Seven Healthy Processed Foods and Why Most Are Not Worth Buying
Many people love processed foods, because they’re convenient to consume. Often, there’s little to no preparation required (if so, it usually comes down to heating the item on the stove or microwave). They’re ideal for those with busy lifestyles who don’t have the time to spend hours in the kitchen. Lastly, they generally taste good (so much so that they can be addicting).
Processed foods are any food that has been altered from its natural form. This can be a wheat grain being grounded and milled to make flour, or a cane stalk being extracted and heated to make refined sugar. This also includes combining a variety of ingredients together to make a specific item, such as bread or candy. Often, unnatural and chemically created ingredients are added to enhance and prolong the life of these items.
This is where the problem primarily lies with processed foods. Most of them are unnatural. Their unnaturalness can lead to a host of skin conditions and illnesses that many of us have faced or are currently facing. When we consume a high amount of these processed foods for a long period of time problems, such as chronic diseases, can result.
The goal should be to eliminate or heavily reduce processed foods from our diets. This can be challenging if you’ve grown up in a society where processed foods are a normal part of life. This article will focus on helping you become more aware of what to look for when buying processed foods. Though they’re in the minority, there are some processed foods that are free of harmful ingredients.
Seven Healthy Processed Foods
- Pasta Sauce
- Oat/Almond Milk
1. Pasta Sauce
Pasta sauce is essentially crushed or blended tomatoes with seasonings and mix-ins of your choosing. It’s a staple for many diets and can yield a variety of dishes, including sauce for pizza and sandwiches. Most pasta sauces, even the organic ones, have some type of oil and sugar in them. These two ingredients are not necessary and only add unwanted items on your plate. Sugar increases inflammation and blood sugar levels, and olive oil, when heated, loses its health benefits as its monounsaturated fatty acids start to break down. Plus, there’s no difference in taste and consistency when you eliminate oil from your pasta sauce.
Go for pasta sauce that’s oil and sugar free. It will usually have low fat on its packaging label. There will also be no unidentifiable items on its ingredient list. You can even make your own sauce if you can’t find one.
When choosing noodles, go for the gluten free varieties, such as those made with brown rice. Even if you don’t have celiac disease, eliminating or reducing gluten from your diet can reduce inflammation, which is responsible for a lot of gastrointestinal and skin conditions. You might even notice that you feel better when you get rid of gluten completely. Gluten free noodles are the easiest processed food to find that contains no questionable ingredients. In most cases, the only ingredients are gluten free flour and water. And, depending on the brand you choose, the texture and look is identifiable to the gluten versions. One brand I recommend is Jovial Foods. They specialize in brown rice pasta in all the major shapes, including lasagna.
Muesli is one food that’s not really processed, since you can make it on your own with basic ingredients. These include rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. However, there are many packaged brands of muesli out there, and with these brands come additives, such as sugars and oils (in some cases, even preservatives). If you really have a grab-and-go lifestyle, and don’t want to fuss with making your own muesli, pay attention to those that have these oils and sugars. There are exceptions with this, which include the type of oil and sugar that's used. Some brands may use coconut oil, which maintains its health properties when heated. And some may be sweetened with honey, coconut sugar, or juice. Read the labels to know what is added and how much of it. Generally if the sugar is low, including low glycemic, it won’t throw your healthy diet off course.
One brand I recommend is Seven Sundays. They specialize in gluten free muesli that’s sweetened with juice and honey, and is low in sugar (7 grams per ½ cup of it).
4. Oat/Almond Milk
For those who are dairy free, it’s important to find a milk option that’s a convincing replacement for the real stuff. Non-dairy milks are items that can contain a lot of questionable ingredients. These ingredients are mainly present to preserve taste and shelf life, but sometimes ingredients, such as carrageenan, are used to improve the consistency of the milk. This ingredient in particular is known to be harmful to humans.
When it comes to these milks, reading their ingredient lists is important. There are a few brands out there, such as New Barn, that only use almonds, water, salt, and acacia gum, but there are far too many brands (including those that are labeled as healthy) that contain harmful ingredients. Luckily, non-dairy milks are easy to make if you can’t find ones that are without these ingredients. The process in making these milks generally requires soaking the oats or almonds for a few hours, blending them, adding pure water, then straining the mixture to get just the liquid. Lastly, you can add your own spices, flavors, and sweeteners.
Hummus is another item that’s easy to make. Essentially, it is blended chickpeas with tahini, lemon juice, and spices and seasonings of your choice. Most store brands will have oil as an ingredient in their hummus, but since it’s not traditionally prepared with heat, the oil is fine (if it’s a healthy oil, such as olive oil). The good news is that it’s easy to find many brands that use olive oil. However, once again, read the labels, because there are some that use vegetable oils.
If you’re trying to avoid oil completely, there are some brands out there that don’t contain it, though they are a challenge to find. So, if locating one fails, and you have the time, you can make your own.
How to Transition to a Whole Food Diet
In the world of processed foods, there’s a lot to look out for and only a few truly healthy items exist. You’ll notice that the less complex an item is, the higher the chance its ingredients will be recognizable and chemical free. Another sign of healthy process foods is how easy they are to make from scratch. With the exception of needing specialized tools. For example, when considering noodles, the healthy options will be those you can make at home, if you have the time.
The best way to ensure your diet is healthy and non-disease promoting is to transition to a whole food diet where you make things from scratch and incorporate natural unaltered ingredients. This can be challenging depending on lifestyle and access, but as you identify the kinds of meals, snacks, and drinks you gravitate towards, you can start to make your own versions of them or find replacements that are healthier.
Whole Food Items You Can Make at Home
Chocolate consists of three simple ingredients: cocao, cacao butter, and sugar. There are many brands out there that produce organic chocolate with low glycemic sugar, such as coconut sugar and other nutrient dense sweeteners, such as maple syrup and honey. Some of these brands are Eating Evolved and Hu Chocolate.
Tea is generally dried leaves, herbs, and sometimes fruit. This is another item that you can easily make on your own. Organic herbal tea is the one item that’s widely available in grocery stores of any size. Despite it being a known health item, read labels on this one as well (and really every consumable), since there are teas that contain artificial flavorings and ingredients.
Favorite Processed Food
Which Processed Food Do You Prefer Making On Your Own?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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