Understanding the Hidden Powers of a Whole Food Diet

Understanding the Hidden Powers of a Whole Food Diet

Probably the most famous saying in all of medicine is primum non nocere: "First Do No Harm" and it's found in the Hippocratic Oath. But the second most famous—and equally important saying--- was also attributed to Hippocrates: "Let food be thy medicine". In a world of technology and innovation that moves at exponential rates on a daily basis, it's easy to forget the wisdom in that simple saying. Because real, whole foods contain an entire pharmacopeia of chemicals—thousands of them, actually--- which, working synergistically, have the capacity to fight all manner of insults to the human body from oxidative damage to the skin to inflammation in the arteries.

While real food may not be the answer to every malady that afflicts humankind, it can be the answer to many of them—and, at least, a big part of the answer for the rest.

Integrating whole foods into our diet is not just a trend but a cornerstone of optimal health. Whole foods, characterized by their unrefined and unprocessed state, offer a plethora of health benefits that just can't be matched by their processed counterparts.

And if you're understandably confused about the definition of "real food", let us help you out. Kale chips are not real food—kale is. Real food is something that your great-great-great grandmother would have immediately recognized as food. Real food spoils if you leave it outdoors in the sun. Real food is food that, in Paleolithic times, you would have been able to hunt, fish, gather off the ground or pluck from a tree. It's not generally found in the middle aisles of the supermarket.

What Are Examples of Whole Foods?
Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and animal products that have not been stripped of important natural components (like fiber, or fat). Unlike the processed foods commonly found even in health-centric stores often sell items like low-fat cheese and vegan alternatives that are far from meeting anyone's definition of "whole" — true whole foods provide a complete profile of nutrients in their natural form. (Fat included, by the way. Paleolithic people did not eat "low-fat caribou".)

The Symphony of Nutrients
Nutritionist Jonny Bowden's "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth" highlights the specific, science-based benefits of individual whole foods, yet the benefits of a "real food" or "whole food" diet extends far beyond a summary of the nutrients found in any one food, no matter how impressive its resume. Whole foods contain an intricate network of flavan-3-ols, flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, soluble and insoluble fibers and a large diversity of prebiotics such as oligosaccharides, among other nutrients. The components work synergistically in any one food, and the network of one food interacts with that of another, offering a gorgeous symphony of benefits that isolated nutrients just cannot replicate. This synergy enhances bioavailability and effectiveness for many compounds, promoting better health outcomes.

Nutrient synergy is a fascinating aspect of nutrition science, revealing how different nutrients interact beneficially when consumed together. This synergy can enhance absorption, improve overall efficacy, and contribute to more balanced health. Here are a few notable examples of nutrient synergies:

  1. Vitamin D, Calcium, and Vitamin K2: Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium effectively, which is crucial for bone health. However, for calcium to be properly utilized by the bones, vitamin K2 is needed. Vitamin K2 acts as a kind of calcium traffic cop, ensuring that calcium is directed to the bones and not deposited in the arteries. This trio works together to maintain bone density and cardiovascular health.
  2. Iron and Vitamin C: Iron is essential for producing hemoglobin, but its absorption can be tricky, especially the non-heme iron from plant sources. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-heme iron by converting it into a form that's more easily absorbed by the body. Consuming foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or bell peppers, along with iron-rich foods like spinach or lentils, can maximize iron uptake.
  3. Vitamin B6, B12, and Folate (B9): These B vitamins work closely to help the body produce red blood cells and support the synthesis of DNA. They are crucial in managing levels of homocysteine in the blood, an amino acid that at high levels is associated with both inflammation and with an increased risk of heart diseases. Together, they help maintain a healthy homocysteine balance, reducing cardiovascular risk.
  4. Zinc and Copper: These trace minerals must be balanced within the body, as high doses of zinc can inhibit copper absorption and vice versa. Both are essential for antioxidant enzyme systems and immune function. A proper balance supports a healthy metabolism and prevents deficiencies that can lead to various health issues.
  5. Sodium and Potassium: These electrolytes work together to maintain fluid balance, regulate blood pressure, and support nerve and muscle function. While sodium attracts water and raises blood pressure, potassium helps relax blood vessels and excrete sodium, balancing the effects of high sodium intake.
  6. Fat-Soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, K) and Dietary Fats: These vitamins are absorbed along with dietary fats. Consuming healthy fats, such as those from avocados, nuts, or olive oil, can enhance the absorption of these vitamins, ensuring they are available for the body to use.

Fiber: Fiber comes in two basic flavors, soluble and insoluble. You need both. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance; insoluble fiber does not dissolve and remains mostly whole as it passes through the digestive tract. Soluble fiber can help lower blood glucose levels, and some types of soluble fiber may help lower the risk of heart disease. Insoluble fibers can be naturally bound to polyphenols and antioxidants which allows those valuable compounds to make it to the colon. The fiber makes it to the gut and acts almost as a time-release mechanism for the polyphenols.

These examples illustrate the importance of consuming a varied whole-foods diet that includes combinations of different nutrients. Such combinations not only prevent nutrient deficiencies but also optimize bodily functions and health outcomes.

Numerous studies have documented the benefits of whole foods diets in reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Here are some notable research findings that highlight these benefits:

  1. Heart Disease: Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, can significantly reduce inflammation and improve arterial function (1). The Mediterranean diet is one such diet that emphasizes consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, olive oil and fish and has been heavily studied. Large cohort studies have demonstrated people who follow Mediterranean style diets have overall decreased morbidity, mortality and risks for cardiovascular events (6, 7). A proposed mechanism of action is that the antioxidant content helps to reduce inflammation and improve arterial function (1).
  2. Type 2 Diabetes: Dietary fiber has consistently been demonstrated to improve insulin sensitivity and has a role in managing blood glucose levels (2, 8, 9). A recent review also suggests that dietary fiber may modulate inflammation which may contribute to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes (9).
  3. Obesity and Weight Management: Diets rich in fiber, particularly coming from whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are associated with better weight management and reduced risk of obesity (4, 10, 11). High fiber diets contribute to weight loss efforts as fiber contributes to increased sense of fullness thus reducing caloric intake (4, 11).
  4. Cancer: A comprehensive review published in Nutrition and Cancer highlights that diets high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer, particularly those of the digestive tract. This is attributed to the high levels of fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals in these foods that have protective effects. (3)
  5. Overall Mortality: High adherence to diets based predominantly whole foods, like the Mediterranean diet, is linked with lower risk of overall mortality (5). Additionally, a meta-analysis reported a 23% reduction in mortality risk in those who consumed a high fiber food diet compared to those who consumed less high fiber foods (12).

These studies collectively underscore the profound impact that a diet rich in whole foods can have on reducing the risk of chronic diseases and promoting overall health. They provide a solid scientific foundation for recommending whole food diets in public health policies and individual dietary choices.

Holistic Health Benefits of Whole Foods Diets

Gut Health and Microbiome: Whole foods are rich in dietary fiber, which is essential for digestive health. When it comes to fibers, it's particularly important to have diversity. Take oligosaccharides, a particularly important type of prebiotic fiber which feeds the health-promoting bacteria in the microbiome. The extracted fiber inulin, for example, contains only fructooligosaccharides, while the WellVine™ nutritional product is a whole food and contains over 40 oligosaccharides, thus offering a huge diversity of these valuable plant compounds. Variety and diversity in fibers is super important for a thriving microbiome and therefore, for a healthy gut.

Fiber aids in the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, and is crucial for digestion, immune function, and even mood regulation.

Brain Function: Nutrients found in whole foods such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins directly support brain health. They enhance cognitive functions, reduce oxidative stress, and can lower the risk of dementia.

Heart Health: Consuming a variety of whole foods can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. The natural antioxidants and fibers help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing heart disease risk.

Whole Foods vs. Supplementation

While supplements can play a role in nutrition, they should not replace whole foods. Supplements tend to be one or two isolated specific nutrients or bioactives. WellVine™'s supplement, made from the nutrient-rich marc of Coastal Chardonnay, stands out by retaining the holistic quality of the original whole food, aiming to deliver health benefits in a more natural form.

Whole Foods vs. Supplementation: The WellVine™ Example

While the discussion often centers on choosing between whole foods and dietary supplements, WellVine™ presents a compelling case for bridging this gap with their innovative approach. Their nutritional supplement is derived entirely from the Coastal Chardonnay grapes, a whole food known for its rich phytochemical and oligosaccharide profile. This product harnesses the natural synergy of oligosaccharides and phenols present in the grape marc, the co-product of winemaking, often unrecognized for being the nutritional powerhouse it really is.

WellVine™'s supplement stands as a testament to the philosophy that the most effective supplements are those that maintain the integrity and complexity of their whole food sources. By upcycling what was formerly considered waste material, WellVine™-- unlike typical extracts that isolate single nutrients-- captures the full spectrum of grape-derived compounds. These include a variety of phenolic compounds known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and, as mentioned, a diverse collection of oligosaccharides, which support gut health and microbiome balance. In fact, the oligosaccharides specific to Coastal Chardonnay grapes support gut health in a rather unique way (see "Smart Prebiotics")

This "whole-istic" approach ensures that the body benefits from the natural "symphony" of nutrients, much in the way nature intended. It underscores a critical point: when it comes to nutrition, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. WellVine™'s dedication to whole food-based supplements provides a perfect model for how we can supplement our diets without straying from the foundational principles of whole food nutrition.

The evidence is clear: integrating a diverse range of whole foods into your diet is one of the most beneficial decisions you can make for your health. Each whole food offers a unique nutrient profile that supports body functions in a way that isolated nutrients and manufactured foods cannot. By choosing whole foods, you are choosing a healthier, more vibrant life.

In conclusion, whole foods are not just foods; they are a testament to nature's power to nourish and heal. As we navigate through the myriad of food choices available, let's not forget Hippocrates' quote about food being medicine, and let's remember that the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts — a lesson beautifully embodied by the bounty of whole foods.


  1. Hu, F. B., et al. (2002). "Diet, lifestyle, and the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in women." The New England Journal of Medicine, 347(11), 790-797.
  2. de Munter, J. S., et al. (2007). "Whole grain, bran, and germ intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study and systematic review." PLoS Medicine, 4(8), e261.
  3. Aune, D., et al. (2017). "Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies." BMJ, 343, d6617.
  4. Liu, S., et al. (2003). "A prospective study of dietary fiber intake and risk of cardiovascular disease among women." Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 41(1), 47-56.
  5. Reference: Trichopoulou, A., et al. (2003). "Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and survival in a Greek population." The New England Journal of Medicine, 348(26), 2599-2608.
  6. Delgado-Lista, J., Perez-Martinez, P., Garcia-Rios, A., Alcala-Diaz, J. F., Perez-Caballero, A. I., Gomez-Delgado, F., . . . Perez-Jimenez, F. (2016). Coronary Diet Intervention with Olive oil and cardiovascular Prevention study (the CORDIOPREV study): Rationale, methods, and baseline characteristics: A clinical trial comparing the efficacy of a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil versus a low-fat diet on cardiovascular disease in coronary patients. Am Heart J, 177, 42-50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ahj.2016.04.011
  7. Liyanage, T., Ninomiya, T., Wang, A., Neal, B., Jun, M., Wong, M. G., . . . Perkovic, V. (2016). Effects of the Mediterranean Diet on Cardiovascular Outcomes-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One, 11(8), e0159252. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159252
  8. Minari, T. P., Tácito, L. H. B., Yugar, L. B. T., Ferreira-Melo, S. E., Manzano, C. F., Pires, A. C., . . . Yugar-Toledo, J. C. (2023). Nutritional Strategies for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 15(24). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15245096
  9. Niero, M., Bartoli, G., De Colle, P., Scarcella, M., & Zanetti, M. (2023). Impact of Dietary Fiber on Inflammation and Insulin Resistance in Older Patients: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 15(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15102365
  10. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2023). Healthy diets. Retrieved May 13 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/basics/healthy-diets/hlv-20049477
  11. Kelly, R. K., Calhoun, J., Hanus, A., Payne-Foster, P., Stout, R., & Sherman, B. W. (2023). Increased dietary fiber is associated with weight loss among Full Plate Living program participants. Front Nutr, 10, 1110748. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2023.1110748
  12. Park, Y., Subar, A. F., Hollenbeck, A., & Schatzkin, A. (2011). Dietary fiber intake and mortality in the NIH-AARP diet and health study. Arch Intern Med, 171(12), 1061-1068. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2011.18
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