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What are Whole Foods?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural or original states as possible. This means they have not been processed or refined. It also means they are free of additives, such as colorings and preservatives, and they have not been modified. To understand a whole food, consider beef. A roasted portion of beef that has not been processed, modified, or added to can be considered a whole food; a hot dog, however, does not fit in this category.

There are whole foods in many different categories. Fruits and vegetables are good examples of whole foods. Nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas also make the grade. Milk and eggs can be included in this category, as can meats, poultry, and fish. However, all of these things are excluded when processing, except for pasteurization, takes place and additives are included.

One reason to choose whole foods over their processed counterparts is nutritional intake. Often, as a result of processing, important vitamins and minerals are lost, and the food may become less healthy. Even things like fiber and water can be diminished through processing and refinement, making the food significantly less useful for the body.

While processing and refinement takes away some things the body needs, it also tends to add things in. All too often, these things are bad for a person's health. For example, processed foods often contain artificial coloring, flavorings, and preservatives. Many people believe these things are damaging to the health.

Even when a person is unsure whether a particular additive is unhealthy, he can be sure of one thing: the body does not need it. At best, consuming such additives puts something unnecessary into the body. At worst, consuming them leads to impaired health and possibly even diminished cognitive function. Some additives have even been linked to hyperactivity and diminished attention spans in children.

Another benefit whole foods offer over processed choices is the lack of added sugar and sodium. Obesity is a problem in some countries, a fact that is probably influenced by the added sugars in the foods we eat. While whole foods can contain natural sugar, they typically have less than that found in processed selections. Additionally, many argue that natural sugars are better for the body than processed sugars added back into foods. Likewise, excess sodium can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, and many processed foods are high in sodium.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a DelightedCooking writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon174412 — On May 10, 2011

I think the pasteurization process is a precautionary step. While raw, whole milk can (for the most part) be safely shipped and consumed these days, that was not the case in prior years.

It is now a standard in most places to pasteurize milk products; it's simply a throwback to when food safety wasn't as strong as it is today. By definition, pasteurization is the process of heating and cooling. It does not separate cream from milk. It does not mix up cream and milk (that's called homogenizing). Fortifying milk with vitamin D is also a throwback from the days when children suffered from rickets.

By ahain — On May 05, 2011

@aishia: I'd be willing to bet it's because people have pasteurized milk for so long it's a more accepted form of processing. Almost everybody drinks pasteurized milk unless they order direct from a whole foods grocer like you, so pasteurized milk is considered "normal" milk and people are out of touch with what "real" milk is at this point. Anybody else agree that people had healthier diets back when families all had their own family cow for milk?

By aishia — On May 05, 2011

Ooh, interesting subject here! I have a question -- why isn't pasteurization considered processing? When milk is pasteurized, it's boiled and stirred up and they separate the cream from the rest of the milk and then they only add back in a certain amount of cream (which is why you know your store-bought milk contains a certain percent of fat.) And as hanley79 and seHiro are saying before me, milk has added vitamins and minerals that weren't in the original substance, too.

As somebody who relies on whole foods delivery and drinks whole raw organic milk, let me tell you, store-bought pasteurized milk isn't even the same substance. Why isn't all of that milk pasteurization fiddling counted as processing?

By seHiro — On May 05, 2011

@hanley79: I know what you're talking about. I think this is a marketing campaign to make processed foods seem healthier so that people will still opt to buy them more than the whole foods. Fact of the matter is, processed foods are cheaper to produce and keep better because they're full of additives like preservatives, so the companies can make more money off of them and want consumers to want them. Whole foods cost more to make, but are better for you. The enrichments give me the same concern as vitamin pills: human beings are meant to absorb their vitamins and minerals through whole foods, and often the same vitamins in whole food form absorb into the body way better than they do in pill form or -- I suspect -- food additive form.

By hanley79 — On May 05, 2011

While it is true that whole foods contain natural vitamins and minerals that are removed in the various processing procedures done to food these days, aren't most foods enriched to have as much if not more vitamins and minerals added back in? A lot of the foods and even milk and such that I see in stores are enriched with vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Now things like preservatives and ridiculous amounts of sodium are unnecessary, I agree, but I think that enriched foods are comparable to or superior to whole foods in vitamin and mineral content.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a DelightedCooking writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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