Nutrition Wisdom

Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods

Posted by FJ Leto on October 7, 2021
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Do You Know The Difference?

Plant-based, processed, whole foods … What’s the difference? How do they impact your health? Here’s what you need to know.

Whole Foods, aka What You Should Eat

Whole foods are unprocessed. Typically, they have little or no packaging, are in the produce section of the grocery store, and generally have only one ingredient: the food itself. They have a very short shelf life because the food hasn’t been altered by preservatives.

Examples of whole foods: apples, bananas, lettuce, celery, peppers, green beans, raw cashews, chia seeds, wild rice, wild caught fish, harvested eggs and game animals hunted in their natural habitat.

Minimally Processed Foods, aka Pretty Much Whole Foods

Minimally processed foods have undergone only slight alterations, like cooking, crushing, dehydrating, removing inedible parts like stems, blending, juicing or freezing. They still have their vitamins, minerals and nutrients intact and will be in their natural state, or close to it. These foods have a short shelf life because the food is still largely alive.

Examples of minimally processed foods: hummus, guacamole, tomato sauce, fresh juices, smoothies, frozen fruit, salsa, dried beans, raw dairy, brown rice.

Processed Foods, aka Not Whole Foods

Processed foods are no longer in their natural state. They will usually be pasteurized, have long shelf lives and have added oils, salts and/or sugars. Many processed foods have “natural” ingredients, and in fact, most processed food manufacturers attach labels with words like “all natural, organic, low sugar, high protein.” Technically, they do have those characteristics. However, the food is largely dead and devoid of the micronutrients we need for good health.

Examples of processed foods: canned fish or vegetables, packaged fruit in syrup, artisan breads and pastas, jerky, roasted and salted nuts, seasoned seeds, white rice, artisan dairy products.

Highly or Ultra-Processed Foods, aka Not Food:

Far removed from their natural state, these foods are heavily pasteurized and have very long shelf lives – sometimes years or decades. They have been altered with oils, salts, sugars, artificial flavors, coloring, preservatives, and other additives and chemicals.

Examples of highly processed foods: hot dogs, lunch meats, fast food, cookies, chips, soda, candy, most cereals, breads, low-quality dairy products, refined wheat, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, condiments.

What This Means For Our Health

Food is fuel for our brains, bodies and souls. Multiple studies have shown that people who eat whole food, plant-based diets reduce their risk of severe disease by 30-40 percent. Conversely, people who eat diets high in processed foods increase their chances of developing heart disease, Type II diabetes, cancer and other ailments.

We want to live healthy, productive lives – and we want the same for our planet. Life can be abundant with beautiful natural wonders, diverse species and healthy people. How? In the words of Michael Pollan: Eat whole foods, mostly plants, not too much.

Have questions about whole foods and clean eating? Contact me at

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