If you made a decision to stop eating so much junk food and switch to low calorie or low carb food options found in a box, you may not realize it, but there’s still some room for some improvement in your food choices. Simply lowering your calorie intake doesn’t mean you are eating healthy. Eating too many processed foods and preservatives may increase your risk of some cancers and heart disease.
While not all processed food is unhealthy, the healthiest way to eat is to consume foods in their most natural form. Plus, if you ever get confused on what a processed food is and what isn’t, you can’t go wrong with foods that are in their original form. (Think: From a plant, not made at a plant!) My definition of clean eating includes: fresh fruits and veggies, legumes, whole grains, lean meats and poultry. If you want to make meaningful choices about food and cut down on the amount of processed foods you eat, try these tips!
Shop the perimeter. The outer aisles of stores contain the healthiest foods. You can actually see what you are purchasing! Think about the perimeter of your store, it probably includes fruits, veggies, lean meats, eggs, lowfat cheeses, milk and yogurt! The perimeter includes healthier option than the middle of your store where you will find packaged or canned foods full of fat, sodium, sugar and calories!
Know what to avoid. Processed foods like hot dogs, bologna and sausage, and processed lunch meats with nitrates are unhealthy. These foods are high in fat, sodium and full of heart-clogging saturated fats. Here’s more of what you should avoid: Refrain from boxed cereals full of sugar, boxed, frozen fried foods, boxed meals high in fat, chips, crackers and cookies. Also avoid breads and pastas made from refined, white flour. (Instead, choose whole grain breads and pastas.)
Read nutrition labels. If there are tons of ingredients, especially a bunch you can’t pronounce, you are probably selecting processed foods that aren’t good for you. Food isn’t in its most natural form if there are 20 ingredients. Shopping used to be a lot easier when most food came from farms. Now, factory-made foods have chemical additives, a significant part of our diet. Learn more about the safety of certain food additives by visiting the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Prepare foods yourself. Processed foods are convenient foods. Sure, it’s easier to eat something out of a box or grab a packaged product when you are heading out the door, but those choices repeated over time are unhealthy for you. Your health impacts every other aspect of your life. You can make simple choices that will vastly improve your health. Instead of grabbing a store bought protein bar with a shelf life of 2 years, why don’t you make your own?
I travel for work every week, and I finally realized my weakest moments are in an airport when I am starving or bored. Instead of giving in to a bag of potato chips or a Starbucks muffin, I pack my own baggies of trail mix. I mix nuts, seeds, dried fruit and high fiber flakes and keep it in my bag. That way, I can eat a satisfying snack without giving into junk. Investing in your health takes time, commitment and effort—but the payoff is big! You only get one body—how do you want to treat it?
Realize not all processed foods are bad. Choose healthier processed options. Milk, for example, could be considered processed because it has to be pasteurized to kill bacteria. But lowfat and nonfat milk are not bad choices for your health. Lowfat milk options contain protein and Vitamin D. Frozen fruits and veggies are additional examples of healthy processed foods. Freezing vegetables and fruits actually preserves the important vitamins and minerals. Other healthy processed foods include natural oatmeal (where sugar isn’t added), frozen chicken and fish, and whole-grain bread.
Remember you shouldn’t strive for perfection. Perfection can lead to disaster, a situation where you may give up on trying altogether. Just try and change your choices, one decision at a time. Choose foods that are real and watch how you feel and look better! For more ideas on how to cook naturally, check out my cookbook, Choose This!