The less processed the better
Humans process foods when we “do” things to them. Some processing is fairly simple and uses ancient techniques (eg – baking a potato), while other processing is much more complex and uses modern, industrial techniques (eg – making a Mars bar).
As a very rough rule of thumb, unprocessed foods could have come almost directly from the farm, field, forest or sea. Processed foods would have to go via a factory before reaching you.
Here are some examples of foods with different levels of processing:
Less processed – whole grain bread. The flour for this is made by basically crushing a load of grain between a couple of rocks. Nothing is taken away, leaving all the original fibre and nutrients. This kind of processing has been around for thousands of years.
More processed – white bread. The flour for this is made in industrial processes, where fibre and nutrients are stripped away and bleaches and colourings are added.
Less processed – brown rice. This only has the inedible outer husk removed. We cook and eat the rest. This kind of processing has been around for thousands of years.
More processed – white rice. This has not only the inedible outer husk, but also the bran and germ layers removed too. This leaves only the starchy core. Removing the outer layers also removes nutrients and fibre, the healthiest parts of the food!
Less processed – Baked potato. It is hard to get less processed than this! You heat it up in the oven and that’s it! All the fibre and nutrients from the original are still there. This kind of processing has been around for tens of thousands of years!
More processed – crisps/chips etc. One of the most common ways we “process” a potato is by skinning it. By doing that, we remove a whole bunch of the fibre and nutrients. And if we then go on to fry it and turn it into other products, we usually add fat, artificial flavouring and preservatives to it.
Above are just a few simple examples of processing foods, but I’m certain you can come up with plenty more examples. And as you can see, almost all the food we eat is processed in some way (remember, even cooking is a form of processing). Because of this, it is totally impractical to ask anyone to “cut out all processed food”.
But as a very general rule of thumb, the less we process it, or the closer we keep it to it’s original state (with all its original nutrients), the better it is for us. So it is always a good idea to look at the food we eat and ask ourselves:
“Can I swap this for a less processed version?”
Next time you go to the local supermarket for shopping, have a look around the store and see if you can identify more/less processed foods. In almost all supermarkets, the fresh fruit and veg are right next to the front door. Just compare these to other produce in the aisles.
Whenever you can, try to choose foods that are the least processed.
But don’t stress yourself out about this. Don’t try so hard to be perfect and find the “best” or “least processed” food that you forget to make any changes at all.
No one has ever succeeded by jumping straight to perfect. If you hang around waiting for perfect to happen, you won’t get anywhere.
As long as each day/week, your meals are becoming a little bit less processed, you are doing well.
On a scale of 1-10, decide how confident you are that you can incorporate this new habit over the next week or 2. If it is 7 or below, either change to a different habit, or make this habit easier.
Then use the following document to help you change your habit for the better over the next week or 2.
You can either:
- Download and print it out for free.
- Use a diary or journal from a shop and record it in that.