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Whole Foods: Fad or Fantastic

The term Whole Foods is becoming increasingly popular but it is often misunderstood and misused. There is no doubt whole foods have numerous benefits. In order to maximise those benefits we need to understand what whole foods really are and what they are not. We need to debunk some of the myths around whole foods.

6 Common Myths About Whole Foods Debunked

Myth #1: Whole Foods are products sold by wellness stores and health brands.

The real definition of whole foods is foods with minimal to no processing. They are predominantly single-ingredient foods in their natural state. Think fresh produce, whole grains, nuts and seeds. The simple rule of thumb is: if you can identify what single living plant your food item came from or are able to simply explain how it transformed from the plant into the product on shelf, it is considered a whole food.

Based on this definition, all your whole foods are naturally occurring and do not need to be manufactured, processed, packaged or sold only by specialised, premium brands. Fresh fruit and veg, pearl barley, dry lentils, dry beans can all be found in the staple foods section of traditional grocery stores, often in no-name packs. In most cases these products are no different to the version sold by premium health food brands. What traditional grocery stores lack is a full range of whole foods and the element of transparency that makes them easy to identify.

Myth #2: Whole Foods are more expensive than ‘regular’ food.

The extent to which this statement is fact or myth depends on where in the world you live. It also depends on what whole foods you choose to eat and what ‘regular’ foods you compare costs against. It is a tricky comparison to make because the nutrient profiles of whole foods vs much of the ‘regular’ foods like pastas and canned foods is different.

The cost of food in a particular country depends on labour costs, land costs, fuel and oil costs, as well as government agricultural subsidies and taxes on foods, among other things. The premium cost of whole foods is the reality in places like the USA largely because of the structure of government agricultural subsidies and taxes. In other developed countries the cost and availability of land and labour result in expensive whole foods. Because the USA produces the vast majority of consumer television the myth around the cost of whole food is a popular global belief. The reality in other countries, especially developing countries with strong agricultural industries, is often an on par cost or even cheaper. That being said it would depend on what whole foods you are eating and what ‘regular’ food you might be comparing it to. In South Africa, the cost of our diet is strongly correlated to how much convenience food and meat we eat.

Myth #3: Whole foods are a new diet fad.

Although the term whole foods has become popular in recent years, it relates to a way of eating that has been the norm for centuries. Processed foods only became popular from the 70’s onwards. It is no coincidence that the upward trend in diet-related diseases follows the same curve as our increase in consumption of processed foods and animal products in the last 30 – 40 years. The most extensive research study on diet was recently published by Lancet, with the overall conclusion showing that diet has the single biggest impact on overall health. And, diets absent of whole foods had a significantly higher prevalence of diet-related diseases in all 195 countries studied. Unlike many fad diets, you will be hard-pressed to find a health professional or medical practitioner who disagrees with this research. Whole food eating is here to stay.

Myth #4: There are not enough whole foods available to provide nutritional balance on a whole food diet.

Research by the Food And Agricultural Organisation of the UN shows that 60% of the energy intake in the modern diet consists of only 3 grains: rice, wheat and maize. And, 90% of our diet comes from just 15 plants, of the over 50 000 edible plants available. Although you may have a large variety of items in your trolley when you grocery shop, chances are they contain no more than 15 natural ingredients. A diet of whole foods makes nutrient variety more transparent. As long as you can access a decent range of whole foods it is much easier to achieve nutritional balance on a whole food diet than a diet of processed foods.

Myth #5: A Whole Food diet requires more time for food preparation.

Whole foods have not been pre-cooked, parboiled or heavily processed. They need to be cooked. If you are someone who cooks then there is no extra time investment required. If you currently rely on convenience foods or eating out then a whole food diet will require a larger investment in time. This food prep time can and has traditionally been family time. It is, without doubt, an investment in yourself and your loved ones. No other societal change in the last generation has had as big an impact on our wellbeing than the loss of the art and skill of cooking family meals.

Myth #6: Buying simple whole foods as opposed to manufactured, processed foods does not support job creation or the economy

In the context of South Africa this myth is not only not true but the opposite scenario exists. In 2018 we did an article on why our current diet is hurting the economy which explains the local reality in depth. The conclusion being a nutritionally balanced diet of more whole foods is not only healthier and can reduce the medical cost burden, but can create more income and jobs within our communities. Processed foods are made by giant companies that need to source huge volumes of ingredients. These ingredients all need to be produced to a consistent standard, which only very large, very established commercial farmers and producers can achieve. In many cases these producers are internationally based or can opt for machinery to replace labour, with neither option facilitating local income or job opportunities.

Whole foods allow us, as consumers to source more directly from the producers. This gives smaller producers, who currently do not have a consistent sales channel, a customer base and opens the market for new smaller producers, new micro business and new income opportunities. As an economy we need to be encouraging a reconnection between farmers and consumers, and facilitate the development of smallholder farmers.

Why Do We Do Whole Foods?

At Founder Foods we strongly believe a diet richer in whole foods has the power to transform our world. It is our intention to increase both access to more beautiful whole foods for consumers and to facilitate education to allow our customers and followers to maximise the benefits of whole foods.

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