As big a part of my life as the IT world is, it’s not the only thing I think about. I also happen to be an avid fitness enthusiast! I believe exercise and wellness are big parts of leading a happy, healthy, and successful life, and I’d like to pass that on to you.
In this series, I’ll share simple and effective tips and insight for leading a healthier life. Keep these in mind, and you’ll be surprised by how soon you feel a difference!
This week I’ll be sharing a few reasons to take a closer look at the foods you’re buying and eating.
The conversation surrounding processed foods has been going on for many years, and with good reason. A diet high in processed foods can lead to a number of health issues like obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, and yet most people continue to eat processed foods on a daily or near-daily basis. This has more to do with a general lack of understanding as to what processed foods actually are, and how to tell the difference between the ones that are okay for occasional consumption and the ones that should be avoided completely.
Some items-to-avoid are fairly obvious, like fast food, potato chips, and prepackaged foods like boxed meal kits or frozen pizzas. However, the actual definition of processed food creates a bit of a gray area that can be tricky to navigate.
A processed food is any food item that has been altered from its natural, original state. For that reason, processed foods are categorized on a spectrum:
- Bare Minimum – Bagged salads, cut fruit or vegetables, roasted nuts, or other raw or lightly altered foods that are packaged and prepped for convenience
- Minimal – Canned tuna, canned tomatoes, or frozen fruit or vegetables that are packaged to preserve freshness and nutrients
- Altered – Jarred pasta sauces, yogurt, salad dressings, or baking mixes that have had sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and/or preservatives added for flavor or texture
- Ready-To-Eat – Granola, deli meats, crackers, or other foods that have been transformed from their natural state and combined with natural or synthetic ingredients
- Heavily Processed – Pre-made meals like frozen lasagna and microwave dinners
You’ll notice that there are a few healthy foods included on the processed spectrum, and there is a reason for that. Processed foods aren’t inherently bad – it’s just a matter of how heavily processed each item is, and what has been added to it along the way. There is a big difference between a bag of fresh spinach and a box of macaroni and cheese, yet both are considered processed.
The trick is to read the product labels and keep an eye out for high levels of sugar, sodium, and fat. Even packaged foods marked as organic can have a ton of added sugar, and salt is still a very common natural preservative for canned or jarred goods. Things like pasta sauces, breads, cereals, and low-fat foods can have a surprisingly high sugar content. If you spot sugar, maltose, brown sugar, corn syrup, cane sugar, honey, or fruit juice concentrate as one of the first three listed ingredients, you might want to choose another item. When buying canned goods like tomatoes, beans, sauces, and soups, always go with the low or no sodium option.
Fats – especially trans fats – are added to many foods to prolong their shelf life. Food companies have been ordered to phase out the use of artificial trans fats by 2018, but things like partially hydrogenated oils are still being added to foods. If you spot this ingredient on a label, even if it’s the last item on the list, grab something else. Trans fats are not something you should be putting into your body.
Ideally, you should be buying fresh produce and minimally processed items as often as possible, and trying to make your own foods from scratch. Things like pasta sauces, granola, and even baking mixes can be made at home with very little effort and few ingredients, and give you the ability to control exactly what is going into your meals. Cutting excessive sugar, salt, and fat from your diet becomes much easier when you don’t have to worry about what might be hiding in your food.