How to Choose “Clean” Processed Foods

When I first started on my journey toward cleaner and healthier eating, I thought all I had to do was look for labels like “hearth healthy or “low fat”, and to look at nutrition facts labels to check total carbs, dietary fiber, sodium, and fat percentages. Boy was I wrong! Although avoiding foods that are high in carbohydrates, sodium and fat is great for controlling weight, the nutrition facts label tells you nothing about the quality of the food. The ingredients list is the key to learning about what’s in the package!

After switching to a holistic physician for my primary care needs, one of the first things the doc had me do was to meet with a nutritionist for some education. A few other patients and I spent an entire day with her learning about food. We learned what types of foods and ingredients cause inflammation and yeast overgrowth in the body. We learned how to read ingredient lists in order to identify toxic foods. We learned how to spot clever marketing tricks that food companies use to make us think we’re buying something healthy, when the total opposite is true. We also learned how to better identify good, clean foods. The day I spent learning about food was a huge eye-opener for me, and I must admit I haven’t been the same since!

Processed foods are not the best choice when it comes to clean eating. To eat really clean, you should eat only natural, whole foods that are grown or raised without chemicals, additives, hormones, pesticides, etc…. Although this is possible, it’s not very realistic for most of us. Processed foods offer convenience and time savings, which is what we need in our busy lives. So how can you start eating cleaner without sacrificing convenience?

Read the ingredients list, buy organic as much as possible, and look for the “no’s” on the packaging.

Here are some simple “rules” I follow when buying processed food:

  • The fewer ingredients, the better. I like to see no more than 4-5 ingredients.
  • Avoid high fructose corn syrup. This stuff is poison to your body!
  • Always buy organic if the product is on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list.
  • If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it. It’s a chemical you don’t want in your body!
  • If there’s an oil in it, make sure it’s “cold pressed” or “expeller pressed”. Others are heat processed and not good for your body.
  • If it’s a known Genetically Modified food (GMO), buy organic and get the real version. Corn, zucchini, sugar, soy and yellow squash are examples of vegetables that are almost always genetically altered.
  • If it’s not a real food, don’t eat it. Canola oil and cotton oil are good examples. We don’t eat canola or cotton, so I’m not going to eat their oils!
  • Make informed choices.  If it sounds like a chemical or preservative, check it out before you decide to eat it.  Just Google the name and you’ll soon know what it is and if it’s a good choice for you.  I took some photos of canned goods in my pantry in preparation for this post.  When I looked up Potassium Sorbate on a package of dried prunes, I found a lot of information that makes me question whether or not I want to eat this.

    Read ingredient labels to understand what's in processed food.
    Read ingredient labels to understand what’s in processed food.

Buy Organic

USDA Certified Organic foods are non-GMO. Organic crops are raised without dangerous pesticides or additives, and are more nutritious. They also taste better – lot’s better! Organic livestock is raised without hormones or antibiotics. Organic food is “clean”. Although it’s a bit more expensive than non-organic, I find the benefits far outweigh the slight cost difference.  Local farmers markets are great places to find great organically raised food.  Most supermarkets now carry a good selection of organics too.  Even my local Walmart now has a small selection of organics!

Look for the “no’s” on the Package
Companies that produce good, wholesome, nutritions food are going to brag about it on the package. Usually, these are smaller companies that don’t have a multi-million dollar advertising budgets. They can’t afford to advertise on TV or in magazines, so they rely on packaging. If you see statements like “no GMO’s”, “no artificial ingredients”, or “no preservatives”, the product is most likely clean. Companies that produce good, clean food are proud of it, and you’ll see that all over the packaging!

After learning how to identify clean processed foods, I went through my pantry and read every label. Turns out most of the food I had was not so clean. I started replacing everything with clean versions, little by little. Shopping takes a little extra time at first, but you’ll quickly learn what to look for. Once you decide to eat cleaner foods, you’ll probably find yourself buying fewer and fewer processed foods, favoring fresh, organic foods instead.  Hint:  Try organic potatoes.  You won’t believe the taste difference 🙂

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