Real Food Tips: 10 Reasons to Cut Out Processed Food

We originally cut out processed food because we thought it was the right thing to do. What we didn’t expect were all the surprising improvements to our health that followed. It’s hard not to let those positive changes confirm that it was in fact a very good decision to cut out the junk. In case you or someone you know still needs some convincing check out these 10 reasons below for some “food for thought”….

  1. Processed foods are an illusion, often appearing to be healthy (with claims like low fat, low carb, vitamin fortified, no trans fat, contains omega-3s, etc.) when these foods are in fact the very thing making a lot of Americans unhealthy, sick, and fat.
  2. Coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer – four of the top ten chronic diseases that kill most of us – “can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food” according to Michael Pollan.
  3. Making smarter (and sometimes more expensive) food choices now may reduce your healthcare costs later in life.
  4. Why would one want to eat a processed food-like substance that is scientifically designed to never rot?
  5. The food industry has proven that it is not very good at seasoning our foods by adding way too much salt, sugar, and/or oil to almost everything.
  6. When you eat white bread and other foods made with white flour (which is a highly processed version of wheat) you are basically consuming empty calories with far less nutrition than the whole-wheat or whole grain alternatives.
  7. It is estimated that up to 90% of processed foods* in the supermarket contain either a corn or soy ingredient in the form of an additive under a variety of different names. Now how is that for eating variety?
  8. Cutting out highly processed food could lead you to experience a variety of personal health benefits such as having more energy, losing weight, improving cholesterol levels, helping with regularity, or just feeling healthier overall.
  9. Rather than counting calories, watching fat grams, or reducing carbs for “healthy eating,” simply eat whole foods that, as Michael Pollan puts it, are more the product of nature than “the product of industry.” It certainly is less complicated.
  10. It just makes plain old sense to fully understand what you are eating, be able to pronounce everything on the list of ingredients (if there is a list), and know exactly where that food comes from…don’t you think?

*Statistic courtesy of a food scientist interviewed on the documentary “Food, Inc”

 

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52 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 10 Reasons to Cut Out Processed Food”

  1. It would be great if Lisa could do an article or post about oils. I’m so confused on what to cook and bake with, which ones are bad, which ones are good. They say coconut oil is beat but it has a lot of saturated fat. Should I use refined or unrefined? I normally use canola oil in baking because I thought it was better for high cholesterol but I’ve also heard it’s very processed and inflammatory to the body. Can you please help me understand which choices are best?

  2. Today, I went to the beachfront with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to
    her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this
    is entirely off topic but I had to tell someone!

  3. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi there. I know it can be difficult, at first, to sort through all the foods we are so used to conveniently eating. Unfortunately, short ingredient lists are far more difficult to find and is why we spend time making a lot from scratch. Here are some posts that might help: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/08/07/gluten-free-multi-grain-and-organic-junk-food/, https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/11/06/two-real-food-approved-store-bought-snacks/, https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/07/04/for-convenience-the-best-store-bought-snacks/, https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/04/21/for-convenience-the-best-store-bought-snacks-ii/. Hope that helps. ~Amy

  4. I struggle every trip to the grocery store trying to find healthy foods. I really do like the 5 ingredients or less rule, it definitely simplifies things. But when it comes to the unknown/unpronouncable ingredients I tend to feel defeated. If Im looking at cereals, crackers or snack bars of sorts trying to find stuff for my son, (in the organic section) labels which claim to be organic continue to have large laundry lists of ingredients that I do not know. Are there ingredients out there that sound bad but really aren’t?

    1. I am a paleo follower and have lost a tremendous amount of weight through this plan. The dinger is, no grains. That will solve your cereal ingredient list issue. Just give him smoothies (my kids love them), bacon and eggs (no toast) or sweet potato hash. You can find the recipe on my blog!

  5. It would be nice if health food advocates learned to stop using the sizeist rhetoric about processed foods making you fat. While it may be technically true, there is no inherent relationship between body fat ratio and health.

  6. I am starting the p90x challenge and I have been following your blog and fb page. I am writing to ask if you have seen or know of whole foods helping people lose weight or not. The diet I am starting says not to cook with oils as well as use fat free foods and drink protien shakes should i stay away from them or are there other organic/ whole fold options available.

    1. Amber – We get lots of comments from people who have lost weight after moving to real food, and I lost about 10 pounds not really trying. See this post for more info on health benefits https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/07/14/day-47-health-benefits/. In general we recommend consuming healthy oils (olive oil, coconut oil, lard, butter, ghee) and avoiding products advertised as “fat-free” (because they usually are highly processed and contain added sugar, etc.). We do not advocate protein shakes.

