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8 Easy Ways to Avoid Processed Food


For years, if I even looked at food labels, I was reviewing items such as fat grams, calorie count and sugar content. While those things may be important to some people, the list of ingredients is the best indicator of how highly processed a food is.

1. Can you pronounce the ingredients? If what you are buying contains more than five ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items, you should reconsider before buying.

2. Ditch the boxes: Increase your consumption of whole foods, especially vegetables and fruits. This will help displace some of the processed foods in your diet, and will make your food selections in general very simple. No more counting calories, fat grams, or carbs when your only concern is selecting whole foods that are, as Michael Pollan says in his book “In Defense of Food”, more the product of nature than “the product of industry.”

3. Buy your bread from a local bakery. I used to eat white bread, but what I bought for my husband from the grocery store was what I thought was whole-wheat bread. When we finally checked the ingredients and found 40 different items on the list, including sugar and white flour, we decided it was time for a change. Why would there be so many ingredients on the list if it only takes a handful like whole-wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt to make bread at home?

4. Choose whole grain: In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option. And don’t just believe the health claims on the outside of the box. Read the ingredient label to make sure the product is truly made with only 100 percent whole grains – not a combination of whole grains and refined grains, which is how a lot of so-called “whole grain” products are made. The white flour or other refined grain alternative is simply high in calories and low in nutrition.

5. Read the label and look for the dead giveaway:  Avoid store-bought products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients,” Pollan says. Despite the mixed research on whether HFCS is really worse for you than white sugar, it happens to be “a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed.”

6. Don’t order off the children’s menu: The next time your family is out to dinner, avoid the kids’ selections, which are usually things like chicken nuggets, French fries, pasta made with white flour, and so on. Instead, try assembling a side-item plate with a baked potato and whatever vegetables your kid will eat, and also try sharing some of your meal.

7. Visit your local farmers market: The next time you need to restock your refrigerator, visit a small local or farmers market. Pollan says that not only will you find “food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious,” but you will also find a selection of pesticide-free produce and properly fed meat products. It is also better for the environment to purchase locally grown products as opposed to supermarket produce, which on average travels 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate.

8. Cook everything yourself: If you had to peel, chop and deep fry potatoes every time you wanted French fries, you might not eat them very often. Eating “junk food” such as cakes, sweets, and fried foods only as often as you are willing to make them yourself will reduce your consumption.

For more information about the “100 Days of Real Food” pledge, including over a hundred recipes and meal ideas, go to

© 2012, Distributed by MCT Information Services

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