Whole foods are those foods that remain closer to their natural state. They don’t have flavorings, starches, added sugars, or other processed ingredients. They aren’t primarily processed, in that regard; they are the exact opposite of manufactured or processed foods. Since they aren’t processed, they aren’t manipulated in any way to be addictive, as it’s the case with various foods containing added sugars.[i] Choosing whole foods will often result in a more nutritious diet, which is naturally high in minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Whole foods diet isn’t a specific eating plan tied to an expert or book. It might be referred to as eating clean, even though this could imply value judgment that whole foods diet don’t necessarily have. A whole30 diet might sound similar, but it’s temporary and quite restrictive. Close comparisons to the whole foods diet are the TLC diet and the flexitarian diet, which are balanced and healthy eating plans.
A whole food diet is more of a way of life than a temporary diet. This is because lifestyle emphasizes natural foods. People switching from the American diet high in saturated fats and processed fats to whole foods diet might lose weight and improve their health.
What You Can Eat?
The whole foods diet isn’t a specific diet plan and might be interpreted differently by different people. Technically, the main idea is to favor whole foods as much as possible: eat potatoes, not potato chips; eat grilled chicken breasts rather than chicken nuggets, etc.
When buying foods from a butcher, seafood counters, or produce department, you should read labels and seek artificial ingredients, additives, and preservatives. These foods should be avoided. Although the range of things that you can consume on the whole foods diet is quite extensive – beans, nuts, vegetables, fruit, grains, cheese, meat, and more, there are a few types of foods that you should not take.
For example, most ready-to-eat foods like candy, baked goods, soda, and frozen meals might be filled with artificial ingredients, like flavorings, preservatives, and colorings. You will also want to avoid foods containing sweeteners. Anything that includes added sugars isn’t a whole food.
Another area that is still not clear in the whole foods diet is poultry and meat, which often contain hormones and antibiotics. Some people might choose organic animal products or keep off. However, it’s entirely up to you to make the right decision.
Vegetables And Fruits
In the original state, vegetables and fruits are whole foods. Canned or frozen vegetables and fruits without additives like sweetened water also retain nutritional value. However, vegetable chips, fruits, and fruit roll-ups aren’t whole foods. The corn on a cob is great food, whereas corn flakes or any food containing high fructose corn syrup isn’t.
Milk And Other Dairy Products
Cow or goat milk is a whole food, even though some food experts might argue that only unpasteurized milk is whole. Take note that processed cheese isn’t a whole food. Regular yogurt and cheese are minimally processed, with manufacturing mainly caused by molds, bacteria, and more.
Minimally Processed Foods
Minimally processed foods refer to foods, which are pre-packaged for additional convenience, including sliced fruits, washed salad greens, and much more. It might also include frozen and canned items, as long as these do not have additives like salt or sugar. Also, it’s important to note that some of the food additives are added to the diet for nutritional benefits, like vitamin D and calcium added to the freshly squeezed orange juice.
What Not To Eat
Following are some of the foods you should not eat when following the whole foods diet.
Barley, quinoa, and brown rice are whole foods. Products include processed grains or refined carbohydrates like brown rice syrup, puffed rice, or anything that’s made with white flour. Grinding the grains into extra flour makes them glycemic and removes the resistant starch.
Ready To Eat Foods
This might be anything from potato chips to jarred pasta sauce to deli meat and cookies, foods that are prepared in a factory or commercial kitchen and delivered to a convenience store or supermarket shelf. People following the whole foods diet often prepare their meals from home.
Does It Aid Weight Loss?
Obesity is an issue, especially in the United States. Technically, more than 69% of adults in the United States are obese or overweight. Luckily, making lifestyle changes and dietary changes can help facilitate weight loss and having some long-term impact on your health. Most researchers have found that plant-based diets help in weight loss.
