You know that a meal plan rich in fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole grains is healthy for you. But do you know exactly why? The answer is simple. These foods are the least likely to be subjected to extensive processing. Processed foods are not your friend and you should take steps to remove them from your meals.
Sure, canned soups and frozen dinners are quick and convenient, but at what cost? Let’s take a look at 7 reasons you should steer clear of processed foods. In fact, you should be cutting them out of your life to the extent that you can and move to “clean” food choices.
Dangers of Processed Foods
1. Many processed foods include monosodium glutamate
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a form of salt chemically changed to enhance the flavor of processed foods. It is directly linked to weight gain and obesity, and negatively affects how full you feel when you are eating. This can lead to binge eating since your brain never knows when you are full.
Liver inflammation, kidney failure, and even brain damage are possible side effects of heavy exposure to MSG. Unfortunately, it is the world’s most popular flavor enhancer. MSG can also be listed under any of the following names:
Acid hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Plant protein extract
2. Processed foods can contain high fructose corn syrup
Why is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) so dangerous to your health? Studies indicate HFCS contributes to liver deterioration, plaque build-up in your blood vessels, type2 diabetes, and heart disease.
It also accelerates the natural aging process in your body and often contains unhealthy levels of mercury. Also, it’s addictive. In spite of the dangers, it seems to be used in more and more processed food products all the time.
Read “5 Reasons High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You“ for more information.
3. Low-fat often means high in sugar
Many processed and manufactured foods boast they are low-fat or no-fat in nature. The extraction process also involves adding HFCS, sucrose, lactose, and glucose, as well as other yummy tasting but unhealthy sweeteners.
Sugar triggers the “feel good” transmitters in your brain, and this can cause an addiction to sweet tasting processed foods. Sugar can have a devastating effect on your health. It is believed by many doctors and nutritionists to be the leading cause of chronic disease and obesity today.
4. Important nutrients are processed out
Foods are processed so they last longer on the shelf and taste better than when they existed in their natural state. This oftentimes involves removing wonderful phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals; either intentionally or indirectly. In short, they lose their nutritional value.
By its very definition, processing foods leads to a non-natural state. That means many of the healthy components that nature packs into foods are lacking when that food is processed.
5. Non-processed foods are easier on your digestive system
When you eat processed food, flavor enhancing, unhealthy chemicals get into your body, obviously. Your body then identifies these chemicals as poisons and toxins and works very hard to rid your system of them.
But they are much harder to digest than the foods that nature intended us to eat. This makes your digestive tract work harder than it has to. This can lead to a long list of gastrointestinal problems and health issues.
6. Processed foods are more expensive than homemade
While many claim that eating healthy is just too expensive, you should put it to the test yourself. If you’re a big fan of chili, for example, buy the ingredients and make a batch.
Divide the cost of the ingredients by the number of servings it yields. Then compare the cost per serving to that of the canned product. You just might be surprised. Also, you know what’s in your food, so you know it’s healthy.
Then there’s chicken soup; another favorite, feel-good food. If you look at the ingredients in a can of two popular soups, you’ll see they contain MSG. As for the cost of making your own vs. the cost of a can of soup, again, purchase the ingredients and make the comparison yourself.
Personally, I’d go with the option to not put garbage in my system over saving a few cents.
7. You will begin to feel healthier almost immediately
Processed foods contain a lot of junk your body does not need. This can include phosphates which actually weaken your bones and organs. The excess sugar in processed foods can lead to weight gain and heart problems. Many manufactured foods can lead to chronic inflammation, dementia, respiratory failure, and multiple neurologic problems.
When you avoid processed food and do-it-yourself, you become healthier. How can you not?
Transitioning from Processed Foods
You might be thinking that you don’t have the time to prepare healthy meals. After all, your life is very busy as it is, why make it more hectic. That’s why you need to come up with a game plan.
If you want to nix the processed foods and eat healthier meals, sit down and create a realistic shopping, cooking, and food storage plan. Here are 4 tips to help you get started.
Clean out your pantry
Check the labels on all of the food you currently have in your home. Pull out everything that lists MSG, HFCS, added sugar, excess salt, and white flour. If you feel that throwing away this food is a waste of money, donate it to your local food bank or homeless shelter.
You definitely have to rid your home of addictive and unhealthy processed food temptations to begin the healthy eating process.
Prepare and cook multiple meals at once
Batch cooking makes sense for a lot of reasons. For one thing, you can make bulk purchases at Costco, Sam’s Club, or whichever wholesale food store is near you. When you purchase, prepare, and cook multiple meals at once, you can benefit from lower prices by buying larger quantities.
By preparing, cooking, and storing several meals at a time rather than single meals several times a week, you minimize the time you spend in the kitchen. Not to mention that you only have to deal with a messy kitchen on those days.
Get the whole family involved
You are busy, as is everyone else in your family. So why not schedule a couple of hours every week so the entire family can help out? Involve the family in your shopping, preparing, and batch cooking processes. Not only will this save time and money in the long run, but it will also instill important and healthy eating habits in your children.
Shop around locally
Do some research and find out where the whole food stores and farmer’s markets are in your area. You may be surprised to find that locally grown produce is just around the corner and less expensive than the items you purchase at the grocery store.
Healthy Homemade Alternatives to Common Processed Foods
Make these flavorful foods at home and you can save money while eating healthy and responsibly.
Tomato based products
When you make your own pasta sauce, ketchup, and salsa, you decide exactly what healthy ingredients you are using. When you purchase these tomato-based items at a grocery store, they have likely gone through an extreme manufacturing process.
Sauces and dressings
There are dozens of great tasting dressings and sauces you can make right at home using healthy ingredients. You can easily kick the expensive processed sauces and dressings to the curb.
Granola and energy bars
There are multiple healthy recipes online for making your own granola bars and energy bars. Oftentimes this is more economical than purchasing the unhealthy processed options at the grocery store.
This is another made-at-home alternative. It is healthier when you make it yourself and it is less expensive than the store-bought variety.
Do-it-yourself yogurt is so much healthier than the products offered at your favorite supermarket and it tastes so much better, in my humble opinion. You can find healthy brands of yogurt on the shelf, but most are extremely processed.
You can purchase a versatile bread machine, or simply make healthy and incredible tasting biscuits in your oven. The list of healthy ingredients you can incorporate into homemade bread, like whole grains and fruits, is virtually endless.
Store-bought soup is notoriously high in sodium/MSG. If you are crunched for time, you can cook several servings of healthy, tasty, homemade soup in a slow cooker and freeze for later.
We talked about the health risks associated with many processed foods. Food manufacturers create products that last as long as possible on store shelves or in your refrigerator. They develop products that are inexpensive to make, and taste great so you continue to buy them.
Chemicals are injected into foods during the manufacturing and packaging process. Unneeded MSG, sugar, salt, and a long list of man-made chemicals find their way into the processed foods.
Now that you are aware of what you’ve been eating you should consider a healthier alternative. Will you be able to completely rid yourself of processed foods? Probably not as that’s not realistic.
But you can take steps to limit harmful additives. For example, if you eat bacon for breakfast, that’s fine. But do yourself a favor and look for bacon that does not have sugar. It’s out there… you just have to find it.
It takes time and effort to source healthy foods, but aren’t you worth it? In the long run you may find that healthier eating habits will save you time, energy, and money.