4 Myths About Whole Foods

There are a number of myths about whole foods that need to be discussed and disproved, as they're widespread. Keep reading.
4 Myths About Whole Foods
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 26 March, 2023

Whole foods are surrounded by a series of myths that need to be debunked. As a general rule, they’re highly recommended products to include in the diet on a regular basis. They’re capable of improving fiber intake, a determining substance for intestinal health.

Before beginning, it’s essential to emphasize that for a dietary pattern to be healthy, it must be varied and balanced from an energetic point of view. It’s important to include very diverse foods with the aim of ensuring an adequate nutritional contribution, avoiding deficits that can condition the efficiency in the functioning of human physiology.

Below, we’re going to comment on the main myths created around whole grains. They’re quality foodstuffs, but they’re not the solution to all problems either. They must be consumed in a conscious and moderate way, as they usually contain a lot of carbohydrates.

1. They’re less fattening than refined foods

The energy value of whole foods is often similar to that of their refined counterparts. Of course, the distribution of nutrients may be different. It’s important to maintain a balanced diet in order to optimize the state of body composition, otherwise significant weight gain could occur over the years that could affect health.

However, it should be noted that the presence of fiber in whole foods can delay the absorption of nutrients, positively impacting their use to generate calories. There’s evidence that fiber intake is a determinant factor when it comes to achieving proper prevention of complex diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

The presence of whole grains in the diet is recommended over refined varieties. Of course, it isn’t a good idea to abuse them. An excessive intake of carbohydrates in sedentary people may not be positive over the years. Only in the context of sports should the intake be increased, as carbohydrates will be used as the main source of energy.

It should be noted that whole foods may also contain a higher proportion of protein. This is good news. In any case, we’re referring to nutrients with low biological value. They’re deficient in some essential amino acids and don’t have a good score in terms of digestibility. They’ll help to complete the daily contribution, but can’t be the main source.

2. Whole-grain versions provide many more micronutrients

It’s true that whole foods may contain more of certain minerals, but this doesn’t mean that their availability is superior. In fact, fiber can act as an antinutrient, reducing the absorption of some elements such as iron, for example. In most cases, this isn’t a problem, but it’s something to be aware of.

If a nutritional deficit were to develop, it would be necessary to optimize the diet to temporarily limit fiber consumption, implementing other strategies that improve the availability of nutrients. For example, it has been shown that when iron is consumed with a certain dose of vitamin C, the body is better able to utilize it.

However, the fact that fiber acts as an antinutrient isn’t a reason to choose refined food varieties. It’s always best to prioritize whole foods, except in very specific cases. If a varied diet is considered, there should be no problem when it comes to satisfying the nutritional requirements of vitamins and minerals.

In the case of reaching a very marked deficit, it could be necessary to opt for supplementation. Therefore, a superior contribution is achieved with an optimal level of digestibility. There are different strategies to enhance the absorption of these foods according to the individual situation and the needs of each moment.

3. Whole foods help you to lose weight

One of the health food myths is that they help you lose weight.
Although they tend to have more health benefits, whole foods don’t necessarily have fewer calories.

There’s no food that has the property of causing you to lose weight as such. It’s true that certain foods can help in this process, but it’s a complex mechanism. On the one hand, an energy deficit will have to be achieved. On the other hand, it’ll be key to increase efficiency in the use of energy substrates in order to mobilize and oxidize fats in an adequate way.

However, whole foods can act in a more or less beneficial way, limiting the appetite. Fiber’s a substance that slows down the rate of gastric emptying and the absorption of nutrients, which can have a positive effect.

According to a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, meeting fiber requirements will help increase satiety, which reduces the risk of experiencing a caloric excess.

But when we talk about losing weight, many times, simply modifying or being careful with your diet isn’t enough. It’ll also be key to implement a physical activity plan, prioritizing muscle strength work above all. This will ensure that the body becomes efficient when it comes to producing energy, oxidizing more and more fat to keep basic functions active.

Even exercise can be another element that effectively modulates the binomial of appetite and satiety. After all, it also influences hormonal production, causing greater efficiency in physiological processes. People with a high activity rate are often less likely to eat more than they need.

4. Whole foods are light

A light product isn’t the same as a whole food. The first has fewer calories compared to its counterpart, while the second is characterized by containing whole grains in its ingredients. Whole foods are always made up of grains or cereals, while light foods can refer to other types of food, such as yogurt or soft drinks.