      By the way, Lisa and I did P90x for about 6 weeks (but did not follow their diet recommendations, i.e. we didn’t even look at them) and think the exercise portion of the program is great. Working out for 1-1.5 hours a day, 6 days a week was not realistic for us long term, hence the 6 weeks only. I was interested in it to improve my strength and endurance for some races and climbing events I had planned. I felt faster, stronger, and less prone to injury after those 6 weeks. But then again the same could probably be said for any consistent application of a quality routine.

    2. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Amber. We really don’t address the details of any diet program. As you read in this post, we believe that by “cutting out processed foods you can experience a variety of personal health benefits such as having more energy, losing weight, improving regularity, or just feeling healthier overall”. This post addresses the protein shake issue: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/12/13/food-babe-investigates-protein-shakes/ and this one explains the essentials of having healthy fats in your diet: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/05/14/mini-pledge-week-10-no-refined-oils/. Hope that answered your questions. ~Amy

  7. Although I agree totally that whole foods are the way to go, I find too often comments such as Mary’s above that we are the only industrialized society that still drinks cow’s milk. This is so far from the truth. The European Union is the largest milk producer and has about 23 million dairy cows. This compares with 10 million in North America and over 6 million in Australia and New Zealand. Milk production is also on the increase in South-East Asia, including countries not traditionally noted for their milk consumption, such as China, which now has over 12 million cows producing milk. So although eating whole is the right way to go, don’t confuse it with not eating dairy products or consuming milk. Cow’s milk has been around for thousands of years and is part of a healthy well rounded diet. Great blog by the way!

  8. In the 6 months that I’ve cut out processed foods, I’ve lost 31 pounds, severe carpal tunnel that caused me to have to wear wrist braces every night for 4 years is gone!!! chronic acid reflux=gone!!! feeling puffy and having inflammed tissues in my arms and face=gone!!! brain fog=gone!! terribly unbearable food cravings=gone!!! blood sugar dips and spikes=gone!!!

  9. Lisa, this is such a great post! You are so right. One of the things that bothers me the most is the fact that food companies are allowed to put “Diet” claims on unhealthy food our of a pure technicality. There should really be more regulations for that.

  10. I appreciate, lead to I found just what I used to be looking for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

  11. Hi!

    Please watch the documentary Forks over Knives if you can. Netflix has is “streaming”.

    I think the only thing this documentary would add to your already very healthy lifestyle is to give up all dairy products….. We are the only industrialized society that still drinks cows milk…..

  12. I just discovered your website (via Pinterest) and am so thankful! I have been transitioning to healthier eating for the past handful of years and it’s refreshing to find a community that feels the same way. I look forward to so many more rewarding posts and hope to learn how to get my husband to follow suit! He has upgraded quite a bit to some healthier eating, but many things he continues to label as “health nut” ideas. So thanks for what you and your family are doing.

  13. I’m fairly new to this website, and to eating a better, more nutrional diet.

    I have been a processed food addict/junkie for most of my life. I grew up during the late 60s and early 70s, when TV dinners, canned veggies, and Spaghettios were the rage. In my 20s and early 30s, I was very physically active and did a lot of running. I could keep the weight down, but began to have other issues. Eventually I developed a chronic knee problem and had to quit running. I began to gain weight. Then I had hormone problems and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian disease (which I now know is related to insulin resistance/junk food/weight).

    At age 49, I am now obese, my knees hurt, I have high cholesterol, a heart murmer, reactive airway disease, and fibromyalgia. My energy level is rock bottom.

    On Sept 22nd of this year, I was sick with a cold and thinking about how lousy I felt, how lousy I’ve been treating myself, and how crappy my overall health is. As I lay in bed, I opened Netflix and watched 3 very profound movies. Knives Over Forks, Food Matters, and Food, Inc. To say that these movies have changed my life is an understatement!

    Now, just over 1 month later, I am eating a mostly vegetarian diet with plenty of fresh, raw fruits and veggies. Nothing processed, no white food, no added sugar or sodium. I cannot tell you how FANTASTIC I feel! My joint pain is diminishing, my irritable bowel is GONE, I have lost 14 pounds effortlessly, and my energy level is increasing. I have a doctor appt for a full lab work up so we can monitor my progress every few months. I’m looking forward to watchng my cholesterol/triglycerides drop!

    I’m regretful that it took me so long to have this epiphany, but I’m now looking forward to increased health, energy, and hopefully a longer life!

  14. My husband’s Type 1 diabetes blood sugars became much more stable when we reduced the ammount of preservatives we were eating (couldn’t completly cut them out but reduced them to less than 5% of our diet).

  15. Convinced! This week I am trying “A week of real food” – baby steps, I know, but I’m getting there! Thanks for the morale boost!

