In our fast paced society, processed food might seem like an easy option to get a quick bite in, without the burden of putting up an entire meal from scratch. They are easy on the pocket and save you a lot of time, but are they too good to be true and are we ignoring the serious health problems they might cause?
To make things simple. Let’s first understand what processed foods are.
Food that is packaged and has been altered with various kinds of preservatives from the moment it was harvested is known as processed food. No matter how convenient these foods might seem to you, they contain a host of added chemicals and preservatives that make them bad for the human body and also the environment.
Often food that is processed contains an excess of sugar, salt and oil that can mess up our daily caloric requirements while causing severe lifestyle diseases.
It is important to note that processed foods cause damaging health conditions only when they are consumed in large quantities. They do offer the ease of convenience and have to be used at times. Hence it is safer to cut back on them rather than just eliminating them from our diet.
Processed Foods - What to Consume and What to Avoid
Processed foods have a bad name for sabotaging diets and a healthy way of living. However, many people fall prey to the misconception that processed foods only include foods that are really high in calories like potato chips, frozen pizzas and ready to eat noodles.
This may come as a surprise for you to know that so-called “ healthy foods” like packaged fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread and even greek yoghurt are also processed foods.
If you are wondering, even if packaged bread is classified as a processed food, how do I stop consuming it? Our fast paced lives do not leave any room for us to make meals from scratch, let alone bake a fresh batch of bread in our homes.
To make things easier, start by recognizing the kinds of processed foods you should consume in moderation and which ones to avoid.
Keep the Following Rules in Mind
Not all processed foods are necessarily bad for you. Foods like bagged vegetables, sliced fruits, roasted nuts etc are minimally processed for your convenience and are safe to use. You can easily curate a bunch of healthy meals and salads by making use of them.
The second tier of healthy processed foods to consume are frozen meats and vegetables as they are processed at their nutritional peak and are usually fresh when consumed.
Do not opt for processed foods like canned pasta sauces, ketchup, pickles, sandwich spreads, dressings etc as they added textures and flavors like excess oil, sugar and salt.
Finally try to avoid all ready to eat meals like frozen pastas and microwavable dinners because they are highly processed and filled with preservatives to extend their shelf life.
Till now it must be clear to you that consuming processed foods all the time is not a wise option if you want to live a happy and long life.
Read on to find some practical ways in which you can cut back on processed foods and preserve your health and of your loved ones -
Practical ways to cut back on Processed foods
Aim to healthy, most of the time. Taking the first step to good health starts with making better lifestyle and dietary choices.
A good rule of thumb is to consume foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, eggs, fresh meat and chicken, the majority of time.
Such foods are minimally processed and also are high in nutritional content. Apart from eating healthy, limit your consumption of highly processed foods to the minimum and even when you do consume them, make an active effort to read the ingredient list and nutrition facts.
In this way you would be able to do portion control while eating and manage your health better.
Marketing Claims of Packaged Foods can be Misleading
The marketing claims mentioned on packaged foods are skilled in covering up nutritional information related to added sugars and preservatives, which may disrupt your ability to make wise dietary choices.
When consuming processed foods look for key terms in the nutrition panel like trans fats, added salt and sugar, refined grains and artificial sweeteners and flavors.
A good trick is to start reading the ingredients in descending order and analyse the ingredients that are mentioned to have the highest quantity.
Always aim to look for healthier food alternatives and brands that offer similar products with fewer preservatives and chemicals to make the best food choices for you and your family.
Plan Your Meals Ahead
We tend to eat processed foods more when we are experiencing peak hunger and do not have any healthy alternatives lying around.
If you find yourself grabbing highly processed meals on busy days just because they are convenient then try planning out the entire week’s meals in advance.
Create snacks out of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and combine them with foods like green yoghurt and hummus so they are ready to grab and eat when you are in a rush.
Everything is possible if you set your intentions right. Remember, processed foods might be easy to eat but damage your body greatly, do not compromise your health for the sake of convenience.
Don’t make Hasty Changes
Experts say that if you eat a high amount of processed foods then you should take small steps to reduce them from your diet rather than cutting them out completely.
One should ease into a less-processed eating plan so that your body slowly adapts to your new eating habits.
Try adding one whole fruit such as banana or apple as a snack when you are hungry and fill half of your plate with veggies and salad when consuming a meal.
In this way, your body will get used to eating freshly prepared meals rather than relying on packaged meals every single time.
Make Realistic Changes
Although it is ideal to eat meals and snacks that are freshly prepared, it is not always possible to make healthy meals from scratch everyday.
The reality is that we need to take the help of processed foods to fulfil our dietary needs as they are easy to use and convenient too.
In such a case, it is advised to make realistic changes and focus on the bigger picture. Cutting back on all sorts of processed foods won’t drastically improve your health.
Focus on making realistic changes and supplement your diet with plant based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds to take care of health in the long run.
Learning to Cook can Save your Health
You can never cut back on processed foods if you do not know how to cook. Regardless of what society’s gender roles might be, cooking is a survival skill and everyone should learn how to cook, no matter what your gender might be.
Embrace what learning to cook might do for your health and find healthy recipes that make you excited to cook.
In this digital age, there are a variety of sources from which you can learn to cook, and you do not even need to step out of your house to master the skill of making your favourite meals at home.
Enjoy your Occasional Meal Out
Imagine this, you are eating healthy now, have cut back on ultra-processed foods and are cooking healthy meals at home more often now.
Still you crave to eat food from your favourite restaurant and are fretting about what effect your occasional meal out might have on your new diet.
Remember that just because you are trying to cut back on processed foods, it doesn't mean that you cannot eat out ever. Take some time to figure out which parts of your meal you should skip (like deep fried and breaded foods) and which ones you can opt for (things like grilled chicken and salads).
Be prepared for what’s to come and do not begrudge your cheat meals. You’re only human and should be rewarded once in a while for healthy making changes in your life.
Cut Out Refined Sweeteners
Refined sweeteners like coffee creamers and white sugar completely deplete the body of energy after they are absorbed and spike up insulin levels sharply.
Although it may seem like a difficult task to cut out sweeteners completely from your life, doing so will save your body from a variety of diseases like pcos and diabetes.
Instead of refined sugar, make use of natural sweeteners like honey and stevia to curb your sweet cravings. Consuming them in moderation is much better than filling your body with refined sweeteners that are known to damage your health.
Drink more Water
The best way to cut back on highly processed foods in your diet is to cut back on sugary drinks and sodas and drink more water instead.
Sugary drinks are not only filled with high amounts of sugar but are also harmful for the environment as they generate massive amounts of plastic waste each year.
Infuse your regular pitcher of water with creative combinations of fruits or herbs and grab your bottle of infused water each time you crave for sugary drinks.
Replace Refined Grains With Whole Grains
Refined grains like white rice, pasta and bread are heavily processed and do not contain any nutrients in their constitution.
Such foods just taste good and do not benefit the body in any way. Opt for whole and unrefined grains in your diet instead as they are high in fibre and keep you full for longer.
Eating whole grain foods also proven to reduce the risk of diseases like stroke and diabetes and are full of antioxidants that detox the body of harmful pollutants.
Authored By : Tanya Thukral
About Author : Tanya is an Ayurvedic doctor who has a deep interest in spreading the message of healing and restoration through the age-old systems of Ayurveda and Yoga.