Northwest Health Summer 2011

Eating the Whole Thing

Learn some easy ways to add nutrition-rich unprocessed foods to your diet.

Go to: Northwest Health Index

What do eggs, broccoli, blueberries, brown rice, beef, and bananas have in common? They are all examples of what dietitians call "whole foods." Unlike processed foods, these supermarket staples haven't been meddled with — no oils, sugar, salt, or preservatives added.

"It's the food as it was on the plant or animal," says Jodi Frampton, a Group Health registered dietitian. According to Frampton and other experts, these foods, including fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and milk, should play a leading role in your diet. They provide fiber that can help balance blood sugar, promote heart health, and improve cholesterol levels. They are rich in nutrients, and their vitamins and minerals are easy for your body to absorb. And these foods don't contain the additives — artificial flavors, colors, sugar, and salt — that are too big a part of most American diets.

Whole foods can also help with weight loss. The fiber helps make you feel full faster, and digesting these foods burns extra calories — up to 50 percent more than it takes to digest processed foods, says Dawn Wilson, a Group Health registered dietitian.

Sometimes, processed foods are cheaper than whole foods. But buying fresh fruits and vegetables when they're in season, and economical cuts of meat, can often match or beat processed food prices. Other items, such as dried beans, are always inexpensive.

Incorporating foods like these into your daily routine might take a little work, even if that just means scrambling an egg for breakfast rather than pouring a bowl of processed cereal, or chopping up carrots for a snack rather than reaching for a bag of chips. But these new habits will pay off in better health for you and your family.

Ways to Work Whole Foods Into Your Diet

Wilson and Frampton offer the following tips to incorporate healthy foods into your diet:

  • Keep whole fresh fruit on the counter and cut-up or bite-sized vegetables (think snap peas or cherry tomatoes) in the fridge for snacking.
  • Stock your pantry with unsalted nuts, like almonds or walnuts, or seeds like pumpkin or sunflower. Their healthful fat will fill you up, and they're rich in vitamins.
  • Eat oatmeal or a whole grain hot cereal for breakfast. Look for the word "whole" on the label. Add berries to double up on vitamins.
  • Eggs are a low-cost source of protein. Add mushrooms or other vegetables to a scramble to make them even healthier.
  • Substitute fresh fruit for juice. Or make a smoothie with fresh or frozen cut-up fruit and low-fat yogurt or milk. Fruit contains extra fiber.
  • Use whole wheat bread for sandwiches, or spoon your sandwich filling into a whole wheat pita or tortilla.
  • Serve brown rice instead of white, or if you're time-pinched try another whole grain that cooks faster, such as quinoa, bulgur wheat, or whole wheat couscous.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are as good for you as fresh, and because they're usually cut up already, are excellent timesavers.
  • Vegetables taste sweeter when they're roasted. Toss them with olive or vegetable oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook in a roasting pan in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or more, depending on the vegetable.
  • Add vitamin and fiber-packed whole beans to tacos, enchiladas, soups, and stews.
  • Top a pizza with sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, or bell peppers.
  • Toss a bag of prewashed lettuce with tomatoes and a handful of nuts or seeds.
  • Bulk up jarred spaghetti sauce by adding fresh cooked meat, mushrooms, or peppers.
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