One question that I get asked often is "How do you know if a food is healthy??"
With tons of conflicting information at our fingertips, it can be easy to feel confused, overwhelmed and defeated by what's actually health-supporting and what's not.
Over my years of research (academic, professional and personal), training and experience, I have come to these 2 simple distinctions to scale your food as healthy or optimal. This is ultimately what we are striving for...take baby steps in making swaps. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself in the process.
Whole foods vs. Processed foods
We know from loads of research over decades and decades that processed foods are what’s killing us. Processed foods are the reason why we are overfed and undernourished, overweight/obese, and dealing with so many different (preventable) health issues and diseases. Processed foods tend to be those on the aisles of the grocery store, items that come in a box or package, anything with a laundry list of ingredients that you cannot pronounce. They are not naturally occurring on the planet; rather, they are manmade in some lab somewhere. They are also highly addictive because of the additives, preservatives, flavor enhancers and chemicals, all designed to get you to buy more! Ultimately processed food is not real food.
Whole food are the exact opposite. They are the exact foods that our body needs, craves and deserves. They create an environment of health and balance in the body. They restore the body’s natural functions and natural intelligence to heal itself. They have been shown for decades and decades to heal so many of the most prevalent diseases around us - obesity, diabetes, heart disease, inflammation response diseases, digestive disorders, depression and other mental health conditions, etc. (I can go on and on). Whole foods tend to be on the outer perimeter of grocery stores. They are typically 1 food ingredients that are naturally occurring on our planet. For example, an apple has 1 ingredient, and it comes from the earth. We can find whole foods with more than 1 ingredient, but they are all ingredients you can pronounce and know. For example, a Larabar is minimally processed and only has a handful of ingredients that you can pronounce and buy separately...dates, cashews, coconut. Whole foods also spoil very quickly (another sign that your food is clean - no additives, preservatives or high sodium to enhance shelf life). Believe it or not, it is a good thing to eat food that actually spoils. Ultimately, whole foods are real foods!
Any time you are choosing whole foods over processed you are making a healthier choice - the chopped veggies instead of the cheezits or chips. The fruit smoothie instead of the donut.
Start to be mindful of the whole foods and processed foods in your kitchen. Start asking yourself as you choose your foods each day - is this a whole food or processed? What do you notice about yourself and how you feel after you eat whole foods and processed foods?
Post any questions you might have about this in the comments. And stay tuned for distinction #2!