Real Food Tips: 8 Ways to Avoid Processed Food

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  1. Read the ingredients label before buying anything. For years, if I even looked at food labels, I was reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While this may be important to some, the best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items you should reconsider before buying.
  2. Increase your consumption of whole foods, especially vegetables and fruits. I am sure you’ve heard similar advice a thousand times, and I hate to tell you it is true. This will help to displace the processed foods in your diet, and will actually make your food selections in general very simple. No more counting calories, fat grams, or carbs when your only concern is selecting whole foods that are, as Michael Pollansays, more the product of nature than “the product of industry.”

    Homemade Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread

  3. Buy your bread from a local bakery. I actually used to eat white bread, but what I bought for my husband from the grocery store was what I thought was whole-wheat bread. When we finally checked the ingredients and found 40 different items on the list, including white flour and sugar, we decided it was time for a change. Why would there be so many on the list if it only takes a handful of ingredients (like whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt) to make bread?
  4. In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. And don’t just believe the health claims on the outside of the box.  Read the ingredient label to make sure the product is truly made with only 100% whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains which is unfortunately how a lot of so-called “whole grain” products are made. The white flour or other refined grain alternative is simply high in calories and low in nutrition, which reminds me a little too much of sugar.
  5. Avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients,” says Michael Pollan. Despite the mixed research on if HFCS is really worse for you than good ol’ white sugar, it just happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed”.
  6. Don’t order off the kids’ menu. The next time your family is out to dinner avoid the kids’ menu. Those selections are most often things like pre-made chicken nuggets, deep-fried French fries, pasta made with white flour, and so on. Instead try assembling some sort of side item plate with a baked potato and whatever vegetables your kid will eat and/or try sharing some of your meal.
  7. Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. According to Michael Pollan not only will you find “food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious”, but you will also find a selection of pesticide-free produce and properly fed meat products. It is also better for our environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to supermarket produce, which on average travels 1500 miles from the farm to your plate.
  8. Lastly, to once again quote Michael Pollan, he says to “eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” If you had to peel, chop and deep fry potatoes every time you wanted French fries then you might not eat them very often. Only eating “junk food” such as cakes, sweets, and fried foods as often as you are willing to make them yourself will automatically reduce your consumption.


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61 comments to Real Food Tips: 8 Ways to Avoid Processed Food

  • Catherine

    Ihave been very disappointed with the local bakeries. None of them so far have made a whole wheat without using all-purpose flour. Thankfully, I found one at Trader Joe’s. It’s good, but it has a sourdough taste to it.

  • Nichole

    I have a question. I am gluten free and cannot have egg whites. A lot of the gluten free breads have egg whites in them. I have found a millet and flax bread that doesn’t have anything but Millet flour, flax seed, baking powder, and water. It actually tastes good too. Would this be ok? I cannot seem to give up bread. thanks.

  • [...] also read a lot of posts from a blog called 100 Days of Real Food. It isn’t just 100 days though, it’s 100 days several times. So this has been possible [...]

  • We now make our own bread using the Healthy Bread in 5 minutes method and we love it! I haven’t purchased bread since early December. We’ve also starting baking ‘cheezits’ and graham crackers. Anyway, that bread method is just about the easiest thing ever. It’s a no-knead method!

    • Sandy

      Would you mind sharing your graham cracker recipe with me? I haven’t found one that I like and I love graham crackers! The bread recipe would also be appreciated :)

    • The Healthy Breads in 5 Minutes method is a book. It’s basically 5 cups of WW flour (I use the King Arthur brand but I would like to grind my own, someday), 1/2 cup ground flax, 1.125tbls yeast, .75 tbls salt (optional, or you can add more or less to taste), 3 tbls vital wheat gluten, 1 tbls honey (You can omit this, but I like that it offsets a little of the bitterness of the whole wheat slightly), and 22oz of warm water (roughly 110 degrees). Mix all of this together until combined well and turn into your bread pan (I use a 2lbs pullman loaf pan, you would need to adjust this recipe in order to use a smaller pan). You CAN actually refrigerate this dough, but I find that for me it rises and bakes a little fluffier if I just rise it and bake it at the same time. I let it rise about 3hrs. Then bake at 375 for about 45-50 minutes, top will be dark. But this is a super general recipe. The base method is from the book I mentioned above. And I would like to try a knead method at some point.

      I’ve subbed out part of both the butter and brown sugar for applesauce. I’ve done up to roughly 1/3 of each. But I don’t write it down, I’m really bad about that. Plus, I usually use something like coconut sugar or muscovado instead of the brown sugar. I don’t make these often, because when you get the sugar down low enough to make it more than an occasional thing, they don’t taste very good and no one eats them. So I make them probably once a month.

  • Can you please tell me if there is a difference between hybrid and GMO produce? Not that many things are labeled “hybrid”, but I’ve always been curious about this. TIA

  • Tracy

    Can you elaborate on the Healthy Bread in 5 minutes method?
    Thank you

  • Shanna

    Went to a local bakery today and asked about their bread. I was a little surprised that all their bread products had no nutiritional information on it. I tried to ask the man behind the counter if his bread was whole grain or whole wheat and he didn’t seem to understand the difference. He obviously wasn’t the actual baker! Do most community bakeries have nutritional labels? I guess I’ll keep trying to find the bread we want! Thank goodness for Trader Joe’s…even though I don’t really love the taste of their breads.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Shanna. I know our local bakery (Great Harvest) lists all of the ingredients. I am not sure about others. ~Amy

  • [...] right now to cut out processed foods and begin fueling with real food. Lisa Leake, blog-runner of 100 Days of Real Food, posted eight tips to avoid processed [...]

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