What are whole foods and why should I eat them?

Dominique Adair
Whole foods are those that have undergone no, or minimal processing. The wonderful feature of healthy whole foods (that is not always duplicated in supplements) is that they often come in “combo platters.”  Take the much lauded blueberry, now famous for the powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins (the pigment that makes blueberries dark blue is also a health promoting, disease fighting compound). But blueberries also contain a nice dose of fiber, which may lower your risk for GI cancers and heart disease. Blueberries also contain a compound called epicatechin which may help prevent urinary tract infections. Blueberries are also a good source of vitamin A, C, and folate (a B vitamin) as well as the mineral potassium -- all in one little berry! 

You might have to take quite a few different supplements to get all the benefits of this food, and many other whole foods. Plus, food provides energy and tastes good!  While scientists are still exploring the health benefits of whole foods, studies of populations (called “epidemiological studies”) show that people who eat lots of whole foods are healthier.
Whole foods are foods that have not gone under any extreme process to retain their true nutrients. Why people should eat whole foods is to get the best nutrients that the body can easily absorb. So as in other products that have been packaged they lose some of the nutrients and enzymes that help the body break them down to use for energy. To really think about it your plate should be at least 50% whole or raw food as possible. Unfortunately most people don't even come close to this. So bottom line eating whole foods will giving you the nutrients your body needs and more of it.
A whole food is a plant or animal product that remains as close as possible to its natural state. It is unprocessed, unrefined, and generally contains greater nutritional value than its factory-made alternatives. For instance, a piece of fresh fruit offers fiber that is missing from fruit juice or sugary fruit drinks. Real cheddar is a great source of calcium without the additives and colorings of processed American cheese.

Whole foods are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that works together with sodium to maintain balanced fluid levels in our cells. To do this properly, our bodies must always have anywhere from two to six times as much potassium as sodium (experts disagree on the precise ratio). All fresh fruits and vegetables contain high levels of potassium. Because it is found abundantly in almost all whole foods, our bodies have evolved to easily process and excrete potassium.

Sodium, on the other hand, is hard to come by in whole foods (have you ever eaten a salty apple?). As a result, our bodies have evolved to hoard sodium. Food processing almost always increases sodium and decreases potassium. Thus, a diet heavy in processed foods can threaten our sodium/potassium balance, which can lead to high blood pressure, edema, kidney disease, and low energy.
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Margaret Floyd
Nutrition & Dietetics
A whole food means that the food is as close to its original form as possible. A great example of this is rice. Whole-grain rice or brown rice is rice that has all its parts. These include the bran, the most nutrient-rich part of the grain that contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals; the germ, which contains antioxidants and vitamins; and the endosperm, which provides energy through carbohydrates and proteins. White rice is rice that has the bran and germ removed, thus removing key components of the grain and much of its nutritional value.
Alejandro Junger, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Whole foods are foods as you would find them in nature, without any processing or chemical additives. In this video, cardiologist Alejandro Junger, MD, discusses why eating whole foods that are completely natural contributes greatly to good health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.