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Reducing Your Consumption of Processed Foods at Home

posted Jul 12, 2019, 10:49 AM by Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD

It’s Friday night and you open your freezer to see what to have for dinner. You find a pizza, chicken strips, peas and carrots and salmon, along with a bag of frozen berries that you use each morning for your daily smoothie. At first glance, some of these food items sound pretty healthy right? Salmon? Berries? Peas and Carrots? While some of these options could be healthy, the truth lies in what has been added to these foods before they made it to your freezer and how much processing they have undergone. What is a processed food you might ask? Let’s explore this buzz word that has been popping up in the news lately.

A processed food, according to the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, is any food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged, or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. Foods that we consume every day might be considered minimally processed, heavily processed, or somewhere in between. Let’s walk through some common foods and understand how processed a food might actually be.


Stages of Processed Food:

-        Minimally Processed: Convenience or prepped items in the produce section, such as sliced peppers & onions, bagged leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, etc.) and bowls of cut cantaloupe and honeydew melon.

-        Processed at the Peak of Freshness and/or Nutritional Quality: Fresh Meat, Poultry or Fish, Frozen Fruits & Vegetables, Canned Tomatoes, Meats or Fish, Grains including Pasta, Rice and Breads.

-        Processed as Flavoring Agents: Seasoning Blends, Spices, Extracts, Oils, Sauces, Gravies, Dressings, Baking Mixes.

-        Ready-to-Eat Foods: Cereals, Granola Bars, Dairy Items, Deli Meats, Crackers, Baked Goods, etc.

-        Heavily Processed Foods: Pre-made meals including microwavable meals, frozen pizza and fried foods.

After reading this list, it may have become clear that some of the foods that you are eating on a regular basis are actually more processed as you once thought. The good news is that we’ve got some easy tips to help you reduce the amount of processed foods in your home without going bananas (no pun intended J).


Tips to Try at Home:

1)    Buy Fresh & Prep at Home: Take advantage of buying whole fruits and vegetables in season for not only quality, but optimal nutrition and lower prices. Then, prep the items at home you’ll need for the week. Got vegetables for a stir-fry or zucchini noodles for a pasta dish? Slice, dice and spiralize these vegetables at home. They will not only taste better, because you prepped them fresh before serving, but you will also save some money in your wallet.

2)    Check the Labels on Canned & Frozen Foods: Many canned or frozen food items are indeed healthy options to include in a balanced lifestyle. For frozen items, choose options that have no added salt, sauces or sugar. For canned foods, look for foods that are packed in water and/or state “Low-Sodium” on the can. Can’t find these options at the grocery store? Try draining the excess water or oil and rinse if possible, such as canned beans or canned tuna.

3)    Beware of Hidden Ingredients: Have you ever tried to read the ingredient list on a packaged loaf of bread and found yourself scratching your head trying to pronounce the ingredients? Breads and baked goods are notorious for having added ingredients used to enhance flavor and/or preserve the shelf life. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient or know what an ingredient is, there’s a high chance that it’s heavily processed. Choose breads and baked goods with a shorter ingredient list and ingredients that you are familiar with. Even better, try making some of your favorites at home, where you can control what goes into the final product. 

4)    Enjoy heavily processed foods less often: Most individuals we’ve met have one or two foods that they can’t live without. Often times, these foods are heavily processed in one way or another. Instead of cutting out these foods cold turkey, which might cause you to binge on them, enjoy these food options a little less often. Got a special occasion or family gathering? Enjoy your favorite dish (Macaroni & Cheese, Fried Chicken, Banana Cream Pie, etc.) at those special times and really savor the flavors. Eating smaller portions can also help to cut back on the consumption of processed foods.       

     

Wolfram, T. (2019, February 11). Processed Foods: What's OK and What to Avoid. Retrieved June 21, 2019, from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/processed-foods-whats-ok-and-what-to-avoid

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