The Most Important Principle of a Healthy Diet
Emphasise Whole Foods
Basing 80-90% of your food intake on real, whole foods, is the single most important and powerful principle of a healthy diet. Reason being, this principle will improve every aspect of your diet regardless of which nutritional doctrine you may adhere to. For clarity, a “whole food” is a naturally occurring food, minimally processed. The basic rule that “if it flew, grew, ran or swam, you can eat it” serves as a good proxy for discerning between whole foods and manufactured or processed foods.
Not to suggest that 100% adherence necessary, but if one was to strictly adhere to this rule totally, it would be almost impossible to overeat, to be malnourished, to develop type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome or unfavourable blood lipid profiles. It would also be nearly impossible not to lose fat, improve metabolic health or increase feelings of self-reported wellbeing.
The nutrient profile provided by a completely whole-food diet will, by default, be low in sugar, alcohol, damaged fats, preservatives, and hyper-palatable foods. It will also, by default, likely provide adequate levels of the complete spectrum of nutrients required for a healthy body.
Here’s a little detail on each of those points
With the notable exception of honey, which will likely make up a tiny minority of your total annual food intake, whole foods provide very little sugar. The sugar that is contained in whole foods such as in whole fruit, is normally bound up in the cell membranes and thus takes more time to release into the circulation. Leading to less erratic blood sugar and less cellular damage by said sugar. The amount of blueberries you will need to eat to consume the equivalent one fizzy drink is unlikely to be eaten in one sitting in normal circumstances.
The amount of calories per 100g of actual food eaten on a whole food diet is far lower than that of a typical processed food diet. This is known as calorie density. The lower the calorie density of a diet the more total food is eaten for the same total energy intake. Additionally, generally speaking, every process food goes through leads to faster digestion and more easily available calories. The lower digestion rate, coupled with more total food eaten, leads to greater satiety, meaning less hunger, and more stable energy and mood.
You will consume better fats
Processed and damaged fats are the only really “bad” fats in the human diet. These are far more prevalent in processed, fried and preserved foods than they are in fresh, whole foods. Not only will you consume less damaged fats, but through a varied whole food diet, you are likely to consume a more varied and balanced profile of fats, which is good for health. Fats make up the membrane of every cell in the body and provide the raw material for many hormones. The better the fatty acid profile of your diet the more likely you are to have healthy cells and all the raw materials you need for optimal metabolism.
Processed foods tend to be high in omega 6 fats, hydrogenated and oxidised fats. This is a more inflammatory fat profile. Hydrogenated fats are unnatural fats that have been shown to be very bad for cardiovascular health and in no way beneficial. Oxidised fats are fats that have been damaged and have effectively gone rancid. The longer shelf life of food and the more processes it has been through the more likely it is to be oxidised. Once oxidised fats are more inflammatory and less beneficial in the body. A fresh, whole food diet will be virtually free from hydrogenated fats and oxidised fats, provided you are kind to your fats in storage and cooking.
You will consume less processed food
Processed foods tend to have lower nutrient density, and have less favourable quality and sources of fats, carbs and proteins. Not to mention generally being more likely to contain potentially harmful ingredients such as various preservatives, potential carcinogens, artificial chemicals, and compounds that make the food hyper-palatable, altering your taste and making you more reliant on processed foods and less satisfied by real food.
You will consume more live food
Live foods such as living plants have widely accepted benefits to health. Generally, they will contain high concentrations of biologically available and active nutrients, especially when compared to their processed or preserved counterparts.
Your diet will likely be far more nutritious
The most commonly eaten “vegetables” among teenage Americans are tomato ketchup and potatoes in the form of fries. The difference in nutritional value, (per 100g or per 100kcal) of a diet based 90% on whole foods vs that western diet is profound. Our bodies evolved in a world where every plant grew in an organic, biodiverse manner, picked and eaten freshly and seasonally and travelled 0 food miles to reach our mouths. Every animal was wild and ate a nutrient dense, natural diet. Every fish was wild and fresh from pristine waters. The nutritional value of our ancestral diet during good times was very high.
Even on a whole food diet today, it is difficult to attain these levels of nutrients in the diet. Modern farming often produces weak and nutrient sparse varieties of plants and animals. On a processed diet, the nutritional value is horrendous. As a result, we see a paradox where there are few people in the developed world who do not have nutrient deficiencies of some sort, even though we have an obesity epidemic. Basing the overwhelming majority of your diet on whole foods is a good foundation.
The principle of grounding your diet in whole foods is a truth of good nutrition, regardless of doctrine. It accommodates all dietary dogmas regardless of whether you are vegan, carnivore, omnivore, keto, paleo or gluten-free. Each of those diets have a place and huge followings. But none are guaranteed to be healthy. There are great vegan diets and horrendous ones. There are poor gluten-free foods and then there are perfectly nutritious foods that are disallowed because they are not “paleo”. I see problems with dogmatic nutritious camps, and I believe principles are a better way forwards. But I accept many of you reading this will identify in some way or another with a particular diet. This principle is a foundation of nutrition regardless of your current doctrine.
If you’re interested in adjusting your diet and nutrition to reap the benefits of a healthier whole foods lifestyle then why not take a look at our Baseline Diet download:
Our free, downloadable guide arms you with all the foundations of a successful nutrition plan – download now to start your journey.