Why We Should Ditch Processed Food For Good
Have you ever heard the saying “If your grandmother doesn’t know what it is, don’t eat it?” This is a pretty good rule to live by, with a few exceptions, of course. I’m doubting that my grandmother knows what chia seeds, acai, and goji berries are, but I’m certainly not going to ditch those from my diet.
All that aside, the basic principle is there: If you can’t pronounce it and you don’t know what it is, should you really eat it?
What is Processed Food?
Processed food is something that comes in a bag, box, or package and isn’t grown in nature. Basically, food that has been created in labs or warehouses for our convenience. Think: cookies, crackers, chips, cereals, soda, etc. Processed food always comes with labels that will tell you the “nutrition” information for the contents of the package and show the ingredient list (which you may or may not be able to actually read.)
In contrast, Real Food, is food that is grown in a garden or raised humanely on a farm. So we’re talking about fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and organic and humanely raised meat, poultry, and eggs.
What Should I Worry About in Processed Food?
There are a bunch of ingredients in processed food that are doing your body more harm than good. It would take a lot of reading and effort to know the names of every chemical ingredient used in processed, packaged food. But let’s highlight a few that you are bound to see often in your packages, boxes, or cans.
I’m sure by now you have all heard about the negative effects of aspartame, an ingredient in lots of food products. But, have you heard of Acesulfame-K? Do you know what it is? It’s another, fairly new, artificial sweetener found in a lot of processed foods like sodas, baked goods, and toothpaste. The bad news? It has also been linked to tumors and may even be linked to autism. Read all about the 5 Worst Artificial Sweeteners here.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
I’m guessing you have heard a LOT about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS.) We know that it is a highly processed artificial sweetener that is found in a lot of foods. Start reading your labels. If you are buying packaged, processed foods, the chances are you are eating some. HFCS has been linked to diabetes and high cholesterol and has started to received a lot of negative attention from health experts. Avoid this whenever possible (yes, it’s possible!)
BHA & BHT
These are both preservatives used in chips, cereal and candy that help to keep things more shelf-stable, meaning that they will last longer in your pantry. While this might sound appealing, it means that they are full of chemicals that prevent rotting. And while nobody actually likes to discover food that has mold or is rotting, it’s natural for that to happen to our food after a period of time. That’s how we know our food is REAL. BHA & BHT are both chemicals that affect your neurological system and potentially cause cancer.
Do Your Research
I could go on and on here, but I encourage you to start doing your own research and questioning what’s in your food. You can only put into practice what you know. If you’re looking for a great resource, check out Food Babe. This site offers a TON of information about additives in processed foods.
Okay, okay, I hear you panicking. Take a deep breath. I’m sure you are wondering what you CAN eat.
I understand that prepackaged foods are “convenient” but they aren’t healthy. Even the ones that say “vegan” or “gluten free” on the label are full of junk. Oreos are vegan, but I would never tell you that they are healthy. So if we are looking to build health and not disease, then we need to start stepping away from things that come in boxes and bags.
Yes, this does require a little bit more effort in the kitchen on your part, but guess what? This will also save you money! Yesss!!
When you are shopping, stick to the produce and bulk bins as much as possible. Don’t feel like making your own nut/seed butters at home? That’s okay, just buy one that contains only nuts. No added sugars or oils please. They really aren’t necessary ingredients. Don’t have time to soak beans for dinner? Don’t fret. Stock up on some canned options, but choose ones that are organic and come in BPA-free cans or boxes. I also encourage you to check out this article, How to Eat a Healthy Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet on $50 Per Week, to learn tips for saving money at the store.
Now Let’s Talk Swaps
Since your mind is reeling thinking about how you will feed yourself and your family without boxes and bags, let’s talk about some easy swaps to make your life a little easier.
Packaged Dessert, Try:
A Word of Advice
Don’t strive for perfection. Making the switch to healthier alternatives does not happen overnight for most people. Take it one step at a time and when you are planning your grocery lists, think “What could I swap out this week?” Trying to swap out everything in our cupboard overnight will feel very daunting and overwhelming. I’d rather see you trying one thing at a time than getting frustrated and giving up on everything. Each week, strive to change one habit and before you know it you won’t even miss the old foods you aren’t buying anymore!
If you have to buy packaged food, be sure you know what ALL of the ingredients are and look for options that have minimal ingredients (less than 5 is a good goal to strive for!)
What will you swap out this week?