From horror stories and documentary series, we have all heard about the different ways food is prepared and stored for supermarkets and restaurants. So it’s no secret that when it comes to whole foods vs processed foods, it’s whole foods that are healthier for us. But what is the differences between the two and what should we really be looking for when we do our weekly food shops?
Processed foods are energy dense, which are high calorie products that provide little value to our bodies. Food companies tend to add additional sugars, preservatives, dyes, saturated and trans fats, which make processed foods more tasty and appealing. They are manufactured to extend their shelf lives and to be prepared quickly, which means all their nutritional value is removed. Think of pizzas, pastry, breads, cakes and sugary drinks; they affect our bodies by increasing the levels of harmful cholesterol, lead to insulin resistance and high triglycerides, and increase build-up in the liver and abdominals.
Whole foods are ideally considered to be foods that have one ingredient. These tend to be foods like corn on the cob, apples, chicken, cucumbers, etc. The main reason why experts tell us that whole foods are better for us than processed foods, is because whole foods are more nutrient dense. This provides the body with nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals with low added sugar and fat. They can also help the body to reduce cholesterol and diabetes, maintain weight and regulate blood sugars.
It’s crystal clear that we should aim for whole foods over processed foods any day. However, processed foods can be a part of a balanced diet too. They can be beneficial to our diets as some milk and juices add calcium and vitamin D, and cereal may have added fibre. The idea with these types of processed foods allows busy people to eat more fruit and veg. But beware of hidden sugars, sodium and fat, which can be added to breads, pasta sauces, fruit, and canned beans; always read the labels for hidden nasties
So when you next pop to the supermarket for your weekly food shop, you should know what to look for…
Fruit and vegetables are the most important aspect of our diets. You should learn to avoid juices, canned fruits, fruit snacks, chips and salted/seasoned nuts as they are all processed. Instead, aim for fresh or frozen fruit and veg or unsalted nuts to get your full range of nutrients.
Meat is another important part of our diets as it is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. As tempting as bacon, sausages, chicken nuggets, fish fingers, and hot dogs may be, they are all processed. Whole meats include fresh lean meat products, fresh fish or shellfish and eggs.
Dairy is a good source of energy and protein, as well as including vitamins, minerals and calcium. When it comes to dairy, it’s tricky as almost all dairy has been processed in some form or other. Milk and eggs are the best forms of dairy but the debate goes on about the health benefits of whole vs. semi vs. skimmed milk. As for cheese, Swiss, Gouda, Parmesan, Provolone and some cheddars are available unprocessed. This is perhaps the category of food we need to pay most attention to when shopping- check the labels as it’ll state whether the item has been processed or not.
To get the most out of whole foods and to incorporate them into your daily routine, you should follow our few simple rules:
- Buy seasonal foods from your local farmer’s market.
- Avoid supermarket aisles and take time to shop around the fresh food area.
- Check the labels for an indication on whether the food item has been processed and look out for chemicals (especially in ‘low fat’ categorised foods’). If there are a lot of obscure names and details- it’s been processed.
- Fill half your plate with fruit and veg.
- Try growing your own.