Are you eating too many processed foods? You know, the kind with lots of trans fats, additives and hidden sugar.
It seems like 90 percent of products at the grocery store these days are processed foods. And given how busy we all are, it can be hard to resist grabbing them to quickly microwave on weekday nights.
Processed and packaged foods do indeed make up the vast bulk of the American diet, nutritionists tell us. They also warn that in addition to the fats and sugar, these foods are loaded with salt, artificial flavors, MSG and other preservatives, food colorings and chemicals that have nothing to do with nutrition.
Manufacturers also often strip these foods of healthy ingredients like antioxidants and fiber.
Just how harmful could this be?
“Consuming a diet rich in processed foods means more ‘empty calories’ contributing to our risk of obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and a variety of cancers,” said Angela Charlton, a Carilion Clinic oncology dietitian who works in cancer prevention and with patients fighting cancer. “Such a diet, particularly when combined with a sedentary lifestyle, can help drive a chronic state of inflammation which is thought to underlie many forms of illness,” she said.
Instead, Charlton encourages everyone to avoid foods that have been highly refined in favor of more simple, fresh whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and lean proteins that, by and large, come with minimal packaging or labeling.
How can you break your dependency on processed foods? Charlton recommends a few steps to get started:
- Reach for a fresh vegetable like broccoli and steam it with a little salt and butter instead of a frozen version with an overly salty, fatty sauce.
- Instead of frozen breaded fish sticks (which are heavy on the breading and light on fish), buy fresh fish and sauté it with a little butter and your favorite herbs.
- Make your own “French fries” by baking lightly salted potato slices. Top with paprika for an added kick.
- Steam brown rice or whole grains like quinoa and season with a little butter, olive oil and herbs and spices.
- Drink water or sparkling water instead of calorie- and chemical-laden soft drinks.
You get the picture. Make it a game with the kids to come up with healthier substitutes for all the processed foods you now eat. Your family will thank you!