To get you on the road to eating well, I thought I would start off with a 4 week series of healthy habits to get you to think differently on how you may do food shopping for yourself or family.
The question is, should you eliminate ALL processed food from your diet?
The quick answer is NO.
When we hear we should eliminate processed food, most of us will automatically think of all the pre-packaged things such as candy, cookies, boxes of powdered mac & cheese macaroni, high sodium ramen noodles, etc....
Yes, these types of foods should definitely be reduced or eliminated from daily meals. But, CERTAIN processed food can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is a range for processed food. The range is from minimally processed to heavily processed.
The processed food that CAN belong in a healthy lifestyle is the MINIMALLY processed foods such as nuts, pre-cut fruit and vegetables, (for convenience sake) and canned fish such as tuna and salmon.
Also important when choosing any processed food, you should read the ingredients list. There is a lot of trickery in certain words on labels with hidden words for sugar and salt. For example "dextrose" is another form of sugar and "disodium guanylate" is another form of sodium.
One way I got away from HIGHLY processed food, is that I started doing more from "scratch" meals. In my not so healthy days, I wouldn't blink an eye to grabbing frozen pizza's from the freezer section because I just would want something quick. Once, I started making my own style of healthy pizza from scratch, it was so much better taste wise and nutrition wise!
Although it can be easier said than done, small changes such as this can make a difference in the long run.
One way to start the process, is by replacing a favorite food that you would normally grab for convenience.
For example, it can be something as simple as frozen French fries. Instead, make the habit of making French fries from scratch using potatoes, leaving the skin on for extra fiber and nutrition and drizzle with olive oil and seasonings. Then, just simply bake in the oven instead of frying.
Also if you are a fan of soup and are currently buying canned, opt to make your own, where you control the ingredients and sodium. (If time is an issue, use a slow cooker.)
One last note, highly processed food can be addictive, so it may take a while for you to start this healthy habit. As long as you are making some of the subtle changes, you will eventually get there!
Eat good, Look good, Feel good!
Vanessa LaBranche/Chef Instructor-Culinary Educator