Grabbing highly processed foods and meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner is so easy you may assume it’s hard not to do it.
However, there are many easy, common-sense ways to cut back your consumption of the sugar, fat, sodium, artificial substances and other harmful ingredients that displace real nutrients in ultra-processed foods and promote heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, depression and many more conditions you’re trying your hardest to avoid.
Minimally processed food like canned or frozen fruit, vegetables and beans, canned tuna or chicken or other products with no added preservatives, oils, sweeteners or other additives to alter texture and flavor offer nearly the same nutrients as whole foods.
Your real concern should be with such items as jarred and bottled sauces and condiments, pastries and other baked goods, white bread, fast food, frozen pizzas and ready-to-heat meals, deli meats, bacon and sausage.
No-sweat tactics to knock ultra-processed food out of your diet include:
- Keeping healthy snacks nearby. Nuts, fruit, sliced veggies with hummus, roasted edamame or seaweed and limited amounts of dark chocolate are all nutritious alternatives to potato chips, pretzels, cookies, crackers and other easy but fat-laden bites we’re all too often tempted to grab when feeling famished.
- Drinking more water. Soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices and other beverages are where you can find some of the most deceptively unhealthy products in the market, convenience store or restaurant. Always keep a bottle or pitcher of cool, refreshing water in the fridge to keep your thirst healthily quenched.
- Learning to prepare a few meals really well. If you’re not as comfortable cooking with whole foods in the kitchen as you should be, teach yourself how to make a few simple meals excellently, such as a stir-fry, a soup from scratch or a one-sheet chicken or fish main dish with veggies to build up your confidence.
- Starting some easy swaps. Ax the deli meat from your sandwich in favor of less-processed fillers like tuna salad or veggies with hummus. Leave bottled salad dressing on the store shelf and splash together your own simple vinaigrette. Replace some sugary breakfast products with a scrambled egg.
- Freezing some of your meals. You can get all the convenience of frozen foods without the bad stuff by making an extra casserole, lasagna or bowls of soup and storing them in the freezer — in most cases they’ll be good for at least three months. In the summer healthy frozen treats are also a smash.
- Reading the labels. This isn’t always easy if your eyes aren’t cooperating, but use the magnifier on your phone and check out how many ingredients, especially ominous-sounding ones, are in each product before you put it in your cart.
- Implementing changes gradually. It’s great to be gung-ho about eating clean, but overhauling your entire kitchen in an afternoon is exhausting and may not be sustainable. You may be better off adopting one new strategy a week and building on them.