Cutting Out Processed Foods {Adventures in Healthy Eating}

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I’m on an adventure of healthy eating. I’ve faced many challenges and setbacks, but I’ve also made some real progress. Today, I want to share with you some reasons why I’ve begun a journey to eliminate processed foods and some helpful guidelines that might help you do the same. If you’ve already accomplished this task, kudos to you. Cutting out processed food isn’t for the faint of heart! Please don’t judge me as this is only my beginning.

Up until a few months ago, I really never bothered to look at the ingredients on items I bought. I might look at the calories, fat, sugar, sodium, but never the actual ingredients. Honestly, I never realized that I should.

When I read one of those weight loss “success stories” in a magazine (which kick started this whole deal), the woman’s health instructor advised her to start eating foods with only 10 ingredients or less.

This both intrigued me and boggled my mind. It set my curiosity on fire. And I immediately started “trying” to do the same. When I say trying, I really mean, “counting out the ingredients and sometimes still buying it, but sometimes putting it back on the shelf.”

Then, I started really trying to understand the “why” behind eating less processed food.

I learned that heavily processed foods are chock full of toxic chemicals, preservatives, and ingredients that have been scientifically and/or genetically engineered. Processed food is not real food. And it is very bad for us!

Quite honestly, I learned this very disheartening news because of Cool Whip. I used to enjoy a big old dollop of Cool Whip atop my strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries (not to mention pies). I think there are 12 ingredients in it, but I dare you to pronounce most of them. As I stood in the freezer section that fateful day counting out the ingredients, it suddenly occurred to me. “I wonder what Polysorbate 60 is? Xanthan and Guar Gums? What are those?” I swiftly put my beloved Cool Whip back in the freezer and left.  

Later that evening, I set out to find my answer. I may have wept a little when I found it. I won’t share the details here, but if you are curious, feel free to click this link or this one. They’ll give you the low down on what exactly makes up that oh so delicious treat.

The next time you are at the grocery store, I challenge you to look at the ingredients on the back of the box, bag, can. The more ingredients it has, the more processed it is. And if you can’t pronounce the ingredient(s) or can’t figure out what the ingredient(s) might be, I can almost guarantee it’s not healthy for you. Perhaps even toxic.

Think about life before factories. Before Cheerios. And Hamburger Helper. And Chef Boyardee. What did people eat? Meat, dairy, whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. That wasn’t that long ago! Sure, grabbing a microwavable meal is easy and quick, but said meal is also filled with a scary amount of preservatives and chemicals.

Processed food has also been linked to numerous diseases from heart disease and diabetes to many cancers. And once you start learning the truth about what’s in processed food, it’s easy to see how.

For me, cutting out processed foods has been a slow and painstaking process. It’s not easy and the fast paced world we live in makes it even more difficult (not to mention the picky, processed food lovin’ hubby I have to feed at home). I still eat processed foods, but I don’t about 75% of the time thanks to these guidelines I try to follow:

1.) Stick to foods with 10 ingredients or less whenever possible. This has been challenging, but doable in most cases. I’ve even attempted to lower it to five ingredients. 

2.) Learn what ingredients actually are. This has been enlightening, disturbing, and disgusting. Learning what’s in the processed food has made it 10 times easier to not eat it. 

3.) Eat lean & smaller portions of meat. I’m really not a big meat eater, so this hasn’t been terribly challenging for me.

4.) Fill up on fruits & vegetables. I try really hard to keep lots of fresh produce in the house and to actually eat it before it goes bad. Easier said than done. 

5.) Eat only 100% whole wheat & whole grainsThis has been one of the harder things for me. I’m just not a huge fan of whole wheat. I’m learning, though. 

6.) Consume dairy products & eggs. You mean I get to keep eating cheese? Yes, please! 

7.) Drink only water (lots!) or tea (unsweetened). I also drink small amounts of juice as long as it is 100% fruit juice. And I think coffee is okay, but I don’t drink it. I had to give up my beloved Coke. You don’t even want to know what’s in Coke. Seriously. You don’t. Just go on living your “ignorance is bliss” life. I won’t blame you one bit. 

8.) Try to eat organic & buy local whenever possible. I’m beginning to understand the “whys” and the “hows” of this. I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned with you soon.

9.) Avoid fast food like the plague. This is so very, very hard, but see my comments for #2 above. 

Though the process has been slow, I’ve already seen some pretty awesome results. In just a couple of weeks, I’ve shed a few pounds and I feel better. I know I have a long way to go, but even a baby step towards health is a step in the right direction.

