Real Food Tips: 8 Ways to Avoid Processed Food

  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 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.”* 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. 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, “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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*Source: Michael Pollan

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87 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 8 Ways to Avoid Processed Food”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

      1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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! :)

  6. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

    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

  7. 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.

  8. I just found your blog recently and I love it. It totally jives with my food philosophy and how I try to feed my family. I have never subscribed to a blog before, but I love yours so much I took the plunge! So…thanks!

    I just wanted to ask if you’ve heard to the ‘Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day’ folks? I have only ventured into their basic bread so far, but it is so incredibly easy that I now make all our bread and have learned how to manipulate the recipe to make loaves that are more ‘sandwich bread’ like or more ‘artisan/rustic’ depending on what I think we’ll primarily need that loaf for. I probably bake 2-3 small rounds a week. And trust me, it’s easy. I’m a busy full-time member of the military, four-night-a-week soccer mum and a somewhat lazy cook but I still easily find the time. My 2.5 and 4.5 year olds love it and ask for the ‘real bread’ all the time. LOL

    Again…great job!

  9. Jennifer Naiser

    Since I live in a rural area, we are blessed with some products like fresh eggs, meat and raw dairy but not so much with items like bread. No bakeries around. In the end I pretty much just quit eating bread! If I really need sandwich bread I’ll make some in the bread maker., but that is rare. What I will say is that even here it is very hard to find local produce. Luckily I have the room and the desire to grow my own. Thanks for all you do! It’s been a idea great resource for me.

  10. I’ve only been following this blog for a few weeks, but I feel like the baby steps I’m already taking (several of these top 8) are already making a difference for my family. Thanks for all the great info you provide.

  11. This question might have already been asked, but I didn’t have time to read through all the comments. In my area, Lancaster County Pennsylvania, there are TONS of local farmers markets. However, I notice more and more they are selling about 15 percent home grown produce and vegetables and the rest are labeled with out of state origins. Also, how can you be sure without asking directly, what they spray and what they don’t? I have tried asking on various occasions and whoever is working at the cash register can never tell me for sure whether they do or don’t… would love your personal thoughts on this.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Alli. You could seek out a “growers only” farmer’s market. This might help you identify your local resources: http://eatlocalgrown.com/. If a farmer/vendor can’t/won’t answer those questions, I’d move on the the one who can. :) ~Amy

  12. Great list, much of which I’ve incorporated into my food buying and eating habits. One thing I’d like to add to number 1- Read the ingredients label is to re-read the labels occasionally.

    Companies often change their ingredients without much fanfare so a product you always buy may be reformulated without you noticing. This happened to me with ketchup. I buy a conventional brand rather than organic based on how much we use it and the cost difference. I chose this particular brand because it didn’t contain HFCS. I bought it for years. I recently picked up a bottle assuming it was the same recipe. Good thing I checked the ingredients because it now contains HFCS. Back on the shelf it went. Glad I checked before I brought it into the house!

    Sarah

  13. That junk food rule only works for people who don’t have a baking obsession. I know a lot of people who would never consider scratch baking and only buy and uses mixes to make deserts. I’ve been scratch baking since I was 9 and only get more obsessed. I just love baking cookies and cakes and could do it all day, and eat them all. So that is a good suggestion for some.

    1. I agree with you, i too love to bake, but I can’t afford to eat everything. Especially if I am in a depression, baking helps

    2. Put that obsession for baking to good use by creating baked goods for a charity or homeless shelter. You’ll still get the excitement of creating in the kitchen and someone else will be blessed. :-)

  14. All these suggestions are great, except for # 8…..I love to bake and cook, I would make cookies everyday!!:)

  15. Regarding the earlier post about pluots and GMO’s and it not being natural….some items might have been stumbled upon naturally…if you plant 2 things too close together in a garden they can cross pollinate all by themselves…making it a natural item :)

  16. 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.

    1. 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

  17. 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

      1. I came up with the same question today as my organic Bountiful Basket included pluots. I had never heard of them and had to look them up. True that they are organic so they were grown without pesticides, but they are a hybridization of plums and apricots. From my online research, I get that they were made by a a guy mixing pollen together and not some scientist in a lab messing with DNA, but this still seems like not a naturally occurring food. We like to refer to the way we try to eat as only eating things God has provided…and He sure didn’t make these! Though I am sure others would have a different opinion, I am going to go with hybrid foods being just as bad as GMO.

  18. 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!

