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The Benefits of Healthy Whole Foods

What's the difference between whole foods and processed foods?
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Avoiding Additives in Food continued...

"I think the most worrisome additives are not the preservatives," says Kaiser.  "It's the salt, sugar, and saturated and trans fats." While there's been a lot of attention paid to the risks of trans fats in recent years, Kaiser thinks salt is gravely underestimated.

"As a country, we eat way too much salt," she tells WebMD, and observes that it's closely associated with high blood pressure and numerous other health problems.

With all of the extra fat and sugar in processed foods, the calories can quickly add up.  That leads to weight gain.  But eating more healthy whole foods may actually help you maintain or lose weight.  The natural fiber in many vegetables, fruits, and grains may fill you up without adding many calories, Gidus says.

The Cost of Whole Foods

There's another bonus to eating healthy whole foods.  Although the name may now be synonymous with that fancy grocery store, whole foods are much cheaper than processed foods.  They're also available everywhere.

"Generally, the more processed things are, the higher the cost," says Kaiser.  "A bag of healthy brown rice is going to be cheaper than a fancy prepackaged rice mix."

Of course, there may be a different cost to eating healthy whole foods: the preparation time.  It's hard to deny that popping a processed sandwich pocket in the microwave for three minutes is easier than cooking a proper meal with whole-food ingredients.

But Gidus stresses that you don't need to cut out all processed foods.  The goal is just to decrease the number of processed foods you eat and increase the proportion of healthy whole foods. That isn't hard, especially when it comes to snacks.  The next time need something to tide you over, eat a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit instead.  It's no harder than reaching for an energy bar -- you'll even be spared the labor of unwrapping it.

The other key to a healthy diet is variety.  It's easy to get caught up in the details -- the nutritional value of specific healthy whole foods, and exactly how much you need of each.  But Gidus and Kaiser say the best advice is to relax and just eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  Not only is it simple, but it's the best way to be sure you're getting all the nutrients you need.

"After some research into this, my husband decided that the smartest thing he could do was eat as many fruits and vegetables as he could stand every day," says Kaiser.  "That's not very scientific, but it isn't bad advice."

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Reviewed on May 12, 2009

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