It’s no secret that processed foods are a major contributor to the current obesity epidemic. Highly processed snacks, fast food, and other convenience foods are loaded with calories, sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. Even “healthy” processed foods like granola bars, frozen dinners, and canned soup can contain hidden fats and sugar. Eating too much processed food can lead to weight gain, increased risk of chronic diseases, and nutritional deficiencies.
If you’re looking to improve your health and longevity, avoiding processed foods is a must. Eating real, whole foods is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need without consuming excess calories and unhealthy additives. Here, we’ll discuss the benefits of avoiding processed foods, how to identify them, and tips for making the switch to whole, unprocessed foods.
What are Processed Foods?
Processed foods are any foods that have been altered from their natural state. This includes foods that have been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged, or altered in other ways. Processed foods may have added ingredients, such as salt, sugar, or preservatives, to enhance flavor, shelf life, or texture.
The degree of processing can range from minimal (such as frozen vegetables) to severe (such as high fructose corn syrup). Highly processed foods are usually high in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar, and are often lacking in essential nutrients.
Benefits of Avoiding Processed Foods
Eating whole foods is one of the best things you can do for your health. Here are some of the benefits of avoiding processed foods:
- Weight Loss: Eating whole, unprocessed foods is one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off. Whole foods are generally lower in calories and fat, and higher in fiber and other essential nutrients.
- Improved Digestion: Processed foods can be difficult to digest, especially if they contain gluten or other allergens. Eating whole foods is gentler on your digestive system, and can help relieve symptoms of digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
- Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease: Processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium, which can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Eating more whole foods can help reduce your risk.
- Improved Nutrient Intake: Whole foods are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Eating more whole foods can help ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
How to Identify Processed Foods
It can be difficult to tell which foods are processed and which are not. Generally, if a food has a long list of ingredients, most of which are artificial, it is likely to be processed. Here are some tips for spotting processed foods:
- Check the Ingredient List: If a food has more than five ingredients, chances are it’s been processed. Try to avoid foods with long lists of unrecognizable ingredients.
- Avoid Pre-made Meals: Pre-made meals like frozen dinners, canned soups, and instant noodles are usually highly processed. These meals often contain hidden fats, sugar, and sodium.
- Read Nutrition Labels: Nutrition labels can help you identify which foods are processed and which are not. Try to avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.
- Shop the Perimeter: The perimeter of the grocery store is where you’ll find most of the whole, unprocessed foods. Try to stick to the perimeter and avoid the center aisles, which are typically filled with processed foods.
Tips for Making the Switch to Whole Foods
Making the switch to whole, unprocessed foods can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips for making the transition easier:
- Start Slow: Don’t try to cut out all processed foods at once. Start by replacing one or two processed foods with whole foods each week.
- Stock Up: Make sure you always have healthy, whole foods on hand. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Plan Ahead: Meal planning is key to eating healthy. Take some time each week to plan out your meals for the week. This will help you stay on track and avoid reaching for processed foods.
- Get Creative: Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. Get creative with your meals and try new recipes. Experiment with different spices and flavors to keep your meals interesting.
- Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself: If you slip up and eat a processed food, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on track at your next meal.
Eating whole, unprocessed foods is one of the best things you can do for your health. Avoiding processed foods can help you lose weight, reduce your risk of chronic disease, and get more of the essential nutrients you need. By following the tips above, you can make the switch to whole foods and start feeling better.