The month of January tends to bring a focus on reclaiming health. Perhaps the holidays introduced a variety of tempting foods, or there were added occasions for consuming alcohol.
There may also have been more on the schedule which crowded out the focus on movement or exercise. A great place to start is to reclaim your health with whole foods.
A “whole foods” (or real food) diet centers around consuming foods in their most natural and unprocessed form. It’s a lifestyle choice gaining traction for its numerous health benefits and relative simplicity.
The Whole Foods Dietary Approach
This dietary approach focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and clean meat. It excludes or minimizes processed foods, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. The focus is on foods as close to their natural state as possible.
A whole foods diet is rich in essential nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. This diet can improve digestion, reduce the risk of chronic illness, improve weight management, and enhance overall well-being. Here are some pointers for embarking on this approach.
Begin by shopping on the outer aisles of the grocery store where perishable foods are usually located. Whole foods have not been modified for longer shelf life in the store; thus, they have more nutrients for your body.
I recommend that you opt for organic produce whenever possible to reduce exposure to pesticides. When this exceeds budget constraints, focus on buying organic for produce on the Dirty Dozen list, which is published by the Environmental Working Group each year.
It shows what produce retains the highest levels of pesticides when harvested. Based on the 2023 list, choosing organic for strawberries, kale, grapes, apples, pears, green beans, and some others.
When buying any packaged foods, I suggest you develop the habit of reading the ingredient list. Choose foods with short ingredient lists comprised of words you can read and pronounce. Those long, complicated words are more likely to indicate chemical or preservative ingredients.
I also recommend you consider the many forms of sugar. These are frequently combined in processed foods to hide their volume. Likewise, artificial sweeteners can have many names – Aspartame, Acesulfame K (Acesulfame Potassium), Saccharin, and Sucralose are the most prominent. Given their chemical basis, I recommend you avoid these.
Cook at Home
Cooking at home offers a variety of benefits. Homecooked meals generally cost less than eating out. Cooking also gives you control over the ingredients in your food. It doesn’t have to be overly involved. I recommend you start with simple recipes that require minimal ingredients.
Make Changes Gradually
Switching to a whole foods approach doesn’t have to be abrupt. Start by introducing more vegetables into your meals. Do this by reducing the amount of flour-based foods (pasta and breads) you are eating.
Gradually replace processed snacks with whole food options like nuts or fruit. I have a handout for whole food snacks that I would be glad to send to you if you request it.
Meal Planning and Prep
Planning your meals for the week is a key to success. It helps you to make mindful choices and avoid the tendency to fall back on processed foods. Meal prepping can save time and ensure that you have healthy options readily available.
When starting gradually, you could identify 2-3 days when you would be home to cook a meal. Then plan what you will prepare and be sure to have ingredients on hand. If you prepare a larger amount than you will eat at dinner, you can set aside the extra for lunch.
Listen to Your Body
I always encourage my clients to pay attention to how their body feels after eating certain foods. If you feel you have a harder time digesting a meal, consider what food may have been the challenge.
I also suggest that when eating more whole foods, you focus carefully on chewing well. A Whole Foods Diet can lead to increased energy levels and better mood.
Changes are always easier to make when you are connected with others who are on a similar journey. Whether these are friends from work, school, church, or perhaps a neighbor or two, sharing your ups and downs will help.
You can swap recipes and tips you learn. Perhaps you could share grocery shopping, or do some food prep together. Having companionship – even virtually – can be motivating.
Remember, the whole foods approach is not just a diet. It’s about nourishing your body with the best foods available and enjoying the health benefits that come with it.
Start small, be consistent, and watch how this powerful change can positively impact your health and life. As you embark on this approach, I’d love to hear what you are noticing.