Choosing Whole Foods for a Healthier You

Dec 13, 2021 | Tara Schmidt, Mayo Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist | @taraschmidt

Written by Eric DeAngelis, a Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences dietetic intern

What is a whole foods diet?

A whole foods diet simply means choosing foods that are minimally processed. Think fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, and whole grains. While a whole foods diet does focus on eating lots of plant-based foods, it does not necessarily mean you have to become a vegetarian or vegan. Meat and dairy are perfectly acceptable, but the idea is to choose those foods in moderation (a few times a week as opposed to every meal). Focus, instead, on fueling with unprocessed plant foods for the majority of your meals.

What are the benefits?

Unprocessed foods tend to be rich in essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. They are naturally low in saturated fat and sodium. Evidence from large population studies and randomized clinical trials have linked a diet higher in plant-based whole foods to lower occurrences of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and certain types of cancer. If that isn’t reason enough, whole plant foods can be grown and harvested while having a smaller impact on the environment and can be surprisingly affordable.

Is a whole foods diet nutritionally adequate?

A common myth often used against a plant-based diet is that it does not provide all the nutrients we need, such as protein. While it is true that it takes a extra planning to meet protein goals, it is absolutely possible to get more than enough protein with a whole food plant-based diet. Remember that meat and dairy are perfectly acceptable, but if you are planning to eat a purely vegetarian or vegan diet, the main nutrients of concern are protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, and iodine. In some cases supplementation may be necessary. It is recommended to talk to your doctor to set up an appointment with a registered dietitian who can help you plan a diet that ensures you are getting enough of these important nutrients!

Tips for getting started

Are you interested in trying the whole food approach to eating? Try these tips to get started down the path to health and longevity!

  • Aim for at least one fully vegetarian meal a week and go from there

If you are new to this concept it may be a little intimidating to completely uphaul how you are eating overnight. To get started, try to plan for one meal a week that fits the whole food mold. From here you can work toward incorporating one whole food meal a day. Once you have a good idea of foods you enjoy and have some recipes you like it will be much easier to eat this way for multiple meals every day!

  • Open up that spice drawer

It’s a common misconception that plant-based meals are bland and lack flavor. Try experimenting with different spices and herbs other than salt to spice up your dishes. A few of our favorites are lemon juice, garlic and onion powder, turmeric, tarragon, cumin, coriander, paprika, ground mustard seed, marjoram, mint, rosemary, thyme, basil, and ginger. The possibilities are endless!

  • Build a healthy plate

When preparing a plate try to fill half the plate with vegetables (the more colorful the better!), a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with a protein such as beans or lentils. This will ensure you are getting a wide array of vitamins and minerals and the fiber will help fill you up and keep you satisfied.

Have you increased your intake of plants or plant-based meals lately? 

Related posts:

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Building a Healthy Gut Microbiome

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