Feeling sluggish, gaining weight, and constantly craving junk food? It's time to take back control of your health by kicking processed foods to the curb! In this post, you'll discover why convenient frozen meals, sugary snacks, and drive-thru fare are sabotaging your energy and well-being. Plus, get simple meal prep tips to painlessly incorporate more wholesome, homemade foods into your routine. Small swaps can yield big results – let's ditch the junk and start feeling amazing!
The Cost of Convenience: Save Money and Eat Better
As a work-from-home mom with a disability, I know how tempting it can be to rely on quick processed foods to fuel my busy days. But after struggling with my health and energy levels, I've learned the benefits of minimizing convenience foods and taking time to nourish my body with more homemade meals. Read on for why limiting processed foods can transform your health, along with simple swaps and tips that have helped me eat better without spending hours in the kitchen.
Start With Limiting Processed Convenience Foods
Who doesn't love the convenience of frozen dinners, drive-thru fare, and packaged snacks? But these processed foods often contain excess sodium, hidden sugars, and unhealthy fats that can negatively impact your health. We often gravitate towards highly processed foods for convenience and taste.
Why Should You Limit Overly Processed Foods?
Highly processed foods may seem like an easy option for busy lives. But convenience comes at a cost. With my experience with ADHD and various mobility issues including lymphedema, I understand that fed is best. However, be mindful and check out the nutrition labels before you grab and go. Here's what to check for:
High Sodium Content
Processed foods often consist of excess salt to enhance their flavors and extend shelf their lives. Excessive sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure and other health issues.
Many processed foods have additional sugars—even those foods we might not consider sweet. Excess sugar consumption raises the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Processed foods often contain fats that can increase the risk of heart disease. Check the ingredients for the fat content and composition if you must buy prepared foods, and watch out for trans-fats and saturated fats.
Simple Swaps To Help You Eat Better
You may think that giving up highly processed foods will mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen peeling, chopping, and grating to make a snack or a meal. Not so! Here are some easy and delicious swaps to help you transition to a healthier diet:
Whole Grains Instead of Refined White Flour
You don’t have to give up carbs completely to eat healthier. In fact, whole grains provide important nutrients including fiber, B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. Aim to swap out refined white flour products like white bread, pasta, tortillas, and rice for wholesome whole grain versions. Great options include 100% whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro, and oats.
Look at the ingredient list to verify the product is fully whole grain – terms like “enriched wheat flour” signal it's refined. 100% whole wheat or whole grain should be the first ingredient.
Whole grains take longer for your body to break down, keeping blood sugar balanced compared to spiking and crashing from refined carbs. The natural fiber fills you up, aids digestion, and helps lower cholesterol too.
Honey Instead of Sugar
Adults (not infants or toddlers) can use honey as an alternative to refined sugar. Honey contains more nutrients like manganese, antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals that refined sugar lacks. It also packs more concentrated sweetness, so you can use less honey by volume in recipes.
What is a Good Alternative for Honey for Diabetics?
- Stevia – This natural, plant-derived sweetener has zero calories, carbs, and glycemic impact. Look for pure stevia extracts, not blends with added sugars. Use stevia to sweeten drinks, oatmeal, yogurt, etc.
- Monk fruit – Also called luo han guo, monk fruit sweetener is made from an Asian melon. It has zero calories or carbs and does not raise blood sugar. Use it in baking or to sweeten desserts.
- Erythritol – Unlike other sugar alcohols, erythritol has a low glycemic impact and won't cause digestive issues in modest amounts. It works well in baked goods.
- Yacon syrup – Derived from a Peruvian tuber, yacon syrup offers sweetness along with prebiotics to feed healthy gut bacteria. Use it sparingly.
- Dates/prune puree – Blend these fruits into a paste to use in baking instead of sugar. Reduce other liquids to account for their moisture.
Diabetics should experiment to find the best sweetener match for their dietary needs and preferences. Moderation is still key when using any sweeteners.
Fruit Instead of Candy
When a candy craving strikes, try reaching for a piece of fresh, whole fruit instead. Fruit provides natural sweetness to satisfy your craving along with a megadose of vitamins, minerals and filling fiber that candy lacks.
- Focus on eating whole fruits rather than drinking fruit juice. Juice concentrates the fruit sugars while removing the beneficial fiber.
- Berries, bananas, stone fruits, apples, oranges, kiwis and melons all make nutritious high-fiber choices. Go for organic, seasonal fruit when possible for maximum nutrition.
- Portion out a serving of berries or cut up melons to enjoy after a meal in place of dessert. Freeze grapes or bananas for a sweet cold treat on a hot day. Grab an apple, orange or banana when you need an energy-boosting snack.
- Keep a bowl of fresh fruit visible on your counter or office desk. Having fruit readily available makes it easy to reach for a sweet treat that also nourishes your body.
Nuts Instead of Chips
When a salty, crunchy snack craving strikes, bypass the potato chips and reach for a handful of roasted nuts or seeds instead. They provide hearty protein, fiber and healthy fats to keep you satisfied.
- Some great options include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and more. Look for raw, unsalted varieties to avoid excess sodium.
- Portion out your servings, as nuts and seeds are calorie-dense. A 1/4 cup serving is a great size snack. You can also spread nut butters on apple slices or celery sticks for a nutritious dipper option. Just be careful for added sugars if purchasing nut butters from the store.
Water, Herbal Tea and Coffee Instead of Soda and Lattes
Instead of reaching for soda, sweetened coffee drinks, or other sugar-filled beverages, make water and herbal tea your go-tos for hydration. Those fancy coffee drinks have too much fat from milk or whipped cream, plus sugar, and often, artificial flavors.
Getting adequate water helps every function in your body work efficiently. Adding lemon, mint, cucumber or fruit can jazz up plain water.
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Herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint, hibiscus and rooibos provide soothing flavor without caffeine or added sugars. Slowly sipping a hot mug of tea can be a relaxing ritual.
Save the fancy lattes and frozen blended drinks for occasional treats. They tend to be packed with added sugars, flavored syrups, and fatty ingredients like full-fat milk, whipped cream or buttery sauces. Never fear! You don't have to give up your favorite coffee drinks completely to enjoy them more healthfully.
- Try ordering them with simple swaps like low-fat milk instead of heavy cream and holding the whipped topping to cut back on fat and calories.
- Sweeten with a bit of honey or stevia instead of additional sugar.
- Add flavor with cinnamon or a dash of vanilla extract rather than sugary syrups.
What Are Some Other Substitutions For More Natural Ways To Flavor Coffee Drinks?
- Cinnamon – Adds warmth and spice
- Nutmeg – Provides earthy, nutty notes
- Cardamom – Imparts floral, aromatic flavor
- Vanilla extract – Use just a few drops for sweetness
- Cocoa powder – Mix in a teaspoon for mocha flavor
- Cacao nibs – Add rich chocolate taste by sprinkling on top
- Pumpkin pie spice – Features cinnamon, ginger and other warming spices
- Orange, lemon or lime zest – Brings citrus brightness
- Peppermint extract – Goes perfect with a candy cane stirrer
- Ground ginger – Makes a nice pairing with pumpkin spice
- Clove – Sparingly adds an earthy, bold flavor
- Star anise – Provides licorice-like flavor when ground
- Cured vanilla beans – Infuse flavor by adding to grounds
Be Kinder to Yourself and Your Body
It’s vital to approach healthy eating with understanding and encouragement. Feeling guilty or stressed over the occasional indulgence in processed foods is counterproductive. Instead, focus on the positive change these simple food swaps can bring to your life. Remember, it’s all about balance and taking small steps towards a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain in the long run.
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