Removing processed foods and sugar from your diet
It’s no secret that fresh, wholesome foods are better for you than foods that are processed, but just how easy is it remove processed foods from your diet? Processed foods are convenient, but convenience usually means large amounts of hidden sodium, fats, and sugar, which are always bad news.
While we typically think of cookies, candy and chips as processed foods, you may be surprised to learn there are actually more hidden processed culprits than you might realize. Processed foods can include everything from canned foods, pre-made salads, frozen pizza, salad dressings, deli meats, breakfast cereal, store-bought baked goods, soda, juices, crackers and even yogurt.
According to a recent study in the British Medical Journal, more than half of Americans eat 'ultra-processed foods’ that make up a majority of their diet. These processed foods contain large amounts of sugar, and have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
So how can you remove processed foods from your diet, or at least cut back? The secret is in the “bag” and the “box”. Basically any food that comes in a bag or a box is processed, so before you buy it, decide if you can make a natural alternative at home.
Below are a few tips to help you get started in removing processed foods from your diet:
- Eliminate one step at a time. Removing processed foods isn’t likely to happen overnight, especially if they currently make up a significant portion of your daily diet. Start by swapping one or two things a week, and try to increase your natural alternatives every week. For example, instead of buying a bottle of salad dressing, can you add some spices to an oil and vinegar mix at home? Or can you make fresh dinners one night a week a freeze them yourself rather than buying frozen meals?
- Fill up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Ideally, more than half of your plate should be (fresh) vegetables. This also allows you to fill up on nutrient-rich, high-fiber healthy foods so you have less room for the processed junk.
- Replace sugary beverages with water. One of the easiest things you can do to improve your diet is simply to drink more water. Water not only helps flush your system of toxins, but it also hydrates you, makes you feel fuller, and improves digestion. Further, by replacing sodas and other sugary-drinks with water, you will not only reduce your processed food and caloric intake, but also reduce your cravings for processed foods by eliminating the added sugars in these drinks that can lead to sugar addiction.
- Plan ahead. Often the reason we reach for processed foods is simply because they are convenient. But if your refrigerator and cabinets are stocked with healthy alternatives, it makes eating natural much easier. For example, you can set aside portion-sized bags of raw nuts, or cut up raw veggies such as celery, carrots and bell peppers. Also consider making your own alternatives to processed snacks such as homemade chips, guacamole and even salad dressings. Set aside one night to meal prep & cook portions of healthy meals for the week for a healthy alternative to fast food.
- Don’t be fooled. Read labels carefully. While many food manufacturers may try to persuade you to think that a food is “healthy” or “natural” because it says “fat-free” or “reduced-sodium”, make sure you take a deeper dive by reading the ingredients list. Look for red flags such as artificial flavors, colors/dyes or anything partially hydrogenated. A rule of thumb is, if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, it probably isn’t healthy!