Eating more whole foods is a fabulous New Year's resolution - there are big benefits. However, eating whole foods exclusively is very difficult, especially in locations where fresh produce and other whole foods are not readily available.
It may come as a surprise that there are benefits to eating certain processed foods, too. Some foods are safer after processing, such as pasteurized milk. And many processed foods are good choices because they're naturally nutrient-rich, for example; rolled oats, yogurt, peanut butter, frozen vegetables, bottled pasta sauce, canned beans, and fruit canned in fruit juice.
What are whole foods?
Foods in their natural form that have not been processed: fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, oats, and other whole grains. (Whole foods such as eggs, seafood, poultry, and meat should be cooked properly to help prevent foodborne illnesses)
What are processed foods?
Processing is anything that's done to a food such as grinding, baking, freezing, canning, bottling, and adding vitamins and minerals. There are many levels of processing: Foods can be minimally processed (e.g frozen fruit) up to highly processed (e.g fruit rollups).
The key is to choose whole foods whenever possible and choose processed foods wisely. When selecting processed food, choose - most often - those that are closest to the whole foods they came from; in other words, those that are minimally processed. Cut back on foods containing trans fat, saturated fat, and/ or large amounts of added sugar or salt.
For example, choose;
Red skin or sweet potatoes instead of French fries or potato chips
Baked or grilled chicken instead of chicken fingers or nuggets
Whole-grain cereal or yogurt topped with fresh fruit instead of a toaster pastry or donut
A smoothie made with yogurt or milk and fresh fruit instead of a fountain drink
More Vitamins and Minerals
Many whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and minimally processed foods such as low-fat/ fat-free dairy products contain significantly more nutrients than many highly processed foods such as cake, cookies, pastries, and soft drinks. Eating a balanced, mostly plant-based diet is the best way to get needed nutrients, including the nutrients that most people don't get enough of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.
Most whole plant-based foods are high in fiber; many processed foods are not. Fiber assists with digestion; helps control blood sugar and cholesterol, and may reduce the risk of several chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grains contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals) - powerful antioxidants that may decrease the risk of many chronic diseases.
When eating mostly whole, plant-based foods, you're more likely to get "good fats" (from foods such as fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds) and less likely to consume too many trans fats.
Less added salt and sugar
Whole foods are naturally low in sodium and don't have added sugars. May processed foods are heavy on these "extras"- check the label.
Improved Weight Management
A study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that an additional daily serving of certain whole foods (yogurt, nuts, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables) was associated with weight loss over a four-year period, whereas an additional daily serving of French fries or potato chips was associated with weight gain.
It's possible that the body uses more calories to digest whole foods than highly processed foods.