    1. 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 :)

    2. 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.

      http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2012/06/26/homemade-graham-crackers-recipe/

      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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. The recipe I have been using calls for molasses. Otherwise pretty much the same. What is the difference between molasses and honey (besides the obvious)??

  22. It’s funny that I read this today… at the end of last week, I was getting a few things at the store, including bread. I made the switch from “wheat bread” to whole grain bread a few years ago- but I re-read the ingredients this time and was surprised to see how many of the brands listed sugar or high-fructose corn syrup as their 2nd or 3rd ingredient! I’m not against sugar or sweet foods in general, but I have two boys with ever-increasing appetites (they’re 13 and 10), and they get enough sugar in other places without me having to wonder if it’s in my bread or canned tomatoes or what-not.

    Same thing goes for the “natural” nut butters- so much of them have sugar. I am lucky to live in a town with a small natural foods store that has peanut butter and almond butter grinders, so we’ll make the trip.

    1. I’m not surprised that sugar is the second or third ingredient. If you’ve ever made home made bread, what besides flour and water do you add more of than sugar? Nothing. Ingredients are listed in descending order by amount. So, it stands to reason that sugar would fall 2nd or 3rd on the list.

      All yeast breads have some amount of sugar in them, (whether it’s refined white or honey, it’s still sugar) yeast needs it to thrive and divide. So if you’re looking for bread without any sugar, you’ll have to switch to an unleavend variety.

      1. I suppose I should have clarified… my concern, really, is “hidden” or “extra” sugar in food. I don’t bake bread products that use yeast at home, so I guess I wasn’t able to put the amount of sugar into the proper perspective. I’m better able to control the amount of sugar I use in the “quick” breads I bake. I do realize that ingredients are listed in descending order by amount, which is why I was taken aback that sugar was so high on the lists of the breads I looked at.

      2. 100 Days of Real Food

        FYI – Michael Pollan says to avoid foods that have sugar/sweeteners listed as one of the top 3 ingredients.

      3. I make yeast bread that only has flour, yeast, water and salt. Check out the master recipe from “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day” Good bread doesn’t require sugar at all.

  23. I am a breast cancer survivor who cannot have Soy as my cancer thrives on it. That being said…opened a can of tuna fish and happened to check ingredients..clear as day…it said
    Contains SOY!!!
    Crazy….

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I just buy organic and there are usually only 1 or 2 brand choices available at Earth Fare so I get whatever is on sale.

  24. We are really agree with this post, and we must start now, only to consume the healthy food and drink. Only one important thins “Back to nature” preferable.

  25. I heard a couple of you say you make your own bagels in the bread machine. Does anyone have a whole wheat bagel recipe they’d be willing to share? Thanks!

  26. I just spent $90 this weekend on REAL food and it felt so good! Of course it isn’t all we are eating this week and some of it will last longer than a week, but knowing what we are eating and where it came from makes it so much better!

  27. Love it, Have to say going Real food is not as hard as some people think.
    I have eaten this way most of my life and some people think I’m crazy when I say I haven’t been to a McDonalds in almost a decade.

  28. My Maranatha Raw Almond Butter only has organic almonds in it. When you buy a “no stir” jar, they have to add something to keep the oil from rising to the top.

  29. We live in Los Angeles and shop mainly at Whole Foods. They have a section where you can make your own fresh peanut butter in seconds by using their grinding machine. It is then sold by weight. So easy…so healthy!

  30. great post: here are a couple comments:

    If you want organic, buy from Certified Organic Growers at Certifed Farmers Markets. Anything less than that is often a shot in the dark.

    this will surely cause a stir but here goes: Though not a fan at all, with the increase in the global population, it is unrealistic to think that enough crops can be grown without genetic modification. The reason organic produce is more expensive is the yeild is much lower than conventionally grown. There is only so much space.
    Any thoughts on this?

    1. As for the organic label, that is what costs more. Farmers have to prove their crops are organic, which costs money. That cost is then passed on to the consumer in a higher price for the product. Some things that aren’t labeled organic might be, the farmer may just not have gone through the trouble of certifying it. I would ask.

      As for genetically modified food, there is no proof that it performs better than the regular food. In some cases it actually performs worse. All the genetic modification does is allow the farmer to spray ever increasing amounts of Roundup (from the same company who sells the seeds) on the crops which produces it’s own set of problems- such as super weeds and more pollution. Monsanto, the company who makes Roundup, says that their seeds perform better as a selling tool. Some good documentaries to watch are Food, Inc and Life According to Monsanto. But as a warning – be prepared to be horrified and/or angry. I know I was and am still.