In essence, the whole fiber diet has high fiber content and the exclusion of manufactured foods is a great winning combination for those looking to lose weight. A systematic review of 12 studies, which included over 1,100 people, found that people following the plant-based diets lost more weight, approximately 4.5 pounds in 18 weeks, than those following the non-vegetarian diet.
Adopting a healthier plant-based eating pattern might help avoid gaining weight in the long term. Another study involving 65 obese and overweight adults found that people assigned to the whole foods diet lost more weight than those who didn’t follow this eating plan and could sustain the lost weight of 9.25 pounds over one year.
Moreover, cutting off processed foods that are not allowed on the whole foods diet, such as refined grains, fast food, candy, and soda, is a powerful tool.
What Are The Rules Of The Whole Foods Diet?
So, how do you get more whole foods in your meals? Following are the rules you should follow while on this diet.
- Eat products with whole grains when possible.
- Eat many fresh fruits and vegetables, and include them in nearly every snack and meal.
- Include more beans in your snacks and meals regularly. They are a good source of phytochemicals, fiber, and plant protein.
- Eat less processed and convenience foods. They are usually loaded with added additives, salt, sugar, and fat.
- Do not forget the beverages. Instead, go for the options without sugars like soymilk, skim, fresh fruit juice, green tea (hot or iced), mineral water, and water.
- Avoid processed animal products like beef jerky, sausage, lunchmeats, and bacon.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Equal.
- Avoid convenience and packaged foods like frozen dinners, cereal bars, crackers, and chips.
- Avoid refined grains such as bagels, white bread, white pasta, and white rice.
- Avoid sweets and sugars like sugary cereals, sweet tea, candy, cookies, pastries, juice, soda, and table sugar.
- Avoid fast food like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and French fries.
Potential Health Benefits
Adopting to the whole foods diet, plant-based diets don’t just help you lose weight, but it can also reduce your risks of chronic diseases.[ii] Following are some of the health benefits you can expect from the whole foods diet.
Promoting heart health is by far one of the most well-known benefits of following the whole foods diet. Nevertheless, the types and quality of foods included in this diet matter. A study involving more than 200,000 people who followed plant-based diets rich in nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people who followed other diets.[iii]
Research shows that people following a plant-based diet have reduced risks of cancer. A study that involved more than 69,000 people found those that followed the vegetarian diets had reduced risks of gastrointestinal cancer, particularly people that followed the Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diet.[iv]
Prevents Cognitive Decline
Research shows that diet plans rich in fruits and vegetables might help prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline in old adults. Plant-based diets containing more antioxidants and plant substances have been found to reverse cognitive deficits and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.[v]
Sample Shopping List
It isn’t always easy to state the main difference between whole foods and foods which are somehow processed. You have most likely heard about the notion that shopping in the rear end of the grocery store helps people find the least processed foods. Also, you can look for slightly processed products in the natural foods aisle of the supermarket.
The shopping list below offers more recommendations to get started in the whole foods diet. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exclusive shopping list, and you might find other diets or foods, which fit your tastes and preferences.
- Whole grains – Barley, brown rice pasta, quinoa, farro, rolled oats, brown rice
- Starchy vegetables – Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes
- Vegetables – Peppers, asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, spinach, and kale
- Fruits – Bananas, pineapple, peaches, pears, citrus fruits, and berries
- Condiments – Lemon juice, vinegar, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, mustard, salsa
- Seasonings, herbs, and spices – Cashew milk, almond milk, coconut milk.
- Nut butter, nuts, and seeds – Tahini, natural peanut butter, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, cashews, and almonds
- Legumes – Black beans, peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, peas
- Healthy fats – Unsweetened coconut, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados.
If you want to supplement the whole foods diet with more animal products, pick quality products from the local farms or grocery stores.
- Pork and beef
Sample Meal Plan
For people who depend on the convenience of pre-made or packaged meals, the concept of cooking from scratch utilizing whole foods might seem very daunting. Luckily, there are unlimited, easy-to-follow food recipes using only a few fresh ingredients that might be prepared in minutes.
