Whole vs. Processed
Whole foods are ingredients in their raw, unprocessed, and unrefined state, in contrast to foods that have undergone processing and preservation methods like curing, cooking, drying, or canning. As Dr. Nadine Burke, of San Francisco’s Bayview Child Health Center, says, whole foods are “the kind of foods that don’t need a label.”
Food processing extends the harvest through the seasons, prevents spoilage during storage and transport, and transforms raw ingredients into something new. Many of the foods we enjoy today, such as butter, cheese, pickles, jam, and ketchup, would not exist without food processing. Natural preservation techniques, such as fermentation, can even enhance the nutritional benefits of certain foods.
Some modern processing methods, however, deplete raw foods of vital nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and healthy fats. For example, white rice is brown rice that has been milled to extend its shelf life. The milling process removes the husk, bran, and germ, destroying iron, fiber, magnesium, fatty acids, B vitamins, and other healthy minerals found in unmilled brown rice. In the US, the FDA requires that white rice be “enriched” with B1 and B3 and iron, in an attempt to add back nutrients that are naturally occurring in rice’s original, whole-grain state.