With everyone being busier than ever before, the demand for quick meals, convenient snacks, and fast food, even in the form of seemingly healthy energy bars is only growing. Although most individuals would agree eating whole foods is healthier for them, the reality is few actually take the time to grow and prepare their food from scratch. But one of the best ways to clean up one's diet is to work on consuming less processed food. The ideal, though, is to not consume anything processed. It can seem daunting to reduce one's consumption of processed food. The good news is there are some simple tips to get everyone on the right track.
Let's get into the best basic tips for cutting out processed food now, starting with understanding what processed food is in the first place.
What Are Processed Foods?
The initial step in cleaning up an unhealthy diet is to identify what processed foods truly are. Anything commercially packaged and not in its natural state would be considered processed. For instance, a packaged granola bar made up of ingredients such as oats, nuts, and fruits would still be considered at least a little processed since none of those ingredients are in their original state. Buying the fruit before being cut up, dehydrated, or cooked in another way would be the original state. In general, foods with labels attached to them with a long ingredient list can be assumed to be processed. Learning to read labels diligently is a major step to a healthier diet. In general, the less processed, the better.
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What To Get Rid Of First
When reading labels, a rule of thumb should be the fewer ingredients, the better. Additionally, when reading the ingredients, if they are difficult to pronounce, or are unknown, it is probably best to avoid that food. The worst offenders tend to be any microwaveable food, such as frozen meals, as well as most foods found inside a vending machine. Cutting out processed foods entirely can be challenging, so it is important to take baby steps, rather than quitting processed foods cold turkey. Many processed foods have very few ingredients, such as tomato sauce, though buying or making pasta and adding a jar of tomato sauce is a much healthier alternative to microwaving a frozen spaghetti entrÃ©e.
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Engage In Meal Planning
After eliminating the worst offenders when it comes to processed food, it is time to tackle the rest of the pantry. Ensuring that most mealtimes and snacks are made with whole foods takes some planning. If eating on the go is a regular habit, individuals should consider making homemade trail mix or granola bars with only a few ingredients. When it comes to meals, making a plan for the week can make it easier to avoid processed foods. Individuals may want to start with lunches if they are the type of person who purchases lunch every day. They may also want to consider batch cooking, or making an extra serving of dinner to pack for lunch the following day. There are several great apps and blogs focused on meal planning with whole foods.
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Take The Transition One Item At A Time
When it comes to eliminating any kind of food, individuals will typically have much higher rates of long-term success if they take things slowly. For instance, someone who wants to cut out meat and become vegetarian may want to start with one kind of meat first. This will often look like not buying red meat one week for groceries and continuing to just not buy it from then on. Once they get used to not eating red meat, they could then transition to not buying and eating chicken, and so on. Those looking to reduce their consumption of processed food should start with one type, such as processed lunch meat, and just stop buying them. As their body adjusts to not having one type of food, they can add another. There is no exact timeline for how long this takes, as everyone adjusts differently, but most individuals should be able to eliminate a new food every few weeks.
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Substitute Along The Way
When it comes to getting away from consuming processed food, individuals must make substitutions along the way and work to ensure they are maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. As an example, many commercial salad dressings are highly processed. The good news is it is actually a lot easier than most think to make homemade salad dressing, even caesar or ranch! This also applies to granola, which can be far healthier when made from scratch. Furthermore, those who love eating sandwiches and wraps can transition the type of protein they put in, such as exchanging processed turkey or chicken breast with real, shaved chicken breast or thighs. Finally, as individuals reduce the amount of processed food they consume, they should also add in more fresh foods. This can be eating sliced fruit at breakfast, chopped carrots at lunch, or a side garden salad with dinner. Everyone should aim for at least half their plate being full of fruits and vegetables.
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Stop Adding Salt
Processed foods tend to be extremely high in sodium. Though this is a necessary electrolyte, too much can have negative effects on an individual's blood pressure and other aspects of their health. One of the reasons processed foods taste 'better' is because of their high salt content. Many individuals in the United States have a higher tolerance for salt than others. Individuals supposed to get about 1,800 milligrams of salt daily as an adult. But Americans tend to eat between one and three tablespoons of salt every day, which can be anywhere from 2,300 to 6,900 milligrams. If individuals keep adding table salt to their homemade meals, there's a good chance they'll keep craving the taste of processed foods. But if they stop oversalting their food, eventually their taste will revert to a point where processed snacks taste too salty to them.
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Make Homemade Versions Of Processed Food
One healthy and fun activity is to make homemade versions of processed foods. Many foods can be created from scratch without needing all the chemical preservatives found in processed foods. The results tend to taste similar, have a similar texture, and lack the potential health side effects. Individuals can look up recipes for their favorite processed foods online. Just about all foods have at least one organic recipe available! One example is yogurt. Individuals can make yogurt at home with nothing but milk and some existing organic yogurt. In addition, individuals can make hummus by buying raw chickpeas at the grocery store. Processed salad dressings can often be recreated using vegetables, vinegar, and other ingredients around the house. Individuals can even make mayonnaise by mixing egg yolks, mustard, salt, vinegar, oil, and lemon juice. There are also ways to make ketchup out of tomatoes, which cuts out the huge amount of artificially added sugar in processed ketchup products.
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Read Labels Carefully
If individuals are trying to cut out processed foods, one of the most important things they can do is learn to read the nutrition facts label. This label will tell individuals how many vitamins and minerals are in a serving of food, along with the exact ingredients used. If any chemical preservatives or potential allergy triggers were included in the product, they'll be on the ingredients label. Individuals can look up different ingredients on their phone if they're not sure what they are. While long chemical names might look daunting, they aren't always a sign of a preservative. For example, ascorbic acid is just the scientific name for vitamin C. Nutrition information will help individuals make healthy food decisions as well. The body is maintained by a delicate equilibrium of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Individuals need to get all of these things in a balanced diet for their organs to function properly. Individuals eating an imbalanced diet will still experience health complications even if all of the ingredients are organic and unprocessed.
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Clean Out The Kitchen
If individuals are serious about cutting out processed foods, then it's time for them to clean out their kitchen. This can be a daunting step, but the good news is individuals don't have to do it all at once. They might clear one shelf of their pantry at a time, or simply do a quick pass through their fridge to get rid of expired items. When cleaning the kitchen, individuals should look for foods with ingredients they don't want to ingest anymore. If possible, individuals can donate them to a food bank or look up community resources for exchanging food. The exception is if the food is past the expiration date, in which case it should be thrown out. When restocking, individuals should keep their new unprocessed way of eating in mind.
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Minimally Processed Alternatives
It's very difficult to find foods that have not been processed in some way, unless individuals are purchasing whole fruits and coffee beans. Processing doesn't just refer to the addition of chemicals, sugars, and preservatives. Any time a food is altered by being cut or mixed, it's considered processed. The term 'minimally processed' is used to describe organic foods processed through natural means, and that haven't been subject to the addition of chemicals or artificial sugars. Minimally processed alternatives include ingredients that might have had inedible parts removed, been dried, ground, crushed, filtered, roasted, fractioned, boiled, refrigerated, frozen, vacuum packaged, or fermented non-alcoholically. The systems for creating these foods tend to be highly sophisticated and calibrated so the foods will remain edible without being subject to preservatives. In addition to the processing plant, foods might go through minimal processing when they're stored, packaged, or transported. A minimally processed alternative is a better option than a choice full of artificial substances.