Fiona Sutherland tells the whole story about wholefoods. 

WHEN I was teaching nutrition class at the Australian Ballet School last month, one of the young dancers asked a very smart question… “What’s a wholefood? I’ve heard a lot about it, but I don’t understand what they are and if they’re good for me?”

Great question! It led on to a great discussion, so I thought I’d tell you about it too! A food is called a “wholefood” when it hasn’t changed too much from its most natural state. It’s not just about fresh food, but includes frozen, canned and fried products that are nutritionally really similar to the original food. Some processes are designed to keep our food safe, or to make it more palatable but others seem to change the original food so much that it bears no resemblance at all to the original. I’ll give you an example. Consider rice crackers, which originate from whole grains of rice but most of the nutrients have been removed and salt has been added. This would be regarded as a “highly processed” food but the rice (the original product) is called a “wholefood.”

Examples of wholefoods are fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables, wholemeal flour, brown rice and other wholegrains, seeds, nuts and nut spreads, legumes (beans), natural yoghurts, coconut, fresh and canned fish, eggs, chicken and red meats.

It’s important for me to explain at this point that I don’t think about foods as being “good” or “bad”. Look instead at what you’re eating overall as well as how you’re feeling, how you’re performing, how you’re recovering etc. It’s fair to say, however, that when food hasn’t been heavily processed, it retains more of its nutrients and natural fibre, both of which are important to maintain good health.

How much wholefood should I be eating?

For busy and active dancers, the considerations need to be around food preferences, convenience and the unique needs of your body. Ideally, it would be great to eat wholefoods as much as possible but it’s not always going to be the best choice for you if you find yourself time-poor and lacking in energy. My suggestion is that when you’re planning or thinking about your meals, aim to start with the wholefoods first, then work from there. If part of your meal is more processed, that’s fine, because processed foods are not necessarily lacking in nutritional value, and every food has its place. Take Weet-Bix, for example. Not everyone likes Weet-Bix and might have other food preferences. It could also be regarded as a "processed food" (and it is!). But Weet-Bix is an example of a highly nutritious food that, when paired with milk and some fruit, gets your day off to a terrific start. For others, whole oats, or eggs might be a better option but in today’s food supply it’s almost impossible to escape from processed foods. If you’re taking the time to consider what your body needs, aiming to maintain a positive attitude to food and eating, and paying attention to your appetite, you’re definitely on the right track.

Fiona Sutherland is an accredited dietitian and nutritionist and consultant to the Australian Ballet School. 

This article was originally published in the December/January edition of Dance Australia. Want more like this? Buy Dance Australia at your favourite magazine retailer or subscribe here, or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app.

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