Processed foods can be quite palatable, enticing, and addictive, making them challenging to quit. This is because of the preservatives and additives used during their preparation with the aim of keeping the consumer hooked. Learn how to avoid processed foods today!

However, these foods come with a huge price tag on your health. Processed foods are considerably associated with increased inflammation, high cholesterol, and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, and cancer. That’s why eliminating them from your diet is essential. And even though that may not be easy, it’s not impossible.

This article shows you how to avoid eating processed foods and lower your hunger hormone, ghrelin.

What is processed food?

Processed food is any food whose natural form has been altered during preparation.

Nearly all foods go through some level of processing, but not all processed food is terrible.

For instance, dried beans may go through some processing to make them more shelf-stable, which doesn’t make them harmful.

Likewise, cooking or boiling vegetables or legumes is a form of minimal processing that’s considered okay.

According to the food classification system, NOVA, processed foods can be classified into 4 categories:

1.   Unprocessed and minimally processed foods

This group consists of both unprocessed and minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. They can undergo boiling, roasting, steaming, or pasteurization to promote safety and prolong their shelf life. This category is generally safe to consume.

2.   Processed culinary ingredients

These are products obtained from unprocessed or minimally processed foods or from nature.

They are altered by various processing methods like grinding, refining, and pressing so that they can be used for cooking.

Examples include vegetable oils obtained from olives or seeds, sugar obtained from sugar cane, or maple syrup from the maple trees.

3.   Processed foods

These foods can also be referred to as lightly processed.

They include frozen or canned foods immediately after they are harvested, such as green beans, tomatoes, and berries. Other processed foods may also contain one, two, or even three added ingredients like oil, sugar, or salt.

Examples include pasta, bread, and cheese. Foods with high-quality ingredients like oils, herbs, and spices like pasta sauces and salad dressings can be considered lightly processed.

4.  Heavily/ultra-processed foods

Most of this food category is also referred to as junk foods.

These foods are often made with 5 or more ingredients and are high in fats, sugar, oils, salt, stabilizers, antioxidants, preservatives, and other artificial ingredients that don’t exist naturally.

Ultra-processed foods make up for 90% of added sugar consumed in the US

Any ultra-processed food is unhealthy, and eating too many has been linked to an increased risk of chronic conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Are all processed foods harmful?

Any form of processed food is synonymously referred to as unhealthy; however, not all processed food is harmful.

Minimally processed foods should be okay. Unfortunately, many foods people know and eat are highly processed.

It’s estimated that 60 percent of the calories consumed in the US are from the highly processed category, meaning lots of calories but minimal to no nutrients. This can indeed be harmful to your health, but even more, they can cause a significant problem when trying to eliminate these foods since they are highly addictive.

What is ghrelin?

Ghrelin is a hunger hormone that compels one to eat. It is highest before meals and lowers after meals.

Studies show that a high glucose diet, such as a highly refined carbohydrate diet, may also increase the ghrelin hormone, making you eat more during a meal or feel hungry soon after.

You can always lower your ghrelin levels by consuming healthy fats like olive oil, consuming a high fiber diet, and adding more protein to your diet.

How to Avoid Processed Foods

There are many ways to reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet. Here are a few ideas:

Swap processed grains for whole grains:

If you are going to take out processed foods, you need to replace them with healthy ones. Processed grains such as white pasta, bread, rice, and tortilla are the most consumed as they can be included in many diets. So you can’t really eliminate these foods without a proper replacement from the same group.

Consider stocking up on brown rice, whole-grain pasta, bread, and tortillas.

Stock up on healthy snacks:

Whether at home or at your office desk, always have healthy snacks at hand. People tend to reach for unhealthy snacks when they feel bored, hungry, or craving sugar. So stocking up on something healthy will help you quench the craving and promote nutrient intake, which is beneficial to your health.

Some healthy snacks to have at home include nuts, fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, and dips like hummus or trail mix.

Get creative with your recipes:

Recreate your favorite processed foods with natural and whole ingredients.

Create your meals around fresh foods:

Filling up your plate with vegetables will take up more space in your meal and replace processed foods, thus minimizing your intake.

You can also add fruit or use bulkier vegetable fillings for tacos or casseroles.

For example, if you like sweetening your breakfast oats with table sugar or maple syrup, consider adding sliced banana or dried fruits like grapes and figs for added sweetness and nutrients.

Read labels:

If you buy a packaged shelf-stable product, be sure to read the labels. The first three ingredients are often a clue of the kind of product you’re about to buy. The 3s – saturated fat, sugar, and salt often signify that the product is highly processed and not healthy.

Final thoughts on how to avoid processed foods:

Processed food is any food whose natural form has been altered by processing, including boiling, canning, freezing,

However, keep in mind that not all processed foods are equal. While minimally processed foods are healthy to consume, you may want to avoid ones that are heavily processed.

Try a few things, such as experimenting in the kitchen with new healthy alternative recipes, serving more vegetables on your plate, stocking up on healthy snacks, and reading the labels carefully.

Also, try to lower your hunger hormone ghrelin as much as possible. You can do this by reducing the amount of processed carbohydrates and preservatives from your diet.

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