What Is a Whole-Foods Diet? Benefits, Risks, Food List, and More – Everyday Health

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“Whole foods retain their nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber, which are often removed in processed foods,” says Young. Research suggests that there are many reasons to consider making the move toward eating more of this nutrient-rich fresh food and less heavily processed fare, including:

Chronic Disease Prevention

Although some animal products are allowed as part of this eating plan, a whole-foods diet will most likely mean an increase in your intake of healthy plant-based foods, because it emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. In one study, people who stuck to a plant-based diet had a 19 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and an 11 percent lower risk of dying from any cause, compared with those whose diet was lower in plant-based foods.

What’s more, a review has identified that diets full of whole foods — specifically whole grains, vegetables, fruit, fermented dairy, fish, olive oil, nuts, chocolate, coffee and tea — are associated with a lower risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Meanwhile, consumption of red and processed meats and sugary beverages was linked to a higher risk of those conditions.

Chronic Disease Management

A diet that emphasizes plant-based whole foods tends to be packed with nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Eating this way may also naturally help limit fat and calorie intake. For those reasons, it’s a great way to help manage or treat conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and autoimmune diseases.

Weight Loss

Many processed foods are packed with sugar and salt to enhance flavor. Cutting them out may “save calories, which can lead to weight loss and could extend life and prevent disease,” says Young. One randomized controlled trial noted that people who ate a processed diet consumed 500 additional calories per day, compared with people eating an unprocessed diet. This correlated with gaining about two pounds over two weeks; participants then lost that weight when switching over to an unprocessed diet.

This study was small (just 20 adults) and completed over a short period of time (14 days), but larger studies show that diets that include a lot of ultra-processed foods increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

In another study, six months of following a whole-foods, plant-based diet led to about 10 pounds of weight loss, compared with a control group who lost less than a pound during that time. Participants in both groups were overweight or obese and were living with at least one chronic condition, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. Overall, the group following the whole-foods diet maintained this weight loss over 12 months.

Improved GI Health

By filling your diet with foods that are naturally packed with fiber — whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables — you’re more likely to reach your recommended daily fiber intake. (Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for at least 38 grams per day.)

 “A diet high in fiber leads to lower rates of chronic disease and improved digestion and gastrointestinal health,” says Young.

A Stronger Immune System

Eating a healthy, balanced diet supports immune system health. Focusing on variety ensures that you’re getting a range of nutrients, such as vitamin C, zinc, and selenium, that are known to boost your body’s defenses.

 What’s more, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables but filled with ultra-processed foods (which are discouraged or severely limited in this eating plan) may negatively affect gut health and raise inflammation, both of which may have negative effects on your immune system.

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