What Is Processed Food? What Should I Avoid?

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The term “processed food” is something that gets thrown around a lot amongst those who talk about healthy eating, typically with a negative connotation. But what are processed foods, and what is it about processed food that make it so bad? And, are they allowed on the Phase One Diet?

Processed food is simply food that has gone through some sort of process or preparation before it makes it to the consumer. So in a sense, most foods – even healthy foods – have had some sort of processing. Think of a bag of mixed greens, or a bag of baby carrots. These are minimally processed foods, but they are processed nonetheless. Other foods, such as some canned foods are processed to preserve their freshness.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some foods that are ready-to-eat, or pre-packaged frozen meals. These include foods like cereals, crackers, and different sorts of bars all the way to microwave dinners, frozen pizzas, etc. Foods that have gone this level of processing are often where the dietary bad guys hide – things like preservatives, excessive sodium, excessive fats, trans fats, etc. These are also typically the sorts of fare that have added sugar, grain or corn lurking in the ingredients list.

So, we now have a definition of what processed food is, what should we look for when it comes to avoiding or including processed foods in our diet? Are any of these foods on Phase One? What processed food ingredients should I avoid?

Obviously, things such as the aforementioned baby carrots and greens, technically processed though they may be, are obviously perfectly OK on the Phase One Diet. So are most other minimally processed items, such as mixed nuts, canned fish and some types of canned vegetables. Most of these items are processed for convenience, and while we always recommend getting the freshest food you can, fresh food isn’t always available. Most things on the Phase One Diet that have been through some level of processing are still OK. Think of things such as almond butter, olive oil or coconut oil – all of these foods have been processed and packaged, but they’re still on the Phase One Diet and are perfectly healthy foods to consume.

So what should we look for in processed foods that would render them unacceptable for the Phase One Diet?

Start off looking for the things that are blatantly disallowed on the Phase One Diet. You might be surprised how often you find those things lurking in plain sight on an ingredients list. Avoid foods with ingredients that include, sugar or other sweeteners (i.e., agave, evaporated cane juice, etc.) wheat or wheat components, corn or corn components, potato or potato components, any sort of grain or yeast.

Next, eliminate those items that are commonly known to be deleterious to health, but that perhaps web don’t talk about at Know The Cause as much as we do fungi and mycotoxins, ingredients like hydrogenated fats or trans-fats, or copious amounts of sodium.

Finally, eliminate foods that contain suspect chemical ingredients. This list of food additives could go on forever, so it is important to do your own research. Start with the basics; food coloring agents, MSG, sodium nitrates and nitrites, sulfur dioxide and potassium bromate are good things to start avoiding immediately.

Remember that it isn’t necessarily the processing that’s bad, it is what is in the ingredients list. Be prudent consumer and read packages before you buy!

For more ideas about how to include fresh food in your diet, check out our Getting Started Page, along with our cookbooks Cooking Your Way To Good Health and Eating Your Way To Good Health

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