What is a whole foods diet?
How to get started?
Selecting, preparing, and eating foods close to how they are found in nature: unprocessed; unrefined; and free from preservatives, additives, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones.
Why is it important to eat a whole foods diet?
The health of the gut is essential to the health and well-being of the entire body (and mind!). The numerous alterations made to the foods that many Americans consume are deleterious to our health. Our diets are behind the rise of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and other systemic inflammatory diseases. Many other diseases such as depression, arthritis, colitis, osteoporosis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are also linked
- Processed, Refined, and Packaged
Opt for food that is unprocessed and unrefined. This type of
preparation removes essential nutrients from the food. That is
why white flour must be “enriched”- because refining the flour
removes all the vitamins and minerals that were originally in the
Packaged food is laden with unnatural additives and
preservatives. One tip is to do most of your shopping on the
perimeter of the supermarket. That’s where you’ll find fresh,
non-packaged foods. The frozen section is also good for fruits
Certified organic foods are free from pesticides and herbicides.
These chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment today, and
most of them remain untested as to their effects on human and
The most important category of foods to buy organic is animal
products. Non-organic butter has become the leading source of
PCB’s in our country. Animal fat becomes a repository of many
Organic meat and dairy should be free from antibiotics and
hormones. Antibiotics are used to prevent disease that is
rampant in the squalid conditions found in the meat industry.
Furthermore, antibiotics, like hormones, increase the size of the
Organic meat should also be free from pesticides and
herbicides, since the animals ingest organic feed. Therefore,
by buying organic animal products, you are also supporting
The Environmental Working Group publishes a list of “The Dirty
Dozen.” These are the 12 most contaminated and the 12 least
contaminated fruits and vegetables. The EWG routinely tests
vegetables for pesticide residues and publishes this list on their
website: http://www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php. This list
will help you budget for the most important items in fruit and
vegetable category to purchase organic.
- Fruits and Vegetables
See above for discussion on organic fruits and vegetables.
Most people could stand to eat more food from this category. A
good general rule is, eat something green everyday. Another
good rule is, eat at least 1 colorful fruit and vegetable every
When cooking green vegetables, you should try to avoid
overcooking them, as this depletes their nutrients. Steaming or
quickly sautéing them is good. If you cook vegetables in water,
save that water and drink it or put in soup stock. The cooking
water contains nutrients too!
First choice for vegetable source is to get them fresh. Second
choice is frozen, and last place is canned.
Vegetables that are especially important to consume are dark,
leafy greens. Also, colorful vegetables like red and yellow
peppers, beets, tomatoes, etc.
Sources of protein include: meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs,
legumes, tofu, tempeh, miso, nuts and nut butters.
There are so many meats to choose from, rather than just the
standard beef, chicken and pork. Consider trying venison,
buffalo, ostrich, duck, quail, or rabbit. When choosing beef, be
sure to get beef that is “grass fed and grass finished.”
With fish, you have to be careful of contamination with heavy
metals and other toxins. Avoid farmed salmon, and instead eat
wild Atlantic salmon or canned salmon, which is also usually
wild-caught. Tuna, too, is unfortunately highly contaminated.
You can keep up-to-date on which fish are the safest to
consume by referring to the Environmental Working Group
website, http://www.ewg.org, and using the “Quick Index.”
Eggs can be an important part of your diet, as long as you are
not allergic to them. Eggs (along with wheat, milk, and citrus
among others) are one of the most allergenic foods in our
country. You should also be sure to purchase organic, cage-free eggs.
There is a wide variety of legumes from all around the world.
Look to Indian Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines for
‘exotic’ legume recipes. There are many techniques to reduce
the gas-promoting qualities of beans: soak beans and toss the
soaking water before cooking; cook beans with mint, coriander,
Nuts should mostly be eaten raw (except peanuts). Dry roasted
can be eaten on occasion. Seeds like pumpkin seeds and
sunflower seeds are also excellent protein snacks.
Reduce the number of refined carbohydrates you consume,
and instead opt for whole grains. Bread, pasta, many cereals,
and many cookies are refined carbohydrates. Examples of
whole grains include whole wheat, bulgur wheat, quinoa,
couscous, rye, oats, spelt, and amaranth.
Use brown rice or wild rice instead of white rice.
White sugar should also be avoided. Alternate sweeteners
include stevia, honey, barley malt syrup, molasses, fruit juice,
and date sugar. Go easy on all sweeteners, and you will start
to appreciate the natural sweetness present in many foods as
they are, such as rice, carrots, and beets.
Fat developed a bad reputation, which it does not truly deserve.
You may include “good fats” in your diet, such as olive oil (extra
virgin in best), unrefined high oleic safflower oil, and organic
Avoid partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated fats, as well as
- Courage and Variety
With a whole foods diet, you may have to stretch your palate to
try foods that you’ve never heard of, let alone tasted! Be bold!
Try buying a vegetable you’ve never seen before and figure out
how to prepare it.
Eating a variety of foods is beneficial for two reasons. Variety
will keep you from getting bored with your diet. Variety is also
helpful for optimizing your nutrient intake and decreasing the
chance of developing food sensitivities.
Many large supermarket chains are starting to carry organic
food in a “natural foods section” and in the produce aisle. Most
of the time, their prices are comparable to those of local organic
food co-ops. If your local supermarket does not have organic
food, give them a list of organic items that you would like them
There are some national chains of natural supermarkets, such
as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Sunflowers, Wild Oats, and Trader
Many communities have local produce co-ops. Also, several
reputable companies sell organic meat online. One example is
Daily Blessing Foods: 1-888-862-5785
When ordering organic meat products through the mail, make
sure the beef is “grass fed and grass finished.”
Here are some excellent cookbooks to help in your new diet:
a. The Moosewood cookbooks- vegetarian recipes
b. The Self-Healing Cookbook, by Kristina Turner. Macrobiotic
philosophy and cooking.
c. Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen, by Lorna Sass. “Healthy
meals for you and the planet.”
d. Healing with Whole Foods, by Paul Pritchard. Oriental
medical philosophy as it relates to food. Some recipes in the
back, but mostly a food philosophy text.
e. Cooking Kosher the Natural Way, by Jane Kinderlehrer.
Traditional Jewish recipes updated to reflect (Not just for
those who keep kosher!)
f. The Garden of Eating, by Rachel Albert-Matesz. Produce based recipes, with lots of protein and few carbohydrates.