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What are Whole Foods?

Updated on February 4, 2019
Kaysha Reid profile image

Kaysha is a holistic wellness enthusiast with a meditation teacher certification and an appreciation for DIY projects.

What are Whole Foods?

Whole-foods are unprocessed and unrefined. They are also produced without the use of any chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers. So in essence this type of diet ensures that we are eating meat and produce in a state which is most beneficial to the body.

Additionally, a whole foods diet allows our metabolic and digestive system to function more efficiently. This allows for the proper absorption of nutrients, as well as improved well-being and the maintenance of a natural, healthy weight. Yet what most characterizes a whole foods diet, is that it typically incorporates a well-balanced variety of all the required groups; namely proteins, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, as well as fats.



Protein is an essential nutrient. In fact, every cell, organ and tissue in the body contains this very important substance. However, meat and eggs are not the only protein sources. We can also obtain this nutrient from plant-based protein sources.

There are basically two types of protein sources: complete and incomplete protein.

A complete protein is a protein source which contains an acceptable proportion of all of the nine (9) essential amino acids the body needs to build cells, as it is not able to make it on its own.

Examples of complete protein sources include animal derived protein, such as meats, fish, poultry, as well as milk and eggs.

Incomplete proteins on the other hand are protein sources which are lacking in one or more of the nine (9) essential amino acids.

Examples of incomplete protein sources include plant-based protein, like nuts, whole grains and beans.

However, two incomplete proteins that compensate for each others' amino acid inadequacies are often referred to as complementary proteins. The two incomplete proteins combined make up a complete protein.

According to the Utah Department of Health, complementary proteins do not have to be eaten at the same time. Therefore, as long as they are eaten within the same day, they are still considered complementary.

Examples of complementary protein sources include:

  • Brown rice and beans
  • Peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Whole grain cereal with milk
  • Cheese and whole grain macaroni
  • Yogurt with ground flaxseeds
  • Spinach salad with walnuts

The USDA recommends that the average adult consume 5.5 ounces of protein and 3 cups of dairy each day.

Fruit and Vegetables


Fruits and vegetables contain many essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. As a result, according to the USDA, a diet rich in these two food groups may aid in maintaining healthy stress levels, lowering caloric intake and even averting certain diseases.

It is therefore necessary to consume the required amount of fruit and vegetables each day.

Based on U.S.D.A. requirements, the daily recommended intake for the average adult is:

Fruits - 2 cups for men and 1.5 - 2 cups for women

Vegetables - 3 cups for men and 2.5 cups for women

Note: Determined by sex, age and the amount of physical activity performed each day.



The cells in our body require carbohydrates for them to function properly; making carbohydrates the primary source of energy for the body. Besides that, glucose, a component of carbohydrates, is the main nutrient that the brain uses for fuel.

Both simple and complex carbohydrates convert to glucose.

Simple carbohydrates are found in processed sugars such as sodas and candy. However, they also occur naturally in fruits and milk.

Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, are found in veggies, peas and whole grains.

Whole Grains

When it comes to grains, we are frequently told to opt for whole grains over refined grains. According to the Whole Grains Council, “eating whole grains instead of refined grains can lower the risk of many chronic diseases.”

Whole grains can be consumed in the form of pasta, rice, breads and cereals to obtain the benefits of these healthy carbohydrates. However, some people do have an abnormal immune response when their body breaks down gluten during digestion.

What exactly is Gluten-free?

Gluten is a protein in wheat. The most prevalent form of gluten intolerance is Celiac disease. This is an auto-immune disorder which causes harm to the small intestines and affects the absorption of certain vital nutrients.

Doctors usually recommend a gluten-free diet for individuals with an abnormal response to gluten - avoiding all foods with gluten like pasta, baked goods, cereals and beer, then choosing other gluten-free alternatives.

The USDA recommends that the average adult consume 6 ounces of whole grains each day.



Fats provide the body with a concentrated source of energy. Healthy fat sources (good fats) help to ensure the proper functioning of the immune system. They are also responsible for the health of the cell membranes and help to maintain a good hormone balance.

The following are healthy fat sources:

Monounsaturated Fats - Monounsaturated fats are in a variety of whole-foods; including nuts and high-fat fruits. Essentially, these healthy fat sources lower LDL cholesterol (known as the bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.

Sources: walnuts, almonds, pistachios, avocado, olive oil.

Polyunsaturated Fats - Polyunsaturated fats are mainly in plant-based oils and fish sources.

Omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3 fatty acids are found both in fish oil and in plant-based sources. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. It may also lower the risk of coronary heart disease.

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is another omega-3 fatty acid which is present in some plant-based sources, such as flaxseeds, walnuts, spinach, kale and soybean. The body converts ALA to DHA and EPA.

Sources: Sardines, salmon, flax seeds and walnuts.

Omega-6 fatty acids – Omega-6 fatty acids are found primarily in plant-based sources. They may also help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and prevent heart disease.

Sources: Soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil.

According to the USDA, the daily allowance of oil for the average adult is 6 teaspoons per day.

Incorporating More Whole-Foods Into the Diet


Ultimately, the key to consuming more whole foods is being more conscious of how you plan, shop and prepare them. So here are some helpful resources:

PLAN: - An online resource provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for planning healthy, balanced meals.

SHOP: - A directory of family farms and farmers markets, along with restaurants & grocery stores that provide fresh meat and produce in your area.

PREPARE: - A website where you can search easy recipes for preparing healthy meals.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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    • Kaysha Reid profile imageAUTHOR

      Kaysha Reid 

      6 months ago

      Thank you. The benefits of whole foods are so extensive. Made every effort to keep it concise. Happy you found it informative and helpful.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      6 months ago from The Caribbean

      Very informative and helpful. Thanks for laying out these fact on whole foods in such detail. Good presentation.


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