You may have heard the term “whole foods” and wondered what this means. In a nutshell, it means foods or dishes that contain no additives, preservatives, food colorings, sweeteners or other items that don’t naturally occur in the foods. Another definition is that whole foods are unprocessed and unrefined.
For example, if you juice an apple, you get 100% pure apple juice. This may not be as sweet as you are used to, depending on the apples you use. If you buy apple juice in the grocery store, the bottle may contain only 10% apple juice, or has artificial sweetener, food coloring or other additives.
Don’t be confused if you see frozen dinners, pizzas and ice cream in a store that sells only whole foods. The foods in those frozen items have no additives.
Whole Foods vs. Organics
Not all organic foods are whole foods, and vice versa. Organic means the food was grown naturally, without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, or that the dairy products came from animals not feed hormones or other chemicals. If you take an organically grown fruit, like cranberries (which are very bitter), and make an artificially sweetened cranberry drink from them, you get a drink that is not a whole food.
Part of the confusion about “bad carbs” comes from the fact that many common carbohydrates we eat are refined, such as breads and pastas made from white flour or white rice. When you read that most of your diet should come from carbohydrates, most of the grains you eat should come from whole, not refined grains. Fruits and vegetables should make up the rest of your carbs.
The recent “raw foods” movement also promotes only natural foods, primarily unheated beyond a certain temperature. A raw food diet doesn’t just mean foods aren’t cooked. Some rawists exclude even raw vegetables that are canned or frozen, because they believe the packaging process alters the vegetables.
Not all foods are better for you raw—some, like kidney beans, can be toxic if you eat them raw. Heating certain foods even helps with nutrient absorption, according to a study of vegetables by Rutgers University. In 48 vegetables tested, 37 provided better iron absorption into the body when heated.