how to eat wholefoods
Eating wholefoods is easier than you might think. You don’t need to throw out your pantry, stock up on chickpeas or join a health food co-op to benefit from a wholefood diet.
Wholefoods mean different things to different people: it encompasses diets like raw, organic, paleo, nourishing traditions and vegetarian or vegan diets (plus many more) but anyone can eat a wholefood diet without adhering to a restricted diet.
In its more broad sense, a wholefoods diet comprises mostly of unprocessed / unrefined or minimally processed foods. Compare for instance, an apple to a fruit ‘roll-up’. It is this definition of wholefoods that I will be focusing on in this article.
In its more broad sense, a wholefoods diet comprises mostly of unprocessed / unrefined or minimally processed foods.
benefits of a wholefood diet
While there may be some debate over whether organic foods are healthier than conventionally grown food, there’s no question that wholefoods are healthier than highly processed foods, particularly those that have been structurally altered or include artificial additives. If we are what we eat, than eating healthy foods leads to a healthy body and a healthy life.
Secondly, a wholefood diet will save you money. Homemade potato chips for instance, are much cheaper than oven-ready, frozen chips. They also taste better, are healthier and don’t take that much longer to prepare – that’s a win win all round. But more importantly, because wholefoods better provide the necessary nutrients for a thriving lifestyle, they offer better value for money.
Wholefoods can also be better for the environment. Self grown or locally grown, organic foods in season usually have the least environmental impact. Foods that have less processing also consume less energy to get from farm to plate. And if you buy foods with less packaging, not only does that mean less energy needed to produce the packaging in the first place, it also means less waste after purchase.
so what are wholefoods?
At it’s most basic, a wholefood diet consists mostly of fruit, vegetables and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, oils and fats like cold-pressed olive oil, herbs and spices, and meat, fish, eggs and dairy if you’re not vegetarian or vegan.
Sweet stuff like honey, maple syrup, cocoa (and dark chocolate), and yes, even sugar form part of the wholefood diet, although you will probably want to reduce sugar consumption for health reasons (whole cane sugar like rapadura or sucanat (brand name) is a lot less processed than white sugar). Unrefined salt is also considered a wholefood.
From this list you make personal choices based on taste and preferences, health, allergies, budget, availability and personal ethics. The idea is to choose the least processed foods that are practical for you.
I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule: eat mostly wholefoods – around 80% of the time. It’s a rule that works well for us. That means we don’t worry too much about what we eat at birthday parties, as guests at other peoples’ houses or on the occasional takeaway pizza days. For the rest, we focus on healthy wholefoods.
where do you buy wholefoods?
Because wholefoods are simply minimally processed or unrefined foods, you don’t need to shop at specialty stores or buy specialty products to eat a wholefood diet. Simply buying fresh produce (and frozen produce counts too!) at your local supermarket, cooking from scratch and avoiding the more heavily processed, convenience foods means that you are eating a wholefood diet.
Outside the supermarket, your local greengrocer and butcher are a great place to buy fresh produce. And while supermarkets now stock many ‘alternate’ grains, you can also buy these in bulk from your local health food store or co-op, along with your more specialty items.
One of the best places to find fresh produce, is at your local farmer’s markets or direct from the farm. These foods are produced locally, and buying locally is one of the best ways to lower the environmental impact of the food you eat. They are often cost effective places to shop as well.
If you want to take your wholefood journey a step further, you can find wholefood and organic sellers in your local area by looking through the Yellow Pages or you you could keep your eye on the new Local Harvest website.
understanding food processing
While the standard definition of eating wholefoods is eating unprocessed or minimally processed foods, what exactly does that mean?
The truth is that humans have been processing food in some way for almost as long as we’ve been eating. Cooking, for instance, is a way of processing food to make it more palatable. And unless you’re a strictly raw food eater, then much of what you eat will be cooked – and it’s still wholefood. Other forms of ‘wholefood’ food processing include soaking, cold storage and freezing, canning/preserving, curing, drying or fermenting. These food processing techniques stem from the need make food more digestible or to preserve food for months of scarcity.
switching to a wholefoods diet
If you currently eat a lot of processed foods, consider the change to wholefoods a journey rather than a destination.
Start small and make one change at a time – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You might start by simply switching from buying white bread to buying wholemeal bread, for instance. If you like, you can take this further at a later date by making your own bread. Or not. It’s all about eating the least processed food that is practical for you and your circumstances.
As part of the process, a menu plan is useful for planning meals that are based more on vegetables, legumes, wholegrains etc.. Of you might start by substituting highly processed snacks for less processed snacks.
Next time you need go shopping, buy brown rice rather than white. Or wholemeal flour or whole sugar rather white flour and sugar.
The key is to look at your diet, one item or meal at a time and slowly choose to replace processed foods with less processed foods, taking things a step further as suits you and your family.
For recipe ideas on wholefood meals, check out your local library cookbook section, the recipe section on this site or the many recipe sites on the internet.
Finding time to prepare wholefoods
One of the main reasons why people eat processed foods is convenience – it does usually take longer to cook food from scratch than to say, throw something in the microwave. While there are things that you can do to minimise the time you spend in the kitchen, eating a mostly wholefood diet is about accepting that it will involve a little more cooking time but the health and environmental benefits make it worth it.
So, back to minimising time in the kitchen. How do you do it? Here are some tips for eating wholefoods without spending all day in the kitchen:
- Use a menu plan to prepare ahead of time.
- Bulk cook and freeze leftovers (this can mean cooking up a casserole and freezing it for later or bulk cooking some dried beans or stock and freezing these in batches for later).
- Use a slow cooker.
- Eat meals that can be assembled rather than cooked (think salad).
- Cook quick meals on busy nights – think pasta with veg in a quick cream sauce for instance. And don’t forget, meat and three veg are wholefoods and are quick and easy to prepare.
- Organise your kitchen and workflow it maximise efficiency.
- Prepare or cook more than one meal at once so that you have less work to do on busy days.
Eating wholefoods is as easy as choosing fresh produce over pre-packaged convenience foods or less processed items over their more processed counterparts. You don’t need to spend a lot of money (in fact it will save you money) or buy specialty foods or source specialty stores (although it’s fun to explore new foods that you don’t find in a conventional supermarket). If you don’t eat a predominantly wholefood diet now, switching will give you more energy, vitality and health, which is what being frugal and thriving is all about.