  16. I have been working on converting my fam to a real food diet for the past several weeks. If I go all at once my mind would explode! My kids are little still and it is hard to do too many new things at once. I immediately stopped buying cookies and “snack food” from the store. We make cookies or we make our own snacks or eat fruit. What a novel idea!! My first loaf of homemade bread is in the bread machine. I am making homemade chicken noodle soup tonight and I am trying to work up the nerve to start making my own tortillas. We go through them like crazy and I cringe everytime I buy a package at all of the ingredients. I love this blog, it helps that a real family is doing this as well!
    ps. I bought a whole chicken (a first for me) and I am going to make your recipie as well as some chicken stock. I am so excited!

  17. Thanks for this! I’m new to your website, and I am absolutely INSPIRED by what you’re doing with your family.

    I love the idea of the mini food pledges. It’s a doable, reasonable path to go on if one is starting on the unprocessed path.

    As for me, my family and I stopped buying canned and store-bought preserved foods about a year ago. We have been getting our veggies from an organic farmer since January. It’s been hard to source out organic, free range meats, but making the significant changes to our food choices has improved our overall health.

    I’m looking forward to learning more tips from your blog and your mission as a family to blaze the “unprocessed” trail. :)

  18. Wonderful list! I read In Defense of Food about two years ago and never turned back to processed food again! I do eat it occasionally, if I’m out or in a REALLY big hurry, but for the most part I find I don’t miss it!

    Before I gave up processed food, I was 26 and lacking energy- I wanted to go to sleep at 9pm every night and fell asleep ALL the time while watching TV. After giving up processed foods, my energy level literally skyrocketed. I was amazed! And the funny thing is, I’m not even spending that much more money.

  19. We just started the challenge today and I’m putting the info on my blog for others (and linking them here!). We are hoping this will help with some behavior problems and will allow us to avoid meds for our son. I’m looking forward to feeling GREAT!

  20. What a great list! I agree about the not complicated thing. It is a bit of a challenge at first to give up processed things but now I find making things with real ingredients is easy and tastes SO much better than any meal in a box or can. And I can vouch for eating real food and having good weight management. I can easily manage my weight with real foods because I not only feel more satisfied after eating, but I also crave what I need (protein, grains, fruit, etc) instead of junk.

  21. My husband & I did the 10 day pledge, but after we agreed it was better not to waste the rule breaking food-better to finish it off & never buy again. BIG mistake. We’ve both noticed a drop in energy levels, capacity to make it through the day without coffee/tea, & our stomachs aren’t happy. My husband even said, “We need to go back on the diet!” Now I’m happily throwing/giving things away to people who think we’ve become “hippies.”

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I love it!! And you guys don’t even have to call it a “diet” anymore…it sounds like it is your “new normal!” :)

  22. Don’t forget the increase, major increase in GMO’s foods. If you think processed foods are bad, add that with a GMO and you’re talking serious science experiment with our lives and our childrens lives! There is NO good out of GMO – I don’t care what the GMO and self-interest groups say! Avoid them at all cost. If you avoid processed foods, you’ll avoid about 80% of GMO’s too.

  23. I’ve known for a long time that I needed to cut out processed foods. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia last year. I am pre-diabetic, very overweight for my height. But it’s so hard to know where to start. It is overwhelming to try to do it all at once. What would you suggest ? I work full time, have four kids and am very involved in ministry so I don’t have a lot of time.

    1. Go Barbie Go Barbie! :) Working full time and with 4 kids and busy with church….busy busy….you need a house wife. :) jk…
      Can I make some suggestions?
      At one point I worked with a meal prep place…folks came in and prepared food that was frozen or not and would wrap it up and take it home to throw in the freezer to have later.
      Alot of things can be frozen. Then heated or baked later for the week.
      1. google, marathon cooking (plan 6 frozen meals)
      2. think simple basic meals and involve the family in meal planning
      3. time to buy aprons for the kids…have no clue how old your kids are but explain to them your health issues and tell them how the meals will benefit all of them.
      4. have fun on the day of meal prepping(set a Saturday aside for a couple of hours of meal prepping)…
      5. something that has helped me is don’t buy anything in a box! (OK I do buy oat cereal for the week)
      6. see how the week goes with just planning the dinners and work with it. This is something you can add to your freezer as you go, double up on meals and then freeze what’s left over….

      GOOD LUCK
      I love the blog here and it has helped my families health alot.
      :)

  24. I truly believe that the chemicals and preservatives that are found in processed foods are the major reason for the increased rates of cancer, autoimmune diseases and autism that is being seen in our population today. That isn’t to say that our ancestors who ate a whole foods diet with minimal processing or chemical additives never got these illnesses, but rates of these illnesses have been steadily increasing since the beginning of the industrial age.

    I have been avoiding processed foods for years and I am happy to say that my whole family enjoys excellent health as a result of our unprocessed, whole foods lifestyle.

