I really call my diet a wholefoods plant based diet. I believe that a plant based diet is not enough, because it means I could be eating Oreos and vegan junk (yep, there is vegan junk food too!) all day long and still call myself plant based. The wholefoods aspect is definitely essential here.
But why should we eat whole foods in the first place and what are they? Whole foods are unprocessed food. Whenever we change a food from its natural state to a different state we call that processing. If we alternate a food’s original state by adding heat or water to it, by chopping it up, by putting it in a food processor, by adding sugar, salt or other additives we process that food. Now it’s important to note that there is a distinction between heavily processed foods and more lightly processed foods.
Heavily processed vs lightly processed
Processing foods per se is not something bad. Humans evolved and learned more skills that helped them to survive longer and grow older. Being able to cook, dry or can certain foods in order to preserve them is a fantastic part of human evolution. Lightly processed foods such as nut butters, jams, canned foods, home baked goods, frozen fruit and veggies are all wonderful. The act of processing them adds different flavors and textures to the foods and that makes eating exciting. It also permits us to preserve them for a longer time and it reduces waste. The issue lies in the more heavily processed foods, especially the industrially produced ones. I am talking about ‘foods’ that are so far away from their original state that you barely recognize what they once used to be. Examples would be so called ‘health’ bars that contain tons of added sugar and unidentifiable ingredients. Or processed sweets, snacks, frozen ready made meals, certain instant soups, highly processed breads and baked goods and the list goes on.
How do I shop for unprocessed foods?
Another way to identify highly processed foods is when you look at the ingredient list: does it contain more than 5 items? Are there a lot of ingredients that you have never heard of? Is there a lot of added fat and sugar? Then just stay away from it. These types of foods are not real foods. They have been robbed of their nutritional value or they never had any. Hence your body does not need them nor will it know what to do with all those weird things.
Whole foods are fruit and veggies, grains and nuts and spices that you can mostly find on the outer aisle of your grocery store or at the farmers market. You can often eat them as is or you cook them or lightly process them. For example, you can make your own granola bars out of dried fruit and nuts. Technically it’s a processed food but a) you made it at home so you know exactly what is in it and b) you did not add any ‘bad’ ingredients such as processed fats or sugars. The reason why these foods are better for you is because their nutrition value is preserved. They still contain vitamins, minerals, healthy carbs and fats that your body will be thankful for and that it can useful as real fuel.
Eat the real stuff!
My mantra is to eat foods in their most natural state. That does not mean that I don’t ever eat bread for example. But there is a difference between a fresh baguette from your local bakery and a highly processed cubed sandwich bread that you can find in the grocery store. The baguette probably has two ingredients (flour, which is ground up grain and water) whereas the cubed ‘bread’ probably contains a lot of added things such as artificial colors or added sugar or preservatives. You don’t need all of that stuff as it does not add any value to your diet so just go with the real stuff!