Whole Foods Vs. Processed — What Are We Looking At?

I just spent a week with my daughter in Utah who only eats whole organic foods. I eat so healthy visiting her I generally lose weight on vacation. … How cool is that? I always get inspired to try to do better for myself nutritionally. Whole foods are eaten as they are created – naturally, intact with all their vitamins, minerals and nutrients; processed foods are altered in some way from their natural state with only bits of the natural food remaining after refinement and processing. This processing removes key nutrients, minerals and anti-oxidants from the food and then often adds in not so healthy ingredients.

Unfortunately, most of us consume processed foods as they have been altered from their original state to make them more convenient to store, fix and consume. Processed foods have been transformed from raw ingredients into neatly packaged goods which have a longer shelf life due to preservatives which are added along with artificial ingredients and various chemicals; you know, the words you can’t pronounce on the ingredient list of the label. They also add in an unhealthy amount of salt, sugar and fat. All of this is done to enable us to prepare our meals more quickly and easily, but at a costly loss of nutritional value. A food is likely processed if it is wrapped in several layers of plastic, cardboard, and or foil and it didn’t exist before 1903 when the hydrogenated process was invented.

Whole foods are those which were grown naturally in orchards, gardens or green houses and not altered in any way so they are unprocessed and unrefined, but do have shorter shelf life and do require longer preparation time. Generally, processed foods are found in the middle aisles of the grocery stores and whole foods are found along the walls on the outside aisles.

The consumption of processed and refined foods has contributed significantly to poorer health and the obesity escalation we are experiencing. When it comes to grains, please remember that the writing on the wrapper can be deceiving; you must look at the list of ingredients. Any grain product that begins with “enriched” in the ingredient label is processed. It is not “whole” grain unless it says 100 percent whole grain on the wrapper and “whole grain” on the ingredient list. The nutrient of the grain is locked into the germ and bran of a grain kernel; whole grains provide us with the full nutrient and fiber content whereas during the processing of refining grains the germ and bran are stripped away – leaving only the starchy endosperm which is ground into flour.

So white breads, rice and pasta have little nutrient value and little fiber. I once heard at a conference that eating a slice of white bread is equivalent to eating a tablespoon of white sugar. This is because it is so refined it breaks immediately down into carbohydrate in the body. They do add back in synthetic vitamins and minerals which is why it states “enriched,” but it does nothing to avert the damage. Fiber is vitally important to our body for optimal functioning of the intestinal tract. Because grains are among the highest pesticide contaminated crop in modern agriculture, organic is your best option as well.

Generally it is cheaper to buy whole foods; a bag of brown rice in its whole natural state is more cost effective than a fancy prepackaged rice mix; a chicken is cheaper than buying chicken nuggets; a handful of nuts and cut fruit is cheaper compared to an energy bar. Read the ingredient label; really see what is put in your food.

We cannot continue to eat refined foods and expect to keep healthy. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food. Research whole natural alternatives for your diet, such as with sugar I learned that whole organic coconut sugar is not only natural with nutrients, but is sweet and has a low glycemic index. For the New Year let’s all try to decrease eating so much processed foods and increase our consumption of whole foods.

Please remember to contribute toward your OFA nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable at current levels without the support of participant contributions. Be aware that Food Stamps can be used toward your contribution. I do not want to have to make any further cuts to nutrition services. Thank you for your support.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several congregate dining sites throughout the county along with a restaurant dining out program. Our dietitian, Cheryl Walhstrom, RD is available for nutrition counseling in your home at no cost to you. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information.

Call: 753-4471, 661-7471 or 363-4471.