Make a table with two columns. In one column, write "Whole" and the other "Processed". Then, think back to what you ate yesterday. If a food was processed, write it in the "Processed" column. If a food was a whole food, then put it under the "Whole" category.
By "whole foods," I'm referring to any food that could be hunted, grown, or harvested. This includes all fruits and veggies, some grains such as rice and quinoa, whole potatoes, nuts and seeds, and natural protein sources (beef, steak, chicken, fish, etc. excludes deli meat, sausage, etc.). By "processed foods," I'm referring to any food that underwent manipulation or processing to get to its final form (breads, pastas, candy, canned foods, etc.).
Now add the number of foods in each category.
Which category has more? What is the percentage of foods in each category?
If it's less than 80% whole foods or more than 20% processed foods, then it's time to adjust your diet because you're missing out on a lot.
Whole Food Diet Got Humans Through Evolution
Think evolution. Humans, your ancestors, made it through a lot meaning they had to be pretty damn healthy…and they were.
They were controlled by lighting of the day, so they were guaranteed 8-9 hours of sleep/night. There was little to no pollution. They exercised daily. And they ate very little if any inflammatory foods. They only ate foods that came from the ground or from hunting. This is what got them through evolution…a good indication that their diet was pretty damn effective.
Fast forward a couple years to today. Very few of us eat a 100% whole foods diet similar to our ancestors. In fact, the societies whose diets resemble that of their ancestors are some of the healthiest individuals on this planet and have the lowest rates of autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The Western Diet, the one most Americans and now Europeans follow, is significantly higher in sugar, preservatives, and chemicals and significantly lower in essential nutrients we need for our health such as vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, etc.
In societies that follow a Western Diet, rates of autoimmune disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are at an all-time high. This became way more obvious when certain societies started adopting the Western Diet. Most countries in Western Europe started adopting Western methods of processing, preserving, and genetically-modifying food and now we’re seeing the same health trends start to rise.
Now, life expectancy is higher as compared to our ancestors, but this is most likely due to modern medicine not the change in diets. In fact, life expectancy in the US and in the UK started declining in 2014 and have since maintained its declining trend.
Benefit of Whole Foods
Whole foods do more than just provide you protein, fats, and carbs. Processed foods do just the same.
What whole foods provide more than just your basic macronutrients is your micronutrients: your essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamins (A, C, D, E, K and all the B vitamins) and minerals (calcium, selenium, zinc, iodine, sodium, chlorine) provide support for your eyes, bones, skin, joints, hair, hormones, mood, energy, blood, organs, immune system, digestion, etc.
When food is processed, it loses much of its micronutrient content. Processed foods contain more inflammatory chemicals and ingredients actually causing more harm than good, which is why it’s not enough to just add a salad to your McDonald’s burger and fries.
Remember when inflammation is high in your body, your body is constantly trying to fight it. This is energy that could be used for exercise, muscle growth, digestion, weight loss, sleep, you name it.
Get Real with Yourself
Go back to your chart. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself some questions
1. How much processed foods are you eating? If you’re eating more whole than processed, then great you’re on a good start.
2. What type of processed foods are you eating? I follow an 80/20 lifestyle… but my 20% consists of an occasional frozen waffle, organic syrup, rice cakes, or whole grain pasta. All still relatively good for me. I never eat fast food and allow myself one blow-out 1-2x/month in the form of nachos, pizza, or burgers and fries.
3. What types of whole foods are you eating? What’s the variety? What’s the quality of your food like?
4. Are you trying to lose weight just to lose weight or would you like to be healthy in the process?
Keep these questions in mind when you’re planning out your meals.
Live an 80/20 Lifestyle
Rules for the 80/20 Lifestyle
1. Plan your meals out ahead of time
2. Alternate protein and veggies on a weekly basis
3. Eat 1-2 servings of fruit/day
4. Eat veggies at every single meal
5. Plan 3-4 meals/day with mostly whole food ingredients, then leave 1-2 snack options for processed foods
6. Purchase high-quality (grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic) protein
7. Only buy the processed foods you’re eating for the week
8. Season with ginger, garlic, or turmeric for more flavor and anti-inflammatory benefit
9. Add in fresh herbs, sprouts, fermented foods (sauerkraut) for added benefit
10. Plan ahead of time
Follow these ten steps and you’re guaranteed to achieve better results and feel better in the process.