Many of the foods we eat regularly are heavily processed. What is a processed food? Good question! Processed foods would either not exist at all unless someone made them in a factory or are manufactured versions of foods that, if you made them yourself, could actually be quite healthy.
Processed foods are everywhere – just check out the shelves in your local supermarket – and come in all shapes and sizes but they share a number of unhealthy characteristics.
Processed foods are generally…
- High in calories
- High in unhealthy trans fats
- High in salt
- High in sugar
- High in artificial additives like flavors, colors and preservatives
- Low in vitamins
- Low in minerals
- Low in fiber
- Bad for your health
- Bad for your teeth
- Bad for your waistline
With so many processed foods are available that it’s hard to narrow it down to just five you should avoid so this list represents what I consider to be the five worst foods and their healthier alternatives.
1. Breakfast cereal
While many cereals are promoted as healthy and are fortified with vitamins and minerals, they are often so highly processed that there is almost more nutritional value in the cardboard packaging than there is in the cereal itself!
Breakfast cereals inevitably contain refined grains, lots of sugar and a whole lot of other stuff that has no place in a healthy diet. Many cereals contain chocolate and candy too which does absolutely nothing for teaching children what they should be eating to be healthy. Candy for breakfast?! How is that a good idea?
Alternative: Seek out cereals made with whole grains and with little or no added sugar. Another good alternative is porridge oats. And if you need a fast, healthy, tasty start to the day, you could do a lot worse than to have a smoothie or meal replacement shake.
2. Baked goods
Cookies, cakes, donuts – these sweet treats taste great but are chock full of sugar and trans fats and are very high in calories. While there is nothing wrong with the occasional cookie or cake, eating too many of foods like this can lead to weight gain and all that trans fat and other additives can harm your health.
Alternative: Learn how to make healthy treats yourself. You might not save many calories but at least you’ll know that the ingredients are as healthy as possible. Make it a family affair and have fun making cookies, muffins cakes etc. with your children or partner. Tasty and healthy dessert recipes.
3. Frozen dinners
Store-bought frozen dinners are packed full of unhealthy ingredients just to make them taste palatable. Many are also very high in fat, sugar and calories. It can be tough making healthy food when you get home from a long day at work or school but frozen dinners only provide you with calories and don’t supply you with much else of what you need – specifically vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Alternative: Make your own frozen dinners by spending an hour or two on Sunday making and then freezing healthy, nutritious meals for the rest of the week. In addition, there are lots of really healthy meals you can make in 20-minutes or less. Grab yourself a free copy of our great cookbook for inspiring ideas for healthy, easy to prepare meals.
4. Ice cream
Ice cream SHOULD be nothing more than milk, cream, a little sugar and some natural flavorings but, when made this way, it has a very short shelf life. That’s why commercially-made ice cream is little more than processed junk full of lots of sugar, trans fats and other artificial ingredients. The occasional portion of ice cream is fine but eating too much or too often will definitely affect your health as well as your weight.
Alternative: Buy an ice cream maker and learn to make your own delicious frozen desserts. That way you can be sure that the ingredients are as healthy as they can be and that you only make small amounts to prevent sabotaging your diet. If you want a lower calorie option, make frozen yogurt instead or try yogurt smoothies.
5. Candy bars
When it comes to snack time, it’s all too easy to reach for a candy bar to give you energy until your next proper meal. Of course, if you have to keep having snacks to give you energy, your diet may need an overhaul but that’s a different subject altogether. Candy, even seemingly healthy granola bars, contain huge amounts of sugar, are laden with trans fats, pack with artificial ingredients and are just about the worst thing you can eat if you care about your health or your weight.
Alternative: While you COULD make your own candy bars and granola bars, there really isn’t any need as nature already has a healthy alternative – fruit. Bananas, apples, pears, peaches, berries, plums, nectarines… there are probably more varieties of fruit than there are candy bars and each one is packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fruit is also as cheap as it is nutritious. Next time that you find yourself reaching for a candy pick-me-up, why not try some fruit instead?
Avoiding processed foods and making these smart substitutions will certainly help improve your health and lose weight but if you are SERIOUS about shaping up and losing fat, maybe it’s time to try a diet based on meal replacement shakes? Meal replacement shakes are an ideal way to lose weight because they involve no calorie counting, no cooking, are naturally healthy and weight loss is virtually guaranteed.