Any foods that have been altered deliberately before people consume them can be referred to as processed foods. Minimally processed foods such as roasted nuts, bagged salads, and cut fruits and vegetables retain most of their nutritional properties hence are considered healthy. On the contrary, highly processed foods – also called ultra-processed foods – are loaded with unhealthy fats, sugars, and sodium that have been linked to numerous health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Therefore, it pays to know the problematic processed foods and take the necessary steps to avoid them.
Processed Foods in Your Diet
Highly processed foods have plenty of sodium for shelf stabilization and sugar for improved taste or unhealthy fats for an enhanced mouthfeel. While they may have an appealing taste, there’s nothing likable about the damage they can do to the body.
Do you know the ultra-processed foods hiding in your diet? Here are some of the common processed foods that you may be consuming:
- Canned items
- Microwave popcorn
- Most crackers
- Basically all fast food
- Breakfast cereals
- Most packaged biscuits, bread, muffins, and bagels
- Many shredded or sliced cheese
- Packaged sausages and hot dogs
- ‘Imitation foods’ such as miracle whip or margarine
- Packaged lunch meats
- Bottled drinks like high-sugar teas, sodas, and some fruit juices
- Most of the products that claim to be ‘fat-free’ or ‘low fat’
How to Avoid Processed Foods
Highly processed foods make up nearly 60% of people’s calories and 90% of the calories obtained from added sugars. The key to a healthy diet lies in limiting the intake of these foods.
Here are some simple ways you can avoid processed foods:
- Plan ahead
Many people tend to reach for processed foods because of how convenient or fast they are. However, an excellent way to avoid them is by planning ahead.
Therefore, to avoid processed foods you should take a few hours on the weekend or any other day that contains some little free time to plan out snacks, cut up fruits and vegetables, set aside trail mix portions, and prepare healthy juice for the week using the juicer. Since, foods made ahead of time can serve as healthier grab-and-go versions of fast food.
- Steer clear of white starchy foods
White foods like white rice and white bread are some of the most greatly processed foods. They contain bleached and enriched grain or flour. The white appearance is acquired due to bleaching of the grain or flour, a process that strips the foods of essential nutrients like fiber. To make the products more nutritious, manufacturers add vitamins and fiber, a majority of which the body can’t absorb because of them not being natural-occurring. Trans fats, sugar, and salt are also added to regain the flavor.
Keep away from white starches and turn to brown starchy foods for home cooking. Choose brown rice instead of white rice, whole-grain bread in place of white bread, whole-wheat pasta rather than white pasta, and other food products with unenriched, unbleached grains like whole oats and quinoa. Look for whole-grain flour or whole-wheat flour as the primary ingredient in baked goods. However, foods that are naturally white like eggs and potatoes are fine.
- Read ingredient labels
Is the food you’re buying healthy, whole-food with natural nutrients or majorly man-made with synthetic nutrients? Find out by reading the labels. For example, the 1910 Quaker Oatmeal has only one ingredient — oats. On the other hand, the 2008 version has unnatural fiber, added sugars, trans fats, flavors, and salt to make them flavorful. That’s unlike the more nutritious 1910 version that has natural fiber (not synthetic), natural carbohydrates (not sugars), and no preservatives.
If the ingredient list of a product sounds like a chemistry textbook or runs for several paragraphs, then the food is highly processed and is unlikely to have lots of naturally occurring nutrients. Added minerals and vitamins are a sign of paltry nutrition, just like a bunch of dyes and chemicals show that the product will do more harm than good than to the brain and body.
- Shop the perimeter
Most of the fresh and unprocessed or minimally processed foods are found along the edges of the store. They include producing, seafood, eggs, dairy, and meat.
Keeping most of your shopping to the perimeter of the store and venturing into the middle aisles sparingly will help you avoid plenty of unprocessed foods.
- Make Homemade Versions of Processed Foods
It’s healthy, fun, and easy for people to make homemade versions of the convenient processed foods they’d usually buy. Instead of grabbing bottled salad dressing that may have preservatives, consider whipping up your own by whisking together a tablespoonful of vinegar with three tablespoons olive oil for a quick vinaigrette salad dressing or blending that oil with a few berries for a fruity dressing.
Some breakfast cereals are low on nutrients while others are loaded with sugar. You can make your own nutritious granola and muesli mix. Flavored yogurt can have artificial flavors, sweeteners, and colors. For a healthier breakfast treat, stir frozen or fresh fruit into plain yogurt, which offers lots of calcium and probiotics for improved digestion. To sweeten it without using sugar, add a small splash of vanilla extract.
Follow these tips to incorporate nutrient-dense foods into your diet and painlessly avoid ultra-processed foods.