I know someone who eats fast food every day. Bob is single, works a full-time manual job, and has no bills. He smokes cigarettes and the occasional cigar. Visually he is not overweight. His grocery shopping list, when he is not eating out, consists of the following: cans of chili, macaroni and cheese from the box, instant ramen noodle soup, diet soda, hot dogs, and a jar of mayo to make a dip. He is 31.
Eating like this isn’t out of the ordinary for most people. Recently my husband and I had to go to a mega store on the way to a friends’ house for a BBQ. While picking up a few items, I had the chance to look around at what was in other people’s carts. The most common items where: soda, meat, boxed food (e.g. meals in a box), a gallon of milk, cans.
What is Processed Food?
In short, any food which is”altered from its natural state.” By this simple definition, an example of a processed food is the washed organic baby spinach we buy in the bag or the frozen chicken thighs I buy from the local organic chicken farm at the market.
But we are not talking about this umbrella definition of processing. We are talking about a branch of processed foods which are packaged with artificial ingredients, chemicals, high amounts of sodium, and/or sugars. For example: cheese in powered form, canned soup processed with massive quantities of sodium (salt) for preservation, or any food packaging that says “partially hydrogenated” aka trans fats (these are bad, very bad).
Watch the effect of processed food versus real food digestion from Scientific American.
What is Real Food?
The definition of “real food” seems to be intuitive, but there can be a difference between my “real food” and your “real food” definition.
I define real food as any food which is as close to its natural state as possible to create a meal. For example, whole vegetables, fruits, grains, meats without added hormones, dairy with no added preservatives, etc.
Top 4 Ways to Stop Eating Processed Packaged Food
My friend Bob eats fast and packaged food because he likes it, it’s effortless, and it is fast. My husband and I have talked to him about health and eating to no avail. He knows what he is doing to his body. He is doesn’t feel good most of the time, and sleeps a lot. Perhaps, Bob could start with these five steps … that is, if he wants to.
- Look for packaged food with better ingredients. If you like the box macaroni and cheese, look for a brand that has better quality ingredients. That canned soup or soda you usually buy has an alternative which is the lesser evil. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a start in the right direction.
- Learn how to cook. Not everyone likes to cook or has the time, but we can learn a few dishes which are fast, healthy, and can be made will little fuss. I’m not suggesting you to take a two-year course from the most prestigious cooking school in France. I am suggesting to buy a cookbook, follow the instructions, and practice. Since you like macaroni and cheese from the box, learn how to make it from scratch in your kitchen. You may be surprised that it can take, with some practice, only 15 minutes.
- Read food labels. This step is boring. I know it, you know, and Bob knows it. Go into your kitchen and grab anything with a label and look at it. Can you pronounce everything in the ingredient list? Do you know what it is and why it’s in there? Learn about what is going into your body and you will surprise yourself. You may find that you make the real food switch without knowing.
- Slowly change to real food. Highly processed packaged foods have a lot of sodium and sugar. If you are used to eating these, the real food version will not taste good to you. Change slowly so your palate has time to recognize something new. Real macaroni and cheese tastes completely different. Try it. Eat it slowly and savor the cream, the cheese combinations, and the noodles. Fresh noodles are wonderful.
Eating foods in which you can savor the flavors, slowly enjoying the tastes, you may find that a smaller portion of real food will satisfy you more than a large portion of processed packaged food. Then, to your surprise, you may find that you don’t want to eat that box of macaroni and cheese. Why would you, the real food gives you the chills when you eat it giving you a pleasurable eating experience rather than fast to cook, fast to eat.
Perhaps, I should let Bob read this.