    2. I agree with Carry on this one. I’d like to add that one of our local farmers markets requires proof of organic certification from each farmer claiming to grow organically. With such proof, only those farmers are provided a special flag to display on their booths so that shoppers can identify them easily.

      I hadn’t attended this market in quite a while. On this particular day, I noticed that each vendor had posted a sign reflecting the number of years they had participated at the market. Some were 3, 7 and 17 years. I was stunned to see that there were less than 10 vendors out of approximately 50 that were certified organic! Those that sold conventionally grown produce charged about the same.

      If your farmers market doesn’t have a system to help shoppers identify “certified organic” farmers, insist they implement a system. It’s not just our money, but more importantly our health, that’s at issue.

  31. I enjoyed this piece, but I’d like to add that not every stand at the farmer’s market is organic. Make sure you ask the farmers whether they use pesticides or not and/or wash all produce when you get home.

    1. I was just going to say the same thing. #7 in this list is not necessarlily true. Farmer’s market produce is NOT necessarily organic.

      1. 100 Days of Real Food

        Yes, you are right. I have found that you have to ask (which is easy to do when you are asking the farmer!)…thanks for the comment.

  32. I agree with all these suggestions. Maybe i’m naive, but i still find it shocking, just how difficult it can be to find ‘real food’, and i’m not nearly as strict with my rules as you are. I honestly don’t know how you do it.

    My problem is the junk food one. I love to bake, so I don’t find it inconvenient in the least, to whip up a batch of cookies, squares, cakes or sweets. Which of course means that I eat them WAY too frequently. LOL. Just plain ol’ will power is my only ammunition for that battle.

    Love your blog. Keep it up.

  33. I just read the label on my “all-natural” MaraNatha no-stir almond butter, which I have on my toast every morning, and it has SUGAR in it!!!!!!!! What happened to the ingredients list that just says “Almonds”??? I wrote them a letter. I won’t be buying it ever again, unless they start making one with honey instead.

    1. I’ve heard (but never actually tried it) that a coffee grinder makes a great nut butter maker. You just put the nuts into the grinder and grind away! It would probably only make enough for one serving at a time, but it would always be fresh. I’d love to hear if someone has actually had success with this method.

      1. I bought at a garage sale a high efficiency processor and it makes pretty good nut butters, go online and pull up the recipe, it takes awhile grinding to really release the oils. It might burn out your coffee grinder? Also many stores have nut grinders(usually an almond and a peanut one) where you make your own nut butter with one ingredient-raw nuts. At Winco (our local lower priced store) it costs me about $4-5 a lb for almond butter. I know what’s in it and I know how fresh it is. (Did you know the FDA allows a certain percentage of rat contamination in each jar of peanut butter. I read that and have never bought canned butters again, ewwww!)

    2. MarNatha does make a peanut butter with just peanuts and a hint of sea salt, but it has to be stirred and then refrigerated (as stated on the label)!! Once it is put in the refrigerator it does not need to be stirred again. It’s wonderful! Santa Cruz also make one that is lovely!

  34. Thank you for the reminder (and swift kick in the butt) with this post. I do pretty well buying things that aren’t processed, but the bread products and “bread” we buy is definitely not unprocessed. I need to either regularly frequent our local bakery or get a bread machine and figure out how to make bagels and other things at home.

    1. I have a bread machine and it really makes the job so simple! You can make bagel dough in it and then you just shape them, boil them and bake them. Super easy, yummy bagels! I also have used mine a lot for pizza crust and pie crust… and of course loaves of bread. I’d recommend making the investment.

      1. I always joke that bagels are the super-villain of all bread. They are the only food we boil, bake and then toast. You know, just to make sure they’re really dead.

  35. A magic bullet or a blender works very well for making peanut butter with unsalted peanuts, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for other nut butters. I normally add a little salt after because the taste can be bland with the unsalted peanuts but if you use pre-salted peanuts the peanut butter is too salty.

  36. What a great post, and very good advice. I am a college student working on my Bachelor degree in supervision and leadership. I just recently wrote a paper on genetically altered foods, and it literally made me sick to my stomach. (Farmer’s Markets) FRESH IS BEST!!

  37. Stacie, I’ve used a food processor to make peanut butter. It was a little more like ‘chunky’ style, but it tasted fantastic!

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