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What is the Difference between Whole Foods and Processed Foods?

Whole foods are those that are unprocessed or minimally processed foods that either came from a plant or animal such as: vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, meat, chicken, eggs and seafood. To simplify, these are foods that can be found in nature. 

Whole foods contain large amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which make them nutritious. Whole foods provide the body with the fuel it needs without additives or preservatives.

Nutritious foods are the building blocks of a healthy diet. It is better to get your nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements because your body can absorb them better.

Some examples of whole foods are fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, meat, fish, and eggs.

On the other hand, foods that are processed have undergone substantial changes to their natural state. When foods are processed, the essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber have been removed. Some processing methods include bleaching and adding preservatives, artificial flavors, colors, and ingredients that make them taste better. Saturated fats, added sugar, and sodium are examples of these types of ingredients.  Consuming large amounts of these ingredients through processed foods puts you at risk for developing chronic diseases.

It is important to understand that most foods are processed to some degree. Foods that are cook, canned, frozen, packaged, or nutritionally altered are considered to be processed.  Fortified or enriched foods are also considered processed.

What are the Health Benefits of Eating Whole Foods?

Firstly, whole foods retain their nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber. You can lower your risk of developing cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke by eating more whole foods.  You can lower your risk of heart disease by eating more plant based whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts.  Many studies have found a lower cognitive decline including dementia in individuals who eat more fruits and vegetables.

 If you already have any of those diseases, you can better manage them by eating whole foods.  Plant based diets improved blood sugars is in individuals with Type 2 diabetes. The antioxidants and nutrients in whole foods can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Weight loss is another benefit of eating more whole foods. High fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables keep you feeling fuller longer and help to regulate your appetite. Studies have shown that those who eat a diet rich in whole foods consume 500 calories less per day than those who eat primarily processed foods.  Whole foods do not contain added sugar and fat which helps with weight loss and weight management.

Additionally, you can improve the health of your gut by eating a variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. You are more likely to reach your recommended fiber goal too. Individuals who have a high fiber intake are less likely to develop chronic disease, improved digestion, and better gut health.

Lastly, you develop a stronger immune system when you eat whole foods because you are more likely to eat a variety of foods that contain a wide variety of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Whole foods have more antioxidants which fight free radicals, which can damage your body’s cells.

In summary, whole foods are those that are found in nature. They have many health benefits including disease prevention, weight management, support of the immune system.