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What counts as a whole food?


Eating more whole food is easier than you think.



Last week we introduced a new habit:

Eat mostly whole foods.

We also gave you some checklists to figure out the difference between “whole” and processed or refined foods.


The whole foods checklist

  • You can recognize what whole foods used to be.
  • Whole foods don’t come in any packaging other than what’s necessary to keep them from leaking or rolling around.
  • Whole foods don’t have ingredient labels.
  • Whole foods take the minimum number of steps to get to you.
  • Most whole foods go bad fairly quickly.



The processed foods checklist

  • You generally can’t recognize what processed foods used to be.
  • Processed foods come in packages such as bags or boxes.
  • Those bags or boxes have ingredient labels.
  • Processed foods take many steps to get to you.
  • Processed foods will have an expiry date label on them.
  • Processed foods are often sold at places that aren’t grocery stores.



What counts as a “whole food”?

Whole foods include:

  • fresh vegetables
  • fresh fruits
  • fresh meats and poultry
  • fresh fish and seafood
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans and lentils
  • whole intact grains
  • minimally processed dairy (e.g. fresh plain yogurt)



But what about stuff that’s in between?

Maybe it comes in a bag or box or bottle, but it’s still pretty close to what it used to be.

For example:

  • canned tomatoes
  • frozen peas
  • cold-pressed virgin oils
  • fresh juices — if they’ve been made right in front of you (pre-bottled ones don’t count — they’re still highly processed, even if they claim “fresh-squeezed taste”)
  • dried beans or lentils
  • coffee or tea



Again, ask yourself:

  • What are the ingredients?
  • How many steps did this food take to get to me? (If you don’t know, it’s probably worth finding out.)


If the answers are:

  • One or two things.
  • Not very many.

…then you can call it a “whole food”.


If the answers are:

  • Added, non-whole food ingredients.
  • Quite a few.

…then you should go with another option for these two weeks.



Be honest and real about this

Use your best judgment.

Notice and name your decision-making process.

Don’t start bending reality to argue that candy apples or caramel popcorn count as whole foods because you can recognize what they used to be.


What about eating on the road?

One of our favorite “travel food” sources appears all over the industrialized world: a grocery store or market.

You won’t always be able to buy fresh, local organic produce when you are on the road, but you can usually score at least a few items that meet the whole foods criteria, such as a bag of baby carrots or an apple.


Think ahead.

Anticipate, plan, strategize.

Stay creative.

Look for opportunities and options.


OMG! Can I never bake again?!


We aren’t saying that all processed foods are “bad”. (Remember our lessons on “good” and “bad” foods?) Nor are we saying you can never eat rolled oats or protein powder again.


This habit asks you to stretch your comfort zone for two weeks.

We want you to try a few new things and get creative with your menus for the next several days.

That’s all.


For instance:

  • If you’d like to use flour for a recipe, try grinding it yourself. Use a grinder and throw in some whole intact grains. This has the added benefit of letting you get creative — try wild rice or quinoa flour!
  • If you’d like to have tomato sauce, dump some tomatoes into the blender. Or try simply grating a fresh tomato on a grater, over a bowl.
  • If you want jam, cook up some fruit.
  • If you really want to go old-school, we dare you to grow your own fruits and vegetables at home. Hey, it was good enough for our grandparents — it’s good enough for you! (And it’s a lot easier than you’d expect, too.)


Figuring out how to transform whole foods into some of your familiar favorites helps build your cooking skills — skills that your great-grandparents probably considered basic knowledge.


Play this like a game.

Experiment. Push your comfort zone. Discover new stuff.


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