Doctors have long been telling us that ‘clean eating’ is the right way to eat. This means no processed foods. Instead, you should eat whole foods, which are the ‘real’ foods you find on the perimeter of the store. Processed foods are any foods that have more than one ingredient, anything that has been ‘processed’ or made in a factory.
The more a food is closer to nature, the healthier it is. Some processed foods that are still healthy. For example, some frozen vegetables have added butter (which we now know is not the enemy we once thought it was). Almond or peanut butter? Those are processed food, but they are healthy processed foods.
In most cases, though, the term “processed food” means that a food has been chemically processed. These foods are often made from heavily refined ingredients with artificial additives.
The worst offenders are:
- Chicken nuggets: While chicken nuggets are a food that every kid seems to grow up on, you should avoid them at all costs (unless, of course, you are making them from scratch, at home). In a restaurant, or in the freezer section of the grocery store, the ones you will find are made with a large amount of salt, preservatives and unhealthy fats.
- Granola bars: Even though granola bars have been marketed as a healthy snack, they usually have a large amounts of added high fructose corn syrup to make them sweeter. They are also often loaded with salt and preservatives. Read the ingredients and choose wisely!
- French fries: Again, we all grew up eating fries, and many people still eat them. However, fries contain a great deal of fat, salt and calories. There is almost no nutritive value of a fry, but they can be baked at home (and made from fresh potatoes) to make them healthier. If you make your own, add tomato sauce instead of ketchup to really up the nutritional value.
- Store-bought baked goods: All store-bought cookies, crackers, cakes and muffins are processed foods. It is a fact. These tend to be some of the biggest health offenders in the store. They have trans fat, which makes them taste better, and which is the most harmful fat you can put in your body. These processed goods also have tons of sugar and salt.
- Powered drink mixes: Typically powdered drink mixes are just sugar. They are also full of preservatives and artificial flavors. Avoid these at all costs.
- Margarine: These days, we are finding out that butter is much better for us than we ever knew. Margarine is actually the bad guy. It is full of trans fats, free radicals and preservatives, which are all bad for the body.
- Potato Chips: Typical potato chips are, again, loaded with ‘bad’ fats, preservatives, calories and salt. If you do need a crunchy snack, look for baked chips or even chips made from beans instead of potatoes. Dip them in hummus to add a healthy kick.
- Carbonated sodas: Sodas are simply empty calories. They are loaded with sugar–and even diet sodas have been shown to be harmful to one’s health, as they are full of fake sugars that tend to raise blood sugar. The high fructose corn syrup in typical sodas is worse for the body than sugar, because it has been proven to cause dangerous blood sugar spikes that damage the liver. Sodas are also one of the worst things you can do to your teeth as the sugary syrup clings to the teeth and causes decay.
- Processed meats: Lunch meat and hot dogs are loaded with preservatives and artificial flavors, MSG, salt and fillers. If you do love lunch meat, look for brands that are uncured.
- Breakfast cereals: Cereals tend to have a great deal of added sugar. Make sure to read the box before you purchase. Look for cereals that have low sugar and at least five grams of fiber, or skip the cereal altogether and opt for a healthier breakfast.
- Microwave popcorn: Popcorn that is air popped, or popped on the stove using coconut oil is not bad for you at all. But microwave popcorn? Forget about it! This is one of the unhealthiest foods you can purchase. Typically, these bags of popcorn contain genetically modified kernels as well as preservatives, fake butter, and lots of salt. Finally, microwave popcorn contains the additive diacetyl, which has been proven to destroy the lungs.
Shy away from these foods when shopping and stick to natural foods, those found on the perimeter of the store, that contain single ingredients. Cook your own food and notice how much better you feel!