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The wholefoods shopping guide

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4 reasons to eat your food ‘whole’ + our fail-safe tips for a healthier weekly shop.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” US nutrition expert and author Michael Pollan famously penned, summarising his advice for eating to maximize health.

As he explains in a column for the New York Times Magazine: “You’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat ‘food.’” 

What are wholefoods?

Wholefoods are produce that’s as close to its whole, or natural, state as possible. Wholefoods are completely unrefined and unprocessed, such as vegetables and fruits; or they are minimally refined and processed, as is the case with traditional oats and wholemeal flour.

Why are wholefoods so good for me?

Frankly, for a movie reel of reasons. Here are just some:

1. Plant foods, in particular, contain phytonutrients

These are biologically active components that help support health and wellbeing. This group includes antioxidants, such as lycopene found in many red-skinned fruits and vegetables – these mop up cell damage caused by free radicals.

As Web MD writes: “The only way to make sure you're getting the phytochemicals we know about, as well as the ones we haven't yet discovered or named, is to eat plant foods in their whole, unprocessed form (or ground, if they're grains or seeds).”

2. Wholefoods, and again plant foods especially, are high in fibre

Fibre keeps your digestive system in good knick and helps you feel satiated.

3. Wholefoods contain none (or few) additives

As Nutritionist Michele Chevalley Hedge writes for Body & Soul: “Processed foods are often filled with chemicals and preservatives that give food flavour and a long shelf life. These chemicals can build up, causing our body's systems to become sluggish and even toxic. Eating this way starves bodies of nutrients.”

Chevalley Hedge says this is why those who consume high levels of processed food feel continually hungry.

4. Wholefoods are flush with ‘good’ fats

While trans and saturated fats are regularly added to processed and fast foods, fats with stellar health credentials, like omega-3s and monounsaturated fats, reside in fish and plant sources.

INFOGRAPHIC: Vitamins & minerals

Wholefoods shopping tips

  • Stick to the perimeter of your supermarket: the fruit and veg section, seafood section, and some parts of the dairy and frozen foods sections are where you’ll find the greatest concentration of wholefoods. The health aisle – where whole grains live – is another good area to glide through
  • Choose whole fruits over fruit juice. As Chevalley Hedge says: “Most fruit and vegetable juice has been stripped of its fibre content. After it has been juiced, a fruit becomes a concentrated source of sugar and will elevate blood-sugar levels far more quickly than the whole fruit.”
  • Select non-sugary beverage options such as water, mineral water and green tea
  • Opt for traditional over instant oats. Again Chevalley Hedge explains that instant oats often are stripped of their oat bran content – the layer of grain that sits beneath the hull. “Many vitamins and much of the fibre found in oats are contained within the bran, so the processing removes many of its nutritional properties.”

Foods to avoid

  • Pre-prepared cakes and ice cream
  • Cookies and pastries
  • Packaged sauces
  • Sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages