Whole foods are foods that are very marginally processed or refined if not completely unprocessed and unrefined before intake. These foods are maintained as natural as possible with their original vitamin, mineral and other nutrient content thereby providing maximum nutrition. Harmful additives found in processed foods and additional ingredients such as salt, carbohydrates and fat are not found in whole foods. In fact this is the reason why nutritionists advise their clients to choose whole foods rather than processed foods.
Whole-grain foods have been defined by the United States Food and Drug Administration as “those containing the three key ingredients of cereal grains – the bran (the fibre-filled outer part of the kernel), the endosperm (the inner part and usually all that is left in most processed grains) and the germ (the heart of the grain kernel) of the original grain. In addition, these three ingredients are supposed to be present in the same relative proportion as they are present naturally”. In this way, small amounts of each ingredient cannot be added to highly processed food by the manufacturers and then called whole grain.
Different examples of whole foods:
Whole/unpolished grains: They contain all the edible portions in the natural state and are much healthier than polished or refined grains that lose their bran and germ layers during processing. Whole grains are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre content. The common whole grain foods are whole wheat, shredded wheat, buckwheat, brown rice, wild rice, whole rye, millet, hulled barley, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, popcorn and the exotic amaranth.
Fruits and Vegetables: All fruits and vegetables in their fresh and natural state such as apples, bananas, grapes, mangoes, oranges, carrots, lemons, cucumbers, spinach and tomatoes are all whole foods
Legumes: They are an excellent source of protein and serve as a healthy alternative to meat. They also do not contain cholesterol unlike meat. The common legumes are kidney beans, soya beans, black beans, lima beans, chickpeas, split peas and lentils.
Natural nuts and seeds: They are a good source of healthy fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The common nuts are peanuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios and cashew nuts. The common seeds are sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and linseeds.
Non-homogenized dairy products: They are also a good example of whole foods.
Whole foods are mostly confused with organic food, although they need not necessarily be organic. Likewise, organic foods need not necessarily be considered as whole foods. In general, the more a food is in its natural state, it is considered as a whole food. Foods packed in tins with other ingredients are not whole foods.