The following sample meal plan isn’t exclusive but should give users a general concept of what some few days of perfectly balanced whole food diet might look like. Also, if you opt to follow this diet, there might be other meals, which are more suitable for your budget, preferences, and tastes. Generally, transitioning to whole foods doesn’t have to be hard. The following 7-day menu will help get started.
- Breakfast – oatmeal that’s made with coconut milk with walnuts, coconut, and berries
- Lunch – a salad that’s topped with goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, avocado, chickpeas, and fresh veggies
- Dinner – eat butternut squash curry
- Breakfast – plain yogurt (full fat) with pumpkin seeds, unsweetened coconuts, and sliced strawberries.
- Lunch – meatless chills
- Dinner – black bean tacos and sweet potato
- Breakfast – the smoothie prepared with unsweetened plant-based protein, peanut butter, berries, and unsweetened coconut milk.
- Lunch – veggie wrap and hummus
- Dinner – zucchini noodles
- Breakfast – eat savory oatmeal topped with black beans, salsa, and avocado
- Lunch – feta salad, vegetables, and quinoa
- Dinner – eat grilled fish with broccoli and roasted sweet potatoes
- Breakfast – vegetable frittata and tofu
- Lunch – large salad with grilled shrimp
- Dinner – eat roasted Portobello fajitas
- Breakfast – coconut protein smoothie, cashew butter, kale, and blackberry
- Lunch – brown rice sushi, avocado, vegetable topped with seaweed salad
- Dinner – eat eggplant lasagna topped with green salad and cheese
- Breakfast – eat vegetable omelet cooked with eggs
- Lunch – tahini quinoa bowl and roasted vegetable
- Dinner – eat black bean burgers with sliced avocado
Pros And Cons Of The Whole Foods Diet
From promoting weight loss to quality nutrition, there are many benefits of choosing the whole foods diet. For the numerous health benefits of the whole foods diet, there are a few drawbacks. Like plant-based diets, avoiding processed foods demands more meal preparation and planning than pre-packaged foods. Furthermore, avoiding meat makes it tricky to get sufficient protein and nutrients such as vitamin B12. In addition, with careful attention and planning, you can prepare whole foods in your home.
Choosing to eat whole foods is an incredible way to get enough fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients in your daily diet. This can ultimately improve your health. Focusing on whole foods such as vegetable leaves and fruits doesn’t leave much room for high fat, high-calorie options, so it might help shed the extra pounds.
The whole foods diet, to be specific, focuses on whole foods and numerous health benefits, including reduced risks of type II diabetes, obesity, cancer, and improved heart health.[vi] Most people following the whole food diet report extra energy, few pains and aches, and a great sense of well-being.
The whole foods diet works for many people, even though those with other health conditions like diabetes might need extra help from health experts to ensure they stick to the best diet.
Nutrition And Safety
Because this diet covers different food groups and removes unhealthy extras like added sugar, it’s considered safe and offers more than enough nutrition. While it might take time to adjust and plan, ultimately, many people will adapt to the whole foods diet as a long-term way of healthy eating.
Studies show that following this whole foods diet might be an effective way to lose weight. The 2016 Meta-analysis of over 1,151 subjects found people assigned to the vegan diet lost more weight than people assigned to the non-vegan diet groups. The whole foods diet is less restrictive. Additional research shows that this diet is very effective in weight loss without the excessive restriction of exercise, measure portions, and restrict calories.
Incomplete Protein Source
Proteins are generally a series of amino acids that your body needs in specific proportions. These amino acids are found in grains, legumes, nuts, eggs, fish, milk, and meat. Also, animal products are usually considered complete sources of proteins since they contain all essential amino acids. However, the plant-based protein is often considered incomplete since they contain less of several essential amino acids.[vii] Nonetheless, with proper planning, the plant-based proteins might provide the amino acids the body needs.
