Tip of the Week: How & Why to Avoid Processed Foods
In early 2013, my husband and I decided it was time to get healthy again. At the time, our daughter was four and our twin boys had just turned two. We had survived the blur and craziness of the previous two years and we were ready to get ‘back on track’ with our health again. We started to increase the intensity of our workouts and, in the process, we started talking about the foods we were eating. I had come across a few websites promoting ‘real food’ and I was hooked on the concept. This was a lifestyle change we could make and not feel deprived in any way. Simply stated: real food is unprocessed food. Or put another way: It’s eating the same way our parents and grandparents used to eat. Real food is grass-fed and free-range meats, pastured eggs, whole milk, whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts, etc. Highly processed food, on the other hand, is filled with fake ingredients that people without a chemistry background can’t even pronounce! These ingredients are not actually food. They are fake, artificially-made ingredients that food companies use because they are cheaper than using real food. They also help extend shelf life so a food-like item can sit on a grocery store shelf for over 6 months before someone buys it.
My husband and I decided together to eliminate all processed foods from our home and we haven’t looked back since! Before we made the transition to eating real foods, we ate a very typical American diet that included sugary cereals, packets of instant oatmeal, frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, boxed macaroni and cheese, and more. Convenience foods usually won out over making something ‘from scratch’ because I thought it was easier and I didn’t really know any different. Once I started this journey, I quickly realized that almost everything that comes in a can or box or bag can be made with WAY fewer ingredients (real food ingredients) in usually about the same amount of time. There might be a few extra steps involved, but it was shocking to me what I could make with basic ingredients and a couple good recipes. I now feel so much better knowing I’m feeding my growing children healthy, wholesome foods. And not only that, but they’re also learning where our foods come from (we started a garden) and they see me preparing and serving lots of fresh vegetables and homemade goodies. They think nothing of me baking our sandwich bread, making baked donuts, or shredding a block of cheese. It’s become their new normal and they don’t feel deprived one bit!
This isn’t a “diet” for us, it’s our new lifestyle. Our pantry is filled with basic ingredients and our refrigerator is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables and ‘whole’ foods like cheese, milk, eggs, butter,etc. A year ago, our freezer was filled with prepackaged convenience items…now the only items in there are homemade foods and frozen fruit and veggies. It is such a huge difference, but it’s one that I’m extremely proud of.
Highly processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. Many of the artificial ingredients in these foods have been linked to cancer, tumors, disease, and obesity. Now we choose to eat foods that are in their whole, original form OR they are made from just a small number of real ingredients. Azodicarbonamide, monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, yellow #5 & #6…these aren’t food…yet, there they are, along with too much added sugar, sodium, and fat, in way too many items at the grocery store. They’re not good for anyone! My husband and I hope to stay healthy and be around long enough to watch our great grandkids grow up. What we eat is something we CAN control, so that’s what we’re doing.
When people eliminate processed foods from their diets, many report having more energy, losing weight, and an increased feeling of overall healthiness. Even though eating organic and natural foods will cost us a little more at the grocery store right now, we’re hoping that over our lifetime we’ll spend far less money on healthcare costs because we are a healthier family.
Here are my tips on how you can avoid processed foods:
• READ LABELS – If you can’t pronounce an ingredient or if you wouldn’t cook with it in your own kitchen, don’t buy it.
• Eat more whole foods like fruits and vegetables, oats, brown rice, and nuts.
• Cook at home more often.
• Choose whole grains over white.
• Choose grass-fed and free-range meats, organic dairy, and pastured eggs; they are more nutritious than their conventionally raised counterparts.
• Make simple switches to less processed options: Swap vegetable oil with coconut oil, all-purpose flour with white whole wheat, and white sugar with honey or maple syrup.
To sum this all up, if you don’t keep processed foods in your home, you’re much less likely to eat them. The next time a processed food item runs out, don’t replace it. Find a ‘real’ option and start learning how to prepare that instead. Over the course of a year, you can eliminate almost everything processed in your house, but not ever feel overwhelmed or wasteful because you had to throw stuff away. For me, the best way to avoid caving in to prepackaged, convenience foods is just a little planning ahead. If you know your basic meal plan for the week, sticking to a grocery list makes avoiding the processed foods a whole lot easier!
For more information and ‘real food’ recipes, check out my website: RealFitRealFoodMom.com.