Eating Unprocessed Food: The Benefits of Natural Ingredients

Last Update: February 17, 2023

Some nutritionists and doctors like to say there is no quick fix for a healthy diet. They’re right that there is no magic pill for good health, but there is a simple switch you can make that will go a long way. That switch? Eating whole, unprocessed foods.

No, we’re not talking about the store. We’re talking about the original whole foods — foods in their most natural state, that have been minimally altered or processed.

Choosing to eat only real foods, that aren’t processed or otherwise altered, all but ensures that you will avoid unhealthy ingredients like preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, refined flour and added oils. Food journalist Michael Pollan advocates for this diet — his famous quote “eat real food, not too much of it, and more plants than meat” encapsulates the whole food movement.

A whole food diet isn’t anything radical. These are the kinds of meals our ancestors ate 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago. Some fresh vegetables, whichever were in season, some whole grains, maybe some fresh meat, if it was available. Sugar, butter, and white flour were luxuries the masses didn’t have.

What’s more, the nutrition science behind a whole food diet makes perfect logical sense. Of course, relying on whole foods whenever possible cuts out many of the trans fats, sugar, salt and oils that hide in processed foods. Nutritionists have long known that vitamins and minerals eating in combinations found in food often have greater health benefits than taking the same vitamins in supplements.

A diet of whole food also will likely contain more phytochemicals (beneficial nutrients like the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes), more fiber, more of the letter vitamins (such as vitamins A, C, and D).

Eating whole foods also makes economic sense. When the bulk of your groceries are produce or simple nonperishable goods like what you’ll find on Thrive Market, you’ll see your bill shrink.

The premise of this classic diet is simple. Choose foods that are natural, in their simplest form. For instance, choose fresh lettuce, carrots and tomatoes you can chop yourself over a pre-packaged salad. Choose legumes, like beans, grains and rice, instead of highly-processed pasta or white bread. Choose products made with 100 percent whole grain flour instead of white flour or a blend of white and whole grain flour.

Avoid any packaged foods with more than a handful of ingredients (that you can’t pronounce), and steer clear of any ingredients you can’t identify. Stay away from any foods that won’t spoil eventually — their long shelf life indicates they contain synthetic preservatives.

If you have trouble sticking to self-imposed rules, there are blogs, articles and challenges out there dedicated to helping people return to a diet of whole foods. The 100 Days of Real Food Pledge comes with a defined set of rules, and Pollan has also written his own.

When you’re ready to get started, fully stock your pantry with spices, ingredients and whole grains. You’ll be amazed by the meals you can whip up using only whole, wholesome ingredients.

Photo credit: Kate Mulling

This article is related to:

Diet, Natural Grocers, Nutrition

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