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Science says its time to skip the snack aisle: why to ditch processed foods

Do you find yourself stopping at drive-thru’s a couple of times a week? Are you trying to change your habits and make healthier choices? Start with where you’re getting your food from and what’s in your food! A recent study found that 58% of the average person’s daily energy and food intake comes from processed foods. These are foods that are somehow altered while being manufactured to make them more convenient, flavorful and have a longer shelf-life. Unfortunately however when foods are processed not only are unhealthy ingredients added but they lose essential nutrients such as vitamins and fiber. When we fill up on processed foods, we can end up not meeting our dietary requirements of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.

Processed foods often contain additives such as artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and emulsifiers which have been shown to increase cancer risk. They are also high in added sugars, sodium and low quality fats which can increase your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

There are a few ‘types’ of processed foods you should be aware of. Ultra-processed foods include a long list of ingredients many of which you probably can’t pronounce, so be on the lookout for ingredients you wouldn’t normally find in your kitchen. Ultra-processed foods include things like snacks, store bought cakes, cookies, and more. These are the foods you most want to avoid.

Processed foods normally include pre-packaged ingredients like pasta sauce, ketchup or salad dressing. These types of foods are okay to consume in moderation. Minimally processed foods are considered the most healthy type of processed foods that you can eat. These foods include things like extra virgin olive oil, ground meat, plain yogurt, frozen fruits or vegetables, nut butters and canned vegetables. These are fine to eat because they have been frozen or packaged at their peak freshness so they still have all of their essential nutrients.

Lastly we have unprocessed foods. These are foods that have not been altered whatsoever and are found in their completely natural state. As you might have guessed these are things such as fresh fruit or vegetables, wild-caught fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.

If you’re looking to decrease your intake of processed foods, here are a few tips!

  • Stick to the rule of 5: this simply means try not to eat packaged foods that have more than 5 ingredients, especially ingredients you don't recognize or cannot pronounce. Always make sure to read the labels of the foods you’re buying. If there are more than 5 ingredients used or ingredients you can’t pronounce, you should probably put it back on the shelf.

  • Swap out your snacks- if you’re craving something sweet, instead of grabbing a pack of gummies, eat an orange, almonds or an apple with almond butter.

  • If you are going to eat fast food, try to stick to salads with the dressing on the side, and choose grilled items instead of fried.

  • Try meal-prepping. Making your meals ahead of time might make it easier for you to skip the drive thru.

Wondering if you’re eating too much processed foods? Here are some signs it might be time to cut back on the snacks.

  • You’re constantly thirsty. This is due to the high sodium level in most processed foods.

  • You’re constantly bloated. This is also due to the high sodium content in most processed foods which can lead to water retention if you consume too much.

  • You have frequent headaches

  • You’re tired, even after meals.

Start making these healthy swaps and putting clean food into your body to improve your health and lose weight!

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