In fact, while most nutrition experts recommend the presence of whole grains in the diet, the same isn’t true when it comes to foods that are marked as “light”, “diet”, or “fat-free”. These often contain artificial additives, such as artificial sweeteners, to reduce energy while maintaining flavor. Some of them could have a negative impact on the microbiota, according to a study published in EXCLI Journal.

However, whole foods have the opposite effect. The fibers that they contain are positive for the bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract, as evidenced by research published in Nutrients.

These compounds ferment inside the intestine, serving as an energetic substrate for the microorganisms that live there, improving the density of these populations.

When should you not eat whole foods?

Although whole foods are recommended in the context of a healthy diet, there are certain situations in which it would be beneficial to limit their presence in the regimen. One of them is the case of inflammatory intestinal diseases. In these cases, a rejection of high amounts of fiber could occur, which would increase gastrointestinal symptoms.

If dysbiosis occurs, fiber intake must also be limited. This substance promotes bacterial growth regardless of whether we’re talking about pathogenic or beneficial microorganisms–it isn’t selective. Therefore, in the face of an overgrowth of negative elements, fiber could also enhance colonization and increase the harmful effects.

In any case, a specialist should recommend reducing the intake of dietary fiber, indicating how to do it efficiently. For the rest of the population,  covering daily requirements, which are estimated at 25 grams of the substance, will be necessary. In most cases, this amount isn’t, which is detrimental.

To really achieve a positive effect, the two types of fibers found in nature must be combined in the diet: Soluble and insoluble. For this, it’s key to consume whole foods, but also include products such as oats, apples, or kiwis.

In fact, soluble fiber is that which has been shown to have the greatest benefits for digestive health, promoting the growth of microbiota bacteria.

Beware of whole food labels

A woman shopping at the supermarket.
It’s important to make sure you do some research when shopping for whole grain products. Some advertisements could be misleading.

It should be noted that many of the products that are marketed as whole grains in the supermarket may not be healthy. They often have high amounts of simple sugars inside, to improve their flavor. This is considered very bad news, as these ingredients can negatively impact metabolic health in the medium term.

For this reason, you should always check the list of ingredients before purchasing foods at the supermarket. Many of them contain substances or additives of dubious healthiness, despite being marketed as healthy products due to their fiber or certain micronutrient content. In this regard, don’t let yourself be fooled by the marketing gimmicks on packaging.

Similarly, you can find whole foods that are made up of a small part of whole grain cereal and a much higher proportion of other refined products.

Sometimes, only the essential dose of the integral ingredient is used so that the food can be labeled as such, which isn’t positive either. It’s best if all the cereals and grains that they contain present this characteristic.

Acquiring a quality product in the supermarket doesn’t mean that it can be consumed in any quantity. It’ll have to be dosed correctly, seeking an optimal nutritional contribution and avoiding an energy surplus that could lead to an increase in fat mass in the body. As a result, inflammation could occur.

At the same time, a healthy diet must be combined with a series of good lifestyle habits to make the body work efficiently. This will prevent chronic and complex diseases over the years. Examples of these would be diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or various types of cancer.

Beware of myths about whole foods

Whole foods are surrounded by a series of myths that need to be debunked. Although it’s true that they have a higher quality than refined foods, they’re not the solution to all health problems. They must be included in the diet but in optimal doses. You also need to carefully analyze food labels to avoid covert fraud attempts regarding the ingredients.

Keep in mind that sometimes fiber supplements can be included in the diet. Products with the soluble portion are normally included to favor the function of the microbiota. These are known as prebiotics. In general, they help to increase the efficiency of digestion and consolidate a good state of health as far as the digestive system is concerned.

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  • Li, N., Zhao, G., Wu, W., Zhang, M., Liu, W., Chen, Q., & Wang, X. (2020). The Efficacy and Safety of Vitamin C for Iron Supplementation in Adult Patients With Iron Deficiency Anemia: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA network open3(11), e2023644. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.23644.
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  • Blanco-Pérez, F., Steigerwald, H., Schülke, S., Vieths, S., Toda, M., & Scheurer, S. (2021). The Dietary Fiber Pectin: Health Benefits and Potential for the Treatment of Allergies by Modulation of Gut Microbiota. Current allergy and asthma reports21(10), 43. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11882-021-01020-z.

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