Eating healthy isn’t hard, one just had to reduce the amount of processed food and focus more on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But what is processed food? The Berkeley Wellness Letter (January 2016) outlined the various levels of “processed”. Usually, the less processed the food, the better for your health. Foods can range from highly processed to minimally processed. Some processing is actually healthy for you. For example, pasteurized milk is processed to kill the harmful bacteria so this is a good form of “processed” food.
Highly Processed Foods – For many of us, highly processed foods comprise up to 63% of our calories. That is too much processed foods. These are foods so full of processed ingredients they are no longer recognizable as being from a plant or animal source. Some examples:
Hot dogs, margarine, most baked goods, ice cream, candies.
Also, snacks like Cheetos, Cheez-Its, Goldfish are highly processed.
Moderately Processed Foods – a lot of this processing is to preserve the food. These foods make up about 30% of most people’s diets. (So add up the highly processed and the moderately processed and Americans eat mostly processed food at about 93% processed. That is a LOT of processed foods.) These aren’t all bad for your health. White bread is processed and not good for your health but whole grain bread is processed and good for your health. Yogurt is processed but a very healthy addition to one’s health, especially if you choose low fat varieties and those lower in added sugar. Examples of moderately processed foods:
White rice, white bread, pasta, canned produce, cheese, butter, yogurt, ham, and jam
Unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Unfortunately, for many of us these comprise only 7% of our diet. Just eating more of these foods would be a healthy choice. Examples are:
Fresh or frozen produce – some people think frozen foods are unhealthy but they are a very healthy choice.
Beans, Nuts, Eggs – a great source of protein and many vitamins, Brown rice – a good whole grain alternative to white rice, Milk - after two years of age, choose low fat milk, Fresh meats – look for leaner cuts of meats, lean hamburger
Processed foods are not only bad because many of the nutrients are missing, they are also usually the foods loaded with salt, saturated fat and added sugar.
What are some healthier choices in processed food? Cooking Light notes, (modified from Top 10 Best Processed Foods) :
1. Oikos Caramel Greek Yogurt 2. Starkist Yellow fin Tuna in Olive Oil, 3. Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf or choose some quinoa. Focus on whole grains including brown rice as a side dish instead of white rice which has many of the nutrients removed. 4. Pistachios – Planters has Pistachios flavored with sea salt which helps lower the sodium content or just get plain Pistachios or any lower sodium mixed nuts 5. Pom Wonderful Fresh Pomegrante Arils – they suggest mixing in yogurt or putting on salads. 6. V8 juice – any V8 is a good choice, a great way to add a vegetable to your day. V8 also has many veggie blends of juice and a V8 Fusion that provides a serving of vegetable and a serving of fruit in one beverage. 7. Whole grain crackers – a great way to add whole grains to your diet. Triscuits and Wheat thins are popular choices. 8. Unsweetened tea such as Inko’s Unsweetened Honeysuckle White Iced Tea. Tea is full of antioxidants and a healthy choice but not if one drinks sweetened tea, which is loaded with added sugar. 9. Cheese Sticks – a great high protein snack. Choose one’s made with 2% milk to lower the fat content. 10. Popcorn like Skinny Pop – popcorn is whole grain and can be healthy. But theatre popcorn is loaded with salt and artificial “butter” packing on the calories.
In the coming year, focus on less processed foods. As the Berkeley Wellness letter noted, “Buy more whole or minimally processed foods and do the “processing” yourself. It’s called home cooking.”
Sources: How Processed Is Your Food?, Berkeley Wellness Letter, January 2016, Top 10 Best Processed Foods, Image source:Fruit and Vegetables