Processed foods are everywhere, and for good reason — they’re inexpensive and very convenient.
The problem is that that convenience may seem cheap, but it actually comes at a steep price, and that’s your health. Not to mention the fact that processed foods rarely taste as good as something made from scratch.
If you care about your health and wellbeing, you’ve probably tried to eat less processed food in the past, but always found it difficult. The truth is, making major changes is difficult; if you believe otherwise, you’ll never succeed.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make the transition easier, and increase the chances that you’ll continue down the right path, instead of going back to the drive thru.
Part of the appeal of processed foods is that they are just that — processed. Meaning that you don’t have to do the cleaning, chopping, and sometimes, even the cooking. While there are some ways around that (such as buying produce that is pre-chopped, or paying someone else to do the hard work for you), the best way to combat the extra work is to set aside time to do it. Whether it’s giving yourself an extra half hour to prepare dinner, or taking several hours once a week to prepare for the rest of the week, you need to factor in the time it takes to prepare foods yourself. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that it really doesn’t add that much time to your routine, but in the beginning, it will seem like you’re trying to carve out time that you don’t have.
Make Sure You Eat the Best Fresh Food You Can Find
A bunch of broccoli or head of lettuce is never going to taste like a box of cheesy mac n cheese, and there is nothing you can do to change that.
What you can do, however, is make sure that the healthy, whole foods you are buying, are as high quality and fresh as they can possibly be. Vegetables that have been grown in sand under artificial lights and traveled thousands of miles are never going to taste as good as those that are grown a few miles from you under the right conditions. Meat that comes from animals pumped with chemicals bred only to be bigger isn’t going to taste as good as the meat that comes from animals that were raised on a proper diet.
When you’re buying food, buy only the best you can find. Farmer’s markets are a great place to start, as is starting your own garden, or joining a CSA. Your food will taste better, which will make you much more likely to eat and enjoy it, but it will also be much more nutritious.
Learn Proper Cooking Techniques
Brussels sprouts that have been properly seasoned and roasted to perfection will taste vastly different than those that have been steamed to mush. There are many ways to add flavor and interest to foods that may be boring otherwise, thus encouraging you to eat plenty of them.
Learn how to use herbs and seasonings, create healthy, flavorful sauces, and which cooking techniques work best on which foods. If you don’t enjoy eating whole foods, you’ll never stick to it.
Learn the Truth About Eating Clean
Clean eating seems like something that is simple, but it can be confusing if you aren’t careful. Packages labeled “all-natural” or “heart healthy” may not be either of those things. Understanding how to read food labels and what those terms actually mean, will help you really eat a clean diet. When looking at food labels, it’s best to avoid foods with too many ingredients, or those that you can’t pronounce, or don’t know what they are.
Even better than learning to read food labels is to try your hardest to eat as many foods as possible without labels. Produce, fresh bakery bread, and organic meats are your best bet for eating as few processed foods as possible.
Don’t Allow Yourself to Get Too Hungry
Hunger is the enemy when you’re trying to watch what you eat. This is because when you’re really hungry, you’ll eat anything. You’ll be much more tempted to buy some chips from the vending machine or stop at the drive thru when you’re famished than when you’re just a little bit hungry.
Get in the habit of eating a good breakfast, and then something small every few hours. Eating a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts a couple hours before a meal can make a huge difference in what you eat for meals.
Be Careful When Dining Out
Restaurants rely on making food taste good in order to sell. Sometimes, this means using a lot of salt, fat, and sugar. While dining out and still being healthy is possible, it’s difficult to eat a clean diet when you aren’t sure where your food is coming from.
To combat this, cook most of your meals at home, and go to restaurants on special occasions. When choosing a restaurant, pick one that you know makes food from scratch and that has a slight focus on healthy fare. Chain restaurants and especially quick service options are going to be the worst choices; their focus is usually on price, not quality or nutrition.
Learn How to Enjoy Foods You Don’t Like
Even if you don’t like leafy greens or other vegetables, there are plenty of ways you can sneak them in your diet where you won’t even notice. Smoothies, baked goods, or pureeing them into sauces are easy ways to eat healthy foods.
Try New Foods
If you think that eating a whole food diet is boring, you’re not eating a wide enough variety of foods. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that you probably haven’t tried, as well as exotic meats and seafood. Try different types of nuts and seeds, and don’t discount the number of whole grains available. If you are a regular meat eater, try eating a vegetarian meal each week.
Not only does eating more foods keep you from getting bored and going back to your old favorites; it also is much more nutritious, since you’re getting a variety of vitamins and minerals from a lot of different sources.
Reap the Rewards
After you’ve eaten fewer processed foods for a while, pay attention to what it’s doing to your body. You’ll probably notice that you have more energy, and you may lose weight as well. Visit your doctor and have your vitals checked. Many people notice that cholesterol levels and blood pressure go down, and depending on the kind of changes you make, you may be able to reverse major illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.
Changing your heating habits won’t be easy, and for many people, a complete overhaul doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t rush it and try to make every change at once, take your time and eliminate one bad food at a time. Don’t give up if you cave and eat your favorite ice cream or cookies; just get back on track as soon as possible.
If you pay attention to what you’re eating, and learn how to enjoy healthy foods, it won’t be long before junk food and pizza delivery are a thing of the past.