Technically speaking, processed foods are more convenient. Eliminating whole food diets mean more prepping and planning than other methods of eating.
At times whole foods are expensive than other processed foods. Although whole foods are considered to be a healthy way of eating, they might still include a few processed foods.
Is The Whole Foods Diet A Healthy Option For You?
According to the dietary recommendations outlined by the United States department of agriculture, eating a wide range of beverages and nutrient-dense foods while remaining within the proposed limit of about 2,000 calories per day for weight management is advisable.[viii] These food products include:
- Oils such as oils in food (nuts and seafood) and vegetable oils
- Protein foods such as eggs, poultry, and lean meats; seafood; soy products, seeds, nuts, lentils, peas, beans, and seafood.
- Dairy products include cheese, yogurt, low-fat milk, fat-free milk and fortified soy beverages and lactose-free versions, and yogurt.
- Grains, half of the grains are whole grains
- Whole fruits
- Different types of vegetables – starchy, lentils, peas, beans, oranges and other vegetables
Also, the US department of agriculture recommends limiting beverages and foods with high levels of sodium, saturated, and added sugars and also restricting the use of alcoholic beverages. If you stick to the recommended limits, a whole food diet complies with the USDA guidelines.
Although there isn’t any calorie count associated with the whole foods diet, most of the foods you consume on this eating plan are lower in calories and unhealthy fats like trans fats. However, it’s still important to follow the daily calorie budget so that you can successfully avoid overeating.
Since the whole foods diet aligns with the USDA recommendations, you should focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods and keeping off additives such as hormones, antibiotics, artificial ingredients, and sugar.
How Much Does The Whole Foods Diet Cost?
If you purchase seasonal vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains, you might save money on the whole foods diet. On the other hand, if you purchase packaged foods, faux meat, and farm produce imported from overseas, it’s going to cost you.
We still believe that eating the whole foods diet is cost-effective. You get to save money by not purchasing dairy and meat and consume less processed food. However, if the version of the whole foods diet that you choose has a high concentration of processed foods, it’s highly likely you’ll spend more. For example, if you were used to buying hamburgers and hot dogs and then switch to veggie burgers and soy dogs, you may not see any difference.
What is the main health benefit of the whole foods diet?
What do you eat on the whole food diet?
Will eating whole food diet help lose weight?
Are eggs whole foods?
Is yogurt a whole food?
When should I eat whole foods?
- [i] Wiss DA, Avena N, Rada P. Sugar addiction: from evolution to revolution. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:545. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00545
- [ii] Locke A, Schneiderhan J, Zick SM. Diets for health: goals and guidelines. Am Fam Physician. 2018;97(11):721-728.
- [iii] Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Spiegelman D, Chiuve SE, Manson JE, Willett W, Rexrode KM, Rimm EB, Hu FB. Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017 Jul 25;70(4):411-422. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047. PMID: 28728684; PMCID: PMC5555375.
- [iv] Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabaté J, Fan J, Sveen L, Bennett H, Knutsen SF, Beeson WL, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Butler TL, Herring RP, Fraser GE. Vegetarian dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancers. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 May;175(5):767-76. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.59. PMID: 25751512; PMCID: PMC4420687.
- [v] Malar DS, Devi KP. Dietary polyphenols for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease–future research and development. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2014;15(4):330-42. doi: 10.2174/1389201015666140813122703. PMID: 25312617.
- [vi] Aleksandrowicz, L., Green, R., Joy, E. J., Smith, P., & Haines, A. (2016). The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review. PloS one, 11(11), e0165797.
- [vii] Hetherington MM, Blundell-Birtill P, Caton SJ, et al. Understanding the science of portion control and the art of downsizing. Proc Nutr Soc. 2018;77(3):347-355. doi:10.1017/S0029665118000435
- [viii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Ninth Edition. December 2020.