Many of us are on a journey to improve our family’s diets. Because transitioning to a healthier way of eating can be overwhelming, it helps to set priorities. These are what I believe are the 3 top priorities in the pursuit of a more nourishing diet:
- Ditching processed foods in favor of cooking from scratch
- Eating healthy fats
- Eating grass fed and pastured animal products.
This post touches on the first of the list, rooting out the processed foods in your diet. You can find many great posts on healthy fats, meats and dairy here at MAK and at MAK’s contributor’s blogs.
Five Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods
Processed foods do make cooking easier and quicker, but they do so at a cost to your health and pocketbook.
1. Processed food contains unhealthy fats and refined grains. These are the problems with fat in processed food:
- Trans fats (hydrogenated fats) are prevalent in processed foods.
- Most processed foods use oils that are genetically modified: soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and canola oil.
- The oils commonly used in processed foods are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). We get way too many PUFA’s, but not enough omega 3 fatty acids. This creates an imbalance that promotes inflammation which can lead to disease.
2. Processed foods contain GMO’s. Read ingredient labels. If the food is not organic and contains any form of corn, soybeans, cottonseed, canola or sugar (unless it says cane sugar), those ingredients are likely genetically modified.
3. Homemade food tastes better. Of course this is subjective. Processed food uses a lot of sugar, salt, flavorings and flavor enhancers for the purpose of making it taste appealing. Even so, many people report enjoying food more once they begin eating whole food. Maybe that’s because this is the food we were designed to eat. If you lack cooking experience and think your cooked-from-scratch food won’t taste good, don’t worry. Of course there is a learning curve, but you’ll become more confident and proficient the more you cook.
4. Processed food is usually more expensive. Apply the money you would normally spend on processed foods to fund the more expensive items of a healthy diet like pastured and grass fed meats and dairy foods.
5. Processed foods have a negative environmental impact. GMO’s, manufacturing, packaging and transportation all have detrimental effects on the health of the environment.
Making the Switch
A great starting point to decreasing processed foods is to eat more fruits and vegetables. Yes, I know that you know this, but do you do it? It works. Increasing the quantity of fruits and vegetables helps displace the processed foods in your diet. Many fruits and vegetables require little or no preparation, so there is really no excuse not to eat more. A simple strategy is to double your vegetable serving sizes at meals.
Systematically and persistently replacing processed food with whole food will lead to success. Survey your pantry and take note of what processed food you normally buy. Can any of these foods be cut out? Which foods would be the easiest to replace with a whole food or homemade counterpart? Pick one or two foods to focus on this week. When you cook from scratch double the recipe so you can put one in the freezer. This is a great time saver.
A typical reason people fall back into the processed food rut is that they try to make changes in how they eat and shop without creating a plan. If you create a void by cutting out foods you typically eat you will need to replace them with something. Make a plan of what you will eat ahead of time, or you will find yourself resorting back to the old ways. Check out the meal plan section on the menu bar. If you’re new to meal planning you’ll appreciate Jill’s 5 part series to get you started. You’ll also find many meal plans that others have linked up.
One common processed food that’s very easy to make yourself is salad dressing. Salad dressings are simple and most recipes use common ingredients that you may already have on hand. My go-to salad dressing when I’m in a hurry is Easiest Homemade Salad Dressing Ever. Peanut Salad Dressing is another of our family favorites.
Peanut Salad Dressing
1/4 cup peanut butter
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Stir it all together. Add additional olive oil to get to desired consistency. I’ve never tried it, but I’m sure you could replace the peanut butter with any nut butter.
What strategies/tips have you found helpful in your journey from processed foods to whole foods?