  25. Agreed! I’ve got to say it really is a no brainer. Frankly I feel incredibly stupid for thinking I knew better than mother nature. I spent YEARS eating the wrong things and the worst part, feeding it to my family. Eating whole foods saved my daughters health, she had a impaction seen on ultrasound that left undetected could have lead to surgery or worse…sepsis,this is what her urologist said. Garbage in garbage out. If it wasn’t meant to go bad, how is your body supposed to process it? I will say I miss cheese…badly. we are gave it up due to dairy allergy. did i say I miss cheese? we did try Diaya “cheese” which in my opinion is processed but cheese free is pretty hard…going to make almond “cheese” next week. Our family has never slept better,digested better and mentally clearer since our lifestyle change.

  26. Great post! I’ve learned a lot from you. :) I especially love #9. That’s exactly how I think. I just wish deli ham weren’t so horribly unhealthy and hard to give up!

  27. We started Feingold Diet six months ago to see if it helped my son’s ADD. We cut out artificial colors, flavors and preservatives so therefore most processed foods. As a whole our family is more energetic and healthy. Also my migraines have pretty much stopped, and I get one if I eat the wrong food, easily avoidable. My son’s ADD is still a work in progress but it is much improved. I really enjoy your blog. Real food is the way to go.

  28. we cut out wheat due to allergies with my son and you wouldnt believe the stuff that is hidden in food. we now participate in a produce co-op and have plenty fresh food to go around. thanks for your blog

  29. #7 is a big one for me. I swear my hypothyroidism stemmed from all the soy I was eating a few years ago. (Heavily processed diet plus substitutions like soy milk and tofu in an attempt to eat “healthier”) I have since avoided soy like the plague and have noticed a big increase in energy levels this past year.

    Also, Michael Pollan is a genius. Just thought I’d get that out in the air. :)

    Great article, great blog actually. I’m an e-mail subscriber and always look forward to new blog posts in my inbox!

  30. Hey Lisa, Great post! Was wondering if you are aware of “Food Day” Monday October 24, 2011. If not check out foodday.org.
    I am going to participate in a Food Day event at Winthrop College on monday.
    I published a “food day” post on my blog and at Blogher.

    Everyone should check this out!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I thought I saw something about that…but looks like I’ve missed it now! Sorry it can sometimes take me a week or so to get through all my emails/comments. I hope it was a success.

  31. I totally agree on all of this, especially the less complicated part. It amazes me that so many act like “health food nuts” make things too complicated. Real food eaten the way it was created to be eaten is not rocket science! In fact, it’s best when NO science is involved. :-)

  32. Our bodies are not made to process the processed…lol
    we have a long line of migraine suffering in my family…great gradfather passed it to my gradmother and passed it on to my father who passed it to me who passed it to my son. :( Nitrates give me migraines. Just look up what nitrates do to ya…well it took some time to figure this out. Years of suffering.
    Now I have a son who has been dealing with stomach issues for years. Doctors that had no clue..test were done and meds were given with no relief. I finally found a great doctor that has narrowed it down. My son suffers from what is called abdominal migraines. He at one point was having them once a month. Triggered by what else…food (processed lactose). The day after eating what ever it is…the last episode was breaded popcorn chicken at KFC. Well the routine is wake up early and throw up as much as you can until you collapse and fall asleep. Then wake up and feel as if nothing has happened. Now that we have made the change here at home eating wholesome foods he’s been fine. All of us can benefit from eating wholesome foods and we need to get rid of this processed crap they call food. IT’S MAKING US SICK!
    Keep up the good work …alot of folks are benefiting from it! :)

  33. Love this article. And loved Food, Inc. I was already in the thought process of buying more real foods but that documentary took me to the next level. I often walk through the grocery store looking at all the junk on the shelves and think “This whole aisle is nothing but processed foods in a can or package”. It grosses me out to think that I used to eat Dinty Moore. My mom used to make it all the time when we were kids.

    1. When I first started working after college, I would bring in frozen meals and canned soup every day for lunch. My anxiety skyrocketed and now I think about it and realize why.

      1. Or you started a new job after college. I’m not saying that nutrition doesn’t play a role in health, but you can’t blame everything on a diet.

      2. I’m sorry Erin, but I have to disagree. While being nervous and stressed about a new job can make us nervous, those emotions will only be exacerbated by ingesting chemicals. There are a lot of things we can blame on diet and most of them go right back to chemicals. Some doctors who are studying the affects of chemicals on our brains believe this generation of children will start to be affected by Alzheimers by the time they are in their 30’s!! And it’s all goes back to chemicals. You should read “Death by Supermarket” by Nancy DeVille. She not only tells us which chemicals to watch out for but she explains in detail how they are making us dumb. fat and deathly ill. The book changed my life and I haven’t shopped in a grocery store since!

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