Incorporating more whole foods into your diet is one of the simplest ways to optimise your health and wellbeing. Putting whole-foods centre-stage in your diet and swapping out the processed foods has incredible health benefits. If you are looking for a way to nourish your body, boost your mood, improve energy levels and support your digestive and immune system, a whole-food based diet really will deliver!
So what are whole-foods?
Whole-foods are minimally processed foods, eaten as close to their natural state as possible. The best examples are fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and all forms of whole-grains (rice, pasta, breads). Quality animal protein sources (grass fed, wild, organic and free-range) can also be included. They are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that our bodies need to function well. Some have very high levels of nutrients and antioxidants and they are low in sugar, salt, but a brilliant source of dietary fibre.
Whole vs processed foods
Processed foods are made by adding together multiple ingredients, but can also involve stripping away nutrients. When foods are processed, salt, sugar, refined oils and often additives and flavourings are added to foods to enhance taste, texture and extend shelf life. Processing can also strip away the goodness in a food. White bread is a key example, made by removing the germ and bran from the flour, removing both nutrients and fibre.
When it comes to our health, ultra-processed foods are the most damaging. These are often packaged or convenience foods that have an extensive list of ingredients, many with confusing names. Convenience foods such as ready meals, packaged cakes, processed cheeses, pizzas, processed meats, crisps and snacks fall into this bracket.
Although there are healthier convenience options out there, the only way to know if a product is heavily processed is by reading the label and specifically the ingredients list. Manufacturers use a combination of fats, sugars and additives to make these foods taste amazing, but this is also what makes them highly addictive. If we eat enough of them over time, they can be very damaging to our health.
Please be aware that not all processed foods should be considered a poor choice though. Many foods are processed to some degree, even canned and frozen vegetables and both of these are still brilliant foods to have in our diet.
What is the impact of eating a whole-foods based diet?
There are a host of direct health benefits from swapping more whole-foods into your diet, because these nutrient dense foods are designed to nourish our body from the inside out.
Once you start eating more whole foods and reduce your intake of processed foods, you’ll notice a difference in how you feel, improving energy levels, your digestion and your mood.
Over time, the processed food choices just won’t even sound good to you anymore and if you go back to eating them you'll notice the difference. Some people even notice that their sleep improves with a whole food diet and it really can help with weight loss.
Balancing blood sugars: Eating more whole-foods in place of processed foods should lower your sugar intake, helping to keep your blood sugar from fluctuating and thus energy levels on a more even keel.
It may support weight loss: Processed foods contain a lot of hidden calories in the form of sugar, fats and oils. Eating more whole-foods can help reduce your calorie intake.
Higher fibre intake: Whole-foods support your digestive health, keeping you fuller for longer, nourishing your healthy bacteria and keeping everything moving.
Nutrients-galore: These nutrient-dense foods supply the body with essential vitamins and minerals. e.g. we need a constant supply of water-soluble vitamins (Vitamin C and Bs) from our food as these vitamins are not stored in the body. Vitamin C is vital to support the immune system, whilst B vitamins are crucial for cellular health and energy production.
Antioxidant power: Fruits and vegetables are important sources of phytonutrients (e.g. carotenoids, lycopene and flavonoids) supplying the body with antioxidants that protect it against toxins and free radicals.
Healthy fats: Whole-foods contain important healthy fats with anti-inflammatory benefits. Cutting back on processed foods also means you are cutting back on trans fats, refined oils and saturated fats, supporting your cardiovascular health.
Fewer additives: Whole-foods have fewer additives and toxins in them, which can cause hormonal imbalances and potentially damage cells.
Reduced salt consumption: Whole foods are naturally low in salt, supporting cardiovascular health.
How to include more whole-foods in your diet?
Taking a whole-food approach does not need to be ‘all or nothing.’ Whole-food diets often advocate that you exclude all processed foods from your diet. My advice would be to take a gradual approach. Firstly, many foods have been processed in some way, so it’s not realistic for us to totally exclude everything. Secondly, I know many family households rely on convenience foods. Thirdly, completely excluding things from our diets, only makes us crave them more!
The best approach is to look first at minimising ultra-processed foods. These are often packaged foods that have a long-shelf life and are normally pretty addictive! One way of checking if something is ultra-processed is to check the list of ingredients. You want to choose foods that have as low a number of ingredients as possible. Many of these are highly addictive, but if we eat enough of them, they can be very damaging to our health.
Fruit juice Whole fruit
Sugary cereal No-added sugar muesli/porridge (add your own fruit)
White bread Wholegrain bread
Processed meats Roasted meat
Sweets Fresh or dried fruits
White Rice Brown wholegrain rice
Carbonated drinks Fizzy water with a dash of fruit juice
Cooking sauces Home-made sauces using herbs, spices, tomatoes
There are many other swaps that can be made, but my advice would be to make gradual changes. Start with one or two you know you can get on board with and get used to them. Trying to change too much often makes us crave the foods. Many processed foods are addictive and can be hard to avoid, but it it possible.
As you implement changes, try keeping a food journal, or at least a mental note of how you feel after making swaps. Listen to how your body feels, notice your change in energy levels. Then before you reach for a processed snack or a food with empty calories, ask yourself “What does my body really need right now?” or “What would be a healthy choice that will give me more sustained energy?”
Want to know more? Whole-food is a key principle on all my Nutrition & Lifestyle Packages. If you're keen to make dietary changes, I would love to help you. Check out the packages tab for more info.