It always surprises me how little some people know about what they put in their mouths, what they’re fueling their bodies with. What I find even more cringe worthy is when people DON’T CARE what they’re putting into their bodies.
It can be so overwhelming with ‘organic,’ ‘natural,’ 'no high fructose corn syrup,’ etc. plastered all over our food labels. Are any of these actually important? If so, which is most important? I will write more in depth posts about these topics in the future, but for now I just want to focus on basic information about fuel sources.
Whole foods. Perhaps you’ve read or heard about eating 'whole foods.’ The phrase 'whole foods’ refers to foods that have not been processed. Now there are different degrees of processed food, so this can be tricky.
A minimally processed whole food is a food you pick off a tree/bush/plant or out of the ground or a food that has only been processed enough to preserve its freshness (i.e. pasteurization of milk, flash freezing fruits/vegetables). Examples include: apples, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, beets, oranges, nuts, legumes, meat, milk, etc. These foods are typically found around the perimeter of the grocery store, and they are the foods you want to choose as your first options. Minimally processed foods often become further processed once you get them home and start cooking with them, so it is of course best to eat them in their minimally processed state when possible.
The second degree of food processing refers to processed food ingredients that are not eaten alone (usually) but rather are ingredients (as previously stated) of prepared foods. Examples include vegetable oil, margarine, and artificial sweeteners.
Highly processed foods are foods made from a combination of minimally processed foods and processed food ingredients. These foods, as well as processed food ingredients, are typically found in the center isles, frozen section, and the bakery section of grocery stores. Examples of highly processed foods include frozen pizzas and TV dinners, cookies, crackers, bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, hot dogs, lunch meats, and the list goes on and on and on.
Eating more minimally processed foods and fewer processed food ingredients and highly processed foods will provide more substantial nutrition by supplying more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fewer calories. Making any drastic change in your life can be hard, and this includes your eating habits. If you typically eat mostly highly processed foods, I would advise a gradual increase in whole food consumption so as not to get discouraged. Some first steps could be eating an apple instead of applesauce or canned fruit, slicing a whole chicken to use for sandwiches rather than buying lunch meat or hot dogs, and having a handful of nuts for a snack instead of a granola bar.
There are a lot of things to take into consideration when planning a healthy menu, but one easy, surefire way to get more nutrients and fewer calories is to choose whole foods. So my challenge to you today is to swap one highly processed food you were planning to eat today with a whole food!
Think positive, stay active, and smile. -A