Why and How to Avoid Processed Foods
Avoiding processed foods is healthy eating 101, but sometimes it’s nice to revisit the whys behind our food choices. We’ve got some science-based reasons to give processed foods the boot, plus 15 healthy, whole food recipes to help you make the leap to home cooking.
I’ve seen a lot of food trends come and go since I’ve been working with food and health (cooking, farming, writing, teaching), but underlying all of them is a move towards a cleaner, more wholesome diet and a turn away from processed food. There is a growing desire to avoid processed food and simplify our eating habits. And I think that’s a very good thing!
Whether it’s natural food brands being purchased by larger companies, or the explosive growth of the natural foods market, it seems that people are slowly stepping away fromprocessed foods and returning to a more natural way of eating. And it’s not going over well with the big food companies that have built their empire on making us fat, sick, and nearly dead.
TreeHugger points to a few examples of how consumers’ new eating habits are hurting big food corporations:
“Campbell Soup lowered its full-year results forecast after only one quarter and is looking for ways to save $200 million a year. Kraft’s profits dropped 62 percent in 2014 – “a difficult and disappointing year,” according to its CEO John Cahill. Kelloggdropped its prediction for long-term annual revenue growth from 3 to 4 percent to 1 to 3 percent; cereal sales were down nearly 6 percent last year. ConAgra also slashed sales projections and fired its CEO.”
Part of the reason consumers are changing their habits is because our food system is breaking down. Recently Kraft had to recall millions of boxes its ubiquitous Kraft dinner macaroni and cheese for decidedly non-edible metal parts; farmers routinely recall meat, chicken, and eggs due to obscenely high levels of bacteria, and even hummus and organic peanut butters are not excluded from the contamination madness. So it’s no surprise that consumers are decreasing their intake of processed foods and opting for healthier options. Need more convincing? Here are 10 reasons to avoid processed foods.
10 Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods
1. Processed foods are linked to lifestyle diseases: The Standard American Diet, which is heavy on the animal foods and high in processed foods, is linked to a host of lifestyle diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
2. Processed foods contain too much sugar: It’s become shockingly clear in recent years thatsugar, which is found in copious amounts in almost all processed foods, is underlying so many of our collective health issues. Reduce the sugar in your diet by making homemade foods and skipping sugar-sweetened beverages.
3. Processed foods contain too much fat (and it’s the wrong kind): Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and avocados are great for our body, but processed foods often contain refined, processed fats known as transfats. Transfats are linked to a host of health dangers, like heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol.
5. Processed foods contain food coloring: Artificial food coloring is linked to ADHD, behavioral changes in children, and cancer. Almost all artificial food colors are banned in Europe, and yet deemed safe for US consumption. We disagree!
6. Processed foods are lacking in fiber: When grains are refined, the resulting white flour has little nutritional value. Most Americans do not reach the recommended daily fiber intake, and it’s leading to weight gain, hormone imbalances, and unhappy guts. Boost your fiber intake with these 10 high-fiber foods for better digestive health.
7. Processed foods can make your crave more junk: Research shows that an increase in processed foods in our diet lead to skewed sense of taste, and make us crave more junk foods.
8. Processed foods are loaded with GMOs: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed (oil) are almost always found in processed foods. There have not been any long term studies done on the effects of GMOs in the food system, but there has been a rise in food allergies, food intolerances, and other negative health consequences since the introduction of GMOs into our food supply.
9. Processed foods contain artificial ingredients: When was the last time you cooked with mono and diglycerides, modified food starch, high fructose corn syrup or maltodextrin? Food companies rely on artificial ingredients to enhance flavors and textures of processed foods to make them more palatable, but we think real food ingredient are so much better! Learn which ingredients to avoid and which food additives sound scary but are actually okay.
10. Processed foods are low in nutrition: Processed foods contain a lot of the bad stuff like sugar, fats, preservatives, and GMOs, but they are almost totally devoid of nutrition. Not only are processed foods low in fiber, they are lacking in other nutrients too, which leads us to crave more food overall, and more junk food specifically. Nutrient density is the key to finding foods that offer the most bang for your buck.
15 Homemade Foods to Help You Avoid Processed Foods
Here are a few of our favorite recipes for sauces, treats, and meals that will help you reduce your dependance upon processed foods! These recipes, and all of the recipes here on the site, can help make it easier for you to begin avoiding all the nasty ingredients in processed foods!
1. Homemade Barbeque Sauce: Rich, deep and flavorful, helps you save all the extra corn syrup and sugar found in bottled brands.
3. Munch on Homemade Flax Crackers to enjoy with hummus and other dips!
4. Homemade Olive Tapenade: A great spread for Italian and Greek themed meals and snacks.
5. Homemade vegetable broth: No flavorings, no MSG. Just veggies and natural flavors to boost all your recipes.
6. Homemade Granola: The ultimate hippie food? Most store brands are loaded with sugar and oil. Try this easy, wholesome version for quick breakfasts and snacks.
7. No-bake granola: A mostly-raw alternative to granola, made with nuts, seeds, oats and perfect for daily snacking.
8. Homemade Coconut Yogurt: A fun project to bring fermented/cultured coconut milk home without all the excess sugar.
9. Homemade Cupcakes: Because sometimes you just need cupcakes. Here are 36 homemade vegan cupcake recipes.
10. Homemade Almond Milk: save the box and enjoy the taste of fresh almond milk.
11. Homemade Baba gannoush: The sexier cousin of hummus, made with eggplant
12. Homemade Vegan Chicken Nuggets: because sometimes even vegans need snack foods!
13. Homemade Baby food: Because even your little ones need healthy stuff too!
14. Homemade Vegan Caramel Corn: Movie nights, date nights or any night, sometimes caramel corn is the answer.
15. Make (some of) your own condiments: my recent post on Care2 about homemade condiments featuring recipes for homemade mayo, mustard, hot sauce, salsa, pesto and more.