Yet in the discussion of how to cultivate a healthier generation, our reliance on processed foods is often blamed for the host of chronic health conditions that plague Western civilization. Without doubt, much of this blame is well-deserved: many processed foods are stripped of the nutrients their original ingredients once possessed and contain additives we know to be linked to our chronic ailments when consumed in excess, namely fat, sugar and salt.
At the same time, many processed foods are just as nutritious as their whole counterparts; take frozen peas or rolled oats as examples. Dried pasta and canned beans bear brand names and ingredients lists, but they're also touted as the cornerstones of a healthfully stocked pantry. So what's a consumer to do? Eschewing anything with a label is simply not realistic for the majority of American consumers, but the fact remains that trying to determine which processed products are healthy everyday choices is a confusing endeavor.
This Monday, resolve to take a closer look at your food choices. Try to incorporate some of the following tips on following a less-processed diet:
- Check out the ingredients labels of the processed foods you're considering. Are there chemical-sounding words you don't recognize? What about added ingredients like fat, sugar and salt? If so, the food is likely better for the occasional treat versus an everyday choice.
- Choose whole grains over white flour, which has been stripped of its nutrient-containing bran and germ. In addition to whole-wheat flour, seek out whole grains like quinoa, barley and oats, which are packed with fiber and B-vitamins.
- Cooking from scratch is an excellent way to pack your diet with whole foods, but it can sometimes be time consuming. When cooking yourself, save time and money by trying a recipe with just a handful of ingredients-say, chili made with canned red beans, diced onions and peppers and a few spices.
- Keep shelf-stable healthy foods on hand so you'll be less likely to stop for fast food in a hunger-stricken panic. Think whole-wheat pasta, canned beans and tomatoes, dried legumes and various spices. Again, read the labels: even certain pre-made items might have just the same ingredients you'd use if you cooked it yourself.
Remember that learning the difference between whole and processed foods-and learning which processed foods can still be healthy choices-is challenging even for the savviest consumer. As you continue to read labels, scrutinize ingredients and learn more about where your food comes from, healthy-eating decisions will eventually become second nature. It's...well, a process!
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