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processed foods to avoid

Processed Foods to Avoid

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While some processed foods are indeed healthier than other convenience options, often you can substitute a less-processed alternative. Find out what processed foods to avoid – and what to eat instead.

No matter how much we try to cook ‘from scratch,’ there are times we need to cut corners and rely on processed foods. Lots of times, though, we may find ourselves picking up so-called ‘healthy’ processed or convenience foods, thinking they are actually as good for us as the slow-cooked or ‘from-scratch’ version. While some are indeed healthier than other convenience options, often you can substitute a less-processed alternative for the same amount of time and effort. Below, we highlight how convenience foods may be creeping into your day, and what you can choose instead.


Instead of…flavored instant rolled oatmeal
Consider…steel-cut oats with a teaspoon of raisins. Flavored instant oatmeal may seem like a good, quick way to control calories and portion size, and that can be true. However, instant oatmeal can contain loads of added sugar, plus extra sodium and other preservatives. Another choice to consider is plain steel-cut oats. Rather than the rolled oats used in most instant oatmeal, steel cut oats are—as the name indicates—cut instead of rolled, which can result in a more nutrient-dense product (fewer nutrients may be lost during processing). Steel cut oats do take longer to prepare, but the quick-cooking variety is more widely available now (Trader Joe’s has a version, as does Whole Foods). This version can be cooked in the microwave in 4 minutes.  Sprinkle a few raisins on top, and you have a delicious, nutritious, and filling way to start your day.


Instead of…grilled chicken breast sandwich from a fast-food outlet
Consider…a sandwich from your local supermarket. You may feel virtuous choosing a grilled chicken breast—hold the mayo—instead of what you used to order. Certainly, this choice is far better than many other fast-food options. However, look to your local supermarket instead for a less-processed and equally-convenient workday lunch. Choose a small freshly baked whole-grain sandwich roll from the bakery, and ask the deli for a ¼ pound of sliced fresh turkey or chicken breast. Mustard and some lettuce and tomato top it off, and the whole thing should set you back less than the price of the fast-food sandwich. Head over to the produce section to buy an apple or banana, and you’ll never find yourself tempted by a side of fries, either!


Instead of…frozen yogurt
Consider…a homemade fruit smoothie. Frozen yogurt has a true ‘health halo,’ and it’s easy to see why you may think it’s the perfect snack. However, frozen yogurt can have loads of added sugar, as well as preservatives your body doesn’t need. A fruit smoothie, on the other hand, uses nothing but frozen fruit (and maybe a splash of milk or juice) and can have even fewer calories than the frozen yogurt. Stock your freezer with a variety of frozen fruits you can use to whip up a tasty treat anytime.


Instead of…a ‘healthy’ frozen entrée
Consider…leftover rice or pasta topped with frozen veggies and grated fresh Parmesan cheese. We’ve talked in other articles about the importance of making larger portions of staples like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or couscous at the start of your week, so you have it on hand when you arrive famished through the front door. You won’t find it necessary to rely on frozen calorie-controlled entrees—which cost far more, and contain excess sodium and other preservatives—when you have these leftovers on hand. Something frozen you can rely on? Frozen veggies, which don’t contain preservatives, and can steam in the microwave in minutes. Throw veggies over a cup of your starch and top with grated fresh Parmesan cheese or a teaspoon of olive oil.  In less than 5 minutes, you’ve got a delicious, almost ‘from scratch’ alternative that’ll work for your waistline and your pocketbook.

Next Steps:

Learn how to go healthy food shopping on a budget.
Try these 5 simple kitchen shortcuts.
Find a center near you to schedule a consultation with a CMWL doctor.


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