What are "whole foods"?

nutrition Oct 15, 2020

I was super confused the first time I heard someone use the term “whole foods." I was like, “Mom, aren’t all foods whole?”

The way I make sense of it is that ‘whole’ is a breakdown of the word ‘wholesome,’ and ‘wholesome’ refers to the heartiness of the food in terms of its nutrient content. So basically, anything that comes straight from the earth is a ‘whole food.’

The technical definition of a whole food is a ‘food that has been refined or processed as little as possible and is eaten in its natural state.’ Examples of whole foods include unadulterated fruits and vegetables (including fresh, dried, or flash frozen produce), brown rice, wholemeal flour, and other unprocessed foods.

A whole food based diet is often, by default, a plant-based diet as well. Consumers of plant-based, whole food diets reel the benefits of having a diet rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other essential micronutrients.

In a study published in 2015, patients with osteoarthritis, a progressively debilitating disease, saw improvements in symptoms after a 12-week long diet-intervention. Some patients who adopted a plant-based, whole food diet even became pain-free after a 12 week period. Their serum levels of alpha and beta carotenes, lycopene, vitamin C, lutein, and vitamin E all improved greatly.

Perhaps the old phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” wasn’t too far off.

Until next time, eat your veggies!


Clinton CM, O’Brien S, Law J, Renier CM, Wendt MR. Whole-foods, plant-based diet alleviates the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Arthritis. 2015;2015:708152.


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