5 Ways to Get Processed Food Out of Your Diet
By JULIEANNA HEVER
One of the most powerful health choices you can make is to "unprocess" your diet. With all the controversy about the "perfect way" to eat, there's one guideline that everyone can agree on: minimizing or avoiding processed foods.
Processed foods not only have damaging effects on their own, but they also crowd out the healthful options on your plate. Processed foods are difficult to define, since "processing" technically just means it has been altered from its original state.
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A processed food can range from whole-grain pasta to a candy bar, as neither is in its "natural state," yet one is clearly more natural than the other. For purposes of enhancing nutrition and supporting a diet that helps with weight management and disease prevention, processed foods can be defined as ones that are far removed from nature, contain chemical additives and are calorie-dense and nutrient-poor.
Here are five simple ways to unprocess your diet:
1. Pick your packaging.
Ideally, the majority of our food comes without any packaging: vegetables, fruits and fresh herbs, of course, but also items such as legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds that either come unwrapped in the bulk section or packaged for purposes of transportation. Try to fill your shopping cart with mostly (or exclusively) these items.
2. Choose whole grains.
Whole grains have their fiber and nutrients intact. For example, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, oats and bulgur are whole grains, which means they contain all three components: the bran, germ and endosperm.
Once these parts are stripped away and the original grain devolves into a broken, shredded, flaked or puffed version of itself, nutrients are lost, calories become more concentrated and the benefits decrease. Opt for whole grains when possible.
3. Cook your own food.
Full control of your meals can only be had when you make them from scratch. It's the only way to eat as wholesomely as possible and avoid consuming foods not in alignment with your dietary priorities.
[Read More: Foods to Keep Out of Your Kitchen]
You don't need fancy cooking skills. Learning a few simple techniques -- like blending a homemade dressing, making a hearty soup and boiling whole grains and legumes -- is more than enough to keep you satisfied and inspired in the kitchen. Start by following recipes and noting what you prefer as well as practicing the techniques that are common in many recipes. Once you have a repertoire of delicious dishes you love, you will be fluent in cooking.
4. Read the nutrition label.
You can ignore everything on a nutrition label except for the ingredient list. The rest of it is advertising and can be utterly confusing. Go by these three simple rules when selecting foods at the grocery store:
* You should be able to recognize and easily pronounce all of the ingredients.
* There should be no more than five ingredients total.
* When in doubt, put the package down and move on.
5. Make at least half your plate/day/diet fruits and veggies.
Nobody can disagree that fruits and vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet and that the vast majority of the population does not consume enough of them.
All the leading health organizations, including the USDA and World Health Organization, recommend we eat more fruits and vegetables to reduce the risk of chronic disease, enhance immune function and moderate a healthy calorie intake.
Readers -- Do avoid processed foods? How do you manage to dodge them even when you eat out? What is the biggest challenge you've faced in keeping processed foods in check? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Julieanna Hever, M.S., RD, CPT, is a registered dietitian who has been in private practice in Los Angeles since 2005, specializing in weight management, disease prevention and management and sports nutrition. Julieanna is the host of Veria Living Network's What Would Julieanna Do?, author of the best-selling The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition, and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Gluten-Free Vegan Cooking, which she wrote with Chef Beverly Lynn Bennett. Julieanna was recently featured on The Dr. Oz Show and The Steve Harvey Show and presented at TEDxConejo 2012. Julieanna will be releasing a new book, The Vegiterranean Diet, available for pre-order now.