Processed Foods - What Is That?

I think the term processed foods is way too generic for a lot of people to understand. I was reading an article the other day that said "it's important to remove processed foods from one’s diet to keep as many toxins out as possible". What do you think of when you hear that term? I just kind of glossed over it like a lot of people probably do.

I like this definition from Healthy Eating SF Gate:

You can determine whether a food is processed by looking at the ingredient list. The longer the ingredient list, the more processed a food is likely to be. Processed foods are usually found in the center aisles of the grocery store and are more likely to contain ingredients that you are not able to recognize or ingredients that you wouldn't have in your kitchen. Avoid foods that you wouldn't be able to produce or make yourself at home. Stick to unprocessed, natural foods, mostly found on the periphery of the grocery store, such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, meat and other single-ingredient foods.

Here is a sampling of what processed foods are:
  • Pasta
  • Cereal (even the healthy kind)
  • Bread 
  • Granola bars (yup, even the healthy ones)
  • Crackers, cookies
  • Dried fruit (unless you make it yourself)
  • Margarine
  • Any mixes or instant foods - any "just add water" type foods
  • Fruit juices, soft drinks, drink mixes, flavored water
  • Convenience foods, pre-made meals, such as microwave meals and frozen meals. (I know, I used to advocate some of these. I've learned!)
  • Candy, candy bars, snack cakes, snack mixes, jerky, chips
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Fast food, pretty much all fast food
  • Salad dressings, sauces
  • Anything labeled “light”, “low fat” or “fat free”
  • Atkins and Weight Watchers foods. Any brand that sells a product to fill a "diet" niche.
  • There are many, many more
Do you know what this list is? It's about 80% of what's available at the grocery store.

Not all processed (read: boxed and bagged) foods are horrible. There are some redeeming items like un-roasted, un-salted nuts. These come in a bag but they are healthy overall.

The main thing to look for is the number of carbs. That's really all you need to check, the rest is sort of irrelevant, even the sugar levels because if it's got high sugar, it will have high carbs as well.

If an item has more that 10 carbs per serving, find an alternative! A ketogenic diet has a max carb intake of 20 carbs per day. A Low-carb diet is 50 or less.

If you have a serving of spaghetti noodles for dinner, you are already at 40 grams! Just for the noodles alone. Instead, you can have a bowl of spaghetti sauce (homemade is best!) with meatballs and maybe some zuchinni zoodles and you're only looking at 10 grams (give or take depending on brands) for the whole meal. All of the flavor is in the sauce anyway. 

I think the more labels you read with this carbohydrate criteria in mind, the more you will see boxes and bagged convenience food as, "not food". Because they are not. They are sugar, fillers, flavoring, and chemicals. That's about it.



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