If this is something you are considering, I highly recommend the website 100 Days of Real Food to help you get started. I have found the bulk of my information, resources, and recipes from this site.

There are tons of other resources out there to help and support you on this journey. I have yet to read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan or watch the documentary Food, Inc., but they are on my “to do” list and I’ve heard they revolutionize the way people see (and eat) food.

We are all in different places in our journey of life. If you’ve just read all of this and thought, “Man, she is crazy,” I completely understand. I’ve been there, too. Some days it would even be easier to go back to when I didn’t know (or care) to cut out processed foods. Perhaps I’ve planted a seed for you, though. When you’re ready, you know where to find me.

Maybe you’ve read this and found some inspiration to cut out processed foods, too. If so, welcome aboard! This journey isn’t easy, but it is totally and completely worth it.

And for those of you who’ve already conquered this battle and are reaping the many benefits of eating clean, whole, real food, my congratulations to you. I’ll take any advice and help I can get!

Life happens when we eat real food.

**Stay tuned for more exciting installments of “Adventures in Healthy Eating.” Up next will be a survival guide for those of us just starting out. See you next Friday!

© 2012, lifehappenswhen. All rights reserved.

18 thoughts on “Cutting Out Processed Foods {Adventures in Healthy Eating}

  1. Great ideas. I am pretty picky about ingredients (no artificial sweeteners, colors, or MSG), but I need to start checking prices on some organic items and move in that direction too. You know it’s pretty easy to make your own real whipped cream, right? : ) Look forward to your next post on this!

  2. I really, really enjoyed this post! We are really focusing on eating less processed foods because my older child seems sensitive to things like HFCS and dyes (which we’ve already eliminated) and also to some other ingredients. Add in the fact that she’s a picky eater, though, and it can be so tricky!

  3. We have been trying to eat healthier over here too! That is a really great list of ideas. Maybe I can solve your Cool Whip dilemma… If you mix a little powdered sugar and cream together it tastes even better then Cool Whip! I usually do it with my stand mixer though, because otherwise my arm might fall off. It sure isn’t that healthy, but it is all natural ingredients. Sometimes I even add a tiny bit of vanilla for a kick! Happy Friday!

  4. 10 ingredients or less is a really great tip! I’ll definitely try that the next time I’m in the grocery store.

    My husband and I have been trying to (loosely) follow a paleo way of eating for the last few months. When we first started, I was shocked at the amount of energy I still had by the end of the day after cutting out most processed foods.

  5. Well of course i had to click on the cool whip link…mind blown…never eating sexual lubricant whip again. ::Sigh:: this has made me really start thinking about trying this with u.

  6. I have been “trying” to eat foods with 10 or less ingredients for a while now but it has been hard. I am having a hard time with the kids though. I just picked up In Defense Of Food yesterday. When my daughter read what the book was about she said “why would you read this because it is going to make you not want to eat stuff” to which I said “that is why” Maybe i will have her read it when I am done;)
    I am going to check out the cool whip now.

  7. Congrats on making a big first step towards eating better. I suspect you and your kids will behave better when you feel better from eating better! :) I find that my mood is reflected in my children and when I’m over sugared (or colored for that matter) in my eating that I don’t like the way they behave or the way I do!
    You will enjoy Michael’s books! and the Food, Inc! Supersize me is also an eye opener if you haven’t watched that one.
    Good luck and baby steps to you (says the Dietitian in me).

  8. Pingback: Real Food, Picky Eater Style {Adventures in Healthy Eating} | Life Happens When

  9. Thank you! I’ve thought about cutting out processed foods in the past, but haven’t had any successful attempts last very long. You make it easy to understand and have provided a gentle reminder that it’s possible. More than anything, you’re encouraging and empathetic to the fact that this isn’t always easy. Looking forward to giving this another shot!

  10. my girlfriend and I have been doing these same things and more the last year or so. I think your next step is to have a garden,learn to make your own bread, mayo, butter,etc. it really doesn’t take long to make any of these things from scratch and you will never buy bread again for sure Good Luck and I love the track you and your Family is on.

  11. Great list of ideas to get going on cutting out the processed foods. It is very difficult in today’s society to try to eat healthier and cut out the processed foods especially with the hustle and bustle of everyday life with work, kids, maintaining a house and so on. It is a slow but achievable process especially when you start to see and feel the benefits.

  12. Pingback: The Unprocessed Kitchen: Step 2 Understanding the Labels

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