Whole Foods & Processed Foods: What You Should and Shouldn’t Eat and Why

Whole Foods & Processed Foods: What You Should and Shouldn’t Eat and Why

Vitaly Cheresh |

“Packaged”, “processed”, “whole”, “natural” – what does it all really mean when it comes to food, and what should you be eating?

Knowing what you should eat to for a healthy lifestyle or lose weight can be incredibly confusing if you don’t know the basics about nutrition.

These common terms get thrown around a lot, but many people don’t actually know what they mean or what constitutes a “natural” or “processed” food item. In Dianne’s Challenge, Episode 3, our weight loss challenger mentions that her personal trainer, Holly, tells her to stay away from processed and junk foods and to eat whole and organic options. However one video cannot capture all of the information you need to know.

So let’s break it all down to make healthy eating as plain and simple as possible!woman holding organic zucchini


A processed food is basically any food that has been altered in its preparation and cannot be found in nature. Foods found in nature are things like: fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, nuts, beans, grains – basically anything that you can take directly from the earth.

Processing is not necessarily bad, since it may be considered as simple as baking, drying, or freezing. However, it can also be as extreme as creating a food in a lab with chemicals and preservatives, such as candy bars, chips, nacho cheese, or bologne.

According to Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, authors of Fit for Life, “Processing is the practice of taking a perfectly good food, one that contains the nutrients necessary to prolong life, and stripping it of everything and anything of value. Processing is making something to put into the human stomach that no longer resembles what nature produced and intended it for consumption.”

Common processed foods include:

  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Pre-made meals (frozen or ready to microwave)
  • Ramen
  • Canned vegetables and fruits
  • Cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Sausage
  • Deli meat
  • Tofu
  • Bacon
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Breads and pastries
  • Pasta sauce
  • Canned soup
  • Granola bars/protein bars

Processing is typically done with chemicals, additives and/or preservatives to improve the flavor, texture or appearance, or to preserve it to make it last on a shelf longer.

Some preservatives and additives are considered safe, and may even have health benefits such as: sea salt, Stevia, spices & herbs, gelatin, vitamins, minerals, pectin, and citric acid.



However, the majority of additives are unnatural and have been created chemically, which can cause serious issues to not only your physical health, but mental and emotional health as well. Many additives and preservatives are incredibly addictive and are used to keep consumers coming back to buy those foods over and over again, both at restaurants and in the grocery store. 

They have been shown to kill brain neurons and cause obesity, migraines, depression, irritability, fatigue, mood swings, cancer, food addictions, ADD, ADHD, hormone imbalances, allergies, brain damage, brain fog, chest pain, and illness.

Many common ailments from fatigue to headaches to menstrual cramps that we deem “normal” can actually be the consequence of all of the junk in foods that were never intended to go into our bodies.Processed meats and cheeses on a table

Avoid these additives & preservatives whenever possible:

  • Sodium Benzoate - found in sodas and juices
  • Nitrates/Nitrites - found in dried meats, hot dogs, sausages
  • Partially Hydrogenated Oils/Trans Fats – found in fried foods, snack foods, baked goods, margarine. Types include: peanut oil, soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) & BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)– found in potato chips, beer, preserved meat, gum, cereal, vegetable oils
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – found in many Chinese food restaurants and most packaged foods. If you don’t see this listed on a package, look again! It may be named as “autolyzed yeast” or “yeast extract”.
  • Sulfites – found in wine, dried fruits, dried drink mixes, jam/jelly, shellfish, snack foods
  • Artificial Flavors & Colors – found in chips, macaroni and cheese, flavored yogurt, drink mixes, salmon, salad dressing, cereal, maple syrup, and many more! Look for terms like Red #3, Blue #1 or simply “artificial flavors”
  • Refined Sugar - found in just about everything. May be listed as: high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, maltose, fructose
  • Artificial Sweeteners - found in sugar-free or low-sugar products, diet soda, gum, yogurt, ice cream, etc. These include aspartame, sucralose, Equal, NutraSweet, Splenda,  Sweet ‘n Low

