- 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.
- 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 more the product of nature than “the product of industry.”*
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.”* 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”.
- 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.
- Visit your local farmers’ market the next time you need to restock your fridge. 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.
- Lastly, “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.
If you think you are ready for it consider taking either our 10 Days of Real Food Pledge or our Real Food Mini Pledges!
*Source: Michael Pollan
87 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 8 Ways to Avoid Processed Food”
While I do believe that in many cases organic produce is preferable, I have worked at a farm in the fall for the last 6 or 7 years and heard from the farmers that the “organic” pesticides that organic farms use may be made from organic materials that doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful. They are not an organic farm, but eat everything they grow and therefore use good judgement in what and when they spray so that they keep exposure to a minimum. The family is wonderful and I hadn’t realized before our discussion that the organic farms still use pesticides and they could still be harmful, possibly more harmful than some regular pesticides.
I love these ideas….just wish they weren’t more expensive than the processed food, especially when the budget is tight. A good example is the bread. The difference is about $3. It’s sad that eating healthy cost more and is not obtainable for everyone.
Bread is super simple to make at home, even more so if you use a breadmaker.
I make all our bread – we go through 1-2 loaves a week depending on my husband’s mood. I’m a SAHM so it’s really not an issue at all.
Not sure how eating healthy is more expensive? A huge head of lettuce and other veggies and fruits lasts a lot longer and makes more meals than prepacked “food”. There are always sales on bread or can make your own. We buy organic beef from a local farm thats actually not much different per pound and we actually raise our own chickens since last year and use their meat and we use organic feed and get fresh eggs everyday as well.
It is actually. The cost of eating mass produced processed food is way way lower. It’s also the convenience of pre-cooked meals. Maybe you were fortunate enough to move to a place with enough land for a farm or have the time to take the bus to the local grocery store with a butcher. I know families that don’t have that luxury and depend on processed foods. They’re only given the cheapest foods. I doubt the government is going to bake bread and give everyone fresh eggs to everyone… this all comes from money!
I like number 8! Very clever idea!! :)
After spending 10 hours in the kitchen making all kind of whole grain/whole food goodness, I can say yes I am doing really good right down to the snack.
Two questions if you don’t mind, do you have any suggestions for crackers and cereal?
You have helped me tremendously, you have no idea. I thank you very much!
Hi Cheryl. For store bought options, Lisa buys Ak-Mak 100% whole wheat, whole wheat Matzos, or occasionally, the orginal Crunchmaster crackers. For cereal, she makes her own granola: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/04/04/recipe-granola-bars-cereal/ but will also buy organic 100% whole wheat shreds or 100% whole grain puffed wheat or rice.
Thanks for this! Do you have a favorite recipe for homemade whole wheat sandwich bread? Thanks!!
Hi Aly. We do:https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/08/17/recipe-honey-whole-wheat-sandwich-bread-for-bread-machine/. ;)
Thank you for the referral to Great Harvest Bread Company. I had been looking for a healthier bread, that didn’t compromise taste for nutrition. The closest location to my home is 30 minutes away, but well worth the drive! The 5-ingredient Honey Whole Wheat bread you recommended was absolutely delicious, and I bought two loaves, keeping one in the freezer. Even though I usually do not like the way most breads taste when defrosted, this was not the case with the Honey Whole Wheat! Also, the employees went out of their way to explain the way they make their bread, and even offered samples of other goods they sell. I’ll definitely be making trips to stock up! I want to extend my gratitude to you for all your efforts and advice in educating us on healthy eating and wonderfully tasty food! Merry Christmas to you and family! :)
Hi there. I know it can be hard to get family members on board. Use gentle persistence and lead by example. I do not think there is anything wrong with letting him know that the “faces” do not help you with feeding your child well. I’ve had to nip “faces” in the bud, as well along with telling younger extended family members to not make negative comments about the healthy food we choose to eat. Stay strong. :) ~Amy
I’ve only been following for a few weeks too and many of the changes I’ve started with have worked well for me and my 18 month old daughter! My husband, not so much. He loves his processed food. He’s been patient with many of my food experiments and is actually eating more vegetables than before, but still doesn’t eat much fruit. He makes terrible choices when he either cooks for himself or eats out for lunch and that’s like one step forward and two steps back. How can I get him on board and cleanse all the crap out of his system so he’ll stop eating like that? He’s recently started making faces at certain foods and I don’t want him to be a bad example to our very impressionable toddler.
Sorry about the last comment…my copy and paste obviously didn’t work.