Defining Processed Foods
There is often confusion between packaged and processed foods and sometimes, it's difficult to know what is actually healthy or not. Many products, such as candy, potato chips, fast food and microwave pizza are easily identifiable as bad, unhealthy foods that are known as the nation-wide cause of obesity. These processed foods are ones that have been refined, and are cautioned against in the Pritikin Diet and Eating Plan. Refined grains include white rice, white bread and white pastas while sugar, honey and corn syrup are all considered refined sugars. These Pritikin "caution" foods have been proven to increase the risk of not just obesity, but several other health concerns as well, including high cholesterol, high blood sugar, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and even some cancers.
However, not all processed foods are necessarily bad. For example, bagged and frozen spinach and whole-wheat bread or foods packaged at their peak freshness such as canned beans and tomatoes are all considered processed, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The word processed is not exactly black and white and as such, food products fall on a scale of minimally to heavily processed. So while refined and heavily processed foods are poor choices for health, there are several benefits – such as convenience – to foods that are minimally processed.
Thus, the Pritikin Diet and Eating Plan focuses on whole, unprocessed foods, but also incorporates food products that are minimally processed. Products that are minimally processed are generally OK, though it is very important to look for hidden sugar, sodium and fat. Labels can also be deceiving when it comes to whole-wheat products, explained registered dietitian and Pritikin's Director of Nutrition Kimberly Gomer. It's important that the grain you are choosing to purchase is actually a whole grain. On the box, a large majority of pasta and bread products will say that they are whole-wheat. However, if the first ingredient is wheat flour, it's not actually what it claims to be: It is actually just refined flour. To ensure that you are getting whole grains, you want to be sure that whole-wheat flour or bran is on the ingredient list.
Reading Food Labels
Even once you understand the consequences of processed food, it's not always easy to say no to that packaged treat at the movie theater or to forego airplane snacks. The good news is that once you make the switch, each day gets easier, not harder. Eventually, you will get to a point where processed food no longer tastes good, a point that Kimberly likes to call the "ah-ha!" moment. Filling up on wholesome, natural foods and feeling great without being hungry is one of the milestones of Pritikin, she said.
Learn To Read Processed Food Labels
Is your shopping list healthy? Healthy? Really? Don’t be fooled by the marketing hype. Join Pritikin Nutrition Director, Kimberly Gomer for a Healthy Grocery Shopping Scavenger Hunt
Kimberly explained that the best way to remove processed foods from your diet starts with a little extra effort and planning. First and foremost, you must be able to read and understand food labels. Though the eye-catching front of the box may be telling you a certain food is a great choice, the ingredient list on the back will dictate otherwise. Don't fall for the marketing schemes on the front of the package that boast low-fat, light, fat-free or other benefits.
Label-reading is a key component of the Pritikin program. It's taught in the nutrition classes as its own lecture and then tested during fun exercises including identifying and filling grocery bags with healthy food. The importance of label-reading is reinforced for a final time during the popular grocery store scavenger hunt.
"Being able to see a label and know within 30 seconds or less or not if it's OK is a beautiful thing," said Kimberly.
Clearing Your Shelves of Processed Foods
Once you know which foods pass the guidelines of the Pritikin Diet and Eating Plan, you know which ones to add to your healthy grocery list and which ones to avoid. Then, you've got to fill your kitchen with wholesome, unprocessed foods such as a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, whole grains and the like.
"One little square is not one little square. When you eat just a little bit of packaged or processed foods, it only makes you crave and want it more," explained Kimberly. "The best thing to do is to get rid of it completely. If you don't bring it into the house, you won't eat it. So clear the shelves."
It's important to remember that removing processed food from your life should not be about restrictive eating, but instead about opening up the door to even more possibilities. Start by looking at the various types of fresh produce that you can incorporate into your snacks and meals. The more fruits and vegetables that you are eating – all of which are low in calorie density – the more full and satisfied you are going to feel.
If you need some inspiration for Pritikin-approved cooking or are looking for help with your healthy grocery list, check out our food of the month series or our library of recipes. And if cooking just isn't your thing, there is still an easy way to stick to your healthy eating plan and avoid processed foods. With Pritikin Frozen Foods, you get fresh, healthy and delicious meals delivered straight to your home or office!