Craving Wellness

Nutrition & Fitness

Choosing Whole Foods Over Processed Foods

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Convenience foods have increasingly become more popular over the last 30 years due to the time- and labor-saving benefits that they provide. The value of cooking has also decreased so people are less likely to plan out an entire meal ahead of time that requires the preparation of ingredients and the use of more than two or three utensils, pots, and pans. As a result, processed foods have become a major part of many consumers’ diets, and negative health consequences are becoming more prevalent. Consequences directly reflecting poor diet include many weight-related issues, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Processed convenience foods often contain added sugar, salt, and saturated and trans fats. These additional fats and sugar add calories to a product, which can contribute to weight gain. In addition, consuming too much sodium (in the form of salt or not) can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. The main ways to prevent these health problems are by:

  • Eating less processed foods
  • Eating more fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables
  • Choosing low-sodium foods
  • Rinsing canned vegetables and beans well to remove as much sodium as possible

In order to replace processed foods and to include more fruits and vegetables, whole foods should be the main focus in any diet.Whole foods have endless health benefits and can reduce the risk of many diseases. Whole foods usually don’t contain added sugar, salt, or fat and are processed and refined as little as possible or not at all. These include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, meats, and fish. Some general qualities of whole foods are a low glycemic index, which helps to maintain blood sugar and insulin at steady levels; fiber, which can aid in preventing weight gain by increasing satiety and, therefore, reducing the number of calories consumed; and antioxidants, which help heal and protect the body from chronic illnesses. The main difference between whole foods and processed foods is nutrient density. Whole foods are more nutrient dense than processed foods, meaning that for a certain number of calories, they have a greater amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.). This also means that foods that are more nutrient dense will have fewer calories and more nutrients than the same quantity of a processed food.

Here is an example of nutrient density:

All measurements are in 100 grams, which is roughly equivalent to ½ cup, but it varies. Percentages of vitamin C is a Percent Daily Value and is based on a 2,000 calorie diet.



Sugar (g)

Fiber (g)

Vitamin C





10 %





4 %

100% Apple Juice




0 %

Table 1. Nutrient comparison of apple products

As seen in Table 1, raw apples are more nutrient dense than applesauce because they have fewer calories and more fiber and vitamin C. While 100% apple juice may contain fewer calories, the only nutrient it contains is sugar, so it lacks the satiety factor of fiber and the disease prevention of vitamin C.

Other whole foods considered nutrient dense are all fruits and vegetables; whole grains, such as quinoa, wheat, oats, barley, and rye; legumes, such as black beans, soy beans, chickpeas, and lentils; and nuts and seeds, such as almonds, cashews, flaxseeds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.

While it may not always be convenient to eat and cook with whole foods all the time, it can greatly improve your health and reduce the risk of multiple diseases and conditions. When whole foods aren’t an easy option, choose foods that:

  • Contain less than 150 mg sodium per serving
  • Are low in unhealthy saturated and trans fats (10% or less of saturated and no trans fats)
  • Contain less than 5 grams of sugar per serving
  • Contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving
  • Have 5 ingredients or fewer

Following all or the majority of these guidelines will insure that the foods you are eating are as nutrient dense as possible and contain few added ingredients.

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