate into meals such as soups, salads, stir-frys, or smoothies. In the picture above, a pint of strawberries (whole strawberries) and 3 tbsp of strawberry jam (processed strawberries) might have around the same amount of calories, but the pint of fresh strawberries has a lot more fiber and which one do you think would leave you feeling more full?
Minimal processing helps avoid extras such as additives, preservatives, various forms of sugar (sugar/sucrose, syrup varieties, evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, date sugar, etc.), excess sodium, and refined commercial cooking or hydrogenated oils aka trans fats. The granola bar shown above has 3 different forms of sugar listed!
Whole foods contain more naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that contribute to our physical and mental well being. The whole food vs. processed food picture above shows the same caloric amount of red potatoes vs. potato chips. The serving of potatoes are much higher in vitamin C, iron, and potassium, and would be much more filling.
Whole foods can contribute to greater satiety (feeling full) due to their fiber and water content and because for many whole foods, like broccoli, by volume they’re relatively lower in calories. Just look at this comparison between broccoli and veggie sticks. Though they might both contain the same number of calories, the amount of broccoli shown would be extremely filling and significantly easier to stop eating. Some processed foods, like chips, are much easier to continually munch on even after you feel full because processed foods are manufactured that way; combining salt, fats, sugars, and different textures to excite your taste buds and override your brain and stomach.
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Ryan Healy, BS Exercise/Sport Science, CSCS, has been a certified personal trainer for over 13 years and is a Level 2 certified nutrition coach through world-renowned Precision Nutrition. She is passionate about helping people change their lifestyle habits with support, guidance, and compassion along with helping clients train around their injuries so they can move better, feel stronger, and get more of what they want out of life.
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