How to Cut Back on Processed Food

How to Cut Back on Processed FoodWe all resolve to do it, but week after week, our pantries are somehow mysteriously packed with cookies, chips, and other things that come smothered in plastic wrap and “stay-fresh” packaging. They may seem colorful and fun–even harmless!–but packaged food is full of bizarre ingredients (Crushed bugs for red dye? Sand in Wendy’s chili?!) and toxic preservatives that nobody wants in their system. Here are some simple, straight-forward ways to get you on the path to purer food.

1. Read the labels.

I’m not talking about counting calories here. Read the list of ingredients! How long is it? If it’s longer than 4-5 ingredients, put it back immediately. How many of these “ingredients” would stump you on a spelling bee? Avoid anything scary-looking and unpronounceable.

2. Look out for sugar.

If high fructose corn syrup or another sweetener is listed as one of the first three ingredients, put it back on the shelf (that’s a little tip from Michael Pollan). In fact, try to avoid high fructose corn syrup in general, and be warned that you’ll find it in everything from ketchup to crackers. While high fructose corn syrup may not be worse for you than regular sugar, it’s a good indication that the food you’re about to eat has been highly processed. So just say no.

3. Shop local.

You can score some hyper-processed Wonderbread at the grocery store… or you can snag a loaf of fresh-baked bread made with five ingredients max at your local bakers. You can get wilted, pre-packaged vegetables flown in from Mexico… or you can hit up the farmer’s market. Not only is locally-grown and locally-made food a thousand times more delicious than supermarket fare, but it’s also less processed, better for the environment, and generally in season.

4. Make junk food–yourself.

Try these wise words from Michael Pollan on for size: “Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.” Not only will this limit your junk food consumption (try whipping up a homemade deep-fried Twinkie), but you’ll control the ingredients that go into each treat–no high fructose corn syrup or L-cysteine in this batch of cheese crackers, please! Smitten Kitchen has lots of great healthy junk food recipes that she whipped up for her toddler son.

5. Eat whole foods.

No surprise here, but I just wanted to reiterate it. Lentils! Arugula! Garlic! Shallots! Raspberries! Do it.

photo attribute: Cássio Oliveira

 

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