So, what is the difference between a whole food and a processed food?

Let’s look at two common food items and compare them.

First, we have our whole food example, the humble apple.This apple is a complete package of nutrients, fiber, and water, designed by nature to fuel our bodies and provide it with the building blocks it needs to rebuild and function. There are no additives, and nothing has been removed so it is “whole”.

Next, we have a hotdog, this is a prime example of a processed food. What once started as whole food protein from beef, pork, and chicken has been mechanically separated, ground, and condensed into a good ole fashioned frankstein-esque meat tube. Maybe that’s why the call them franks…. Yum.. But it doesn’t end there. When foods are processed not only are valuable nutrients lost and fibers removed, but the texture, natural variation and flavors are lost as well. After processing, what’s left is a bland, uninteresting “pseudo- food” that most people would find entirely unappetizing.

So, at this point, food manufacturers must add back in the nutrients, flavor, color, and texture to processed foods in order to make them palatable. Now they need this frank to last so they add even more to the mix with chemicals that, slow spoilage, prevent fats and oils from becoming rancid or developing an off- flavor, improve taste, texture, and appearance.The hot dog is an extreme example of processing but it’s not far off from a lot of the foods an average Americans eat, think cheese puffs. Processing can be as simple as an apple becoming apple juice. Or as complicated as various bits of meat that have been ground and shaped into a hot dog with added flavorings, preservatives, artificial colors, sugars, and oils, that have themselves been modified.

So, why does it matter? We have been eating hot dogs for as long as I can remember. It’s an American tradition.

But when we put the history of food into perspective, it’s the processed foods that are “radical” and “new.” People have thrived on vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods were only recently invented. It’s easy to forget that the processed, packaged foods and fast food restaurants of today are a radical change in terms of the history of food production.
TV dinners didn’t even come around until the 1950s … before that it was a home-cooked meal or no meal at all.

If you want to eat healthy, I suggest you follow the pre-1950s model and spend quality time in the kitchen (yourself, a family member, or even someone you hire) preparing high-quality meals for yourself and your family. If you rely on processed inexpensive foods, you will simply exchange convenience and short-term cash savings for long-term health consequences.

When it comes to staying healthy, avoiding processed foods and replacing them with fresh, whole foods is the “secret” you’ve been looking for.