Processed Foods vs Whole Foods: What’s the Difference?
Diet tips for men range from eating less, to eating more protein, or even just cutting out carbs. Most guys who are looking to get abs over 40 or dads who are trying to begin a weight loss program know that processed food is bad. But beyond some vague associations of burgers and frozen pizzas being poor choices, the “why” of this knowledge is usually lacking.
And on top of that, even fewer dads who are looking at putting together a healthy diet plan are aware of what the benefits of non-processed foods are. So let’s look at these some diet tips for men and learn more about processed and whole foods.
But First, Some Definitions
Processed food for our purposes is anything that comes with a substantial ingredient list. For example, 100% fresh orange juice is technically “processed” by machinery (or your home juicer), but it doesn’t fit the definition of processed food for our purposes. On the other hand fast food, anything that comes with a bunch of flavors, colors, or preservatives thrown in is going to be “processed”.
The terms “real foods” and “whole foods” are used interchangeably in most publications, but we’ll stick with whole foods to refer to foods that are close to their natural state, without chemical additives and enhancers. Finally, “raw foods” have become something of a trend lately, and are basically what they sound like, but also fit into what we are going to call “whole foods” as mostly consisting of fresh, in-transformed ingredients.
The Long List of Negatives
Now that you know what we’re talking about, let’s take a look at one of our first diet tips for men about why processed is always the inferior choice to whole foods.
Sugar and its friends
Every time a country becomes “richer” in terms of national income, it becomes fatter. This is partly due to higher disposable incomes meaning that the population can move away from traditional foods to the higher sugar options that are more common in the west. The surge in youth diabetes in countries like Japan, and more recently, Latin America, are prime examples.
To get flavor back into food that is highly processed manufacturers have to add sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or other artificial sweeteners. That means that our bodies have to work harder to process all that sugar. And that means our pancreas works harder and our insulin spikes, which in the long-term can lead to diabetes.
Along with sugar, processed foods need a terrifying list of ingredients so that they can stay on the shelf for months or years on end. Anti-caking agents, emulsifiers, thickeners, products to improve the shine, smell, mouthfeel, and even texture of products are all shoveled in to preserve food and compensate for the loss of taste or texture. Just wander through the supermarket and look at the ingredient list for any sugary breakfast cereal or muesli bar to see what I mean.
Middle-aged workout plans and healthy diet plans always suffer when confronted with carbs. Which makes perfect sense: we are hard-wired to crave them. Unfortunately, highly processed carbs are also cheap and plentiful, which makes them ideal ingredients for food manufacturers to use in bulk. Even more unfortunately, a diet high in refined carbs makes it easy to eat way more energy than is necessary to get through your day, and it also makes it easy to do so way faster.
Imagine any fresh ingredient you like. It can be an apple, whole grains, or even meat. Now imagine that ingredient being pummeled, filtered, chemically altered, added to, processed, transformed, heated, chilled then packaged and stored after passing through many production lines. That’s a lot of activity and changes to that fresh ingredient to get it inside a wrapper, can, or bottle. But when you imagine it in that context, it’s clear that it is impossible for that fresh ingredient not to lose some of its essential nutrition as it is processed into a fast moving consumer good.
Studies are increasingly showing that highly processed foods lose time after time to whole foods when it comes to the amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants present in them.
The Good News
So now we know the bad news, how about looking at some benefits to whole foods?
Lower in sugar
Diabetes (type 2) is often called a “Western” disease. High sugar loads in processed food coupled with less exercise cause higher rates of obesity, which is a huge risk factor for diabetes. But whole foods are naturally lower in sugar and composed in a way that limits how much sugar per serve can be consumed. For example, you’d have to consume an incredible amount of pineapple or watermelon to get the same sugar as just one can of soft drink. A few more diet tips for men, whole foods also contain plenty of fiber and water, which ticks multiple boxes in each serve.
Heart disease is another major health concern, because of how deadly it can be. Unprocessed foods are naturally lower in harmful cholesterol and trans fats, meaning they don’t contribute nearly as much to heart disease. In addition, emerging research is showing that some foods may help support medication and exercise to assist in reducing risk factors for heart disease.
Prevention of overeating
Highly processed foods are designed to be over-consumed because of the amount of “empty” calories in them. In contrast, whole foods have many textures, flavors, acidity, sweetness, sourness, and richness naturally. That variety is more satisfying to the human palate and helps to slow down our consumption, which in turn reduces the likelihood of overeating. And moving away from the health benefits, whole foods are also cheaper in the long run, help support primary producers like farmers and fishers, and have way more natural variety!