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What is "Whole Food" Nutrition?

Updated: Feb 13


A whole food diet emphasizes eating whole, unprocessed foods instead of highly processed snacks and supplements. 


The diet - which you may also see as the WFPB, or Whole-Food Plant-Based diet - is really more of a philosophy or approach to nutrition rather than a strict diet.  I like to think of it as a non-diet diet.


A vegetable stand at night
A whole food approach is plant-heavy, though doesn't cut out animal products

The approach places importance on eating foods as close to their natural state as possible - though cooking and basic preparation is allowed.


The whole foods diet is similar to the MIND and flexitarian diets in that the focus is on eating whole, nutritious foods rather than cutting out specific foods or food groups.


Some examples of “whole foods” may include:


  • Rice, barley, oats and other whole grains 

  • Vegetables like broccoli, carrots, corn, and cabbage

  • Minimally processed meats like chicken, salmon, pork, or beef

  • Natural cheese -like cheddar or mozzarella, yogurt, milk, and eggs

  • Fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, and berries

  • Nuts and legumes, like almond, peas, and beans

  • Unsweetened coffee or tea and sparkling or seltzer waters


What foods might not be considered “whole”?


  • Luncheon meats and other processed meats like bacon, ham, sausage, or hotdogs

  • Processed cheese products like American cheese or cheese dip

  • Processed bread products like bagels, cinnamon rolls, and sandwich bread

  • Snacks like pretzels, crackers, and potato chips

  • Baked goods like cookies, cakes, and brownies

  • Sodas, juice, and other sweetened beverages


What are the benefits of following a whole food diet?


The nature of the whole food approach means that a person on the diet will almost certainly decrease their intake of processed foods and animal products and increase their intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.


This plant-heavy approach has been linked to:


  • Improved cardiovascular health including decreased blood pressure and serum lipids1

  • Improved blood sugar control2

  • Weight loss in overweight or obese subjects3

  • Improvement in GI symptoms like chronic constipation4

  • Improvement in symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease4

  • Improvement in symptoms of other inflammatory disease states like arthritis2


Concerns with a whole food diet


While, a whole food diet is certainly a healthy diet. Many fear that the diet will be too expensive or that the meals will be too time consuming to prepare.


But, they don't have to be. Beans and peas are affordable and can be cooked all day in a crock pot for peas and rice or chili. Leftovers from a roast can be used for vegetable beef soup. There are many options for delicious, afforable meals with whole foods.


A cooked beef roast with vegetables
Leftover roast can be used on sandwiches or added to soups for a quick and easy whole food dinner


Whole food eating for beginners


You can start a whole food diet without a lot of fuss by simply focusing on buying foods with short - or preferably non-existant - ingredients lists.


Does a bell pepper have an ingredients list? No. Of course not. Because it’s just a bell pepper. If it doesn’t have an ingredients list at all - that’s generally a good sign. 


Even when shopping for items that are minimally processed - like nuts, cheese, or grains - look for ones that have few to no additives like sugar, salt, or fat.


Remember to start with small, realistic changes.


If you’re a big snack eater, replace the potato chips with cocktail peanuts. They’re rich in healthy fats, lower in sodium than potato chips, and 1 serving has 7 grams of protein.


If you run short on time to cook meals during the week, plan to cook a meal or two on the weekend that can last into the week. A pot of chili can be a filling weekend meal and can be frozen to eat again during the week on a baked potato with some cheddar cheese.


If you find yourself grabbing lunch out because you don’t have time to prep it in the morning, try throwing together a snack box the night before. A couple of boiled eggs, a no-sugar added applesauce cup, and a handful of almonds make a delicious and quick lunch


If you’re a sandwich person, that’s fine. Instead of giving up the bread, try making your own lunch meat. Season and roast a turkey breast for dinner Sunday night and the leftovers will make amazing lunches all week long without the extra sodium and additives that deli meat has.


What's stopping you?


Following a whole food, plant based diet can be a delicious way to take control of your own health by incorporating more of the foods that you love instead of depriving yourself by cutting out whole food groups. 


So, what's stopping you from taking the first step toward a whole food diet?


Comments


Brandy Winfree, RDN smiling at the camera.

I'm Brandy Winfree, RDN.

When I was working in dialysis, I saw so many patients who had no idea that diet plays a HUGE role in kidney health.

I decided then that I needed to pass my knowledge onto people with kidney disease BEFORE they went into kidney failure. Not after.

That's why I became a board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition and why I started this blog. 

You deserve to take care of the kidneys that you have now and I want to share my knowledge with you to make that happen.

Are they any topics that you'd like to hear my thoughts on?

Shoot me a message here.

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