Whole Foods vs Processed Foods: What You Need To Know

Stop for a second and think about what you have eaten today. Think about what you grabbed for breakfast on your way out the door and what you made for lunch. Consider what kind of snacks you had and what you are going to be cooking for dinner. Got it? Good. 

Now we have a question for you—how much of it consisted of fresh fruits and veggies and how much came from a box or a bag?  When we are hungry, many of us will grab whatever is available at home, in a restaurant, or at the convenience store, but how often do you stop to think about what you’re putting in your body? Is it a whole food or processed food? Does it even matter? The short answer is yes, it does matter. To get a better understanding of what we’re talking about, let’s take a closer look at the differences between whole foods and processed foods. 

What Are Whole Foods?

When you think of whole foods, words like “wholesome,” “fresh,” and “natural” should come to mind. That’s because these are foods that are in their natural state, meaning they haven’t been altered or processed in any way. Because of this, these foods still contain all the nutrients they would naturally have, such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, fiber, and so much more. 

You already know how important it is to include all these different nutrients in your diet. Each and every one of them has a role to play in helping your body function optimally. Fiber helps keep your digestive system and your heart strong. Vitamins work to keep every part of your body healthy, from your brain to your immune system. Amino acids are important for creating the proteins needed to repair damaged cells and create new ones. The list goes on. 

While it can be easy enough to get these nutrients individually from various supplements, whole foods will always be the best, most efficient source for your body. This has to do with the fact that certain nutrients tend to work in pairs and are dependent on one another in order to do their jobs properly. When you eat whole foods, you are providing your body with a variety of nutrients in each mouthful, which means they are readily available to team up and get to work. 

For many of us, the thought of whole food brings to mind foods like fruits and vegetables, and while those are in fact whole foods, they aren’t the only ones that fall into this category. You may be surprised to learn that the term whole food also refers to foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, local, grass-fed meat, wild fish, and even cage-free eggs. 

What Are Processed Foods?

In contrast to whole foods, processed food are exactly what their name suggests—foods that have been altered or processed from their natural state. They often include added ingredients like sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, or preservatives to improve their taste and shelf life. Most often, these are the foods that come prepackaged in a bag or box, and a single trip to the grocery store will show you that they have become widely popular. 

The rise in popularity of such foods in America came about because they are convenient. They are packaged in manageable portions, require little preparation time, and can be stored for months in our pantries. Not all of these prepackaged foods are processed the same, which is why the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil created a system known as NOVA to categorize foods based on their degree of processing. 

  • Minimally Processed Foods: These are the whole foods that we just discussed. This category includes fruits, vegetables, and organic meat and dairy products. They are natural foods with little to no additives and are highly recommended for our health because of their nutrient value.
  • Processed Cooking Ingredients: These include oils (like olive, vegetable, and seed oils), salt, sugar, and so on. While these tend to be some of the healthier options when it comes to processed foods, it’s still best to choose items that contain the fewest ingredients.   
  • Processed Foods: These are foods made with a combination of the previous categories. They typically only contain one main ingredient plus one or two others. Examples include whole-wheat pasta, tofu, processed nuts, and brined foods (foods stored in cans or glass containers).  
  • Ultra Processed Foods: This is what most of us think of when we hear the term “processed foods,” and for many of us, it is the category that is the most cause for concern. Ultra-processed foods contain 5 or more ingredients and are rarely sourced from whole foods. Instead, they are created with substances that have either been extracted from other food or synthesized in a lab.  

The Problem with Processed Food

Research has shown that most of the foods that we eat are highly processed. In fact, more than half of the calories that we consume come from ultra-processed meals, and as a result, many Americans eat more carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sugar than they should. 

In some ways, processed foods aren’t all bad. For example, raw milk is usually pasteurized to get rid of harmful bacteria, and oftentimes food processing can preserve food textures and increase shelf life. However, in most cases, these benefits are heavily outweighed by the drawbacks. 

