There is a lot of talk these days about whole and processed foods. As diet plans like Whole 30 and Paleo have gained popularity, it seems like we’re hearing more and more about the type and quality of the foods we consume. The number of people going back to the basics and seeking out unprocessed, organic, natural, and whole foods is increasing. But even with this buzz, there are still a lot of questions surrounding food quality, diet foods, and wholesome foods. 

To help demystify this area, today we’ll talk about the differences between processed foods and whole foods and why processed foods are bad for you – beyond the obvious. You are going to be surprised by what you read!

What are Processed Foods?

Processed food is simply: food that is altered in some way during preparation. This can be as basic as freezing, canning, or drying; or it can be as complex as chemically, mechanically, or biologically altering food. Some examples of processed foods include: 

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Bacon, sausage, and ham
  • Canned vegetables
  • Bread
  • Cookies and baked goods
  • Microwavable or premade meals 

There are a number of reasons to process food, including extending the shelf life, improving the taste, making it look more appealing, making it easier to package, improving the texture or structure, and making it quicker to prepare. 

Why are Processed Foods Worse than we Ever Thought?!

Not all processed foods are bad for you. In fact, sometimes processing is necessary to make food safe – for example, pasteurizing milk. However, in many cases, when foods are processed, their nutritional value is decreased. Salt, sugar, and fat are often added to make food last longer or taste better. Additionally, processed foods are often dense in empty calories; meaning they provide little or no nutritional value.

What’s worse, recent research has shown that eating ultra-processed foods causes changes to your gut hormones. These changes cause a decrease in the release of hormones that make you feel full and an increase in the release of hormones that make you hungry. 

If your diet consists of a lot of processed foods it increases the amount of fat, calories, sodium, and sugar that you consume. 

What are Whole Foods?

Whole foods are foods that are in their natural, or almost natural state. One easy way to tell if a food has been processed is, if it has a nutritional label. If it does, then something has likely been added to it. 

As a general rule, the closer food is to the way it appears in nature, the better for you it is. Fruits and vegetables are obviously a great example of this, but so are beans, whole grains, and organic or grass-fed meats. Whole foods are nutrient and vitamin rich, and are an effective way to meet your nutritional needs and feel satisfied. 

While processed foods, that are free of additives and artificial ingredients have a place in a healthy diet, it’s ideal to eat as many whole foods as possible. That said, life is busy and sometimes you need foods that are convenient and easy to eat on-the-go. Given this challenge, aim to find a reasonable balance between whole foods and processed foods. And, when eating processed foods, make sure that they have as many quality and functional ingredients as possible.