This is a guest post by Valerie Johnston.
If you are striving to eat a healthier diet, then you have probably heard over and over again to steer clear of processed foods. This healthy eating goal may seem difficult to achieve considering that the vast majority of food sold in a typical grocery store has been processed in one way or another. It’s important to distinguish between foods that have been heavily processed, foods that have only been altered slightly, and foods that have not been processed at all.
Heavily Processed Foods
Processed food is simply food that has been altered from its natural state. However, foods that have been heavily processed typically have a rich caloric load, but do not offer much at all in the way of nutrients. Many types of processed foods are actually very harmful for your body. For example, foods that contain trans fats can increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and infertility. Most heavily processed foods have been stripped of their nutrients and have been filled with harmful additives.
Unfortunately, heavily processed foods have taken over American kitchens as a cheap way to fill up on calories. Many pre-packaged, processed foods are marketed as healthy when they are, in fact, laden with chemicals, harmful preservatives, colorings, artificial flavors, sweeteners, salts, and unnatural fats.
Lightly Processed Foods
When health professionals talk about the harmful effects of processed foods, they are usually talking about foods that include harmful additives and that have been stripped of their nutrients. However, since the definition of processed food is any food that has been altered from its natural state, foods such as dried fruit may even be put in this category. This is why it is important to distinguish between heavily processed foods and foods that have only been slightly modified. For example, dried fruit, as long as it doesn’t have any unnatural preservatives, sugar, or harmful chemicals added, is actually a very healthy snack.
There’s no question that the healthiest foods that you can eat are unprocessed. Unprocessed foods tend to be the most nutrient dense. For example, an apple in its natural state is much healthier than an apple that has been stripped of its skin (where most of the antioxidants are found), pressed for juice, and then filled with chemical preservatives and refined sugar. Therefore, your healthy eating plan should include as many unprocessed foods as possible. Several servings of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains such as quinoa, and other unprocessed foods should make up the bulk of your diet if your goal is optimum health.
Striking a Balance
You don’t have to only eat unprocessed foods in order to achieve a healthy eating plan. Improving your health is all about becoming a more conscious consumer when it comes to shopping for food. Learn to read food labels and know what foods to avoid. Foods that are already packaged provide a convenience that most of us are not willing to give up, nor do we have to in order to maintain good health. By simply learning to read food labels wisely, you will dramatically improve your diet.
For example, if you are shopping for salad dressing, avoid bottles of dressing containing ingredients that appear as if they were written in a foreign language. If a bottle of dressing includes artificial flavors, added coloring, chemical preservatives, or other questionable additives, choose another brand. Natural food stores are a great place to look for food that is not processed, or that is only lightly processed and does not include harmful chemicals. With time, your taste buds will adjust to life without additives as you learn to liven up your food with natural flavouring, and your overall health will improve dramatically as a result.
Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon and writing for Healthline.com ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.