For starters, food processing techniques are known to destroy or remove vital nutrients. Heating or drying foods can destroy certain vitamins and minerals, and removing the outer layer of fruits and vegetables gets rid of important nutrients like phytopigments and fiber. Sometimes these nutrients are added back in later, but these extracted or synthetic versions are not as easy for our bodies to absorb and use.  

In addition to their low nutritional value, ultra-processed foods typically contain added ingredients like sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. As you already know, consuming large amounts of these ingredients can hurt your overall health and wellbeing. 

Making the Switch to Whole Foods

When you compare them side by side, it’s easy to see that whole foods are the healthier option. However, we understand that it can be difficult to break up with all those processed foods that you enjoy so much, even if you have the best reasons to. That’s why we’ve put together a few tips to help you cut back on those processed foods and enjoy more whole food goodness. 

1. Shop Local and Fresh. The best way to ensure you are getting the best whole foods available to you is to get them locally. Of course, the best way to do that is to simply visit your local farmer’s market. Since all the food at these markets is local to your area, you can rest assured that they are as ripe and fresh as possible. Additionally, since the food doesn’t have as far to travel, chances are it won’t include any additives meant to increase its shelf life. 

2. Skip the Sweet Drinks. Fizzy and soft drinks are basically sugar in a bottle, and many of us choose to hydrate with such sweet drinks without thinking twice about it. Start swapping out those sodas for a glass of water when you are thirsty. If you would rather have a glass of juice, skip over the pre-made options and make it yourself with some fresh fruit.  

3. Read the Label. Buying nothing but fresh, whole foods is the best option from a nutritional standpoint, but if we’re being honest that’s not always feasible for many of us. So if you must buy prepackaged foods, be sure to read the nutrition label. Products usually come with attractive labels that assure us they are healthy, but what’s on the front of the package may not show the whole truth. Taking a look at the nutrition label will tell you the whole story. You may find that things with “less sugar” include additives or other harmful substances. This small habit can help you avoid buying ultra-processed items. 

4. Cook Your Own Meals. With a busy lifestyle, this can seem like a tall order. It’s often faster to grab a pre-made meal from the freezer and pop it in the oven or microwave. However, taking the time to make your own meals is one of the best ways to make sure you and your family are eating plenty of healthy whole foods because you’ll know exactly what is in each meal. If you are worried about preparation time, setting aside some time each weekend to create a meal plan and premake meals that you can store in the freezer can save you a lot of hassle during the week. 

5. Make a Smoothie. Smoothies are a wonderful way to add more whole foods to your diet, and they are easy to make which makes them ideal for those of us who lead busy lives. One of the great things about smoothies is that you have the freedom to mix and match ingredients. If you find a recipe online that you want to try, all you have to do is buy the ingredient and start blending.  If you want to be more adventurous, you can create your own recipe from your favorite fruits, veggies, and proteins. The beauty of smoothies is that you can make them however you want, just ensure they include a healthy balance of protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, fiber, and so on. What makes smoothies even better is that you always have the option of boosting the nutritional profile of your favorite recipes by adding superfoods like acai berries, hemp, and cacao. Of course, our favorite superfood to add to any smoothie is organic Wild Microalgae® since it is loaded with amino acids, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, antioxidants and so much more. 

Feel Healthier by Eating Healthier

While processed foods are convenient, it’s no secret that whole foods are substantially better for your overall health and wellbeing. Cutting out ultra-processed foods and fueling your body with whole food goodness is part of what we call living the #NewEarthLife. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about making small, sustainable changes to keep your body and mind as healthy as possible. And there is no better place to start than with your diet. So go ahead. Start swapping out some of those processed foods for whole food alternatives and experience for yourself the positive impact it will have on your life. 

At New Earth we are on a mission to positively impact the health of every body and soul we come in contact with. We specialize in producing third-party certified, organic whole food supplements including a variety of probiotics, and digestive support. Our supplements feature a rare, yet highly nutritious superfood, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). Also known as organic Wild Microalgae®, AFA is a unique type of microalgae that is available in many forms including tablets, capsules, and powders all designed to help you on your journey to holistic wellness. The best part? We offer a 90-day money-back risk-free guarantee on all of our products. Visit our website to learn more.