I hear from readers quite frequently who would like to cut out processed food, but are feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. The key thing to remember is that small changes can go a long way—cutting out processed food doesn’t have to be all or nothing!
So to help you get off on the right foot, below are 5 easy changes you can implement this month. In fact EVERYONE could start #1 today. It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s all about awareness. Pick 1 or 2 items from this list and commit to starting them this week. Once you’ve got those items down move on to the others, and before you know it some of these changes will become your “new normal.”
5 Easy “Real Food” Changes
- Read ingredient labels.
Everyone could easily start doing this today…or right now in fact (in your own pantry!). Before you eat or buy any packaged food read the list of ingredients on the back. You don’t even have to change what you are buying or eating quite yet, but just being aware of how processed your food selections are can be the first step in the right direction!
Some things to think about: Can you pronounce all the ingredients? How many are on the list? Are they all items you would cook with in your own kitchen? Which ingredients are refined or some sort of sweetener (like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, brown rice syrup, aspartame, etc.)?
- Start buying 100% whole-grain products.
Bread products tend to take up a big portion of the Standard American Diet so switching to 100% whole grain could potentially go a long way. Many common grocery products are made with refined grains – things like sandwich bread, pasta, crackers, rice, breadcrumbs, hamburger buns, croutons, etc. So there’s lots of room for improvement here! And being a former “white bread girl” myself I can tell you I used to avoid whole-wheat bread because I despised the taste. I now realize that’s because I was trying grocery store, factory-made whole-wheat bread that was made with a ton of additives and preservatives. We now buy 5 ingredient bread from a local bakery (or make our own) and it thankfully tastes MUCH better!
- Switch to organic dairy.
I’ll never forget something I once heard Dr. Oz say. When it comes to buying dairy products you just cannot peel or wash off your milk like you can your produce…so it’s best to go organic. Just one of many great reasons to avoid conventional dairy products from animals that have been treated with antibiotics and hormones (not to mention their diet and living conditions—you are what you eat eats, too)!
- Eat more produce (preferably organic).
If you aren’t eating a lot of fresh produce today…what’s the reason? Is it because you don’t like veggies, you think they’re too much work to prepare, or because you’d just rather have deep-fried potato chips instead? :) If you haven’t been a big fan of vegetables in the past I encourage you to try fresh/local veggies, some new recipes for your vegetables, and even some new vegetables all together. Fruits and vegetables are (obviously) whole foods and putting more of that goodness on your plate will automatically displace some of the processed stuff!
- Offer your kids more real food.
The average 5-year-old can’t drive himself to McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A and pay for a meal. So let’s face it, in most cases it’s almost completely up to the parent to offer their young children the right choices. Yes, my daughters both like real food, but if I handed them a bag of Cheetos for a snack they would totally chow down (they are kids after all!). So, as a result, I don’t hand them a bag of Cheetos and instead offer them a banana with peanut butter or a box of raisins or some whole-grain pretzels or an organic cheese stick for a snack (Note: None of these real food snacks require much more work than opening a bag of Cheetos). These are all whole foods I know my kids will eat so that’s what I give them when they are hungry. I strongly encourage everyone to do their part by offering their own children more real food this year. You never know…their response might pleasantly surprise you! :)
What do you plan on doing to reduce your family’s consumption of highly processed foods?