Author and journalist, Michael Pollan, famously wrote in his book, In Defense Of Food, “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants”. Inherent in this statement is that a lot of what we’re eating in modern society is not “food”. In fact, it is often far from its original source and it is what is now categorized as highly or ultra-processed food.
So what are ultra-processed foods? According to the NOVA system, they are “industrial foods made almost entirely of substances extracted from foods like oils, fats, sugars, starches, and proteins, or synthesized in labs and factories with few, if any, ingredients that come directly from natural plant or animal foods.”-EverydayHealth.com Sweetened breakfast cereals, soda, flavored potato chips, white bread, flavored granola bars with added sugar and preservatives and artificially flavored cheese crackers are examples of ultra-processed food.
These foods are designed to be more attractive, taste better and last longer than their non-processed or minimally processed alternatives. These changes can have a significant negative effect on our health. Consuming ultra-processed food is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and a shortened life span. And in addition to these concerns, some research has shown that eating ultra-processed foods causes excess calorie intake and weight gain.
Because manufacturers are making these foods so attractive and delicious and because they are so readily available and provide quick, easy and low-cost access to something to eat, it may be hard to resist ultra-processed food. Here are eight tips to get you on track for cutting down on or eliminating processed foods from your diet.
Substitute water/soda water for sugary or artificially sweetened drinks…
Start small if you find this transition difficult. Instead of limiting these beverages immediately, begin by adding more water to your daily routine. For example, upon waking, drink an 8-ounce glass of water and follow this with two additional glasses of water throughout the day. Just adding the water by itself may help you cut back on sugary/artificially sweetened beverages. Once you’ve gotten into this habit, then start substituting water for one or more of the less desirable drinks throughout the day.
Eat less processed meat…
Processed meat includes bacon, sausage, lunch meats and hot dogs. Try substituting cooked fresh chicken, turkey or fish as fillings in sandwiches. Make egg or tuna salad or prepare a bean spread such as hummus.
Remove ultra-processed snacks from your pantry…
When you’re in a rush to get out the door in the morning or you’re hungry for a snack during the day, it’s easy to reach for pre-packaged ultra-processed foods. Some processed snack foods may fit into a healthy diet. But the ultra-processed kinds like candy bars, sugary cereals and drinks, and artificially flavored chips and crackers can be more easily avoided if you’ve completely removed them from your pantry. You’ll be forced to try healthier alternatives.
Add healthy snacks back in…
You’ll want to replace those ultra-processed snacks that you removed from your pantry. Try healthier alternatives such as nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables with homemade dips and dressings, dark chocolate, hard-boiled eggs, and turkey roll-ups,
Be a smart shopper…
When grocery shopping, try to keep most of your shopping to the perimeter aisle. Most ultra-processed food is found in the middle aisles. And when you do reach for something in a can, box or bag, read the food label carefully. How many ingredients does it have, do you recognize the ingredients, does the product mainly consist of whole foods, does it have lots of added sugar, sodium, unhealthy oils, preservatives and artificial coloring and flavoring? These are some questions you can ask yourself. Try the app, Fooducate, to help you make sense of food labels.
And don’t be fooled by the claims made on the front of the package. Manufacturers use health claims on the front of packaging to lure buyers into purchases. These claims are often misleading or even false. Some examples of misleading packaging claims include low-calorie, low-fat and low-carb, made with whole grains and light.
Cook at home…
When you’re cooking at home with whole foods, you’re avoiding the highly-processed foods often served in restaurants. You can try recreating your favorite restaurant meals at home. You can search out thousands of highly-rated recipes that appear online, and you can even refine your searches by the ingredients that you have on hand. Try making some of your favorite snacks at home as well like granola, vegetable chips and protein bars.
Studies have shown that people who cook at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories. Restaurant meals are often high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat and the portion sizes are rarely an appropriate meal size for just one person.
Substitute 100% whole grains for refined grains…
Refine grains such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice are stripped of valuable nutrients and fiber. Experiment with whole grain products such as 100% whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, barley and bulgur. Often my clients think that they couldn’t possibly switch white rice and pasta for whole grain alternatives. I urge them to give their taste buds a chance. If you do that, over time, like me, you may come to prefer whole grains to refined.
Give batch cooking a try…
Batch cooking involves making large batches of food for use at a later date. It can be as simple as doubling a recipe and freezing half for a later meal or chopping lots of vegetables and fruits and cooking proteins and grains to combine later into different meals. So for example, you could prepare a whole chicken, prepare multiple servings of a grain such as brown rice and chop up lots of vegetables and fruits on one day . Then use those ingredients to prepare meals throughout the week. Over the course of a week you might use them for meals such as roasted chicken, veggies and rice, a warm Buddha bowl, tacos and chicken salad…….be creative.
Making healthy changes doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. In fact, studies show that minor changes over time are more sustainable. To have a healthy diet, you don’t have to give up processed food all together. Start small. Choose one of the tips in the post this week and give it a try. Before you know it, you’ll have a new healthy habit.
As I’ve said before, my quest for a healthy diet and lifestyle is ongoing. Some of the most effective dietary changes I have made have come about one at a time. After a short while, they’ve become healthy habits. A few of my favorites are giving up sugar and cream in my coffee, making home-made salad dressings, and replacing Diet Coke with sparkling water.
And p.s. Have you joined my free challenge yet? In my 7-Day Healthy Habits Challenge For Women, you will discover real-life practical habits you can incorporate into your day quickly and easily to start making progress towards your goals.
You can join this challenge (for free) for a limited time.
We start March 6.
Click this link to learn more:
You might want to try these healthy snacks…