Processed foods are canned, cooked, or frozen items that have been pasteurized.
As part of a balanced diet, you can eat many processed foods, including canned vegetables, frozen fruit, and pasteurized milk products. Some highly processed foods are high in salt, sugar, and additives that can harm your health.
Reduce your intake of highly processed food to improve your health.
I often recommend reducing processed food intake when people ask for nutrition advice.
Here are ten simple, realistic, and sustainable strategies to help you consume less processed food.
Keep healthy snacks handy.
When you are pressed for time, grabbing a snack as you head out the door may be tempting.
It is much easier to choose healthy snacks when you have a kitchen full of nutritious, portable snacks.
My favorite healthy snacks are fresh fruit, mixed Nuts, Edamame, and vegetables with hummus.
You can prepare some simple snacks ahead of time if you have the extra time. Hard-boiled Eggs, Turkey Roll-ups, and homemade kale chips are great snacks you can make quickly and store for later.
Swap refined grains with whole grains; you can reduce the amount of processed food you consume by substituting them with healthier whole foods.
You can replace refined grains such as white pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread, and tortillas with whole-grain alternatives.
1Trusted source has shown that whole grains are fiber-rich and can protect from heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Create your recipes in the kitchen
You can give your favorite processed food a healthier twist by recreating it in your kitchen. You can experiment with new ingredients and control what goes on your plate.
You can make vegetable chips by baking potato, zucchini, carrot, or turnip slices in olive oil with salt.
You can also make granola bars and fruit leather at home.
Instead of ordering takeout, I enjoy recreating my favorite restaurant meals at home. This is a great way to save money and eat more healthy foods.
Drink more water
Sugary drinks like sweet tea, fruit, sports drinks, and soda are high in calories and sugar but lack essential nutrients.
It is possible to improve the quality of your diet by gradually substituting these drinks with water.
You can choose between sparkling or flavored water if you prefer something other than plain water. You can add fresh herbs or fruit to water for a flavor boost.
Consider meal prepping
By preparing meals in bulk at least twice a week, you can have a variety of healthy meals on hand in the fridge when you are too busy to prepare them.
It may also be less tempting to stop at the drive-through on your way home or to turn to convenience foods frozen in a hurry.
Pick a few recipes a week to get you started, and schedule a time each week to prepare your meals.
I like to find a few similar recipes so I can have a variety of meals throughout the week.
Vegetables are good for you
Include at least one portion of vegetables when preparing your meals to increase the amount of unprocessed, healthy foods you consume.
It’s as simple as adding spinach to scrambled eggs, sautéing broccoli as a side dish, or adding carrots or cauliflower to soups and casseroles.
Reducing your intake is easier when you don’t own any processed food.
Fill your shopping cart with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Avoid the middle aisles of the store, which are usually filled with processed snacks and junk food.
When shopping, read the labels of your favorite foods carefully. Avoid foods that are high in sodium, trans fat, or sugar.
Simple food swaps to try
Many processed foods can be replaced with healthy alternatives. Here are some of my favorite healthy swaps:
- Replace your sugary cereal with a bowl of oats and fresh fruit.
- Instead of microwave popcorn, you can make your Popcorn by popping it on the stove.
- Make a homemade vinaigrette using olive oil and vinegar. Drizzle it over salads instead of dressings that are processed.
- Trail mix made with nuts, seeds, and dried fruits is a healthier alternative to the store-bought variety.
- Use nuts or seeds to top your salads instead of croutons.
Reduce the amount of processed meat you eat
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified processed meats such as bacon, sausages, lunch meat, and hot dogs as carcinogenic (4) and associated with several downsides.
There are many easy ways to reduce the amount of processed meat consumed.
You can start by substituting these meats with less processed foods like fresh chicken, Salmon, or turkey. You can substitute packaged lunch meats for other sandwich fillings, such as tuna salad or chicken breast.
You can also eat more plant proteins such as lentils, beans, tofu, or tempeh.
Slowly make changes
It’s unnecessary to eliminate all processed foods from your daily diet completely.
Making changes slowly can be more sustainable and effective in the long term. According to some research, small lifestyle changes can help create long-lasting habits that make difficult tasks easier.
Try implementing one or two strategies each week.
You can still enjoy eating out and processed foods as part of a balanced, healthy diet.
The Bottom Line
Processed food is any food that’s been canned, packaged, frozen, or cooked.
You can consume various processed foods healthily, but you should limit those high in sodium and sugar.
You can use the tips in this article to find out what works best. Remember to make small changes for the best results.