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Condition - So what are whole foods?

As nutritionists, we talk about whole foods incessantly! However, what do we really mean?

By Debbie Paddington Dip ION

Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. They are foods that are totally unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as salt, carbohydrates or fat. If a food is tinned or packed with many other ingredients, then it is not a whole food; for example a pear is a whole food but tinned pears are not, and dried apricots are a whole food but an apricot snack bar is not. The term is often confused with organic food, but whole foods are not necessarily organic, nor are organic foods necessarily whole.

Whole foods offer certain benefits, as they are:

High in vitamins and minerals– whole foods tend to contain more vitamins and minerals than refined or processed foods.

High in fibre– whole foods provide an excellent source of dietary fibre. Fibre, as part of a healthy diet, may help prevent certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and it can also help manage constipation. Most refined, processed and fast foods are low in fibre.

High in other important nutrients– whole foods contain other natural substances recognised as important for good health. Fruits and vegetables, for example, contain phytochemicals, which may help protect you against certain diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Many are also good sources of antioxidants, which help to protect the body from free-radical damage.

Free from additives, such as colourings and preservatives –processed and refined foods often contain these substances to help improve shelf life, appearance and texture.

Low in sugar and salt – most processed foods contain high levels of sugar and salt.

High in good fats– whole foods such as oily fish, nuts and seeds contain essential fatty acids, which are beneficial to health and don’t contain bad fats such as trans and saturated fats that are added to processed foods and have been linked to health conditions such as heart disease. 


 Ways to increase whole foods in your diet


  • Increase your intake of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat and fish in a form as close as possible to their natural state


  • Eat whole grains whenever possible. Whole grains, such as wheat, oats, brown rice, barley (but not pearl barley), spelt, kamut, millet, amaranth sprouted grains, buckwheat and quinoa, are whole foods as they are unrefined grains that haven't had their bran and germ removed by milling


  • Avoid refined grains. Refined grains, such as white flour, white rice, white bread and white pasta, are milled, which involves stripping out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fibre


  • Avoid convenience and processed foods, such as cakes, biscuits, crisps, frozen meals and pies


  • Don't forget your beverages. Go for non-sugary options, such as water, mineral water, green tea or fresh fruit juice


  • If you feel your diet is lacking at times, it is a good idea to supplement with a food-form multivitamin and mineral complex

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