6 reasons to switch to a less processed way of eating.
Here are six reasons we should eat more whole foods, according to nutrition
Phytochemicals. In the past 10 years, scientists have
identified hundreds of biologically active plant-food components called
phytochemicals (or phytonutrients). They include the powerful antioxidant
lycopene, a red-colored carotenoid found mainly in tomatoes; anthocyanins, a
powerful antioxidant that gives deep blue color to berries; and pterostilbene,
which appears to turn on a "switch" in cells that breaks down fat and
cholesterol, and is found in blueberries and the Gamay and Pinot Noir varieties
The only way to make sure you're getting the phytochemicals we know about,
as well as the ones we haven't yet discovered or named, is to eat plant foods
in their whole, unprocessed form (or ground, if they're grains or seeds).
Nutrient shortages. According to national survey results
published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, almost a third of us get too
little vitamin C; almost half get too little vitamin A; more than half get too
little magnesium; and some 92% to 97% get too little fiber and potassium. Yet,
according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), these
particular nutrients help lower the risk of our major health problems: cancer,
heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
What's the easiest way to correct this nutrient shortage? Two words: whole
foods. "Almost all of the shortfalls identified by this survey can be
corrected by eating a balanced, mostly plant-based diet," says AICR
nutrition advisor Karen Collins, RD.
Good fats. When you eat a diet made up mostly of whole
foods, it's easier to decrease the bad-for-you fats (trans fats and saturated
fats) often added to processed foods and fast food. At the same time, it's
easier to emphasize the "good" fats (omega-3s from fish and plants, and
monounsaturated fat from plant sources).
Fiber. Most whole plant foods are rich in fiber; many
processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods are not. Fiber helps your health in
all sorts of ways; keeps the GI tract moving, helps you feel full faster, and
it helps fight heart disease and diabetes.
"Foods are a better way to get fiber than supplements. You get the whole
package," says Martin O. Weickert, MD, of the German Institute of Human
Nutrition. That's because most plant foods have both types of fiber (soluble
Eating fiber-rich foods is linked to control of blood sugar, blood lipids
(fats), and weight in adults, according to researchers from the Georgia
Prevention Institute who recently did a study on whole-grain foods and
abdominal fat in teenagers.
Fewer 'extras.' Whole foods are as nature made them,
without added fat, sugar, or sodium. Eating more whole foods will help you cut
down on calories from the added fats and sugars we get from processed and fast
Whole grains. You might think the benefits of whole grains
have mostly to do with fiber, but there's so much more than that. "Whole
grains are rich in a myriad of vitamins, minerals and phytochemical compounds
that, alone or in combination, are likely to have significant health benefits
that are beyond that from dietary fiber," notes Simin Liu, MD, ScD, a
researcher and professor of epidemiology at the University of California-Los
Want to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and improve your
cholesterol levels? Then switch to whole grains. Whole-grain foods have
recently been linked to lower levels of blood glucose and insulin after meals.
And according to Liu, research consistently supports the premise that eating
more whole-grain foods can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Eating more whole grains may also lead to less visceral adipose tissue – a
type of fat that's deposited between the organs and the abdominal muscles, and
is thought to be particularly unhealthy. A Georgia Prevention Institute study
that measured the abdominal fat and food intake of 460 teenagers concluded that
whole-grain foods may help protect against the accumulation of this type of fat
in some teens.
So just how do you go about getting more whole foods in your diet? Here are
six simple steps to take: