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Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods

Everywhere you go and almost anywhere you look, food advertisements stand out; the meals look irresistible and your mouth may begin to water, but have you ever thought, “what’s actually in this meal?”

Grocery stores are no different; the first part of the store when you first walk in is the produce (fruits, vegetables, potatoes, etc.), where a majority of the whole foods are located. As you venture deeper and deeper into the store (especially in between the aisles), you’ll notice less fresh foods and more boxed & canned products. Those are processed foods that are, you guessed it, “processed” in factories with added preservatives and other ingredients to keep them fresh for longer periods of time. If you take the time to compare and contrast the two, you’ll see why whole foods will always prevail.

What is the difference?

Whole Foods:

  • Natural, nutrient-dense fibers, vitamins & minerals

  • Free of artificial colors and/or sweeteners

  • Short shelf life (normally expire in less than a week)

  • Only one ingredient

  • Examples include:

    • Apples, oranges, bananas

    • Cucumbers, peppers, carrots

    • Low-fat milk & cheese

    • Fresh meats (steak, chicken) & seafood

    • Unsalted nuts

Processed Foods:

  • Added preservatives

  • Added empty calories

  • Added colors & sweeteners

  • Enhanced taste

  • Long shelf life (expiration dates vary from months to years, depending on the items)

  • Multiple ingredients

  • Examples Include:

    • Canned fruits & fruit snacks (Fruit By The Foot, etc.)

    • Dried vegetables (Veggie Straws, etc.)

    • Fruit juices (added sugars for flavor)

    • Pre-packaged meals (TV dinners, chicken fingers

    • Velveeta cheese, sweetened yogurts

Next time you go to the grocery store, explore through the middle aisles and read the nutrition labels and ingredients. The most highly-processed foods have the most ingredients on the labels, and contain oils, acids and “natural flavors” that are not easily digestible by the human body. Nutrition label literacy is important while grocery shopping can make your shopping trips easier and healthier!

There are alternatives to shopping at your local grocery store. If you’re looking for a change or want locally grown whole foods; here are some options:

  • Buy fresh meats at a butcher or local farm

  • Buy dairy products directly from farms or local cheese shops

  • Go to a nearby farmer’s market - the prices are fairly inexpensive and all the products come from local farms and help support local businesses.

  • Build your own garden! April is the perfect time of year to find open space and come up with a plan to grow your own produce. With a green thumb and a little patience, you can have a colorful, nutritious garden come summer time.

The purpose of this article is not to scare you away from processed foods; they can actually be beneficial when making transitions in dietary habits. Eating minimally processed foods are helpful in cutting back from highly processed foods, and make regularly eating whole foods easier over time. Ensuring your diet contains a wide variety of colors from fruits & vegetables is essential for absorbing the proper vitamins, minerals & fiber your body needs for daily function. Shop around the perimeter of the stores; you will notice the perishables are all chilled/refrigerated, that is where all the whole foods are!

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