Healthy food selection of fruit vegetables and grains

by Sabra Leomo, RD

What do you think of when I ask about whole foods? The whole foods that I am referring to are foods that are in their natural state with little or no processing and no artificial ingredients. Like many things, food falls on a spectrum. At one end you have the healthiest options such as whole foods and at the other end are highly processed foods. Let’s take a look at what types of foods fall along the spectrum and how to find balance along the way.

Whole foods retain their natural state and have little or no processing. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great examples of whole foods. Whole foods tend to be nutrient-dense which means they are filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber and don’t have added sugar, sodium or unhealthy fats such as trans-fat.

Tip: When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store and focus on filling your cart with mainly whole foods.

What if I told you not all processed foods are bad? Minimal processing like washing, cutting, freezing, or even cooking can be helpful and healthy.  Processing can come in the form of buying a salad that is pre-washed, canned beans, frozen fruit, or even whole grain bread.

Tip: Checking the ingredient label is a great habit to establish. If you flip over a packaged food item and see a long ingredient list with hard-to-pronounce names, it may be better to find another option that is less processed. Minimally processed foods are still on the healthy end of the spectrum and can provide healthy options for our busy lives.

At the far end of the spectrum are highly processed foods. Highly processed foods are far from their natural state and often have sugar, unhealthy fats, sodium, and preservatives added to extend their shelf life. They are energy-dense (lots of calories) but not nutrient-dense and can lead to obesity and chronic disease over time.

How do we find balance along the spectrum of food? The next time you are grocery shopping pay attention to the foods that you are purchasing and the level of processing. Focus on buying mainly whole and minimally processed foods on a regular basis while decreasing your intake of highly processed foods.