Tuesday, June 28, 2016

eating clean: whole foods vs processed foods

There's been a lot of talk recently about processed foods and how they should be avoided at all costs. I honestly wasn't paying a ton of attention to it, until I recently purchased Julie Montagu's Superfoods cookbook (amazing by the way, full review coming up soon) that promotes cutting processed foods from your diet, but doesn't define what they are. So it got me thinking...what really are processed foods? 

Pre-washed lettuce is technically processed, but no one would advise you to avoid eating pre-washed lettuce for the sake of your health. So where do we draw the line between what's too processed and should be avoided, and what may be processed but is still okay to eat? I did the research so you don't have to.

Processed foods are defined as any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, often for flavor, preservation or convenience. That means there is a wide spectrum ranging from minimally processed, like cut vegetables, to heavily processed like frozen pizza, and then everything in between. 

If you break it down and think about what the word "processed" really means, you will realize that you are technically "processing" foods when you cook yourself dinner. After all, my food processor is one of my favorite kitchen gadgets that's constantly in use.

I think it's safe to say that not every "processed" food needs to be avoided. Don't walk away feeling like now you need to wash your own spinach or slice your own mushrooms. You can also still feel good about canned beans and frozen fruit, which have been processed to lock in nutritional quality and freshness. 

So what should be avoided? 

The answer is foods with ingredients, especially sugar, sodium and fat, that have been added. Foods that would fall into this category include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt, crackers, deli meat and frozen meals.

Did you know that sugar is often added to bread to give it an "appealing" brown hue? Or that three quarters of America's sodium intake comes from processed foods, not peoples' salt shakers at home? Or how often trans fat is added to foods to preserve their shelf-life? 

Gross. Gross. Gross. 

Yeah. I think those are all things we can do without...at least most or part of the time. Avoiding these more heavily processed foods can be challenging since they often present the quickest, most convenient option and are foods we've eaten, without much thought, for the majority of our lives. But just being aware of these additives and the negative impacts they have on your health and energy may ignite some inspiration to reach for more whole foods, and less packaged foods, the next time you're at the grocery store. 

At the end of the day, it's all about balance and doing your best. I'm definitely not committing to never using pasta sauce for my spaghetti at the end of a long day. Or swearing off tortilla chips. Um. No. But I am going to think twice about how often I include processed foods in my diet, and how they make me feel when I do. 

So if you're a skim and scroll to the bottom type of reader (raising my hand), here are the takeaways:

What are processed foods?
Any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, often for flavor, preservation or convenience. 

Some processed foods you can feel good about eating:
Bagged lettuce, pre-cut vegetables, roasted nuts, canned beans and vegetables, frozen fruit.

Some processed foods that should be avoided / eaten in moderation:
Frozen meals, pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt, milk, cake mixes, granola, deli meat, crackers.

Oh hey, would you look at that, another reason to eat plant-based ;)


  1. Thanks for sharing! I was told once that when you go to the grocery store, your best bet is to stick to the outer edges. Pretty much everything in the middle aisles is processed with added sugar/salt etc. But most of the stuff on the outskirts isn't (produce, meats, etc)!

    1. Thanks, Claudette! I have heard the same thing and it's so true, you can't go wrong sticking to the produce section

  2. Wonderful article. very helpful to visit grocery store.

  3. Love this post! Very helpful! Thanks for sharing!
    Love from www.trangscorner.com {a lifestyle, fashion, beauty, and food blog}

    1. Yay! So glad it was helpful! I was wondering about it all myself, so I thought why not share the info :)

  4. This is great and SO informative! We have slowly been trying to change our lifestyle and that means changing the way we eat. And as Claudette said in her comment, I once read that too and have recently been trying to do the same. I want to start making my own granola bars and such too.
    xo, Lily
    Beauty With Lily

    1. I think that's great! It's all about moderation and making small changes daily that can amount to big changes long term. I struggle with the same thing and am trying to make changes to my diet as well to incorporate more whole foods. I have an amazing granola bar recipe under the "Breakfasts" tab that is super low in sugar, gluten-free and will give you SO much energy! They're also super simple to make so its a great place to start :)

  5. Love, love, LOVE this post!! I think all too often we use health buzz words like "processed" or "nonfat" or "low carb" or even "organic" without truly researching the meaning and implications of whatever topic we only think we know about.

    Here's a personal example: I brought organic almond butter, thinking I was being healthy. My skin totally broke out the week I was eating it and after I was finished with the entire jar I finally read the ingredients and saw how much darn sugar was in it! Lesson learned.

    Anyway I love this breakdown and totally agree there are so many reasons to eat plant-based. Even though I don't even think I'll become vegan, I find myself moving more and more in that direction. It just makes me feel better!

    Xx Maya from Maya Unmarketed

    1. I completely agree! Another perfect example of that is the whole "gluten-free" movement of people thinking gluten is unhealthy but that really only applies to those with an actual allergy! Thanks so much for reading along, I'm so glad you found it helpful

  6. A VERY informative post, I loved reading this. Thank you so much for posting =)

    1. Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by :)


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