A Definition of What Exactly Are “Whole Foods”

In the nutrition industry, we have to be mindful of the words that we use and how they are applied to day-to-day contact. Oftentimes terms we use are not obvious to “normal people”. Today we are going to talk in plain English about a definition of what EXACTLY are whole foods.


Sometimes, the concept of healthy nutrition is a lot like my college experience in freshman psychology and sociology classes: everybody and his dog seems to have a theory. This could not be truer in the diet industry.

Reading diet book after diet book, it became very obvious that most diet books are little more than one person’s journal of how they fixed themselves. The problem comes in the habit to bill that one person’s solution as a silver bullet for the vast majority. It sells because, with that promise, people are captured by the hope that they too could experience true joy and self-acceptance if only they can follow ‘this’ meal plan for a month or two. Diets do not work because they do not typically reflect real life – Your Life!

The basis of my practice and preaching revolves around whole foods, but a friend recently pointed out to me that she did not really understand what defines whole food.

A definition of whole foods

Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Whole foods typically do not contain added ingredients, such as sugar, salt, or fat.

That might clear up some confusion, but we go a little farther here with examples. Of course, all raw fruits and vegetables are whole foods. Since most of us are not following a raw-foods diet, lets look as some other common foods. Take potatoes for starters. A baked potato is closer to its original form as it was uprooted on the farm than a potato chip. A kettle chip is simply sliced and dropped into a deep fat fryer, and possibly coated with various flavors. A baked potato would be considered a whole food: a potato chip would not.

Things can get a little gray from here, as many of the foods that we do not consider as junk-foods may still not be considered as whole foods. Milk is a perfect example. Pasteurization and homogenization strip milk of nutrients and enzymes that are normally contained in raw milk. Add to that the practice of reducing fats, fortifying with vitamins and mineral , and in some cases, adding artificial flavors such as strawberry and it becomes more clear that the milk you get in the grocery (unless you live in California) is no longer a whole food. It does not matter if you use that milk to make fermented foods such as yogurt or kefir – it is no longer a whole food. Raw milk cheese would be a different story.

Whole food does not imply organic, kosher, or gluten-free. Those are completely separate and distinct classifications that have their own definitions. Whole foods can be from plant sources or animal sources.

Whole Foods Not Whole Foods
Steel cut Oats All purpose flour
T-bone steak Chicken-fried steak
Spaghetti squash Egg noodles
Hard boiled eggs Egg-white omelet
Dry-roasted nuts Whey protein powder
Sun-dried raisins Sweetened, dried cranberries
Sea salt Table salt
Bone broth Frosted Mini-Wheats

Some of this is obvious, but others are not so. If you have questions about something in your kitchen, start by looking at the ingredients label and measure it against our definition above. If you still have
questions, ASK ME!

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