Healthy Eating

7 Powerful Benefits of a Whole Foods Diet

Plus, simple tips you can implement into your routine today for better health!

By: Lexy Parsons

You’ve likely heard that eating a whole foods diet is one of the best ways to support your health and overall well-being, but why? And what does this really mean? Focused on consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible (and thereby minimizing the intake of ultra-processed foods, which are often full of added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial ingredients) a whole foods diet helps to supply your body with an abundance of nutrients needed for optimal health. From reducing the risk of chronic disease, to improving metabolic health and mental health, to supporting weight loss goals, there are endless reasons to make the switch to eating real, whole foods!

Ahead, seven powerful benefits of adopting a whole foods diet, along with some practical tips to help you get started.

7 Reasons a Whole Foods Diet Can Improve Your Health

#1 Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease

First and foremost, eating a diet rich in whole foods has been linked to a lower risk of chronic disease, including a reduced risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancers. Rich in potent antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and phytochemicals that mitigate and protect against cell damage, whole foods contain numerous compounds needed for longevity and better health. Different from a structured eating plan, a whole foods diet can be carried out in a variety of ways, and even encompasses various whole foods-based eating styles, including the Mediterranean Diet, Blue Zones Diet, and whole foods-based plant-forward diets — some of the top researched diets for enhanced longevity and overall health. If that weren’t enough, there’s also evidence suggesting a whole foods diet can not only prevent chronic disease, but in some cases, also reverse it.

#2 Enhanced Nutrient Intake

One of the fundamental aspects of a whole foods-based diet is consuming foods in their most natural and unprocessed forms. By doing so, this inherently means that the bulk of your diet will consist of fresh, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These whole foods help to provide your body with a rich array of essential nutrients, including macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients — nutrients that are often stripped away or diminished in ultra-processed foods. For example, whole grains like quinoa and oats offer complex carbohydrates and fiber, lean proteins such as salmon and chickpeas supply the body with essential amino acids, and nuts, seeds, and avocados deliver healthy fats crucial for brain health and mental health.

Not to mention, the abundance of micronutrients and phytonutrients you’ll take in from colorful plant foods, such as anthocyanins from berries and lycopene from tomatoes and watermelon. The more diverse your plate, the more nutrients you’ll receive!

#3 Better Gut Health and Digestion

Our gut is responsible for much more than just digesting food; it plays a vital role in our overall health, and is needed for nearly every system in the body. Important for immune health, skin health, and even mental health, a healthy gut is foundational to well-being. Luckily, one of the best ways to support your gut and aid digestion is through a whole foods diet! Whole foods, which are free from artificial additives and preservatives, play a dual role in supporting gut health. First, they work to repair damage to your existing gut microbiota, reducing the risk of disease and mitigating gut inflammation and irritation often caused by ultra-processed foods and lifestyle factors. 

Whole foods also work to improve your gut microbiota, building a more diverse and robust environment. In fact, research suggests that the more colorful and diverse your plate, the better, as this helps to provide a wide range of phytonutrients that foster beneficial bacteria. Many whole foods are rich in prebiotic fiber, which feed our beneficial gut bacteria, while other foods like yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables are full of gut-healthy probiotics, helping to introduce beneficial bacteria into our systems. By incorporating these elements into your diet, you support a thriving gut microbiome, enhancing digestion and overall health.

RELATED: 8 Life-Changing Things That Happen When You Boost Your Gut Health

#4 Weight Loss & Maintenance

If weight loss is your goal, prioritizing a whole foods diet is key. Unlike many restrictive diets that cut out certain food groups, a whole foods diet focuses on adding to your plate. The idea is to crowd out your plate with as many healthy whole foods as possible, so there’s less room for not-so-healthy options. Not only will this help to increase feelings of fullness and satisfaction, but it will also help reduce overall calorie and sugar intake. Furthermore, whole foods are full of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and essential nutrients that help reduce inflammation, boost metabolism, and support gut health — vital factors in weight loss and weight maintenance!

RELATED: The Best Weight-Loss-Friendly Foods, According to a Dietitian

#5 Increased Lifespan & Longevity

If you’re looking to increase your lifespan and enhance your overall quality of life, filling your shopping cart with whole foods is a great place to start! As longevity and anti-aging continue to peak interest, more and more data is surfacing with a growing body of research highlighting the significant impact of diet on our life expectancy. Based on the evidence, it’s clear that increasing your intake of essential nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds (through whole foods), is one of the best ways to promote health and prevent age-related diseases. Helping to combat oxidative stress, reduce cellular damage, and lower the risk of chronic conditions, this simple dietary hack can help boost your life expectancy by as much as 10 years (and beyond)!

