To eat healthily becomes especially difficult when processed food practically dominates the market. From the cereal you got for breakfast to the canned tuna for dinner. But, why exactly is processed food, and why is it considered unhealthy? Let us look at answers to the above questions, followed by some excellent ways to cut down on our consumption of such foods and more.
What Are Processed Foods, And Why Are They Unhealthy?
Any food that witnesses changes in its natural form, including flavor, shelf life, nutritional content, is processed food.
Processing methods may range. From washing, chopping, smoking, pickling to heat treatments like pasteurizing, freezing, fermentation, packaging, baking, etc. However, how healthy or unhealthy a particular food item is, depends on the varying degree of processing.
Unprocessed/ Minimally Processed Foods
Foods that might have been crushed, boiled, roasted, dried, frozen, or pasteurized. Though they do not contain any added ingredients are under the category of minimally processed foods. Such foods, though processed, are minimally done so and therefore retain their natural form and benefits to a healthy extent.
Processed Culinary Ingredients
Processed culinary ingredients include sugars, salt, oils, fats like butter, vinegar, etc. These do contain some reasonable amounts of calories and, if possible, must be curtailed in consumption.
Processed food is typically a product mix made using minimally processed foods. Processed culinary ingredients with the prime aim to increase the product’s shelf life and enhance its flavors. Though these foods are not highly processed, they are still unhealthy, and you must limit them in your diet.
These include fresh bread, smoked or cured meat, salted and sugared nuts, cheese, beer, tinned fruit in syrup, wine, etc.
Such foods are highly processed using chemicals, sweeteners, colorings, preservatives. Among other ingredients, a person would not usually use in everyday cooking at home. Not only do these chemicals curb the natural form and benefits of the actual food item. They also accompany an increased risk of several diseases and health issues when consumed, including heart diseases, cancer, etc.
Some common examples include – pre-packaged frozen meals, industrial bread, breakfast cereal, chips, soft drinks, salty snacks, sausages, and reconstituted meat products.
Reducing your daily intake of highly processed food is undeniably one of the best ways to boost your health. Not to mention how it also rids you of several health issues, including obesity, stress, and gastrointestinal concerns.
Switch To Whole Grains From Refined Grains
Whole foods are those that, to a reasonable extent, resemble how they are naturally in nature with minimal processing. And one of the easiest, most operative ways to go healthy is by swapping your daily choices with these whole food alternatives.
One may start by choosing essential items like brown rice, whole grain pasta, bread, tortillas, etc., instead of refined grains like white pasta, bread, rice, etc. Apart from being nutrient efficient with high fiber contents, these whole grains also protect one against several health conditions like diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, etc.
Drink More And More Water
While sugary beverages, fruit juice, sweet tea, soft drinks, soda, sports drinks, etc., might taste fantastic. The fact that these are high in calories, sugar, chemicals, preservatives but low in essential nutrients is too big a fact to overlook.
Keep a bottle of fresh water with you at all times and gradually start swapping your craving for these drinks with water and watch the magic happen. You may also begin by reaching out for sparkling or flavored water to reduce your processed food intake and improve your diet; if plain water is not your first choice.
Shop Smart And Check Labels
Though flooded with convenient and tasty options, supermarkets are practically a hub for highly processed foods. Therefore, it is best to shop for groceries from local grocery stores and markets, fruits and vegetable markets, bulk bin stores, etc.
What’s more, these whole foods from local markets are filling, nutritious, as well as cost-effective, especially when bought in stock. Although, in case you must buy something processed, make sure to check the ingredient list. If the label has unpronounceable words, it most certainly is highly processed.
Furthermore, do not fall for anything and everything marketed as “organic,” “no added sugar,” or “natural,” and nonetheless check their nutritional content. There are multiple apps and nutritional panels that will help you better understand the contents and suggest better alternatives.
Cook More Often In Your Kitchen And Experiment
Experimenting with the recipe of your favorite foods at home gives you the freedom to explore ingredients, flavors, amounts of salt. Nutritional benefits while polishing your skills as a brilliant chef.
Make your hummus, among other dips at home, bake the chips with healthy veggies, roast the nuts and bake yourself a granola bar without compromising the quality.
Cut Down Your Intake Of Processed Meat
Processed meats include sausages, bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats, etc. There are two ways to cut down processed meat from your life: first is to swap them with varieties of less processed meat, such as fresh salmon, chicken, etc. Alternatively, try including more plant-based proteins such as lentils, tofu, beans, and tempeh for a healthier diet.
Consumption of ultra-processed food in high amounts has several downsides that might not be evident at the time but can result in serious health issues in the long run. However, one does not need to rush into switching to organic and healthy at once. Instead, go slow and gradually build a habit of eating homemade snacks or other less processed alternatives while cutting down on take-out and store-bought packaged foods.