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The Benefits of Healthy Whole Foods

What's the difference between whole foods and processed foods?
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Healthy Whole Foods continued...

Usually, the term whole foods is confined to vegetables, fruits, and grains.  But any dietitian will agree that eating a skinless chicken breast is preferable to eating processed chicken nuggets.

One problem with processed food is that, during manufacture, many healthy nutrients are removed.

For instance, "When whole grains are refined, the bran and the coat of the grain are often removed," says Kaiser.  Some nutrients are lost, most significantly fiber.  Then, during the enrichment process, nutrients may be artificially added back in.  But even after enrichment, the final product is likely to be less nutritious than the whole grains you started with.

The Synergy of Healthy Whole Foods

"One of the biggest advantages of eating whole foods is that you're getting the natural synergy of all of these nutrients together," says Gidus.

Gidus points to studies of vitamin E, selenium, and a number of antioxidants.  We know that when they're eaten in food, they have all sorts of health benefits.  But studies of the single vitamins and minerals in supplement form have not shown the same success.  Why? "It could be the natural combination and interaction of all of these different phytochemicals and proteins that give a food its health benefit," Gidus says.  "Trying to extract a single nutrient and take it by itself may not work."

There's another thing.  We simply don't know all of the nutrients in a food that make it healthy.

"Nutrition science is always discovering new components of foods, things that we didn't know are there," says Kaiser.  "Many of them are not even available in supplement form." If we don't know what they are, we obviously can't synthesize them. 

Avoiding Additives in Food

The nutrients lost during refinement are not the only disadvantage of eating processed foods.  What's added can also be a problem. 

A lot of health conscious people are wary of the preservatives and chemicals that are added to processed and manufactured foods.  You know -- the ones with the scary-sounding eight-syllable names.  But in fact, Kaiser says that some of the worst food additives are household words.

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