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Of course, we’d all love to eat an entirely whole foods diet of freshly prepared fruits, vegetables and unprocessed proteins. But let’s be realistic, who has the time to do that every day for every snack, quick bite and meal?
Processed foods offer convenience and speed which fit our busy lifestyles, and though we know it’s not the best for us…how bad is processed food really?
The category of processed foods includes anything that’s been canned, frozen or pasteurized. That includes healthy options like purely frozen fruits and vegetables and pasteurized dairy products, but many sneak in extra salt, sugar, additives and preservatives which can be damaging to our bodies.
As our intake of whole foods has decreased we eat more ultra-processed foods than ever – like frozen meals, canned soups and fast food and these put us at serious risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, and depression.
Eating less processed food is the best strategy to support our health, but how can we do that in a realistic way?
Here are four strategies for eating less processed foods without too much disruption to your busy life.
Plan ahead for those moments when you’re on the go and need something quick and easy to eat. Even though it doesn’t seem like much work to put some mixed nuts in a bag and head out the door…it’s enough of a hurdle to grab the pre-packaged crackers instead.
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, or nuts and keep them on hand in tupperware, silicone bags or beeswax wraps so they’re just as simple to grap on your way out the door.
Meal prep is nothing new, but there are other ways to meal prep than stocking your fridge with pre-portioned meals.
Meal prep is all about batching your cooking to be more efficient. You can portion these out for the week, or add in more flexibility with multiple options in your fridge for easy quick meals that you can choose yourself.
You can also prep foods that last beyond the week like cooking and freezing soups and chilis or pre-cooked homemade meatballs to stash in the freezer and microwave later.
Eating less processed food is easier when they’re not readily available. Before you go shopping, eat a healthy whole food meal and fill your cart with whole foods that can be enjoyed in snacks and planned meals.
Avoid the processed food aisle altogether and check any frozen and canned foods for added sodium, preservatives, or additives before placing them in your cart.
Be sure to add quick snack options to replace your regular processed go-to’s such as edamame, homemade kale chips, homemade granola or cubed cheese.
Make subtle healthy food swaps one at a time to slowly work your way toward a whole food lifestyle.
For example, practice making your own vinaigrette and dressing to gradually replace pre-made salad dressings. Or buy popcorn kernels instead of microwave popcorn to cook on the stovetop.
Some of these healthy swaps take more time, but it allows you to naturally transition to a healthy whole lifestyle without disrupting your schedule.
Eating less processed food is more sustainable if it’s something you gradually incorporate into your lifestyle. Going cold turkey with zero processed foods on hand might make you fold when you’ve had a busy day, don’t have the energy to cook and need something to eat other than baby carrots right now.
To set yourself up for success, make small adjustments and gradually work your way to a whole, balanced diet and a healthier you.