To make it simple, if you look on a package and the list of ingredients includes things you’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce, it’s probably wisest to steer clear of it. Bowl of fruit loop cereal

Packaged items that are okay to eat include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Bagged spinach and greens, frozen and fresh veggies and fruit
  • Nuts
  • Tuna in water
  • Frozen fruits & veggies
  • Sauerkraut
  • Unflavored yogurt
  • Mustard
  • Nut butters
  • Unsweetened almond/coconut/flax milk
  • Grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal
  • Beans
  • Sprouted grain bread
  • Oils
  • Organic soups
  • Dried fruit with no added sugar or sulfites

For all of the above, look for organic and make sure no ingredients have been added.



“Whole” and “natural” are basically the same thing – these are foods that naturally come from the earth which have been refined/processed as minimally as possible. If your ancestors on their farm could find it, grow it, or hunt it, then it’s probably safe for you, too.

Unfortunately these days, many food companies label food as “natural” or “all natural” when it really is not. You can find the work “natural” on foods full of sugar, artificial flavors, and preservatives. So always use caution when you see a food labeled this way, and be diligent about checking the list of ingredients.

Organic foods, according to the USDA, are those that have been grown using practices that “strive to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity”1. For a product to be USDA Certified Organic, it must be grown according to federal standards that address soil quality, animal raising processed, pest control, and use of additives.

If a food is certified organic, it means the item’s content should be free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, hormones, steroids, or genetic engineering.containers of fresh blueberries

Whole, organic foods are what your body was designed to use for energy and well-being. These foods are naturally loaded with vitamins and minerals, they help fight disease, and can be incredibly healing.

Many Americans are actually malnourished – even those who are overweight – because they are eating foods that have been so processed that they no longer contain any benefits to the body or mind. This is also why many people can eat and eat and eat, and still feel hungry, because their body is screaming out for nutrients. Whole foods give your body what it needs and prevent weight gain because you feel satiated from all of the fiber, water, and nutrients in these foods.

Unfortunately, most organic foods can cost more than processed foods. However, as certified nutritionist Kelly Hayford says, “If you are eating whole, fresh, natural foods such as produce, legumes and whole grains from the bulk bins, you will be spending much less than what you would spend on processed foods of any kind. Also consider… that you will not be spending money on expensive junk foods such as soda, alcohol, salty and sugary snack foods, and the like. I could make a whole meal for two with leftovers on what some people spend every morning on their gourmet coffee and pastry to go.”2



The good news is that these days there are so many organic products on the market that go beyond just fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. You can find many more snack food options that consist of only whole foods and only use things like sea salt as a preservative. Do more of your shopping online and grocery stores that sell primarily organic, whole foods to find many fun alternatives to your old junk food favorites.

Here are some natural brands to make shopping easier when you start making the switch:

  • Alta Dena
  • Annie’s Naturals
  • Arrowhead Mills
  • Bolthouse Farms
  • Brown Cow
  • Cascadian Farms
  • Dave’s Killer Bread
  • Eden Foods
  • Garden of Eatin’
  • Health Valley
  • Imagine Foods
  • Knudsen’s
  • Lundberg Farms
  • Newman’s Own
  • Seeds of Change
  • Shari’s Organic
  • Spectrum Naturals
  • Stoneyfield
  • Sunspire

You can often find crackers, breads, jams, meat, fish, wine, protein bars, baked goods and more that are organic and minimally processed. It just takes a bit more investigative work and label reading. However, once you get used to what is good for you and what products you need to stay away from, the time and mental energy required will be far less. You’ll also find that the way your body and skin feels and looks will be worth the effort!



  1. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means  
  2. If it's Not Food…Don't Eat It!: The No-Nonsense Guide to an Eating-for-Health Lifestyle, Kelly Hayford - Delphic Corner Press – 2005
  3. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-seven-common-food-additives#6
  4. https://draxe.com/artificial-sweeteners/
  5. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114









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