Is processed food bad? Can there be something good that comes out of pre-packaged foods?
We’ve been asked this question numerous times, especially since some of the articles we post here on the blog tell you to avoid processed foods.
So, we want to clear up the confusion right now. We do believe most processed foods are unhealthy. But, we also acknowledge that many processed foods can be used effectively to increase your health, help you to lose weight, and make life easier.
What Are Processed Foods?
Basically, any food that comes in a bag or box is processed. That includes microwave meals and whole grain rice. That includes white bread and whole-grain bread.
Quality and marketing are the keys.
Let’s take a quick look at marketing first. The whole point of an attractive package, a nice-looking bag, and all those catchphrases are to make you buy a product. This is true whether you buy food, a car, or an eBook.
Marketers know how to trick you. They can make food that is incredibly unhealthy and make you feel absolutely justified eating it by putting the words light, low fat, and organic on the label.
But, since they are marketing terms and not health indicators, they can say whatever they want, whether it’s true or not. Let us know in the comments if you think they should be more honest.
Which leads us to quality. To make bland food, like brown rice, taste great, you have to add flavoring. This can come in the form of herbs and spices, sugar, fat, or chemicals.
Herbs and spices are healthy for you. Chemicals and sugar or not.
Not All Processed Foods Are Unhealthy
Here’s where you have to do more work to purchase processed food. You have to learn how to read nutritional labels and decipher ingredient lists.
On the nutritional labels is an ingredient list. We want you to look at all the foods that come in a bag or a box and ask these questions:
- Do I know what all those ingredients are?
- Could I buy all of those ingredients in the grocery store and make this myself?
- Is that too much sugar for my health?
- Am I comfortable eating propylene glycol (antifreeze), Erythrosine (food coloring linked to memory problems), or any other unknown chemical?
- Am I eating the actual serving size or multiple servings at a sitting, like in the case of ice cream?
Sometimes, these questions have easy answers. In the brown rice example we mentioned above, the only ingredient on the label is brown rice. But, if you buy rice that’s mostly cooked, chemically flavored, and with added sauces, that ingredient list can get quite long and quite unhealthy.
What you’re going to find in the grocery store is that if you look up and you look down you’re going to see more whole-food ingredients. The middle shelves get reserved for companies that pay a lot of money to be there and make a high profit off of the processed food, which usually means they’ve added more chemicals and sugar rather than the whole, healthy ingredients.
Processed Foods Alternatives That Are Easy and Healthy
There are a lot of ways you can make food healthier by choosing different cooking methods and alternatives to processed foods.
Always: you should look at the ingredient list before you purchase. That way, you see the truth of what is in your food, rather than being tricked by the marketing hype on the front.
Bread and Pasta
You can choose 100% whole grain bread and pasta rather than plain ones. These are tastier and healthier for you because they provide more fiber and more nutrients. Plus, it fills you faster so you eat less.
Rice and Beans
Choosing brown rice and whole dried beans is much healthier for your body. With a little planning, you can create tender rice and beans in the same amount of time it takes to microwave pre-made food.
When you know what you want to make the night before, measure out the appropriate amount of dry beans or rice and soak them overnight in a large bowl of water. Come morning, empty the bowl and rinse the beans and rice, then soak again throughout the workday. By the time work is over and you are preparing dinner, your beans will be the same consistency as what you get out of a can.
Of course, if your schedule is a little different, just keep in mind the soaking times, and you could start them whenever you choose.
Microwave Meals, Lunches, and Dinners
When you’re at work, you don’t have a lot of time to cook, well, anything. A microwave might be your best (and only) tool.
If you plan enough food from the night before, you can have enough leftovers for your lunch. Not only will it be healthier, but you can show off your skills in the kitchen. Plus, on average, taking your lunch to work saves between $1.50 and $3 per meal.
There are many other examples our coaches at Custom Health Centers can help you with. We recommend talking to one of our coaches to get a few more ideas. By scheduling a free consultation, you can discover what your health and weight-loss goals really are.
Founder & CEO
Doctor of Chiropractic