What Is A Whole Foods Diet - Getting Started

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What is a whole foods diet?

A whole foods diet is a diet that focuses on unprocessed and unrefined foods.  Most food found in a whole foods diet will have no added sugar, lower sodium and no artificial colors or flavors.  Unpolished grains, fruits, vegetable, unprocessed meats, certain dairy products, nuts, beans and legumes are all a part of a healthy whole food diet.

What is the significance of a whole foods diet?

Eating a diet comprised primarily of whole foods may lead to a reduction in sodium, saturated fat and refined sugar intake.  Additionally, there are no artificial colors or flavorings, which often act as allergens in the body. Whole foods often contain more fiber (good for heart health, feelings of satiety and colon health), nutrients and naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Are all packaged foods unhealthy?

Not all packaged foods are unhealthy.  However, it is important to read the label of any item purchased to ensure that you are choosing the healthiest, least processed option. 

Avoid the following items in packaged foods:

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Sugar (cane juice, evaportated cane juice)
  • Partially hydrogenated oils or mono-/di-glycerides (AKA trans fats)
  • Refined grains (white flour, etc)
  • High sodium levels
  • High saturated fat levels
  • Artificial colors & flavors, avoid “natural flavorings” as well if possible
  • Monosodium glutamate or Autolyzed yeast extract

Whole Foods Diet Basics – Foods to Avoid

  • Fast food
  • Packaged, pre-made entrees (frozen or shelf stable)
  • Canned items with added sodium or sugar
  • Canned soups
  • Some beans (including baked beans) and vegetables
  • Canned fruit (especially if packed in syrup)
  • Most pre-made sauces
  • Most condiments
  • Refined grains: white rice, wheat flour, etc (a grain is refined unless the package states 100% whole grain)
  • White bread (and even wheat bread if the label does not read 100% whole grain)
  • Pastas (whole grain varieties are available)
  • Many corn products such as corn chips and tortillas
  • Most cereals (excluding whole grain oatmeal and porridge)
  • Potatoes and potato products (in excess)
  • Chips
  • Cookies, crackers, pastries, cakes
  • “Fruit snacks”, candy
  • Many yogurts, puddings and jello snacks are high in sugar
  • Sodas, juice with high fructose corn syrup (even 100% juice is very high in sugar), Alcohol
  • Hot dogs, lunch meat and other processed meat foods

Foods to Eat & Enjoy:

A good rule of thumb when starting a whole foods diet is to stick to the periphery of the grocery store.  This includes departments such as produce, meat, seafood, dairy and the bulk section.

It is important to include as many different foods in the diet as possible.

Vegetables:  This should be the primary staple of most diets (not including potatoes and corn which are high in carbohydrates- sweet potatoes have much more fiber and are ok for most people).  Vegetables should be eaten raw and lightly steamed or sautéed.  The following is a list of some of the healthiest choices.

Dark green leafy veggies such as kale, collards, spinach, etc. 

Cruciferous veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower.  Avoid eating raw if you have a known thyroid condition unless you have consulted with a physician first

Onions and garlic (Great for the immune system)

Celery and parsley (Known to aid in lowering blood pressure)

Fruits:  High in antioxidants and vitamins.  Fruit should be consumed at least 2-3 times per day for most people.  Consult with a physician if you have high blood sugar or diabetes.  High sugar fruits include: dried fruits, canned fruits, bananas, figs, plums, grapes.

 Whole Grains:  It is best to limit the intake of processed breads, pastas and cereals as much as possible, however, if these items are purchased, choose 100% whole grain options. Whole grains should comprise no more than 1-3 servings daily.  Whole grains include brown or wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, bulgar or rye. 

Beans & Legumes:  Contain lots of fiber and are usually high in minerals and vitamins.  Healthy beans & legumes include: black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils (green, brown, red, yellow), black eyed peas, etc.

Healthy Fats: Nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetable/nut/seed oils are usually healthy fats.  Even grass-fed or organic butter or ghee used in moderation can be part of a healthy diet.  These items should be included in the diet in moderation.

Fats for sautéing include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Butter
  • Ghee

Fats for dressings or cold recipes include:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Sesame oil

Animal protein:  This can be a healthy part of a whole foods diet.  However, great consideration must be taken when purchasing animal protein.  The ideal animal product is grass fed or pasture raised meat and poultry (organic would be the second choice) and wild caught seafood.  Additionally, it is important to ensure artificial colorings and preservatives such as nitrates are not added to the meat, poultry or seafood item.  

Dairy products:  When possible, choose items with the least processing.  This means no homogenization and preferably no pasteurization.  Additionally, make sure all dairy products are free of antibiotics and growth hormone.  Grass fed dairy items will usually be the best option.  Dairy items are a common food allergy and should be avoided by many.  This should make up a moderate part of the diet.

Eggs: look for pasture raised or free range and organic options

Healthy sweeteners:  Most sugar (including whole cane sugar) should be a very limited part of the diet.  Agave is often processed similarly to high fructose corn syrup and should be avoided.  However, if a sweetener is desired, consider the following options:

  • Stevia: this is a natural sweetener with no calories.  It is sweeter than sugar but can sometimes have a bitter after taste.  It can not easily be used in baking, but recipes for stevia based desserts are available.
  • Honey: higher in carbohydrates then sugar, but less refined and processed.  Use minimally.
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses

Salt:  It is important to have an adequate salt intake to maintain healthy cellular communication.  However, too much refined salt may lead to a mineral imbalance causing hypertension.  Choose a salt that is not refined. The following is a list of brands that have not isolated sodium chloride and retain the other trace minerals important for cell to cell conduction.

  • Real Salt
  • Celtic salt
  • Himalayan Pink Sea Salt
  • Most salts that have a color (grey, black, pink) will contain more minerals