RELATED: Eating For Longevity: Top Tips For Eating Your Way to a Healthier Life

#6 Enhanced Mental Health

From anxiety and depression, millions of Americans struggle with mental health disorders each day. Characterized by fatigue, mood swings, and feelings of hopelessness, these conditions can feel debilitating. The good news is that our diet plays a pivotal role in mental health, helping to reduce the severity of symptoms and even prevent mental health conditions from occurring. 

While a diverse variety of whole foods is key, there are some particularly powerful for mental health. Think: Omega-3 fatty acids (such as avocado, nuts, and seeds) for brain health, folate-rich foods (such as dark leafy greens) for depression and mental health, and antioxidants (such as berries) for reduced inflammation and improved memory and mood. 

#7 Increased Energy Levels

Skip the afternoon coffee — prioritizing whole foods can help boost and sustain energy throughout the day in a natural way! Unlike ultra-processed foods that cause rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, whole foods (such as complex carbs, healthy fats, and lean proteins) help to provide a more consistent release of energy. Rich in nutrients such as B vitamins, fiber, zinc, and vitamin C, whole foods help to reduce fatigue, prevent mid-day energy dips, and support focus and concentration. If you’re always feeling tired, here are some of the best whole foods to consider!

RELATED: The Essential Energy-Boosting Benefits of B Vitamins

Ready to Swap Processed Foods For Whole Foods? Here Are 5 Simple Tips to Get Started

#1 Shop The Perimeter

Shopping the perimeter of the grocery store is one of our favorite whole foods diet tricks. Unlike the center aisles, which are often full of shelf-stable foods that are packaged and processed, the perimeter of the store contains foods in their most nutrient-dense form. Think: fresh produce, lean meats and seafood, and dairy products such as eggs and yogurt. Use this trick to guide your shopping!

#2 Adopt an Abundance Mindset

Rather than avoid all processed and packaged foods, aim to shop with an abundance mindset. This includes filling your plate with as many different whole foods as possible, and remembering that the more diverse your plate, the more nutrients you’ll receive! 

#3 Eat The Rainbow

“Eating the rainbow” is a concept that further embraces an abundance mindset. Embracing all the colors of the rainbow, the idea is to eat as many different colors as possible, with the goal of enhancing the nutritional value of your meals and adding variety to your diet. Different colored fruits and veggies contain different phytonutrients and nutritional compounds, helping to target and enhance various aspects of your health. For example, red foods like tomatoes and strawberries are rich in lycopene and anthocyanins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This is different from orange and yellow foods, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, which are high in beta-carotene, helping to support eye health and immune function.

#4 Call on Healthy Swaps

If you think eating a whole foods diet means giving up your favorite recipes and meals, think again! You can still enjoy tasty desserts, sweet and savory snacks, and even comfort foods. However, by opting for healthy swaps, you can do so in a way that’s not only delicious, but also nutritious. Think: healthy cookie dough made from protein-packed chickpeas, low-sugar smoothies that taste like dessert, and guilt-free pizza alternatives perfect for both kids and adults.

RELATED: 23 Easy Swaps For All of Your Favorite Foods 

#5 Cook More at Home

While there are plenty of healthy on-the-go options out there, cooking at home helps cut down a lot of roadblocks to healthy eating. You can control what ingredients go in your dish, avoid sneaky additives, and call on any healthy swaps of your choosing! To get started, plan your meals for the week, centering your dishes around whole foods. Focus on recipes that incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and don’t be afraid to experiment! 

#6 Read Food Labels

Read all food labels — even seemingly healthy ones! It’s important to remember that packaging can be sneaky, and even products that appear healthy can be full of processed foods. Remain an informed consumer by reading the ingredient and nutrient label of any packaged food or meal, and try to avoid products that contain refined ingredients, including those you can’t recognize or pronounce. Instead, look for simple labels that contain real ingredients and whole food nutrients!

The Takeaway

With so many benefits for your mind, body, and long-term well-being, making the switch to a whole foods diet is one of the best things you can do to support your health. From benefiting gut health and mental health to boosting energy and aiding your weight loss goals, this simple dietary adjustment can support you now, and for years to come. Give these simple healthy hacks a try, and see for yourself!