Processed food – it’s the devil. Packed choc full of salt, sugar, preservatives, artificial flavours, artificial colours chemicals and other ingredients you’ve never heard or, let alone can pronounce, this stuff is bad news. So why do people buy this junk?
Processed food is easy, cheap and let’s face it, it can be tasty. Sometimes the salty kick you get from a few potato chips feels like heaven. Similarly, the convenience of a store-bought pasta sauce can mean the difference between a 10 minute meal and a 30 minute one.
The problem with processed foods is that their range is much broader than the knowledge of the average consumer. In a nutshell, processed means anything that is boxed, bagged, canned or jarred and has a list of ingredients on the label. Any more ingredients that the basic 2 to 3 and you’re in dangerous territory.
Processed foods exist because the food industry says they should, and they take this very seriously. There is big money in this industry and global companies use very sneaky methods to make their processed junk look appealing, even healthy, to consumers. Colours are added to make food look brighter, salt and other flavours are added to make food even more delicious, and preservatives are added so you can stock up to your heart’s desire without having to keep returning to the supermarket every day to buy more. It’s the perfect equation.
During our grandparents’ generation however, these problems didn’t exist, as many of the foods we now call convenient didn’t exist. That generation at real food. What do I mean by that? Real meat that had been freshly killed that wasn’t pumped full of hormones and pesticides. Real vegetables that were either home grown or came from the local farm, not flown in from around the world and par-frozen. They cooked with foods that were in season. They made sauces from scratch, not poured out of jars. And they snacked on nuts, seeds, fruit and other naturally occurring foods. Were they overweight or obese? No. Sure, arguably this generation was more physically active, but their diets were simple, seasonal and cheap.
I want to set you a challenge. Can you go one week without eating anything processed? Give it a try – you might be surprised at how difficult it is.
Step 1: What’s in your pantry?
- Take a good look at your pantry. Chuck out everything that is processed. When I say processed, I’m referring to any foodstuff that has more than 3 ingredients (4 max). If there are ingredients you cannot pronounce, get rid of it immediately. This includes things in your fridge too (no, tomato sauce and barbeque sauce are not immune – they are one of the worst offenders!).
- Visit the supermarket and stock up on real, whole foods. Buy fresh whole grain bread from the baker, not the white fluffy stuff. Grab fresh vegetables, fresh fruit (never the tinned variety), raw unsalted nuts, organic meats, poultry and fish and full fat, unprocessed dairy.
- Entirely skip the snack food, confectionary, marinade, sauce, gravy, soft drink and frozen meal aisles. It is a documented fact that the freshest items in the supermarket are stored on the outer most aisles of the store. If you are shopping correctly, you should have no need to venture into the middle aisles.
Step 2: Make your own
- It is really not difficult to make your own sauces, marinades and other accompaniments such as dips from scratch. Yes, it may take a bit more time and preparation but the health results are well worth it. Instead of store bought guacamole, just mash an avocado with some lime juice, tomato, red onion and coriander and you have your own fresh-made and healthy version. Instead of store-bought pasta sauce, mix some diced chopped tomatoes with fresh herbs, garlic, salt and pepper.
- Eat clean. Snack on things that don’t come out of a packet. Grab a handful of raw or dry roasted almonds. Crunch on an apple when that 3.00pm slump hits. Resist the urge to crack open the chips!
There are some exceptions to this rule. Some staple foods such as tinned tomatoes, some mustards, coconut milk/cream and tinned and frozen vegetables can be used. The key is to read the ingredients (see previous post on reading food labels). Many brands of tinned tomatoes, for example, come with added sugar, salt, anti-caking agents and a whole host of other ingredients. Similarly, lots of mustards have added sugars and other things that make them sweeter. There are healthy, natural varieties of these items available so make sure you spend your money on these.
See if you can go a week eating this way. Track your progress, how your body feels and whether you feel more clarity as a result. These small food switches are not complicated so make the change today!