What Is a Whole Food Diet, and How Effective Is It?

I’ve been a dietitian for a long time (more than I want to admit), and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that fad diets should be avoided at all costs. This is why I’m overjoyed that whole food diets are becoming more popular.

I like to conceive of a whole food diet as a way of life rather than a “diet.” This style of eating is well-balanced, and it’s a fantastic approach to promote overall body health and longevity. It’s also tasty and, in my perspective, not restricting, which is a huge plus.

A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Nuts
  • Water


This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

What Is a Whole Food Diet?

A whole food diet, by definition, consists of consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. It’s easy to get tangled up in the jargon of organic, local, and pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is just food in its purest form. Naturally, spices and grains can be ground and hulled, but you get the point. Instead of eating what’s leftover after it’s been refined or processed, you consume the complete thing.

In other words, it necessitates a lot of cooking because natural foods do not include any processed ingredients. That means no pre-made sauces, dips, or convenience foods such as chocolate bars, candies, or ready-made meals. Foods like canned veggies and white bread are also included.

Why? In comparison to anything homemade, processed and convenience foods are frequently heavy in salt, saturated fat, and additives. As a result, their impact on your overall health is greater.

Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

Here’s where things get complicated: other diets can be whole food diets as well. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but it may also encompass a variety of different cuisines. As a result, whole food diets such as the MIND Diet and the Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:

  • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
  • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Berries five times a week
  • Five or more servings of nuts a week
  • Olive oil five times a week
  • Whole grains five times a week
  • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
  • Legumes and pulses five times a week
  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Minimally processed foods
  • No more than one glass of wine a day
  • One or two coffee or tea a day max
  • Two liters of water a day
  • That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

Other diets, such as a vegan diet, may or may not be whole food diets. It all depends on whether or not processed foods are included. Because some food replacements are highly processed, it’s critical to read labels carefully. But just some, not all, are affected.

And this is when things get a little tangled. A whole food diet can be beneficial if you don’t need to avoid particular food categories for ethical, health, or religious reasons. However, if you do eliminate some meals, including certain “processed” foods may be advantageous. This is to ensure that you don’t miss out on important nutrients that will help you stay healthy.

Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet, are supplemented in many cereal brands. Vitamin B12, for example, is mostly found in animal sources and is required for a healthy neurological system, energy, and mood control. It’s something that vegans and plant-based eaters should be aware of since studies suggest that about 20% of us are deficient. We also know that 65 percent of vegans and vegetarians do not supplement with B vitamins.

So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that

“a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts, is critical for long-term health and the prevention of diseases like diabetes and cancer. These nutrients also assist our bodies in coping with and controlling the consequences of inflammation.

In fact, one review from 2019 stated that

“diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”

This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

Whole Foods and the Gut

Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

Whole Foods and the Brain

The brain is a voracious organ, using 25% of the total energy you ingest through meals. It requires nothing more than a complete, unadulterated meal to work well.

In fact, the MIND Diet is the most recommended diet for brain health. According to one research, those who adhere to the MIND diet religiously had a 53 percent lower risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:

  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains

Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

It’s actually rather simple if you get your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” items in your kitchen cupboards. The only problem is that it necessitates a change in lifestyle and habits.

Following a completely, religiously whole food diet is likely to be impossible for many individuals at least some of the time. For instance, there are days when you don’t have time to prepare your lunch or when you want to socialize while eating. People with small children or who work several jobs are also unlikely to be able to maintain a whole food diet all of the time.

When it comes to diets, we sometimes put ourselves under a lot of pressure to be as flawless as possible.

Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

1. Practice Batch Cooking

If you’re used to eating more convenience-based or packaged meals, you’re likely to feel like you spend the bulk of your time in the kitchen, especially at first. As a result, I recommend pulling out your cookbooks and preparing five meals every week. If you double or treble the quantities, depending on your family size, you’ll have plenty for multiple dinners.

His might, for example, be homemade granola. Make it once, and you’re set for a week’s worth of breakfast. Oats, quinoa, buckwheat, almonds, and seeds are all tasty and nutritious whole food diet components that will keep you satisfied until lunchtime. I also enjoy making large stews.

2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

It’s difficult to stick to a new style of eating, especially if you lack willpower. As a result, it’s critical that you make things as simple as possible for yourself.

Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

Use what you have on your hands, such as a jar of carrot sticks or a couple of slices of melon from the fridge—nearly it’s as easy as selecting anything from a box. This applies to all of your other vegetables as well. If you receive your vegetables delivered or buy them at a market, select a few items to slice after they’ve been washed. It’ll be ready in minutes if you need a quick lunch or a leisurely meal.

I also enjoy making large stews.

Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

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