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Frequently Asked Questions

All you need to know about why eating whole foods is important, how to incorporate more whole foods into your daily foods, what it means when food is processed or ultra-processed and who to read the labels on the food you buy.

1. What does ‘whole foods’ mean?

Whole foods are foods that:

  • have not been refined
  • have been processed as little as possible (i.e. minimally processed)
  • are eaten in its natural state

This includes unprocessed food, such as the edible parts of plants (for example fruits and vegetables) or minimally processed food, when the inedible or unwanted part of the food removed, (such as oats, brown rice and legumes). Both these options should not have added salt, sugar, and/or oils/fats an infrequently contain additives to preserve the properties of the original food.

2. What are ultra-processed foods and drinks?

Ultra-processed foods have been refined/ processed to the point that they contain very little or none of the original nutrients and typically consist of five or more ingredients (such as sugar, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants, stabilisers, preservatives and additives). They need all these additional ingredients to imitate sensory qualities of unprocessed/ minimally processed foods or to disguise undesirable sensory qualities of the final product. Typical examples include:

  • sugary drinks
  • sweet or savoury packaged snacks
  • ice-cream, chocolate, sweets, (confectionery)
  • ready to heat products including pre-prepared pies and pasta and pizza dishes
  • poultry and fish ‘nuggets’ and ‘sticks’
  • sausages, burgers, hot dogs, polony and other reconstituted meat products
  • powdered and packaged ‘instant’ soups, noodles and desserts
  • mass-produced packaged breads and buns
  • margarines and spreads
  • cookies (biscuits), pastries, cakes, and cake mixes
  • breakfast ‘cereals’, ‘cereal’ and ‘energy’ bars
  • ‘energy’ drinks; sweetened and flavoured milk drinks, ‘fruit’ yoghurts and ‘fruit’ drinks; cocoa drinks
  • meat and chicken extracts
  • ‘instant’ sauces
  • infant formulas, follow-on milks, other baby products
  • ‘health’ and ‘slimming’ products

3. Why are so many ultra-processed food and drink choices available?

The consumption of ultra-processed foods and drinks have increased across the world together with an increase in overweight and obesity. Many of us lead rushed and busy lifestyles and to accommodate this lifestyle, food manufacturers have created ready-to-eat meals that need little or no heating. These ready-made meals, although convenient, are often not healthful (as explained above). They are also often perceived to be cheaper than whole foods, however, with a little preparation, wholefoods can go a long way and in the long run will be cheaper and healthier than their read-made counterparts.

4. How can I still eat healthy when eating out at restaurants?

  • Look at the menu and choose options which are mostly plant-based, e.g. vegetables, legumes and minimally starchy foods and which include small portions of animal-based foods.
  • Rather choose grilled instead of fried fish, chicken or meat.
  • Choose side-dish options which contain vegetables and/or legumes such as roast vegetables, stir-fried vegetables or a side salad.
  • Look out for words on the menu such as ‘creamy/ fried/ rich’ as these foods may be high in fat.
  • When ordering drinks, always ask for a glass or a jug of water for the table. This way you will hydrate without all the extra sugar and energy.
  • Always taste the food first before adding salt as many times restaurant dishes will already have a lot of salt in them.

5. What tips do you have for preparing meals away from home, e.g. lunch boxes?

  • Plan the breakfast/lunches for the week and put a list on the refrigerator or counter to remind yourself what to pack.
  • Prepare the breakfast/lunches the night before and store in the fridge or freezer so it can be safely consumed the next day.
  • Most of the lunch box should consist of unprocessed or minimally plant-based foods, for instance: vegetables and/or fruit, legumes and where possible minimally processed starchy foods.
  • Follow hygienic food preparation methods. This is especially important when food will be stored for many hours before eating.
  • In summer, freeze water bottles overnight to have ice-cold water throughout the day. This also can help to keep a lunch box cool.

6. Food is expensive. What can I do to save costs but still be able to prepare healthy meals for my family?

  • Look for store sales or specials on store pamphlets, coupons or online advertisements.
  • Check the expiry dates and quality of food you buy on sale.
  • Be sure you have enough extra money and storage space to buy in bulk (but check that you will use all the food up before the expiry date)
  • Buy only foods that your family will use up before it gets spoiled or expire.
  • For better value, buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season.
  • Dry products like maize meal, wheat flour, rice, pasta, couscous and frozen foods keep well for a longer period and therefore can be bought in bulk.
  • Single portion items are often more expensive than buying in bulk.
  • Buy fewer canned or prepared or ready-to-eat foods. They cost more and are often higher in sugar, salt and fat.
  • Ready-to-eat bottled baby foods are costly. Use fresh foods and vegetables that can be pureed or mashed to the right consistency for smaller children. Meat and fish can be grinded to the right texture for smaller children.
  • Non-breastfed children can use full cream milk from as early as 12 months. There is therefore no need to buy ‘growing up’ infant formula after this age.
  • Do not buy expensive food thinking it is healthy as some expensive foods can have a low nutritional value.

For a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions