Choose a whole-foods diet for a healthier you
3/4/2021 by Eric DeAngelis
Let's face it. For most people, the word "diet" doesn't exactly bring up fond feelings. Most people tend to associate "diet" with bland foods and feeling hungry all the time, and, unfortunately, that has been the case for many people who have tried a diet in the past. So, what would you say if I told you that, in recent years, more and more dietitians and medical professionals have started to tout a diet that lets you eat a wide variety of delicious food, won't leave your belly grumbling, and can help you lose weight and lower your risk for many diseases? It isn't too good to be true. It's called a whole-foods diet, and the best thing about this diet is that it's not a diet at all, but rather a food philosophy.
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 to eat a whole-foods diet. 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) and focus instead on fueling up with unprocessed plant foods for most of your meals.
What are the benefits?
Unprocessed foods tend to be rich in essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber, and are naturally low in saturated fat and sodium. Evidence from large population studies as well as randomized clinical trials has 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, as an added bonus, whole-plant food can be grown and harvested while having a smaller effect on the environment and can be surprisingly affordable.
Is a whole-foods diet nutritionally adequate?
A common myth that often is used as an argument against a plant-based diet is that it does not supply us with all of the nutrients we need and doesn't supply enough protein. While it is true that it takes a little 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, supplements may be necessary. It is recommended to talk to your primary care provider 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 overhaul how you are eating immediately. To get started, try to plan one meal a week that fits the whole-food mold. From there, 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 my 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), one quarter with whole grains, and the other 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 fill you up and keep you satisfied.
Eric DeAngelis is a dietetics intern at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He started his career in the restaurant industry and his love of food and interest in nutrition brought him to his internship where he works to help patients live a healthier life enjoying foods they love.