Whole-O-Ween | Torrance Memorial

Published on October 22, 2021

Whole-O-Ween: Incorporating Whole Foods into Your Diet

jack o lantern vegetables

By Briana Jacinto, Torrance Memorial Dietetic Intern and Cowritten by Christian Torres, Registered Dietitian

Are you spooked by all the processed foods and ingredients that are readily available and not-so-nutritious? As we begin to approach the holiday season including Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, delicious food and drinks are often rooted in so many of our traditions and family memories. Bite-sized chocolate bars, sugar-frosted cookies, pumpkin pie, and eggnog all are delicious treats we look forward to but are all processed. Highly processed foods and drinks account for 58% of total energy in the average U.S. diet containing excessive amounts of added sugar and sodium. Although these types of foods are convenient, comforting, and cheap, they can have a lasting impact on your health including increasing the risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.

“Processed food” includes any food that has been changed in some way during preparation. Any time we cook, bake or prepare food we are processing food. Processed foods fall on a spectrum from minimally to highly processed.

  • Minimally processed foods, such as bagged spinach or broccoli and roasted nuts, often are simply pre-prepped for convenience.
  • Foods processed at their peak to lock in freshness and nutritional quality include frozen fruit and vegetables or canned items such as tuna.
  • Foods with ingredients including sweeteners, oils, colors, and preservatives for flavor and texture such as salad dressings, yogurts, or cake mixes.
  • Ready-to-eat foods including hot dogs and deli meats are heavily processed.
  • The most heavily processed foods include frozen meals like pizza and microwavable dinners. Not to mention, fast foods like burgers, fries, and shakes.

Making healthy choices without guidance can be scary but becoming ill through a heavily processed diet is haunting. Instead, incorporating whole foods to create a balanced and nutritious meal can be life-changing through disease prevention. A diet rich in whole foods includes legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, colorful fruits, and a variety of vegetables. One great resource to get started on creating healthy, balanced meals includes incorporating different food groups on your plate. What better way to incorporate more whole foods starting this upcoming holiday-Halloween!

Carve the pumpkin and eat it too: Make ½ your plate a mix of vegetables and fruits.

Aim for color and variety especially during the different seasons. Bell peppers, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are perfect for this Fall season. These whole foods are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants! Be cautious when purchasing canned vegetables and fruits as they may contain high amounts of sodium and added sugar. Instead, replace with frozen fruits and vegetables or use the “shop the sale” strategy. If you’re looking for ways to incorporate different fruits and vegetables, purchase produce on sale first as it is equally nutritious and gives you variety while saving money!

Whole-O-Ween starches: Make ¼ of your plate whole grains.

Whole grains including whole wheat, barley, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and foods made with wheat such as pasta are full of fiber that help stabilize blood sugar levels. These whole food options have a milder effect on insulin than white bread, white rice, and other refined grains. This Halloween try incorporating whole food ingredients in your traditional pastries, without depriving yourself, like baking homemade pumpkin bread from scratch. Try swapping out eggs for bananas and sweeten with maple syrup instead of sugar for an equally delicious and moist treat!

Meatless Magic: Make ¼ of your plate plant-based or lean protein.

Focus on including a variety of lean protein on your plate including fish, poultry or plant-based protein options such as beans, tofu, and nuts. These versatile protein sources can be easily added to your plate and keep you satisfied throughout the day! Limit processed meats such as bacon, sausage, deli meats and even the new rise of “plant-based” meats as they are more heavily processed. Instead, start slowly by incorporating more plant-based ingredients like swapping out beef chili for lentils, for a protein-packed meal! Simple swaps can make the idea of adding more whole foods to your diet realistic and attainable!

Witch fat do I choose? Have healthy plant oils.

Choose vegetable oils, like olive, canola, or avocado oil, to create different dishes. Limit the use of partially hydrogenated oils, as they are most commonly found in foods such as margarine, and vegetable shortening, which contains unhealthy trans-fats. Add other healthy options including avocado, nuts, and seeds to help lower bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels while providing essential nutrients that your body needs!

Trick or treat?

Incorporating whole foods into your diet is no trick, but rather a treat to live a healthy lifestyle. Remember, small changes when creating meals may have a greater impact than you think! Starting this upcoming holiday is ideal, as it kicks off the holiday season and prepares us to be mindful of our body and health for the new year!!

If you have questions or are interested in learning more techniques to help build a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, contact one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists at the Outpatient Medical Nutrition Therapy Office or our Diabetes Self-Management Program located in the Torrance Memorial Specialty Center, 2841 Lomita Blvd., Suite 335, Torrance. Call 310-891-6707.