Whole foods are foods that are as close to their natural or original states as possible. This means they have not been processed or refined. It also means they are free of additives, such as colorings and preservatives, and they have not been modified. To understand a whole food, consider beef. A roasted portion of beef that has not been processed, modified, or added to can be considered a whole food; a hot dog, however, does not fit in this category.
There are whole foods in many different categories. Fruits and vegetables are good examples of whole foods. Nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas also make the grade. Milk and eggs can be included in this category, as can meats, poultry, and fish. However, all of these things are excluded when processing, except for pasteurization, takes place and additives are included.
One reason to choose whole foods over their processed counterparts is nutritional intake. Often, as a result of processing, important vitamins and minerals are lost, and the food may become less healthy. Even things like fiber and water can be diminished through processing and refinement, making the food significantly less useful for the body.
While processing and refinement takes away some things the body needs, it also tends to add things in. All too often, these things are bad for a person's health. For example, processed foods often contain artificial coloring, flavorings, and preservatives. Many people believe these things are damaging to the health.
Even when a person is unsure whether a particular additive is unhealthy, he can be sure of one thing: the body does not need it. At best, consuming such additives puts something unnecessary into the body. At worst, consuming them leads to impaired health and possibly even diminished cognitive function. Some additives have even been linked to hyperactivity and diminished attention spans in children.
Another benefit whole foods offer over processed choices is the lack of added sugar and sodium. Obesity is a problem in some countries, a fact that is probably influenced by the added sugars in the foods we eat. While whole foods can contain natural sugar, they typically have less than that found in processed selections. Additionally, many argue that natural sugars are better for the body than processed sugars added back into foods. Likewise, excess sodium can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, and many processed foods are high in sodium.