10 Easy Tips For Cutting Back on Processed Foods
Are you working toward a certain health or weight goal? Or are you simply trying to be healthier in general? Reducing your intake of highly processed foods is an effective strategy for supporting your overall health.
We’ve put together a list of 10 tips to help you cut back on processed foods so you can get closer to your health and fitness goals.
What Is A Processed Food?
Processed food is considered any food that has been packaged, frozen, cooked, or canned. Not all processed foods are bad, though. Minimally processed foods such as frozen fruits and vegetables can be a convenient, healthy way to add nutrients to your diet.
The processed foods to pay attention to and limit are foods that are highly processed, loaded with additives, excess sugar, salt, and preservatives. Examples of highly processed foods include:
- Ice cream
- Cake and other bakery items
- Fast food
- Sugary drinks
- Processed meats
- Frozen entrees
Tips For Cutting Back on Processed Foods
1. Have Fun in the Kitchen
Getting creative in the kitchen is a great way to put healthy twists on your favorite processed foods. Having complete control of the ingredients you use lets you get creative with new ingredients and find ways to satisfy cravings more healthily.
Love chips? Try experimenting with homemade veggie chips. Simply toss your veggie of choice (sliced carrots, zucchini, turnips, potatoes) with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and herbs and bake until they are crispy. Snacks like this are delicious, far less processed, and include vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Other processed foods that are easy to make healthier at home include:
- Fruit leather
- Air-popped popcorn seasoned with herbs
- Granola bars
- Chia pudding
In addition to being healthier, making your versions of processed foods can save you money!
2. Stock Up On Healthy Snacks and Foods
If you are having an especially busy or stressful day and you are short on time, it may be tempting to grab a processed, packaged snack as you head out the door.
To avoid this pitfall, aim to keep your pantry and fridge stocked with nutritious, convenient foods that can help you make healthy choices, even on your busiest days.
Some delicious, healthy, portable snack ideas include:
- Mixed nuts
- Fresh fruits that grab and go such as bananas or apples
- Cut up vegetables (cucumber slices, carrot sticks, cauliflower, broccoli)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Veggies and hummus
- String cheese
- Grass-fed beef sticks that are free of added nitrates or sugar
- Sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- Homemade trail mix (dark chocolate chips, seeds, nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios), raisins
- Frozen fruits and greek yogurt to make a quick, filling, healthy smoothie
3. Opt For Whole Grains
One of one the best swaps when it comes to limiting processed foods is choosing whole grains instead of refined grains. This means opting for brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and whole-grain options instead of white pasta, rice, bread, and tortillas.
4. Drink Enough Water
Gradually swapping out sugary drinks with water can make a significant difference in your processed food intake and overall health. Sugary beverages are high in calories, additives, and sugar but extremely low in nutrients. Sugary beverages to limit or avoid include:
- Sweetened teas
- Fruit juice
If you are having trouble cutting back on sugary drinks, try flavoured or sparkling water. You can also infuse water with fresh herbs, fresh fruit, or chunks of frozen fruit to add a burst of healthy flavour. Delicious additions to water include:
- A squeeze of lemon or lime juice
- Fresh cucumber slices
- Thin orange slices
- Herbs such as thyme or basil
- Frozen watermelon cubes
- Fresh or frozen strawberries, blueberries, cherries, or raspberries
5. Focus on Veggies
When preparing meals at home, be sure to always include eating the least one serving of vegetables with each meal. Vegetables are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can help curb cravings and keep you full.
Adding veggies to each meal is easier than it sounds! Here are some easy tips for including a vegetable with each meal:
- Add spinach to scrambled eggs
- Add diced up mushrooms, bell pepper, onion, or asparagus to an omelet
- Add an extra serving of veggies when making a soup or casserole
- Add pureed cauliflower or squash to add creaminess and nutrients to a soup
- Layer thinly sliced zucchini into lasagna
- Serve a platter of carrot sticks, cauliflower, and broccoli along with dip as an easy side
6. Change Up Your Shopping Habits
Avoiding processed foods is far easier when they aren’t around. Next time you are at the store, try focusing on loading up your cart with minimally processed ingredients such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Avoid the temptation to buy processed snacks and junk foods by sticking to the perimeter of the store, where healthier foods are often found.
Always check the labels on food items when shopping and try to limit purchases of items that are high in added sugar, sodium, trans fat, or preservatives.
7. Get Creative With Food Swaps
Here are a few of our favorite healthy food swaps:
- Top your salad with seeds or nuts rather than croutons
- Make homemade trail mix instead of purchasing store-made versions
- Make your vinaigrette using olive oil and vinegar rather than relying on highly processed store-bought salad dressing
- Make your popcorn in an air popper or over the stove rather than making microwave popcorn
- Skip the sugary cereal in favour of a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal topped with fresh fruit
8. Reduce Your Intake of Processed Meats
Processed meats such as lunch meat, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon have been associated with various downsides.
Fortunately, there are easy swaps when it comes to eating less processed meats. Try replacing lunch meats with chicken breast, hard-boiled eggs, salmon, turkey, or homemade tuna salad.
You can also aim to consume more plant-based proteins such as:
9. Give Meal Prep A Try
Preparing meals at the start of the week ensures you have nutritious meals ready to go, regardless of how busy you get during the week.
This can drastically reduce the temptation to stop for fast food or rely on microwaved meals when you are short on time.
To get started, decide on a few healthy recipes to make for the week and choose a time to prep your meals.
10. Change Your Habits Slowly
You do not need to cut out all processed foods at once. This can be overwhelming and can make it difficult to make a sustainable change.
Making changes slowly can be an effective way to make changes that will turn into lifelong healthy habits.
Try experimenting with one or two of these tips each week. With time, gradually implement more tips as you adjust to your new, healthier diet.
Keep in mind that it is still okay to enjoy eating processed foods or dining out from time to time.
Although you can eat numerous processed foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet, foods that are high in preservatives, additives, sugar, and sodium are important to limit.
Do you follow any of the tips in this article to help you cut back on processed foods? Do you have any tips we missed? We always love hearing from you in the comments.